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Edward Fenwick

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His Excellency, The Most Reverend

Edward Dominic Fenwick

Bishop of Cincinnati
Appointed19 June 1821
In office1822–1833
SuccessorJohn Baptist Purcell
OrdinationFebruary 23, 1793
by Ferdinand-Marie de Lobkowitz
ConsecrationJanuary 13, 1822
by Benedict Joseph Flaget
Personal details
Born(1768-08-19)August 19, 1768
Province of Maryland, British America
DiedSeptember 26, 1832(1832-09-26) (aged 64)
Wooster, Ohio, United States

Edward Dominic Fenwick, O.P. (August 19, 1768 – September 26, 1832) was an American prelate of the Catholic Church, a Dominican friar and the first Bishop of Cincinnati.

Early life


Edward Fenwick was born August 19, 1768, on the family plantation on the Patuxent River, in the Colony of Maryland to Colonel Ignatius Fenwick and Sarah Taney. Colonel Fenwick was a military figure of the American Revolution and one of the early Catholic families of Maryland. At that time, Jesuit missionaries ministered to Maryland Catholics. His first cousin Benedict J. Fenwick, a Jesuit, became the second bishop of Boston; another cousin, Enoch Fenwick was also ordained a Jesuit priest and was eventually named president of Georgetown College. Many families sent their sons abroad to study, and at sixteen years of age, Edward was sent to the Dominican Holy Cross College in Bornem, near Antwerp, Belgium, where his uncle was a teacher.[1] The school was under the jurisdiction of the English Province of Dominicans.[2]

In 1788 Fenwick joined the Dominican Order and entered the seminary at Bornem as a theological student, and chose the name, "Dominic". Edward Dominic Fenwick was ordained a priest on February 23, 1793[3] and became a professor at the Dominican College. When Belgium was invaded during the French Revolution, Fenwick was imprisoned, but later released upon proof of his American citizenship. The school re-located to Carshalton, England. Later, Fenwick taught at a Dominican school outside London.[1]

With the assistance of Luke Concanen, assistant to the Master of the Dominican Order, Fenwick received permission to return to the United States and to establish a Dominican college. He arrived in America in the autumn off 1804, accompanied by Friar Robert Angier. He was received by Bishop John Carroll, who suggested that Fenwick and the Dominicans who accompanied him should evangelize the vast regions of the United States west of the Appalachian Mountains, including the territories acquired in the 1803 Louisiana Purchase.[2]

Missionary work


In 1805, Fenwick traversed the entire Mississippi Valley looking for a central location to continue his missionary work. Three other Dominican priests were Samuel Thomas Wilson, a Master of Sacred Theology, Robert Antoninus Angier, a Lectorate in Sacred Theology and Preacher General, and William Raymond Tuite.[2]

In 1806, Fenwick purchased a 500-acre plantation near Springfield, Kentucky. Construction of a priory and a church began almost immediately and was first inhabited in December 1806 but not completed until 1807. St. Rose Priory was named for the Dominican St. Rose of Lima, the first native of the Americas to be canonized. In February 1807 the new American Province of St. Joseph was approved. At Fenwick's request, Samuel Wilson was appointed prior.[4]

The church was dedicated December 25, 1809. St. Rose Priory was the first Catholic educational institution west of the Alleghenies. The first bishop of the new (in 1808) Diocese of Bardstown, Benedict Joseph Flaget, used the priory until the Bardstown St. Joseph Proto-Cathedral was built. Saint Thomas of Aquinas College was added later, completed in 1812. Jefferson Davis was among its earliest students.[1] Like Davis, Fenwick owned many enslaved African Americans.[5]

The difficulties of life as an itinerant preacher were many, not the least being exposure to extremes of weather. While riding from place to place, he read his breviary on horseback. Fenwick was known to ride forty miles out of his way to visit an isolated family. He often fasted while travelling, in anticipation of celebrating Mass once he reached his destination. Often Fenwick had to swim his horse across swollen streams to reach a mission. Frequently he was obliged while travelling, to spend the night in the Kentucky backwoods, populated by bear and wolves. The missionaries who ministered to the scattered communities on the frontier generally worked alone, and the strain of loneliness and overwork could serve to undermine their health.[2]

In 1808, Fenwick reached Ohio, where he ministered to predominantly German and Irish families, many of whom knew little English.[6] In 1817 he was joined by his newly ordained nephew, Fr. Nicholas Dominic Young, OP. The first church in Ohio was built in Somerset and dedicated to St. Joseph on December 6, 1818. A second log church, dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, was soon erected in Lancaster. A third was begun in Cincinnati, at the suggestion of Bishop Flaget, who visited the city in the spring of 1818.[7]



On January 13, 1822, Edward Dominic Fenwick was consecrated as the first Bishop of the Diocese of Cincinnati.[3]

The consecration was celebrated at Saint Rose Church as there was no cathedral in Cincinnati. He went to Europe in 1823 to raise funding for the new diocese and returned in 1826 with resources to begin the construction of the cathedral, parochial schools, and to found the convents of the Sisters of Charity and of the first community of Dominican women in the United States that became Dominicans of St. Catharine (now the Dominican Sisters of Peace).[4]

In 1829 Bishop Fenwick established the St. Francis Xavier Seminary. This was the third oldest Catholic seminary in the United States and the oldest Catholic seminary west of the Appalachian Mountains. The Athenaeum of Ohio-Mount St. Mary Seminary claims its roots through the St. Francis Xavier Seminary and is located in Cincinnati[8]

In her book Domestic Manners of the Americans, Fanny Trollope wrote of Fenwick:

I had the pleasure of being introduced to the Catholic bishop of Cincinnati, and have never known in any country a priest of a character and bearing more truly apostolic. He was an American, but I should never have discovered it from his pronunciation or manner. He received his education partly in England, and partly in France. His manners were highly polished; his piety active and sincere, and infinitely more mild and tolerant than that of the factious Sectarians who form the great majority of the American priesthood.[9]

In 1831 Bishop Fenwick initiated publication of The Catholic Telegraph diocesan newspaper.[10] The weekly newspaper was carried by stage and riverboat to areas within the diocese's government, as well as to cities in Kentucky, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Maryland and the District of Columbia. The Catholic Telegraph is still in existence today as the oldest continuously-published Catholic newspaper in the United States.[citation needed]

Also in 1831, Bishop Fenwick founded The Athenaeum,[2] which later evolved into Xavier University and St. Xavier High School.[citation needed]

After the college was established he returned to missionary work, visiting the Indian tribes in the Northwestern territory. Stricken by cholera, he died in Wooster, Ohio, on September 26, 1832, aged 64.[3] He is buried in a mausoleum in the new St. Joseph Cemetery, Delhi Township, Hamilton County, OH.



Several schools are named in his honor:


  1. ^ a b c "The Apostle of Ohio: Bishop Edward Fenwick, O.P." www.patheos.com. Retrieved 2024-01-17.
  2. ^ a b c d e O'Daniel OP, S.T.M., V.F., The Right Reverend Edward Dominic Fenwick OP, 1929
  3. ^ a b c "Bishop Edward Dominic Fenwick O.P.", Catholic Hierarchy
  4. ^ a b "Petit OP, Loretta. "Friar in the Wilderness", Project OPUS, Chicago, 1994". Archived from the original on 2014-10-06. Retrieved 2014-10-06.
  5. ^ Ryckbost, Anne. "LibGuides: Fenwick History: Summary". libguides.xavier.edu. Retrieved 2024-01-17.
  6. ^ Edward Dominic Fenwick Papers 1803—1832: Founding American Dominican Friar and Bishop, ed. Luke Tancrell, OP (New York: Dominican Publications, 2005), pp. 145–146.
  7. ^ Lamott, S.T.D., John H., History of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, (1921)
  8. ^ "History", St. Mary's Seminary
  9. ^ Trollope, Fanny, Domestic Manners of the Americans, Ch. 11.
  10. ^ The Catholic Telegraph diocesan newspaper


  1. Lamott, S.T.D., John H., History of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, (1921)
Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Bishop of Cincinnati
Succeeded by