The Bishop Who Ran the Blockade: Patrick N. Lynch and the Confederacy

The Bishop Who Ran the Blockade: Patrick N. Lynch and the Confederacy November 23, 2010

During the Civil War, congregations North and South often sided with their respective governments. This was no less true of Catholics. New York Archbishop John Hughes strongly supported the Union, traveling abroad to secure foreign support. In South Carolina, Bishop Patrick Neison Lynch (1817-1882) did the same for the Confederate States of America.

Born in Ireland in 1817, his parents moved to South Carolina two years later. Lynch began studies for the priesthood at age twelve. In 1840, he was ordained in Rome. With a doctorate in theology, he returned to Charleston, where he served as a pastor, bishop’s secretary, seminary professor, and newspaper editor.

In 1855, Lynch was named administrator of the Charleston Diocese, which then covered North and South Carolina. When he became bishop in 1857, the future looked bright, but war changed that. Bishop Lynch, a slaveholder, supported the South. In 1860, his newspaper declared: “Long years of menace, insult, outrage and unconstitutional aggression have been at last brought to a close by the event— the election of a Black Republican President.”

In April 1864, at Jefferson Davis’ request, he sailed for Europe to secure Vatican recognition. His ship slipped through the Union naval blockade. The mission, however, was a failure. Pope Pius IX, while sympathetic, would not extend formal diplomatic recognition. When Lynch got word of the Confederacy’s surrender, he planned to return home, but Northern authorities refused him admittance.

The Archbishops of New York and Baltimore helped secure a presidential pardon. In Charleston Lynch found only one of his churches still standing. In his history of South Carolina Catholicism, Father Jeremiah J. O’Connell writes: “Fire, famine, and the sword; not singly, but all at once, plied their work of ruin, and left the diocese in a state of poverty, wretchedness, and suffering unparalleled in any ecclesiastical district in the worldwide extent of the Catholic Church.”

Bishop Lynch spent the rest of his life struggling to repay a debt of nearly $400,000. At his death, all but $17,000 had been repaid, and many of the buildings destroyed in the war had been restored.

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