Now is the time of year when many young Catholics receive the sacrament of confirmation. With this in mind, I thought it would be an appropriate time to highlight some of the earliest confirmations to be officiated by a bishop of Boston and, in doing so, stumbled upon an interesting story.
Pope Pius VII established the Dioceses of Boston, Bardstown (Kentucky), New York, and Philadelphia in 1808, and also appointed a bishop for each. But, as noted in Bishop Benedict Fenwick's "Memoirs to Serve for the Future," Father John Cheverus of Boston was not elevated to bishop until 1810, and administered his first confirmations the following year.
The reason for this delay was that, although Pius VII had created the dioceses, the papal bulls, the official decrees signed by His Holiness, had not yet reached the United States. The original documents were entrusted to Bishop Luke Concanen of the new Diocese of New York, but, as Bishop Fenwick wrote, international events prevented his leaving, and he "could obtain no passage from Italy and who indeed never left there. He finally died in Naples, awaiting a passage to this country."
Due to the passing of Bishop Concanen, it was not until Aug. 7, 1810, that Bishop Benedict Joseph Flaget, the Bishop of Bardstown, arrived in Baltimore with official copies of the original documents. Bishop John Carroll of Baltimore still waited for Bishop Concanen, but news of his death soon reached the United States, and he finally called the bishops of the newly formed dioceses to Baltimore.
Father Cheverus arrived, and on Nov. 1, 1810, the Feast of All Saints, he was elevated to bishop at St. Peter's Church, the pro-cathedral. Fenwick wrote that, "the ceremony was performed with great pomp and solemnity and in the midst of an immense concourse of people who had assembled from all parts to witness the imposing scene."
Bishop Cheverus arrived back in Boston on Dec. 19, 1810, and was officially installed as the Bishop of Boston the following Sunday, Dec. 22. Fenwick writes that, "his first care on his arrival was to visit his Diocess (sic.) for the purpose of administering the holy sacrament of confirmation, which had not been conferred since the visit of (Bishop) Dr. Carroll in 1803."
In 1811, 205 years ago, records in the archive show that Bishop Cheverus confirmed approximately 350 Catholics, 122 of whom belonged to the Penobscot tribe. While many of the individuals are listed by name, in some instances simply a number was recorded. The records were originally entered into a register from the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, and were later copied by Bishop Fenwick into the Episcopal Register. Both copies are held by the Archdiocesan Archive.
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