CARROLL, JOHN (1735-1815), American Roman Catholic prelate, was born at Upper Marlborough, Prince George's county, Maryland, on the 8th of January 1735, the son of wealthy Catholic parents and a cousin of Charles Carroll "of Carrollton." He was educated at St Omer's in Flanders, becoming a novitiate in the Society of Jesus in 1753, and then at the Jesuit college in Liège, being ordained priest in 1769 and becoming professor of philosophy and theology. In 1771 he became a professed father of the Society of Jesus and professor at Bruges. As tutor to the son of Lord Stourton, he travelled through Europe in 1772-1773. After the papal brief of the 21st of July 1773 suppressed the Society of Jesus, he accompanied its English members then in Flanders to England. In 1774 he returned to America, and set to work at a mission at Rock Creek, Montgomery county, Maryland, where his mother lived. He shared the feeling for independence growing among the American colonists, foreseeing that it would mean greater religious freedom. In 1776, at the request of the continental congress, he accompanied Benjamin Franklin, Charles Carroll and Samuel Chase on their mission to secure the aid or neutrality of the French-Canadians, and though unsuccessful it gained for him the friendship of Franklin. In 1783 he took a prominent part in the petition to Rome to take the control of the American church away from London; and on Franklin's recommendation, Carroll was named prefect apostolic, the American church being recognized as a distinct body in a decree issued by Cardinal Antonelli on the 9th of June 1784. In the summer of 1785 he began his visitations; in 1786 he induced the general chapter to authorize a Catholic seminary (now Georgetown University); and at the same session it was voted that the condition of the church required a bishop, accountable directly to the pope (and not to the Congregation of the Propaganda) and chosen by the American clergy. Consent to this course was given by Antonelli in a letter of the 12th of July 1788. The clergy met at Whitemarsh, Maryland, and Baltimore was adopted as the episcopal seat, Carroll being chosen as bishop; and on the 6th of November 1789 Pius VI. issued a bull to that effect, Carroll being consecrated at Lulworth Castle, England, on the 15th of August 1790.
On his return from England the bishop saw Georgetown College completed (1791), thanks to moneys he had received from English Catholics. His first synod met on the 7th of November 1791; and on the 16th he issued the "Circular on Christian Marriage," which attacked marriage by any save "lawful pastors of our church." In 1795 the Rev. Leonard Neale (1746-1817) was appointed his coadjutor. In 1799, after the death of Washington, Bishop Carroll bade his clergy hold the 22nd of February 1800 as a day of mourning, and on that day delivered in his pro-cathedral a memorial discourse which attracted much attention. Already in 1802 he was pressing for the creation of new sees in his diocese, and the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 gave added weight to this request; in September 1805 the Propaganda made him administrator apostolic of the diocese of New Orleans, to which he appointed John Olivier as vicar general; and in 1808 Pius VII. divided Carroll's great diocese into four sees, Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Bardstown (Kentucky), suffragan to the metropolitanate of Baltimore, of which Carroll actually became archbishop by the assumption of the long delayed pallium on the 18th of August 1811, having consecrated three suffragans in the autumn of 1810. In 1811 ecclesiastical jurisdiction over the Danish and Dutch West Indies was bestowed upon him. Carroll was now an old man, and the shock of the war of 1812, which as a staunch Federalist he had opposed until its actual declaration, together with the action of the Holy See in appointing to the sees of Philadelphia and New York other candidates than those of his recommendation, weighed on his mind. He died in Georgetown on the 3rd of December 1815. He may well be reckoned the greatest figure in the Roman Catholic Church of the United States. His position in the church had never been easy, partly because he had been a prominent member of the Society of Jesus. The great size of his diocese had made it unwieldy; and his struggle to secure the independence of the American church had been a difficult one. As a defender of papal and episcopal authority he had, especially in Philadelphia and Baltimore, to deal with churches whose trustees insisted that they and their parishes alone could choose priests, that bishop or prefect could not object to their choice. Akin to this difficulty was the desire of Catholics of different nationalities to have separate churches, a desire often created or encouraged by intriguing and ambitious priests. Besides these and other internal annoyances, Carroll had to meet the deep-seated distrust of his church in communities settled almost exclusively by Protestants.
See John Gilmary Shea, History of the Catholic Church in the United States, vol. ii. (1763-1815), (Akron and New York, 1888); and Daniel Brent, Biographical Sketch of the Most Rev. John Carroll, First Archbishop of Baltimore, with Select Portions of His Writings, edited by John Carroll Brent (Baltimore, 1843).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)