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Bishop Fenwick's 1834 report on the Boston Diocese

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This one-volume work spans 223 pages, and similarly starts with the foundation of the Catholic Church in the United States and continues to discuss the history of the diocese through 1829.

Thomas
Lester

Within the papers of Bishop Benedict Fenwick of Boston resides a 68-page handwritten manuscript on the state and history of the Diocese of Boston, which then encompassed all of New England.

Bishop Fenwick begins citing the 1830 United States census to provide population statistics in total, and then by individual states. He continues with a brief historical sketch of the Catholic Church in the United States, then the creation of the Diocese of Boston, followed by local history for the remainder of the document. His local history begins stating the prejudices of early settlers in the area, the arrival of the first Catholics, and then the activities of the earliest priests, such as Fathers Matignon, Cheverus, and Thayer.

The document appears to be a draft and includes crossed out sentences; quotes from other documents; tables of sacraments administered derived from the cathedral records, and subscribers to the original cathedral fund; documents that still exist in the archive.

Other key moments covered in the manuscript include the death of Father Matignon and construction of St. Augustine's Chapel in South Boston, the arrival of the Ursuline Sisters and their subsequent relocation to Charlestown, and the arrival of Bishop Fenwick himself, which consists of a short autobiography. The manuscript concludes with a list of priests in the diocese and their current assignments for 1830.

The manuscript may, in fact, be an early draft of his "Memoirs to Serve for the Future: Ecclesiastical History of the Diocese of Boston." This one-volume work spans 223 pages, and similarly starts with the foundation of the Catholic Church in the United States and continues to discuss the history of the diocese through 1829. While the original is preserved in the archive's collections, those interested may also access a print version edited by Dr. Joseph M. McCarthy, published by the U.S. Catholic Historical Society in 1978.

In addition, within his papers is a short draft labeled "State of the Diocese of Boston," which dates to 1837, and the bishops' journal, a mostly day-by-day account of his activities. The first entry dates to Nov. 1, 1825 and reads:

"The Rt. Revd Benedict Fenwick was consecreated Bp. Of Boston in the Cathedral of Baltimore by the Most Revd A. Marechal; Bishops Conwell of Philadelphia and England of Charleston assisting. The concourse was great. An able appropriate discourse was delivered by Bp. England of Charleston."

The practice of keeping such a diary was continued by each of the bishops of Boston until about 1902, but by about 1870 had devolved into a scrapbook of newspaper clippings. The six total volumes are indexed in two additional volumes, one accounting for all people and the second for all churches named within the six volumes.

Bishop Fenwick's tendency to realize the importance of recording events is evidenced by the existence of several other documents in his papers. These include undated notes on missions in the United States, a history of the Diocese of Charlestown, where he was assigned prior to Boston, a "State of the Catholic Church in the United States" dating to 1814 and notes on churches in the Northwest.

These sources are a wealth of information for those interested in early Catholic history in the United States and are available for review in the library at the Pastoral Center.

Thomas Lester is the archivist of the Archdiocese of Boston.

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