About the Diocese
1853-1900 Early History
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The Diocese of Erie was officially established on July 29, 1853 and was to
embrace thirteen counties of Northwestern Pennsylvania. The new Diocese was carved out of the Diocese of Pittsburgh founded in 1843 with its first Bishop the Most Rev. Michael O'Connor. He was an Irish immigrant who became vicar-general of the Philadelphia Diocese which covered the entire state of Pennsylvania. He also served as the rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia before he was appointed the Bishop of Pittsburgh. Subsequently, because of the large territory to which he was compelled to minister, he petitioned Archbishop Kenoick in Baltimore to create a new diocese in the northwestern section of the diocese of Pittsburgh. His request became a reality when the Diocese of Erie was established and O'Connor became its first bishop.
In the meantime, Father Josue M. Young a priest of the Cincinnati Diocese was appointed Bishop of Pittsburgh which he refused but agreed later to go to Erie when Bishop O'Connor returned to Pittsburgh.
Bishop Young (1854-1866) was a convert to Catholicism. He was born in Sharpleigh, Maine of a prominent colonial family on October 28, 1808. He attended seminaries in Kentucky and Ohio. He was fluent in the German language which put him in good standing with the many German immigrants he ministered to in both the Cincinnati and Erie Dioceses.
He served the faithful with a great deal of zeal despite the poverty and sparse population of the ten thousand square miles of his rural diocese. He supported the anti-slavery cause during the Civil War and witnessed the discovery of oil in Titusville, Pennsylvania. He was instrumental in persuading the Sisters of St. Benedict to remain in Erie to teach the children at St. Marys School in Erie. Later, he welcomed the Sisters of St. Joseph from Buffalo, New York, under the leadership of Mother Agnes Spencer, to work in his missionary diocese where they eventually (built) a hospital and a home for orphans both in Meadville and Erie. Bishop Young died suddenly during the evening of September 18, 1866.
His successor was Tobias Mullen (1868-1899), the Vicar General of the Diocese of Pittsburgh who shepherded the Diocese of Erie for thirty-one years. The greatest single monument to his memory was the construction of St. Peter Cathedral in Erie. It was dubbed "Mullen's Folly" because at the time of its construction which began in 1873, there were approximately one thousand adult Catholics in Erie and its location considered to be too far out of town! But, Bishop Mullen envisioned a fast-growing diocese that would eventually have need for a large Cathedral. However, the new Cathedral was not finished until twenty years later as Bishop Mullen would not go forward with construction until he had the funds in hand. His vision would prove to be correct. When the Cathedral was dedicated on August 3, 1893, it was filled to overflowing by the faithful of the diocese and several dignitaries including Cardinal Gibbons of Baltimore.
The institutional development of the Diocese of Erie was remarkable during the administration of Bishop Mullen. He had erected a Cathedral and many parishes with resident pastors, expanded two hospitals and an orphanage, invited several religious communities including the Sisters of Mercy to teach in his schools and erected a home for the aged. This was accomplished despite the perplexing economic and social conditions of his era. The membership of his church consisted largely of immigrants who were the first to feel the effects of an economic decline. Added to this was the problem of supplying priests and other religious personnel especially to the newcomers from eastern and southern Europe who were often strikingly different in language and culture. Yet, despite these seemingly insurmountable difficulties, Bishop Mullen patiently managed to direct his Diocese along the confident path of achievement.
Bishop Mullen suffered a stroke on May 20, 1897 after he had dedicated a small frame church at Mt. Jewett, Pennsylvania. He remained in ill health until the time of his death on April 23, 1900. He was buried from the grand cathedral he had built on April 26, 1900.
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