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Page Background

Within a few years of the first voyage of Christopher Columbus,

the presence and influence of the Catholic Church were already

evident in areas of the “NewWorld” that would eventually become

parts of the United States. The vast lands of what would become

the continental United States were home to Native Americans

as well as Spanish-speaking Catholics in California, Colorado,

Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and Florida, and in parts of Arkansas,

Oklahoma, and the Olympic Peninsula in the state of Washington.

Similarly, French-speaking Catholics found their home in the huge

territory encompassed by the Louisiana Purchase and also in

the American heartland and the Pacific Northwest, where Native

Americans were evangelized by French Jesuit missionaries. From

the early years of the sixteenth century, Mass was celebrated

in the lands that are now Florida, Texas, and states of the U.S.

Southwest. The first Catholic martyr in this land was a Franciscan

missionary priest, Fr. Juan de Padilla, OFM, who was killed in 1542

because of his evangelization efforts among the natives of Quivira

in what is present-day Kansas.

Not long afterwards, dioceses began to be established in the

lands of the present-day United States. Catholic life, the preaching

of the Gospel, the reception of the Sacraments, the celebration of

the Eucharist, and the teaching and witness of Catholicism also

began to grow in those parts of the continent that would become

the Thirteen Colonies.

By the time Bishop John Carroll was appointed as shepherd to

the nascent Catholic community in the United States (Catholics

numbered about 35,000 in a national population of four mil-

lion), Catholicism was flourishing in many parts of the continent.

Throughout this text we will cite examples of the continuing

religious impact of the nation’s first Catholic generations.


Preface: Our First U.S. Bishop • xi