The Prefecture (more fully the Apostolic Prefecture of St. Mary’s World) is the name given to the Catholic Church as an institution on St. Mary’s-without-the-Arm, also known as S’Mary’s World. Prior to the departure of the freezer ship Our Lady of Loreto en route to establish the colony of St. Mary’s World, Pope Francis VI established the colony and colonists as an apostolic prefecture with Fr. Consolmagno Higgins as apostolic prefect. It was not thought necessary to send a bishop, as the Loreto was only the first of five freezer ships intended for the new colony over a twenty-five year period. The Loreto went far off course, however, eventually making landfall at S’Mary’s World, after which the new colony remained isolated for centuries. (The remaining four ships reached St. Mary’s-within-the-Arm, also known as Maria Victrix, as planned.) As a result, no diocese was established on S’Mary’s until contact was re-established with Old Earth at the end of the Times of Exile in 633 YOE.
Upon landing, Prefect Higgins found himself the de facto leader of the colony. The Articles of Colonization of St. Mary’s World provided for separation of church and state, and a complete civil government appointed by the Neo-Roman Ascendancy took ship on the Loreto. The leaders of this government were killed in the catastrophe that threw the Loreto off course, however, and so it fell to Higgins to draw the colonists together for survival. In this he was aided by the colony’s security force, who gave their loyalty to the Prefecture so as to end power struggles among the colonists. Scholars believe this event to be the origin of the Prefect’s bodyguards, known to the residents of S’Mary’s as St. Michael’s Old Peculiar.
The duration of the Times of Exile led the Prefecture to evolve in unusual ways. Prefect Higgins was a priest, not a bishop, and consequently had no authority to ordain priests. Further, canon law at the time of the Loreto‘s departure required a minimum of three bishops to consecrate a new bishop. At the time of landing there were only three priests on S’Mary’s World: Prefect Higgins; Fr. Dennis Petroushka, an erstwhile Benedictine monk, named by the Prefect as Master of the newly formed Albertine Order; and Fr. Timothy Martin, assistant to the Prefect. (Several others died en route.) The need for more priests (and a successor) was brought home to Higgins after a near brush with death in 12 YOE. In his apostolic letter In Time of Exile, he reasoned that S’Mary’s might be permanently isolated; and that as the Apostles and their followers appointed overseers for the churches they founded, so must he, that the benefits of the faith not be lost on S’Mary’s for ever. At that time he began to ordain additional priests, a policy continued by his successors. In addition, he named Fr. Timothy Martin as “sub-prefect” and his successor. It is clear from Higgins’ letter that he made this move in fear and trembling, and out of a strong desire to do that was best for his flock.
As the colony grew over the centuries of isolation, so did the need for a larger hierarchy; and in 247 YOE Prefect Arthur Vane named himself arch-prefect and began to appoint sub-prefects to the major towns and cities of S’Mary’s. (Until that time the title “sub-prefect” had been reserved to the Prefect’s designated successor.) On his death, the new arch-prefect was named by a conclave of the sub-prefects of S’Mary’s, and this custom was followed until the end of the Exile.
Fr. Higgins’ presumption of authority to ordain priests was unprecedented in modern times; but the need for episcopal authority on such expeditions of colonization was recognized by the Church some decades after the Loreto‘s departure, largely due to similar misadventures. Subsequent expeditions were organized as apostolic vicariates, the apostolic vicar have episcopal powers. As such, Higgins decision was retroactively approved by Pope Dominic III in 634 YOE, at the end of the Times of Exile. The ordinations of all S’Mary’s clergy were regularized, and the Prefecture officially became the Archdiocese of St. Mary’s-without-the-Arm. Higgin’s successor, Arch-prefect Martin Carville, was consecrated as Archbishop. Custom is strong, however, and the citizens of S’Mary’s are still inclined to use the title “arch-prefect” and refer to their particular church as The Prefecture.