Acts of kindness sometimes bear fruit that we never would have expected. That was illustrated clearly in the friendship between two “founding fathers” of the United States.
John Carroll, born in Maryland in 1735, came from a Catholic family that had several members playing an instrumental role in early American history. His older brother Daniel Carroll II (1730–1796) signed both the “Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union” (1778) and the Constitution of the United States (1787). His cousin Charles Carroll (1737–1832) was also an important member of the Revolutionary cause and was the last surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence (1776).
John himself would go on to become the first Catholic bishop of the American hierarchy. He joined the Society of Jesus in 1753 and was ordained a priest in 1769, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia. Four years later, however, Pope Clement XIV issued a Bull suppressing and dissolving the Jesuits. The following spring, Carroll returned to Maryland, where local laws discriminated against Catholics. There was no public Catholic church in Maryland, so Father Carroll began the life of a missionary in Maryland and Virginia. He built a small chapel on his mother’s estate and offered Mass there on Sundays.
Meanwhile, America’s War of Independence began in 1775, and it was in the Colonies’ interest that their neighbor to the north remain neutral. Benjamin Franklin led a delegation from the Continental Congress to seek an alliance with Canada in February 1776. The delegation included Charles Carroll of Carrollton, who asked his priest cousin to join them. Unfortunately, they failed in their mission.
According to the website Ignatian Spirituality, Fr. Carroll accompanied an ailing Ben Franklin back to Philadelphia, caring for him in such a kind way that later, when asked by the Vatican to recommend a priest who would become the first bishop of the United States, Franklin offered Carroll’s name.
In the meantime, in the wake of the Revolutionary War, Carroll and other priests in the new United States began meeting to ensure that their mission would continue and be as effective as possible.