Charles Neale SJ (1751–1823) was a leader of the Jesuit mission in America. He was born in the Catholic colony of Maryland to a prominent family, descended from Captain James Neale, who had settled in the colony in 1642 with a royal grant of land of two thousand acres. The family traced its origins to the noble O'Neill family of Ireland, from whom came the kings of Ulster. Among his direct descendants were Oswald Neale (grandfather to Charles) and his brother, Father Bennett Neale, S.J., one of the first Jesuits in the English colony.
Charles' siblings included Father William Chandler Neale, S.J. (1743-1799), who left America to enter the Jesuit order in Flanders and spent his life ministering to the Catholics of England, where he died. The next two brothers also took this step, but both died before they were able to complete their training. Charles was among the youngest three sons, all of whom also became Jesuit priests. They were Father Francis Neale, S.J., the president of Georgetown College, and the Most Reverend Leonard Neale, S.J., who also served as president of Georgetown and later became the Archbishop of Baltimore. One sister, Anne, became a nun of the Order of Poor Clares in France. The other children of the family included another sister, Eleanor, who married a John Holmes, and a brother Ralph, who was the only son to marry.
On September 7, 1771, Charles Neale entered the same Jesuit novitiate as his older brothers. Two years later, however—before he was able to take religious vows as a Jesuit—the worldwide suppression of the Society of Jesus was authorized by the Pope. Due to his poor health, Charles was then advised to join with other former members of the Society and to continue his seminary studies in Ghent, where he was ordained around 1780. Shortly after his ordination, he was persuaded by the prioress of an English community of Discalced Carmelite nuns in Antwerp. The prioress, Mother Mary Margaret of the Angels, O.C.D., born Mary Brent in Maryland, was Neale's cousin through his grandmother, the wife of his grandfather, Oswald Neale.
Over the ten years Neale served this community, he maintained contact with his friends and colleagues back in Maryland. Through this dialogue, the nuns were encouraged to attempt a foundation in the new nation, the United States of America, which had emerged from the American Revolution during that period. The decision was made and Neale offered to accompany the women on their return voyage to their native land. Initially, the intention was to have his cousin, Mother Mary Margaret, lead the new foundation; her death in 1784 precluded that. The small community was to be led by Mother Bernardina Teresa Xavier of St. Joseph, O.C.D. (born Ann Teresa Matthews), who was to serve as prioress. (Her older brother was also a former Jesuit priest still serving the Maryland Mission, who died one month before her return.) She was accompanied by her nieces, Sisters Mary Eleanora of St. Francis Xavier, O.C.D., and Mary Aloysia of the Blessed Trinity, O.C.D. (Susana and Ann Teresa Matthews). The final member had been chosen by Mr. Neale himself, Sister Clare Joseph of the Sacred Heart, O.C.D. (born Frances Dickinson), who was an Englishwoman.
The small contingent sailed from the port of Texel on May 1, 1790, on a ship called "The Brothers", commanded by one Captain MacDougal, a Scotsman. Though the captain had advertised New York as the destination, he failed to advise the passengers that he was carrying cargo destined for the Canary Islands, which was a detour of some two thousand miles. The voyage was a difficult one, due both to the weather, and the lack of provisions, from the captain's unwillingness to provide adequate food for either the crew or passengers. Additionally, according to the account by the nuns, when they landed in Tenerife to drop off the cargo, local church authorities heard reports bandied about by the captain that the women were fleeing their monastery in order to marry the priests. Another priest on the ship, one Mr. Plunkett, went to the authorities to scotch the rumor. Nevertheless, Neale and the nuns stayed on board out of fear of being arrested by the Spanish Inquisition
The ship finally arrived in New York on May 31. They stayed in the city for a month, sailing out on the Fourth of July, for Norfolk, Virginia, where they landed five days later. They then transferred to a sloop, for the final leg of the journey to Maryland, where they arrived on July 10. They then stayed for a week at the home of the brother of the late Mother Mary Margaret and Mr. Neale's cousin, before proceeding to Port Tobacco, St. Mary's County, the county seat, where Neale built them a house at his own expense.
After his return, Mr. Neale worked tirelessly to maintain the works of the Society from prior to the Suppression and to restore the Society of Jesus as an official Order. In 1803, the members of the Maryland Mission, consisting of the surviving former Jesuits, learned that, two years earlier, Pope Pius VII had approved the continuation of the Society in Russia, where the decree of suppression had never been implemented by the Empress Catherine the Great. As a Russian Orthodox ruler, she had no obligation to obey a papal order, and she valued the educational works of the Jesuits in the territories she ruled, particularly Poland. Thus in May of that year, Bishop John Carroll, the sole Ordinary for the entire nation, supported by his coadjutor bishop, Leonard Neale (Charles' brother), both of whom were former members of the Society, appealed to the new Father General in Russia that the former Jesuits in the United States be re-admitted to the Society, noting that the structure of the Jesuit Mission in Maryland had remained intact from the time of the Suppression up to that date. The Father General agreed and authorized the re-admission of the former Jesuits to the Society, appointing Father Robert Molyneux as Superior for the United States. Thus, Charles Neale was finally able to profess his vows as a Jesuit for the first time on August 18, 1805. The following summer, he was appointed Vice Superior for Charles and St. Mary's counties. Neale made his final profession of solemn vows on November 16 of that same year at the Jesuit church in Georgetown.
Upon the death of Molyneux in 1808, Father Neale was appointed to succeed him as Superior of the American Jesuit community. At that time (as had also occurred after his taking vows), Neale was instructed by the Father General to leave the direction of the Carmel he had founded, in order that he might help staff the institutions of the Society. Carroll, who was by then the Archbishop of the nation, again prevailed upon the Jesuit superiors to leave him in the duty to which he was so committed.
In December 1821, Father Anthony Kohlmann, S.J., then superior of the Mission, was succeeded by Father Neale. At this point Neale, always in feeble health, was in his advanced years. It was to be his third time carrying out the duties of that office. At the time of his re-appointment, Father Neale was still working as chaplain and living with the community of Carmelite nuns at Port Tobacco. Father Kohlmann and Father Francis Dzierozynski, a Polish Jesuit who was newly arrived in America, went to inform Father Neale of his appointment and to bring some letters from Rome.
Father Neale died in 1823 and was buried in the graveyard of the monastery by order of Mother Clare Joseph, one of the nuns brought by him from Europe. She became prioress in 1800, and remained so until her death on March 27, 1830. The monastery moved to Baltimore in September 1831, at which time Father Neale's remains were relocated to the new location, along with those of ten nuns.
- Carmel in America, Chapter 5:The New World
- St.Joseph Mission SJ Parish Records 1747
- Carmel in America
- Carmel in America, Chapter 6
- Chronicles of Baltimore
- "Carmel in America" Chapter 8: The Voyage"
- Jesuit USA News September 2006
- "Carmel in America, Chapter 12: Passing Clouds"
- The Jesuit Mission of Missouri at the Wayback Machine (archived October 11, 2007)
- The Early Nineteenth Century Burials at Mount Carmel, Maryland