On August 15, 1790, John Carroll became the first bishop of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States. The son of a wealthy Catholic merchant, Carroll was born in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, in 1736 and had significant Revolutionary connections.* His cousin, Charles Carroll, was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence; his brother, Daniel Carroll, signed the Articles of Confederation and the United States Constitution.
After receiving a Jesuit education at the Bohemia academy in Cecil County, Maryland, Carroll studied abroad at the English-language Jesuit College of St. Omer in Flanders. He was ordained a Jesuit priest in 1761 and remained in Europe teaching philosophy and theology. When Pope Clement XIV dissolved the Jesuit order in 1773, Carroll returned to Maryland, serving local Catholics from a chapel built on his family's estate at Rock Creek, near present-day Forest Glen. In 1776, he took part in a diplomatic mission to Canada on behalf of the Continental Congress. Though the effort failed to win over Canada to the American cause, Carroll gained the friendship of Benjamin Franklin, who was important to his later success.
In June 1783, a small group of priests called together by Carroll met at the chapel at White Marsh (now known as Sacred Heart Church) in Bowie, Maryland, to discuss how the Catholic Church in the new United States would be governed and its property managed. The group drew up a constitution and petitioned Rome to appoint John Lewis, former superior of the Jesuits in Maryland as the superior of the American missions. In part through the influence of U.S. minister to France Benjamin Franklin, however, the Vatican appointed John Carroll instead.