Bicentennial pilgrimage to celebrate first diocesan bishop

CHARLESTON—Students of Irish history and the history of Catholics in South Carolina will be interested in a pilgrimage tour that has been announced in conjunction with the bicentennial of the Diocese of Charleston. 

Up to 100 people will have the chance to travel to Ireland from May 14-24, 2020, as part of a tour that celebrates the Irish heritage of Bishop John England, a native of Cork, Ireland, who arrived here in 1820 as the first bishop of the newly-formed Diocese of Charleston. 

Bishop England led the diocese for 22 years and accomplished many milestones, including building the state’s first cathedral, establishing a seminary, founding the Sisters of Charity of Our Lady of Mercy, and starting the country’s first Catholic newspaper, the United States Catholic Miscellany. In 1846, he also became the first Catholic leader to address the U.S. Congress. 

The pilgrimage is being led by Cormac O’Duffy of Summerville, a native of Ireland who has studied Bishop England’s life and ministry extensively. 

O’Duffy said he organized the pilgrimage with the approval of Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone because he would like more people to know about Bishop England’s Irish origins, as well as his support of Catholic liberation during the country’s struggles under British rule. 

“I think if people are interested at all in the background of our diocese, they will enjoy getting an insight on the man who brought this diocese to life,” O’Duffy said. “He had such an impact in Ireland before he came to the United States, and everyone I have talked to about him regards him as one of the finest of the early bishops in [Ireland]. When he left, Ireland’s loss was America’s gain.” 

The pilgrimage will include stops in Shannon — where Bishop England received his call to move to Charleston — along with his native Cork, including the Cork Gaol where he worked as a chaplain, and the churches where he was ordained and then consecrated as Bishop of Charleston. 

Key to the bicentennial pilgrimage is a plan to install a memorial plaque dedicated to Bishop England in the Cathedral at Cork.

There will also be stops at sites in Kerry related to the historic Irish political figure, Daniel O’Connell, who successfully worked for the liberation of Ireland’s Catholics in 1929. Bishop England was a strong supporter of O’Connell and his work. 

Other locations on the pilgrimage include a visit to Carlow College, where the bishop studied as a seminarian, plus tours of historic sites in Dublin and Belfast. 

Father Gregory Wilson, pastor of St. Mary Help of Christians Church in Aiken, will serve as chaplain for the pilgrimage. 

Space is available for up to 100 pilgrims. For information, contact Cormac O’Duffy at 812-202-2208 or