restricted access Ganganelli's Disaffected Children: The Ex-Jesuits and the Shaping of Early American Catholicism, 1773-1790
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Ganganelli’s Disaffected Children: The Ex-Jesuits and the Shaping of Early American Catholicism, 1773–1790* Ronald A. Binzley O n the night of October 14, 1773, in Bruges, a city of the Austrian Netherlands, the Jesuit priests serving as schoolmasters at the English Province’s Great College finally learned their fate. For more than three weeks imperial officials, certain that the Jesuits were hiding substantial wealth, had kept these priests under arrest and confined to their college. Having received some assurances regarding their future from the bishop of Bruges, the Jesuits, or, more accurately, ex-Jesuits, entertained hopes that, despite the recent suppression of their order by Pope Clement XIV (1769-1774), the authorities in Brussels would allow them to retain control of their educational establishments, only now serving as secular priests. This was not to be.1 That evening, a group of imperial soldiers and civil officials arrived at the Great College to apprehend the Fathers, who were to be expelled from Austrian territory. The state officers, “robed in their badges of distinction,” forced three of the exJesuits , Charles Plowden (1743-1821), John Carroll (1735-1815), and Thomas Angier (1730-1788) to leave ahead of their brethren. As Plowden recalled, he and the others “were conducted through files of armed soldiers, who filled the vestibule, to the first coach . . . and without being informed of their destiny, they were driven in silence amidst surrounding guards, to the college of the Flemish [ex-Jesuit] Fathers.”2 Although the Austrian authorities would shortly allow Carroll and most others to 47 * Figures 1-3 in text are taken from “Promising Hope”: Essays on the Suppression and Restoration of the English Province of the Society of Jesus, ed. Thomas M. McCoog, S.J. (Rome: Institutum Historicum Societatis Iesu, 2003), 126, 260, 280. Figure 4 is taken from The John Carroll Papers, ed. Thomas O’Brien Hanley, 3 vols. (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1976), 1: ii. The author wishes to thank Charles Cohen and Joseph Chinnici for reviewing an earlier draft of this essay. 1. Hubert Chadwick, S.J., St Omers to Stonyhurst (London: Burns & Oates, 1962), 336-356 and The John Carroll Papers, ed. Thomas O’Brien Hanley, 3 vols. (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1976) (hereafter cited as JCP), 1: 37-43. 2. Charles Plowden quoted in Chadwick, St Omers to Stonyhurst, 344. depart for England or Liège, they held Plowden, Angier, and one other ex-Jesuit hostage for eight months in the belief that the former Jesuits were still concealing significant “riches” that now rightly belonged to the state.3 The experience of the 1773 suppression of their schools, and indeed their entire order, left an indelible mark on the English and American ex-Jesuits. Many of them, such as Carroll and Plowden, witnessed and felt first-hand the oppressive blows of unfettered state power. Even those ex-Jesuits safely removed in England or British America from the immediate effects of continental politics eventually learned to their disgust of the political dealing in the courts of Rome, Madrid, Lisbon, and Vienna that had led to their society’s humiliating end. Knowing too much of “the foul side of Rome” and “the spirit of rapine” animating Catholic princes, these priests developed a mistrust of the spiritual and temporal centers of Catholic power that few of their English or American co-religionists could entirely share or understand.4 This deep mistrust of Catholic authorities was an important aspect of a Jesuit mentality and identity that would play a major role in shaping Catholicism in the late eighteenthcentury British Atlantic world. This essay analyzes the significance of the English and American ex-Jesuits’ enduring “corporate identity” in order to reconsider a persistent question in the historiography of American Catholicism, namely the character of the American clergy in the revolutionary and early national periods.5 Historians, with their attention directed chiefly at John Carroll, the United States’ first Catholic bishop, have long insisted on the importance of the American environment to the development of the American clergy’s theological and political commitments, and since the 1970s a number of scholars have underlined the eighteenth-century Catholic Enlightenment’s...


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