Celebration of first Mass connects faith across centuries

Miscellany/Doug Deas: Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone celebrates the 200th anniversary of the first Mass in the diocese on Dec. 30, 2020, in the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Charleston.

CHARLESTON—On Dec. 30, 1820, Bishop John England, the first bishop of the Diocese of Charleston, arrived in South Carolina after a long journey from his birthplace of Ireland, and promptly celebrated his inaugural Mass in his new country.

Two hundred years later, on Dec. 30, 2020, the current spiritual shepherd of the diocese, Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone, led a celebration of of Bishop England’s historic arrival. He was joined by more than a dozen priests at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, who concelebrated with him. Members of the Cathedral’s choir offered beautiful and uplifting vocal music to accompany the liturgy.

The Fourth Degree of the Knights of Columbus provided an honor guard at the beginning of the Mass, which was also attended by men and women from the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. Bishop Guglielmone also noted leaders from two state  organizations who attended: Susanne Wolfe of Greenville, president of the South Carolina Conference of Catholic Women; and Daniel Barton, State Deputy of the Knights of Columbus.

Miscellany/Doug Deas: The 200th anniversary of the very first Mass in the diocese celebrated by Bishop John England coincided with Bishop Guglielmone’s 75th birthday.

During his homily, Bishop Guglielmone talked about the rich life of Bishop England, both in Ireland and in the United States, including his milestone of being the first Catholic leader to address the U.S. Congress. He also reflected on the huge responsibility that faced Bishop England when he arrived, particularly the challenge of being the new leader of a diocese that, at the time, encompassed hundreds of thousands of square miles in both Carolinas and Georgia.

The diocese itself was canonically erected by Pope Pius VII about six months before that first Mass by Bishop John England, on July 11, 1820. Events planned for the Bicentennial were interrupted by the pandemic, and so the celebration has been extended until July 2021.

The tribute to the historic Mass by Bishop England also paid tribute to the growing diversity of the faithful in South Carolina, which was represented by men and women from around the diocese who offered prayers in nine different languages — English, Spanish, Portugese, Tagalog, French, Italian, Korean, Polish and Vietnamese.

After the Mass, a small reception was held in the nearby Cathedral Hall, during which people took time to sing “Happy Birthday” to Bishop Guglielmone. The Bicentennial of Bishop England’s arrival coincided with his 75th birthday.