MassMoments reminds us that on this day – May 26, 1647 – the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony banned those “devils” – all Jesuit priests – from entering the Colony. The Puritans were particularly hostile to Roman Catholics. Puritans had originally separated from the Church of England because they believed it had not sufficiently cleansed itself fully of “corrupt” Catholic practices. They “purified” their own worship by eliminating rites, rituals, and outward signs of religion such as crucifixes, holy water, statues, priestly vestments, and stained glass. They also rejected church hierarchy and abolished the priesthood. To them, the Pope was the “Antichrist,” and the “Papists” who followed him were in league with the devil. These early roots of anti-Catholic sentiment lasted for a long time even as the Catholic population of Massachusetts grew through Irish immigration after 1840 and into the 20th century with additional waves of immigration. It is an irony of history that a son of Massachusetts and a descendant of Irish immigrants – John Fitzgerald Kennedy – would become the nation’s first Roman Catholic president.
…in 1647, Massachusetts Bay banned Jesuit priests from the colony on penalty of death. The English Puritans who settled the colony feared the Jesuits for several reasons. First, simply because they were Catholic. To Puritans, Catholicism was nothing less than idolatrous blasphemy, and Catholics were destined for eternal damnation. Second, because the Jesuits were French, and France and England were engaged in a bitter struggle for control of North America. Finally, Jesuit missionaries had converted large numbers of Indians in Canada to Catholicism. Indian converts were potential allies of France and enemies of the English. Although no Jesuit was executed for defying the ban, the legacy of anti-Catholicism in Massachusetts survived for generations.