Titular Bishop of Apollonia – Fourth Archbishop of Baltimore
Motto: Auspice Maria. “Under the protection of Mary.”
James Whitfield was born in Liverpool, England on November 4, 1770, the son of James and Ann (Genders) Whitfield. After his father’s death, James and his mother traveled to Italy hoping that the warmer climate would be better for her health. During his return to England, they were detained in Lyons, France by one of Napoleon’s embargoes against the English government. It was during this time in Lyons that Whitfield met Rev. Ambrose Maréchal, S.S., who invited him to study at the Sulpician Grand Seminary. Whitfield accepted the invitation, and was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Claude Simon of Genoble on July 24, 1809 in Lyons. After his ordination he returned to England, and in 1811 was assigned to St. Mary Chapel near Liverpool, England. While he was ministering at St. Mary Chapel, he received an invitation from Maréchal, the newly appointed Coadjustor Bishop of Baltimore, to come to America. He accepted this invitation, and in Spetember 1817 Whitfield arrived in Baltimore. He became engaged in pastoral work first as Assistant at the Cathedral of Baltimore, then later as Rector of the Cathedral. He was named Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Baltimore in 1818, a position he held for 10 years. During his ministry in Baltimore, he worked for the welfare of the African-American community.
On January 8, 1828, Whitfield was appointed Coadjutor of Baltimore by Pope Leo XII. Twenty-one days after his appointment, Archbishop Maréchal died. Because the Bulls did not reach him until after Maréchal’s death, Whitfield was consecrated as Archbishop of Baltimore on Sunday 25, 1828. His episcopal ordination was on Pentecost Sunday at the Assumption Cathedral and was celebrated by Bishop Benedict J. Flaget, S.S. of Bardstown. He received his Sacred Pallium on October 4, 1829, the same day as the opening of the First Provincial Council of Baltimore. Archbishop Whitfield convened both the First and Second Provincial Councils of Baltimore in 1829 and 1833. He also convened a Synod for the priests in the Archdiocese of Baltimore in 1831.
The First Provincial Council of the Baltimore was an historical event for the Catholic Church in the United States. It was held a little more than fifty years after America declared their independence from England. The Catholic Church had grown substantially since Bishop John Carroll’s time. Bishop Carroll’s Church had about 25,000 Catholics with 25 priests. The Catholic Church under Archbishop Whitfield boasted seven bishops, 160 priests, about 160 churches, three colleges, eight convents and 350,000 Catholics. Pope Pius VIII approved the decrees of the Council, and these decrees became the basis of the law for the Church in the United States.
Archbishop Whitfield died on October 10, 1834 at the age of 64. He was buried in Baltimore. Throughout his time as See of Baltimore, Archbishop Whitfield devoted his own funds for the good of the archdiocese. He completed the towers of the Cathedral and built St. James Church in Baltimore, all with his own resources. The cornerstone of St. James Church was laid in 1833, with the work being completed and consecrated on May 1, 1834.
Source: The Encyclopedia of Catholic Bishops in America 1789-1989, Volume II.