Early Dominican Friars in North America       


1526   Spanish Colony on Atlantic Coast Fails

The first Dominican known to have reached the land which is now the United States was the preacher Antonio de Montesinos. In July, 1526 he and two other friars left Puerto Rico with an expedition of six ships led by Lucas Ayllon Vasquez. The Ayllon party landed in the vicinity of the present Georgetown, South Carolina. Here the would-be colonists expected to encounter a "new Andalucia," a land rich in crops known in that part of Spain. It was also said to abound in pearls and gems! But the explorers found neither pearls nor abundant crops; only a sparse native population, a few villages, and no suitable place for settlement. The spanish expedition remained about three months and built near the coast a little church dedicated to San Miguel de Gualdape. The friars celebrated Mass, perhaps the first on the mainland.
 SOURCE: Dominicans at Home in a Young Nation (1786-1865), 26.

1539-43   The De Soto Expedition

De Soto landing in Florida (1539)
Three Dominican friars accompanied De Soto and more than 600 soldiers searching for gold into regions along the Gulf coast into present areas of Mississippi, Arkansas and Texas until 1543. Of the three friars, only Juan de Gallegos survived.



1548   Fray Luis Cancer: Florida's Protomartyr 

 Dominican Pioneer, Pacifist Preacher & Martyred Missionary 

by Alberto
Rodriguez, O.P.
The stained glass window shows Fray Luis de Cancer holding the cross and the Scriptures. The window was designed by Vito Rambusch for Espíritu Santo Church, Safety Harbor, Florida.
Other Dominicans followed Montesinos into the southern region of the present United States. One of these, Fray Luis Cancer, was accompanid by several missionaries and a native Christian woman, Magdalena, who was their translator.  They sailed north up the Florida coast in the spring of 1548. In June 20, 1549 Fray Luis Cancer de Barabastro celebrated the first recorded mass in Florida when he and other priests went ashore in the Tampa Bay area for the Feast of Corpus Christi. Shortly thereafter, they became the first Dominicans to be martyred in North America.

 U.S. History Timeline

 1607   Jamestown: 

the first permanent English settlement in America

 1775–1783   American Revolution:

War of independence fought between Great Britain and the 13 British colonies. Great Britain formally acknowledges American independence in the Treaty of Paris, which officially brought the war to a close (Sept. 3, 1783)


1784   Fenwick Leaves Maryland to Study Abroad

FLANDERS, BELGIUM--In 1784, the United States was literally in its infancy, having just been granted independence from England according to the terms of the Treaty of Paris. That same year, Edward Fenwick, a sixteen year-old Maryland boy, journeyed across the Atlantic ocean to attend the College of the Holy Cross in Bornhem, Flanders. Founded over a century earlier by English Dominicans fleeing persecution in their native land, this preparatory school for young men introduced the boy to the way of life of his uncle, John Ceslaus Fenwick, O.P. (see Volume I, 39-42; 78)

The witness of his Dominican instructors made a powerful impression on this young student from America. Sensing a growing desire to follow in the footsteps of St. Dominic, he applied for admission as a novice after completing his course of studies. Baptized Edward, he received the name Dominic in 1788 upon entrance into the Order —a fitting choice, for like the great founder, Dominic Fenwick would also one day be a founder. No doubt animated by the spirit of his patron, he dreamed of returning to Maryland to plant the Dominican seed in his native land.

 SOURCE: John A. Langlois, O.P., The Province of St. Joseph: A Brief History

1786   The First Dominican Friar to Serve in U.S.

NEW YORK, NY--John O'Connell, (who would later become bishop of New York), became the first Dominican to be permanently assigned to the new nation called the United States. He has led the way for many men and women of the Order of Preachers to follow him in unbroken continuity. Serving primarily as a chaplain at the Spanish legation in New York, the temporary capital of nation, he had a prestigious and unique assignment: to serve with Don Diego de Gardoqui, a man of talent and influence in Church and State. After three years of ministry in New York, O'Connell returned to Europe.

 U.S. History Timeline

 1785   Catholics From Maryland Begin to Settle in Kentucky

Maryland Catholics begin migrating to Kentucky in significant numbers. Suffering from the effects of economic depression, they looked to the frontier as offering the opportunity for a fresh start.

 1787   Constitutional Convention: 

Delegates from 12 of the original 13 colonies meet in Philadelphia to draft the U.S. Constitution (May-September).

 1789   Washington Inaugurated as President: 

Held at Federal Hall in New York City


1786-1815   Introducing the Friars Who Served with
                     Bishop John Carroll

Bishop John Carroll
John Carroll in 1790. Appointed by Pope Pius VI to be bishop of Baltimore, that is, bishop of the entire United States reaching all the way to the Mississippi River.
BALTIMORE, MD--Following O'Connell more than twenty friars, the majority from Ireland, were sent as missionaries to the new nation. Of these the first twelve served with Bishop John Carroll in the vast Diocese of Baltimore, then the only one in the United States. One of the Preachers on mission with John Carroll was Francis Antoninus Fleming, who was named the bishop's vicar general for the Northern District, (former pastor of St. Mary's in Philadelphia and St. Joseph in Willings Alley),  which extended from New York to Maine. Fleming, like several of his confreres, met death while caring for victims of yellow fever. Among the other friars were William O'Brien, pastor of New York's first parish, St. Peter's on Barclay Street; Anthony Caffrey , founder of St. Patrick's, the first parish in Washington, D.C; and John Ceslas Fenwick, an American of the English Province, who lived and labored with the Jesuits in southern Maryland.

 SOURCE: Dominicans at Home in a Young Nation (1786-1865), 39.

 U.S. History Timeline

 1812-14   War of 1812: 

The U.S. went to war with Great Britain over British interference with American maritime shipping and westward expansion. During the war the British captured Washington, DC, and set fire to White House and Capitol (Aug. 1814).Treaty of Ghent is signed, officially ending the war (Dec. 24, 1814).


1814   John Connolly Installed as a Bishop

John Connolly
New York's First Bishop Never Arrived
 New York's first bishop was also an Irish Dominican, Luke Concanen. But after his ordination in Rome his passage to the United States was delayed so long by Napoleon's embargo on ships leaving Italy that death overtook him before he could leave.
NEW YORK, NY--The single See of Baltimore was divided in 1808 to form five dioceses. One of these was New York for which an Irish Dominican friar, John Connolly, was appointed bishop (1814 - 1825).

Three Catholic churches existed in his diocese in 1815. The first was St. Peter's located on Barclay Street (1796). The second was founded and incorporated by laity who had gathered secretly during the Revolutionary War in private homes. The third, under construction since 1809, St. Patrick's church became New York's cathedral where Connolly was installed as bishop.

1817   Connolly's Battle with the Trustee System

NEW YORK, NY--Modeled on European and Protestant practices, and used for legal expediencies in incorporating church properties, lay trustees had assumed wide responsibilities in local church governance in the absence of priestly personnel and church funds. Bishops and clergy, accustomed to traditional episcopal control, found serieous threats to religious authority in the trustee system.

Breaking the Old Trustees' Stranglehold

Bishop Connolly was not well received by the New York City trustees nor did he do anything to win them over. In fact, having been warned about the trustees' dominance over the church prior to his coming to the United States, he did whatever he could to break the old trustees' stranglehold upon the Catholic community. Both St. Peter's and St. Patrick's...were under one board of trustees. Many of these men had served as trustees for thirty years. In April of 1817 Connolly single-handedly dissolved the sole board of trustees, established two separate boards of trustees, one for St. Patrick's and the other for St. Peter's, and appointed illegally, trustees who were favorable to episcopal rule over the churches.

SOURCE: Patrick Carey, People, Priests, and Prelates: Ecclesiastical Democracy and the Tensions of Trusteeism (Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 1987) 134.

 U.S. History Timeline

 1819   Spain agrees to cede Florida to the United States


CREDITS: The timeline is based primarily on the contents of THE ORDER OF PREACHERS IN THE UNITED STATES, edited by Mary Nona McGreal O.P. and published by Editions du Signe of Strasbourg. Vol. I, Dominicans at Home in a Young Nation: 1786-1865, published in 2001, is available from PROJECT OPUS, 5082 W. Jackson Blvd. Chicago, IL 60644 Another source is the article by M.N.McGreal in the Encyclopedia of American Catholic History, requested by Michael Glazier and published by the Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN. The original content of the book and article has been edited and adapted into a time-line format using photos and other resources on the web.