History of the Catholic Church in Tennessee

History of the Catholic Church in Tennessee

From History of Tennessee From the Earliest Time to The Present
Goodspeed Publishing Co.
Nashville, TN

Retyped for the page by Diane Payne & Danene Vincent, 1998.

On May 10, 1821, Rt. Rev. Bishop David, accompanied by Rev. Father Robert Abell, arrived in Nashville, and was received by M. De Munbreun, who entertained them at his house. The following day the first mass offered in Tennessee was said. Previous to this time but four missionary visits had been made to the State since the early French settlements, and the number of Catholics in the State did not much exceed 100. Tennessee then formed a part of the diocese of Bardstown, Ky., which also included Kentucky and an extensive territory to the west, and which constituted the bishopric of Rt. Rev. Bishop Flaget. During the visit of Bishop David a proposition to establish a congregation in Nashville was made, and met with hearty approval from both Catholics and Protestants. Rev. Father Abell, who accompanied the bishop, preached every evening during his stay in the city, and a wide-spread interest was aroused. It was not, however, until 1830 that a church was erected on the north side of what now constitutes the Capitol grounds. Father Abell proceeded to Franklin, where there was one Catholic family and where he held services. He also went to Columbia and delivered a sermon at that place.

In 1834 the diocese was reduced to Kentucky and Tennessee, and in 1836 the latter was made a separate diocese, known as the diocese of Nashville, of which the Rt. Rev. Dr. Richard Pius Miles was consecrated bishop September 18, 1838. He was a native American and descendant of a Maryland family. Congregations had already been organized at several points in the State, and mission work was pushed forward with the energy and zeal characteristic of the Catholic Church. In 1859 the work, having considerably increased, became too arduous for the failing strength of Bishop Miles, and in May of that year Rt. Rev. Bishop James Whelan was appointed his coadjutor, with right of succession. On the death of Bishop Miles, which occurred February 1, 1860, he entered upon his duties, and remained until his resignation in 1863. He was succeeded as administrator of the diocese by the Rev. Father Kelly, a Dominican priest, who remained until November, 1865. He was then relieved by the Rt. Rev. Bishop Patrick A. Feehan, of St. Louis, who was consecrated in that city on the first day of that month. He continued in charge of the diocese until June, 1883, when he was succeeded by the Rt. Rev. Joseph Rademacher. While the Catholic Church in Tennessee does not embrace so large a membership in proportion to population as many other States, it is due rather to the small foreign element than a lack of prosperity or wise management. The Catholic population of the State at the present time is estimated by the bishop of the diocese at from 20,000 to 25,000 of which about 8,000 are residents of Nashville, and 10,000 or 12,000 of Memphis. The number in the latter city was greatly reduced by the yellow fever epidemic of 1878-79. Chattanooga and Knoxville also have large congregations. The whole number of churches in the diocese in 1886 was thirty. The church supports a large number of excellent schools and academies, and one college. One of the best known institutions for young ladies is the Academy of St. Cecilia, at Nashville. This school was established in 1860 by six ladies from St. Mary's Literary Institute, Perry County, Ohio, and has long enjoyed a high reputation for the excellence of its management. The Christian Brothers College, of Memphis, was chartered in 1854. It has an attendance of 200 pupils, and is presided over by Brother Maurelian.

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