Commentary by Father Thomas Peterman on the history of the Diocese of Wilmington on the occasion of the diocesan sesquicentennial.
In grade and high school, I always had an interest in history as an explanation of how we got where we are.
In the last year of the seminary at the Catholic University of America, Monsignor John Tracy Ellis, editor of The Catholic Historical Review, asked me to write a review on a book, and after he published the review, he gave me the book, writing on it’s inside cover: “Tom, get busy and write some of your diocesan history. You will find it interesting.”
I was deeply into high school and parish work the first 10 years after ordination, but was able to publish the first book Priests of the Century for the observance of the Diocesan Centennial.
Then at the time of the United States Bicentennial in 1976, I began publishing articles in The Dialog on early Catholic history in Delmarva.
I never encountered much competition in this matter. There were many who shared the interest and gave strong encouragement to continue to preserve a record of local growth in Catholicity.
In the past, some persons, clergy and lay, have made significant contributions to recording diocesan accounts of our past. Outstanding among them was the Reverend James L. McSweeney, who presented for publication in the 1905 first edition of The Catholic Encyclopedia. His article was enlarged and reprinted in The Catholic Church in the United States of America in 1914.
Another was Reverend Eugene J. Kramer who in 1947 completed an article “Catholicism in Delaware”, printed in Henry Clay Reed’s “A History of the First State.”
At present I am finishing a five-year effort to publish “The Life and Episcopate of John J. Monaghan, Third Catholic Bishop of Wilmington (1897-1925).” Not much has been written about it. Bishop Monaghan’s life has been interesting to research. He was well known to my grandfather in Milford. Bishop Monaghan established the first St. John’s Church there. He was well known to my mother, who attended St. Gertrude’s Academy in Ridgely. Bishop Monaghan was close to the Benedictine sisters and spent a good bit of time there. He was also well known to the late Monsignor John Donahue, who like many others described him as “A Southern Gentleman.”
I am into my last two chapters of Bishop Monaghan’s biography and plan to go to print next year. We’ll be making it just within the outer edge of the Diocesan Sesquicentennial.