Father Francis Ignatius Neale, S.J., (died 1837) was an American Roman Catholic priest of the Jesuit Order who became President of Georgetown College on two occasions and who 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 Francis) and his brother, Father Bennett Neale, S.J., one of the first Jesuits in the English colony.
Francis' 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. Francis was among the youngest three sons, all of whom also became Jesuit priests. They were the Most Reverend Leonard Neale, S.J., who also served as president of Georgetown and later became the Archbishop of Baltimore, and Father Charles Neale, S.J., who served repeatedly as Superior of the Jesuits in America 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.
He followed his brothers to Flanders, where he enrolled at St. Omer's College, intending to enter the Jesuits. In 1773, however, before he could do so, the Pope ordered the suppression of the Society of Jesus. Remaining in Europe, he continued his seminary studies in Liège and was ordained there. He returned to the United States in November 1788, to the high expectations of John Carroll, the newly consecrated bishop of the new nation. Neale was initially assigned to St. Thomas Manor in St. Mary's County, the estate which served the former Jesuits as a center of worship and operations near Port Tobacco.
At that time, Carroll had envisioned the establishment of a college for the training of the young men of the Catholic community, who had thus far had to go to Europe for an education in the faith, as all the clergy to date had been required to do. To this end, he acquired property in Georgetown and broke ground for the project in 1789. Carroll had pinned his hopes for this establishment on the leadership of Francis Neale. The community of former Jesuits, however, was aging and wanted to keep the focus of new members of their society on the manors which supported both themselves and the life of the small Catholic community in the Potomac region. This lack of interest in a school under the bishop's control came to be shared by Francis Neale, who apparently did not hesitate to voice his opposition. This was to mark the beginning of a long period of conflict between the two. Carroll first expressed his frustration in a letter sent to Neale in January 1790, in which the bishop complained about what he labeled "misinformation" on Neale's part as to the state of the rural missions served by the ex-Jesuits. This was crucial as they comprised the bulk of clergy Carroll had available to minister to the Catholic population of the nation. Carroll also challenged Neale regarding his spirit of cooperation with the goals of the new diocese by obtaining orders for the newly translated Douai Bible and a guide to the faith written by another Neale brother, Leonard.
At that point, in response to a request by the Governor for a priest to serve the growing frontier town of Frederick, Maryland, Carroll tried to remove Neale from the circle of ex-Jesuits by assigning him to minister there. Neale pleaded, however, that he was too ill to leave Port Tobacco, which was to occur periodically. In January, 1792, however, Father Neale arrived at the college, which had opened its doors the previous fall. He was named the first pastor of Holy Trinity Catholic Church adjacent to the college, but the salary he received for his work serving as president and treasurer of the school was his sole means of support. Neale proceeded to start the building of the church, which he was able to have erected within two years by virtue of his fund-raising efforts. By 1795, however, he abandoned efforts at raising subscriptions toward the church and used his own funds for the purchase of land surrounding the church, to protect its sacred environments. He was use his personal fortune to help establish the church over the next fifteen years.
Catholics throughout the region flocked to the church to receive the sacraments of their faith, and the demand outstripped the expectations of either Carroll or Neale, who preferred his work for the college. Nevertheless, Carroll again attempted to transfer Neale in 1797. This time influential members of the congregation, whom he did not able to oppose, intervened on Neale's part, and he was allowed to stay. The consequence of this, however, was that the a special committee was drawn up to determine the future of the college. They resolved that the school was to be run by a five-member board of directors, composed of the Maryland clergy, which included Francis Neale. The first meeting of the Board named Neale as Vice-President of the college. It has been speculated that this was to oust the college's third president, the Sulpician Abbé Louis Dubourg. It had the additional effect of separating Carroll from the administration of his beloved college.
The college thrived in its initial years. But within a few years, under the presidency his brother, Leonard, president of the college for six years (1798–1806), enrollment had declined to the point of endangering its future. It remained that way through the two terms of Francis serving as president. Criticism of the severe discipline imposed by the Neale brothers was voiced as the cause of this decline by Archbishop Carroll.
During this same period, Carroll acted on the repeated requests of Francis Neale (who had even written him a letter, which Carroll found to have a nagging tone, while he was in England, preparing for his consecration as bishop) and the other former members of the Society of Jesus to have them re-integrated into the order. Permission was granted by the Father General of the official remnant of the Society in Russia, where they had found protection of the Empress Catherine the Great. On October 10, 1806 Father Neale entered the Jesuit Order in the first novitiate established for them in America. Although a novice himself, he was appointed as Master of novices, directing their training.
He was appointed pastor of St. Ignatius Church, one of the Jesuits' first chapels, in Port Tobacco, where he served from 1819 until his death in 1837.
- Currier, Charles Warren (1989). "Chapter V: The New World". Carmelite Sources: Carmel in America. 1 (Bicentennial ed.). Darien, Illinois: Carmelite Press. ISBN 0-9624104-0-3. Archived from the original on 7 October 2010.
- St.Joseph Mission SJ Parish Records 1747
- Carmel in America, Chapter 5
- At peace with all their Neighbors: Catholics and Catholicism in the National Capital 1787–1860 by William Warner, page 18
- "A Brief History of the Parish". Holy Trinity Catholic Church. September 28, 2008. Retrieved 2009-01-16.[dead link]
- At Peace... page 22
- At Peace..." page 27
- idem, page 29
- Company Magazine
- St. Ignatius Church
- Francis Neale Photo CONTENTdm Collection
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