Murphy: Franciscan Was First American Bishop

Roy Gasnick Around the Province

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Was James Carroll, named Bishop of Baltimore in 1789, the first bishop in the territory of the United States?  No, according toThomas K. Murphy writing in the April 20-26 issue of The Florida Catholic.

That distinction, according to Tom, belongs to Franciscan friar Fr. Juan Suarez, OFM. Suarez was one of five friars and several secular priests in an expedition headed by Panfilo de Narvaez to explore and colonize the new Spanish possession of La Florida.

Fr. Suarez had been appointed bishop of the territory, and his first contact with the land was at present-day St. Petersburg on Holy Thursday, April 14, 1528. The exact location is known today as Narvaez Park on the western edge of the present city of St. Petersburg.  Suarez, according to Tom, became America’s first bishop, beating out Carroll by 262 years.

Tom Murphy is steeped in the Catholic history of La Florida, a territory that stretched from Florida north to Chesapeake Bay and as far west as the Rio Grande River. He is the author of The Cradle of the Catholic Church and the Franciscan Order in the U.S.A., 129 pp, 1997.

 Copies of Tom’s Florida Catholic article are available through the friary in St. Petersburg. The publication serves the dioceses of Miami, Orlando, Palm Beach, St. Petersburg, and Venice in Florida.

  Fr. Roy is the founder of the Province’s Communications Office and is on the staff of St. Anthony’s in St. Petersburg.