Archives exhibits papal bull that established diocese

CHARLESTON—The Diocese of Charleston is rolling up to its bicentennial celebration — turning 200 on July 11, 2020.

As part of a planned display, the archives department decided to track down the original papal bull that established the diocese and appointed John England as bishop.

That piece of vellum proved elusive, but they did find the next best thing: a copy of the original, tucked away in the archives of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

Melissa Bronheim, assistant archivist, said the original was probably kept in the bishop’s house and burned in the fire of 1861, but they are still hopeful.

Meanwhile, a physical display of the copied document can be viewed at the archives department or online.

Brian Fahey, archivist, said the three-page bull on display in his office is written in Latin, but an English translation by Bishop Emeritus David B. Thompson can be read online. Fahey also enlisted Timothy S. Johnson, head of the Department of Classics at the College of Charleston for an additional translation.

For history buffs, it is a fascinating glimpse into the immense challenges and massive territory covered by Bishop England.

When the diocese was created, the Archdiocese of Baltimore was the only one in all the United States. Bishop England was responsible for South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, parts of Florida, and the Bahamas, plus missions to Haiti.

Fahey said some towns might have had only six Catholics, but the bishop visited and used the opportunity to speak at other venues, evangelizing and allaying fears of other religions.

Correction: August 16, 2012

An earlier version of this article gave an incorrect date of the fire that burned the bishop’s house. It was 1861 and not 1890.