"sell all our landed property and slaves": Fr. McSherry to Fr. Roothaan, March 13, 1837

Dublin Core


"sell all our landed property and slaves": Fr. McSherry to Fr. Roothaan, March 13, 1837


Catholic Church--Clergy--Correspondence;
Society of Jesus;
Maryland Province;
Slavery--sale of slaves


Fr. McSherry wrote to Fr. Roothaan, the Jesuit Superior General, about a conversation he had with the Archbishop of Baltimore, who suggested that the Jesuits consider selling their land and slaves and devote the proceeds "to purposes of education."

This letter is in the Jesuit archives in Rome and is published here with the permission of the Society of Jesus.


Provincia Maryland 5 II 5, Archivum Romanum Societatis Jesu


Georgetown Slavery Archive




Cory Young, Adam Rothman


Do not republish without permission of the Archivum Romanum Societatis Jesu.









Text Item Type Metadata


admodum R In Xto      Georgetown College March the 13th. 1837

Lately passing through Baltimore the Archbishop, he spoke to me about the pension. He said that so far though he had received nothing from us We not been in want, I told him, that I had not the means to pay him in money, that I had been thinking of offering to him a tract of land of about one thousand acres perhaps more, not more than twenty miles distant from Baltimore, but my simple offer to him would be of no avail, that I could not of my own authority deed it to him, that it required the action of the corporation. He said he did not know any thing about the lands, and something of similar purport, and I understood him that it would be of very little use to him. I supposed at the time I was speaking to him that it would be sufficient that the trustees to make a deed of sale to him. But since I find that by the bye laws, it is necessary that the representatives, the body by whom the trustees are elected, should also give their consent. He will remain quiet until the council.

I have since seen him on my return from Frederick. He proposed to me to sell all our landed property and slaves and devote it to purposes of education. He said that he would be very anxious that we should take the College of Mount St. Mary’s: that it would be a disgrace to Religion if that establishment should decline or be discontinued, and that it was morally impossible that the few young men who are at the head of it, could sustain themselves any length of time. I told him that we were too much in want of members to think of any such thing. He answered that Mr. McElroy alone would be alone sufficient to undertake it, that he could retain the young men now there, that many of them were anxious to be admitted into the Society-- That he would be very glad moreover to see us have an establishment in Baltimore, that it was not the vocation of the Sulpitians to have colleges, that he would be glad to see theirs in our hands, and though he was not authorised to make any bargains for them, or to make known their desire, he was certain they would willingly relinquish the property, i.e., dispose of it for a portion of the proceeds of our possessions, that they would not think of taking our lands in exchange, that he thought we should sell them and that he [page break] would if necessary use whatever influence he could have with yr. R. to effect this; that it was a pity that so much property should remain comparatively unproductive, whilst the proceeds of it might be rendered doubly advantageous to Religion. That according to our present system a great portion of the time of the different missionaries was necessarily taken up with temporal concerns, to obtain a meagre support for themselves and their slaves. I must acknowledge, I felt too much of his opinion with respect to our property to contradict what he said, but endeavored to change the subject to his proposition with respect to Mount St. Mary’s and the College in Baltimore. I told him that I could enter into treaty in either case, that I could mention the matter to your Ry and know whether it would worth while to proceed further with it.

You will see by the above that he does not consider our lands non vendible. I believe no Bishop or Priest in this country considers them so. Your Ry appears to be persuaded of this from the answer I received to the last postulatum when I was in Rome. And I know there will be no danger of being accused in Rome of having sold Church property. With what I said in my letter of the 30 Augst last, and what may be drawn from this letter I think it will be unnecessary to say more to show the lawfulness of disposing of the property. -- Of the propriety of it, one reason is urged in the postulatum of 1835, there are some in the above words of the Archbishop. Others I will add, as well as answer the queries of Fr. Vespre as soon as I possibly can, and it will be fully six weeks before I can set myself fully at it. My Procuratorial business will prevent me in great part. The council which will soon convene also will prevent me. I must necessarily prepare myself for the Council, We will be taken on one question which may be troublesome. The question will be proposed whether the Churches which are served by Regulars and built by their exertions, by collections from the faithful are to be considered the property of Regulars, so that the Bishop will not have it in his power to appoint a Secular priest to take charge of it.-- In the answers to Quosita proposed to Y. Ry in 1833 there is an answer to a similar case. 15th and 16th Quosita. I have not [page break] a copy of the quosita themselves.-- I have only the answers, and do not well remember how the Quositum was worded. In a memorandum book which I have retained, I find the two following questions from which drew those proposed in 1833.-- Do the privileges of Regulars enable them to receive the donation of churches and lots which the faithful erect for their own use, as those are no parishes in America?

When our [?], as those in Missouri erect churches with money got from Europe or by subscription which they have raised in various places by their own exertions, are they or can they be obliged to deed that property to the Bishop even though such church be destined for the congregation as a Parish church? This question contains the whole difficulty, which will be proposed in Council. But in order to make it clearer it must be understood that in the churches, registers are kept of baptisms, marriages, and confirmations, there are Baptismal fonts in them or they have been ordered to be erected: so that if Parishes should be erected they will be the cause of some difficulty. In the Constitution of Benedict XIV [Cumruper?] Charissimus &c 13 nov. 1767. There is a decision rather in favour of the Bishops. It does not however as far as I remember, for I read it five years ago determine whether the church would pass to the secular Parish priests appointed.*

In Missouri, the Gentlemen of the congregation of St Vincent of Paul. think of withdrawing themselves from the care of such churches, as it is not their vocation to tend Parishes, and they think they should not tend quasi Parochial churches. I asked one of those Gentlemen when here last summer if it would not be desirable for them to retain some of the more important Churches which they had used great exertions to erect, and which might serve as residences for a small community. He said he thought that should be done, but he did not know what would be done. If I will be able to discover what the bishops will determine upon, I will write immediately to give your R. information. I do not know what is the cause of proposing this question, so prematurely, as the Bishop will not be able to appoint Secular Clergy to the different stations, on account of the small number which they have.

I could wish that there was some one better than myself to appear in the Council; but at any rate I hope before there will be another one their will be a better representative of our affairs.

Again requesting a remembrance in [?]. I am your unworthy servant in Xt.

Mr. McSherry

*There is still a difference between the title to churches in Mexico and those in this country. There they are as church property, here they are held by a civil title.

Original Format




Archivum Romanum Societatis Iesu, “"sell all our landed property and slaves": Fr. McSherry to Fr. Roothaan, March 13, 1837,” Georgetown Slavery Archive, accessed July 14, 2024, http://slaveryarchive.georgetown.edu/items/show/274.