In Ages Past
The Apostle of Ohio: Bishop Edward Fenwick, O.P.
He answered many calls for help, but not all were emergencies:
He was sent for by an old lady, not a Catholic, who lived a distance of four miles. Having no horse at the time, he was compelled to perform the journey on foot, in a dark night, and over bad roads. On reaching the house, he found the old lady sitting by the fire, surrounded by her friends. She stated to him very gravely that, knowing him to be a kind-hearted man, she had sent for him to procure twenty-five cents' worth of tobacco, of which she then stood greatly in need!
In time, though, he brought order to Catholic life in Ohio, a rapidly growing state. The first churches, one historian notes, were "plain, barn-like structures of plank . . . small, unpretentious, and showing the poverty of the early settlers." In 1821, Fenwick was named Bishop of Cincinnati, a diocese covering all Ohio (and the adjoining regions). Initially, he refused, but his superiors persuaded him to accept.
Over the next decade, Bishop Fenwick erected a cathedral, brought women religious to Ohio, and recruited more priests. In 1829, he founded a seminary, and two years later he established The Catholic Telegraph, a newspaper still running today. He continued to travel throughout his diocese, and in 1832 he caught cholera during a trip to northern Ohio. He died on September 26, 1832. By the time of Fenwick's death, Ohio had 22 churches and 24 priests. When he first arrived there had been none.
The British author Frances Trollope, who wrote a book about her travels through the United States, had little use for most Americans. She had less for Roman Catholicism, later authoring novels with anti-Catholic themes. But when she met Fenwick during her journey, she was deeply impressed. Never, she wrote, had she met
in any country a priest of a bearing and character more truly apostolic. He was an American, but I never should have discovered it from his pronunciation or manner. He received his education partly in England and partly in France. His manners were highly polished; his piety active and sincere . . .
This week Catholics celebrate the Feast of St. Dominic; it's an opportunity to celebrate the founding of the Dominican order in America. Today it continues to flourish here through the ministry of its priests, religious, and laypeople who embody the Dominican charism through their preaching, teaching, and personal example.
Dr. Pat McNamara is a published historian. He blogs about American Catholic History at McNamara's Blog.