Patrick Neison Lynch: Third Catholic Bishop of Charleston

Patrick Neison Lynch: Third Catholic Bishop of Charleston

Patrick Neison Lynch: Third Catholic Bishop of Charleston

Patrick Neison Lynch: Third Catholic Bishop of Charleston


Patrick Neison Lynch, born in a small town in Ireland, became the third Roman Catholic bishop of the Diocese of Charleston, South Carolina. Lynch is remembered today mostly for his support of the Confederacy, his unofficial diplomatic mission to the Vatican on behalf of the Confederate cause, and for his ownership and management of slaves owned by the Catholic diocese. In the first biography of Lynch, David C. R. Heisser and Stephen J. White, Sr. investigate those controversial issues in Lynch's life, but they also illuminate his intellectual character and his labors as bishop of Charleston in the critical era of the state and nation's religious history. For, during the nineteenth century, Catholics both assimilated into South Carolina's predominantly Protestant society and preserved their own faith and practices.

A native of Ireland, Lynch immigrated with his family to the town of Cheraw when he was a boy. At the age of twelve, he became a protégé of John England, the founding bishop of the diocese of Charleston. After studying at the seminary England founded in Charleston, Bishop England sent Lynch to prepare for the priesthood in Rome. The young man returned an accomplished scholar and became an integral part of Charleston's intellectual environment. He served as parish priest, editor of a national religious newspaper, instructor in a seminary, and active member of nearly every literary, scientific, philosophical society in Charleston.

Just three years before the outbreak of the Civil War Lynch rose to the position of Bishop of Charleston. During the war he distinguished himself in service to his city, state, and the Confederate cause, culminating in his "not-so-secret" mission to Rome on behalf of Jefferson Davis's government. Upon Lynch's return, which was accomplished only after a pardon from U. S. President Andrew Johnson, he dedicated himself to rebuilding his battered diocese and retiring an enormous debt that had resulted from the conflagration of 1861, which destroyed the Cathedral of St. John and St. Finbar, and wartime destruction in Charleston, Columbia, and throughout the state.

Lynch executed plans to assimilate newly freed slaves into the Catholic Church and to welcome Catholic immigrants from Europe and the northern states. Traveling throughout the eastern United States he gave lectures to religious and secular organizations, presided over dedications of new churches, and gave sermons at consecrations of bishops and installations of cardinals, all the while begging for contributions to rebuild his diocese. Upon his death, Lynch was celebrated throughout his city, state and nation for his generosity of spirit, intellectual attainments, and dedication to his holy church.


A one-year-old in the arms of his worried and pregnant mother, as the ship rolled across the waves of the northern Atlantic, Patrick Neison Lynch sailed west to his destiny. Alongside, his father held tight the hands of the boy’s elder sister, who was but a toddler herself. His parents had braved the dangers of a sea voyage to seek opportunities in the New World. in search of a better life in America, they left behind in Ireland a lineage of ennobled ancestors. Aboard ship, his mother gave birth to his brother, John, who not only became a lifelong friend and companion but also established a distinguished career in medicine. This volume, recounting the life of Patrick Neison Lynch, is a story of journeys across dangerous seas to make a career as a churchman. It encapsulates the stories of thousands who fled Ireland to grasp the opportunities that awaited them in America. For the lure of the United States was that it was a nation of people who risked losing their memories and traditions in a struggle to fulfill or to remake lives in the most open society that humanity had yet created.

The Irish made up a good proportion of the flood of peoples that made America. Four and a half million souls emigrated from the Emerald Isle between 1820 and 1920. the largest number arrived in the era of the Great Famine, between 1846 and 1854, most of them small farmers and farm workers from the hungriest, most impoverished rural counties. Irish immigrants constituted 44 percent of the foreign-born white population in the United States on the eve of the Civil War. Irish labor built the roads, canals and railroads of the United States, performing labors considered too dangerous for enslaved African Americans—actual chattel with retail value—to perform. in the post—Civil War years, millions more came and found doors shut both socially and economically in the northern urban centers. Yet they persevered and clawed their way first to acceptance and then to prominence in every part of their adopted nation.

Charleston and the Carolinas offered more felicitous circumstances than many other landing sites. Irish adventurers were passengers on the first ships . . .

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