Francis Neale

Francis Ignatius Neale SJ (June 3, 1756  December 20, 1837), also known as Francis Xavier Neale, was an American Catholic priest and Jesuit who led several of the order's institutions in Washington, D.C. and played a significant role in the Jesuit order's restoration in the United States. Born to a prominent Maryland family, Neale was educated at the College of Bruges and Liège, where he was ordained a priest but was unable to enter the Society of Jesus, as it was suppressed by the pope. When Neale returned to the United States in 1788, Bishop John Carroll assigned him as pastor of the church at St. Thomas Manor, where he aligned himself with the rural clergy in opposing Carroll's founding of Georgetown College, which they believed would occur at the expense of the rural manors; his conflict with Carroll over various issues would continue for much of his life.

Francis Neale

6th & 8th President of Georgetown College
In office
Preceded byWilliam Matthews
Succeeded byGiovanni Antonio Grassi
In office
Preceded byRobert Molyneux
Succeeded byWilliam Matthews
Personal details
Born(1756-06-03)June 3, 1756
Port Tobacco, Colony of Maryland, British America
DiedDecember 20, 1837(1837-12-20) (aged 81)
St. Thomas Manor, Maryland, United States
Resting placeSt. Thomas Manor
Alma materColleges of Bruges and Liège
OrdinationApril 3, 1788

In 1790, Neale became the first pastor of the Georgetown Chapel, which would become Holy Trinity Church, the first Catholic church in Washington, D.C. Overseeing its construction and the rapid growth of its congregation, he would remain pastor for 27 years. He also established the Church of St. Mary in Alexandria, Virginia, and was its visiting pastor. Meanwhile, he assumed senior duties at Georgetown College, including a brief term as acting president, before becoming the permanent president of the college in 1809. His tenure was considered unsuccessful, as the number of students declined dramatically due to his institution of strict monastic discipline.

When the Jesuit order was restored in the United States in 1806, Neale entered the Society and became the master of novices at the novitiate in Georgetown, despite having never previously been a Jesuit. On top of simultaneously holding these multiple positions, he was made treasurer of the Jesuits' Maryland mission. In his later years, he was the spiritual director to the nuns at the Georgetown Visitation Monastery, before returning to St. Thomas Manor as pastor, where he died.

Early life

Francis Ignatius Neale was born on June 3, 1756,[1] at Chandler's Hope, the Neale family estate near Port Tobacco,[2] located in Charles County of the British Colony of Maryland.[1] He was born into a prominent Maryland family; among his ancestors was Captain James Neale, one of the settlers of the Maryland Colony, who arrived in 1637 upon receiving a royal grant of 2,000 acres (810 ha) in what would become Port Tobacco.[3]

His parents, William Neale and Anne Neale née Brooke, had thirteen children, and all seven of the boys, including Francis, the youngest, were sent to the Colleges of St Omer, Bruges, or Liège. Two of Francies Neale's brothers died during their studies, while four of the surviving five became Catholic priests. One brother, Leonard Neale, would go on to become president of Georgetown College and the Archbishop of Baltimore, while another, Charles Neale, also became a prominent Jesuit.[4] One sister, Anne, entered the Order of Poor Clares as a nun, in Aire-sur-la-Lys, France.[5] Through his sister, Mary, his nephew was William Matthews, another future president of Georgetown.[4]

In 1773, Pope Clement XIV ordered the worldwide suppression of the Society of Jesus.[6] Therefore, Neale was unable to enter the Jesuit order as he intended,[7] but continued his seminary studies at the college in Liège. Following his ordination as a priest on April 3, 1788,[8] he immediately left for the United States.[9]

Maryland missions

Meanwhile, John Carroll, the Bishop of Baltimore, had recently founded the long-planned Georgetown College in the District of Columbia, the first Catholic institution of higher education in the United States.[10] As early as 1785, Carroll had requested that Charles Plowden return a cohort of Maryland Jesuits studying at the college in Liège to the United States so that they could staff the fledging college.[11] He intended Neale, in particular, to play a significant role in the college's early years.[3] Carroll's requests went unfulfilled until November 1788, when Neale, having completed his studies at Liège, arrived in Baltimore. He initially assigned Neale to the Jesuit estate of St. Thomas Manor, near Port Tobacco.[3]

Neale greatly enjoyed the rural life, and aligned with the manorial Jesuits who opposed Carroll's establishment of a college. He frequently expressed in correspondence with Carroll his belief that the Jesuits should direct their efforts to ministering to rural congregations in Southern Maryland, rather than on higher education. Neale's relationship with Carroll soured when Neale accused his superior of giving insufficient support to the rural missions, while Carroll chastised Neale for poorly managing his congregation's finances, such as failing to obtain orders for the new American-printed Douay–Rheims Bible.[3] Eventually, Neale became the most outspoken opponent of Carroll's efforts to establish Georgetown College, which he believed to be at the expense of the Maryland Jesuits' rural manors.[12]

Establishment of Georgetown Chapel

Carroll sought to transfer Neale from St. Thomas Manor in 1790, when the Governor of Maryland, Thomas Sim Lee, requested that a priest be sent to the rapidly expanding city of Frederick. However, around the same time, Neale fell ill, and was unable to go.[13] Later that year,[14] Carroll appointed him as the first pastor of the yet-to-be-built Georgetown Chapel.[lower-alpha 1][13] Carroll reasoned that Neale's prominent ancestry, and acquaintance with many distinguished families in Georgetown would aid him in raising funds to support the nascent church.[4] However, Neale would not arrive in Georgetown until January 13, 1792, after recovering from a period of ill health.[13]

Georgetown Chapel (now known as the Chapel of St. Ignatius), adjacent to Holy Trinity Church

Neale's pastorate proved to be highly beneficial to the church. He succeeded in raising considerable funds from Catholics in Montgomery, Prince George's, Charles, and St. Mary's Counties in Maryland during the first several months of his tenure. This allowed construction on the chapel to begin quickly, and its foundation was complete by the end of 1792; the superstructure would be completed the following year.[13] As the new church occupied the entire width of its lot, Neale sought to protect it and its adjacent cemetery from encroachment by purchasing land on either side as a buffer. Contributions proved to be inadequate, and he resorted to supplementing donations out of his own funds. He would again contribute his own money fifteen years later to purchase the remainder of the block's width, where the present Holy Trinity School now stands.[17] Construction on the Georgetown Chapel was altogether complete by March 1794.[18]

As the first Catholic church in the District of Columbia,[15] the Georgetown Chapel drew parishioners from as far as Dumfries and Great Falls in Virginia and Bladensburg in Maryland.[19] The size of the congregation increased rapidly, and the church soon became overcrowded, despite the erection of makeshift sheds on the sides of the church to augment the size of the building.[19] In 1796, the parish established a mission church in Alexandria, which was the first Catholic church in the state of Virginia. Neale ministered to this church, but its location was inconvenient. Therefore, he purchased a former a Methodist meeting house more centrally located in Alexandria, and named it the Church of St. Mary.[18]

Relations between Neale and Carroll continued to deteriorate, as Neale resisted Carroll's attempts to sell some of the Jesuits' rural properties. In April 1797, Carroll directed Neale to transfer from Georgetown to the Jesuit estate in White Marsh, Maryland, as had been tentatively discussed at a previous meeting of the clergy, despite Neale's opposition. However, before this order could be given effect, several wealthy parishioners and lay trustees of the Georgetown Chapel intervened to petition Carroll to keep Neale at Georgetown;[20] Carroll acquiesced,[21] and Neale remained as pastor until 1817, when he was succeeded by Benedict Joseph Fenwick.[14]

In the meantime, Neale had become a prominent member of the Select Body of Clergy of the Corporation of Roman Catholic Clergymen of Maryland,[1] a civil corporation beyond Carroll's authority composed of priests who had been Jesuits prior to the order's suppression.[lower-alpha 2] Neale was made the legal agent of the corporation in 1798.[23]

Georgetown College

In addition to his priestly duties at the Georgetown Chapel, Neale also worked at Georgetown College as treasurer pro tempore, which was the sole source of income, room and board.[13] In August 1797, a special committee of Maryland clergy was drawn up to determine the future of the college. It resolved that the institution was to be run by a five-member board of directors, composed of Maryland clergy who were selected from by their peers. The effect of this resolution was the deprivation of Carroll and the incumbent Sulpician president of the college, Louis William DuBourg, of any official control of the school. Neale was selected as one of the five directors. At the board's first meeting in October 1797, Neale was elected vice president of the college, whose duties largely corresponded to those of his current role of treasurer.[21] He would hold the position of vice president for ten years.[24]

Georgetown College close in appearance to during Neale's tenure

When the president of Georgetown College, Robert Molyenux, was forced to resign the presidency due to declining health in December 1808,[25] Neale was made the acting president,[26] until a permanent successor could be found in his nephew, William Matthews, in March 1809.[27] Following the end of Matthews' tenure, Neale succeeded him as president on November 1, 1809.[28] His administration of the college was poor, as he instituted the same severe monastic discipline that his brother, Leonard, had previously implemented at the college during his presidency. Students were required to follow a daily regimen, which heavily focussed on religious activities. While this resulted in a considerable number of students entering the priesthood, it led to a significant decrease in the number of non-Catholic students and a severe decline in the overall number of students.[29] Enrollment was also affected by competition for students with St. Mary's Seminary and University in Baltimore.[30] At the college, Neale established the first Sodality of the Blessed Virgin in the United States.[31] He also purchased 40 acres (16 hectares) to expand the campus for student recreation.[24]

Neale had little interest in managing the academic affairs of the college, and upon assuming the presidency, transferred responsibility for the school's academics to the vice president.[32] As he simultaneously held numerous other pastoral and administrative positions, he was largely absent from the college. Carroll's evaluation was that the college had "sunk to the lowest degree of discredit."[32] Neale's tenure came to an end in August 1812, and Giovanni Antonio Grassi was named as his successor.[33]

Involvement in the restored Jesuits

Neale in his later years

In response to the request of Emperor Paul I of Russia, Pope Pius VII issued a bull in 1801 partially lifting the 1773 order of suppression by permitting the Jesuits to officially resume operation in the Russian Empire (which they had been already doing unofficially).[34] Bishop Carroll had long sought to restore the Jesuit order in the United States, and aimed to do so by submitting the Maryland Jesuits to the jurisdiction of the Jesuits' Russian province.[35] However, he was wary that such an arrangement would contravene the pope's order and might draw the attention of political enemies of the Jesuits.[36] Neale and his brother, Charles, led a group of clergy in persistently urging Carroll to effectuate the arrangement.[37] Carroll was eventually persuaded,[37] and a Jesuit novitiate was formally opened on October 10, 1806 in a house offered for use by Neale, across the street from the now-Holy Trinity Church.[7]

The newly appointed superior of the Maryland Jesuits, Robert Molyneux, named Neale as the master of novices.[38] His selection drew some criticism from the European Jesuits sent at Carroll's request to aid the re-establishment of the Jesuits in the United States, on the grounds that Neale had never been trained in a Jesuit novitiate,[7] and that he would simultaneously be a novice himself.[39] In addition to his duties as master of novices, Neale assumed of treasurer of the Jesuit's Maryland mission.[30] During the War of 1812, Neale had most of the Jesuits' livestock in St. Inigoes removed to White Marsh, to keep them safe from looting by the British.[40]

Later life

Upon his brother, Leonard's, death in 1817, Neale assumed his duties as spiritual director to the nuns of the Georgetown Visitation Monastery.[24] However, before long, he suffered a stroke while in Alexandria. Though this necessitated that he relinquish the full-time position,[31] he continued to hear the nuns' confessions until his death.[41] After his recovery, he once again took up missionary work in rural Maryland.[31] He returned to St. Thomas Manor, where he became pastor of its church, later known as St. Ignatius Church. He served in this office from 1819 until his death,[42] on December 20, 1837.[1] He was buried in the cemetery at St. Thomas Manor.[5]


  1. The Georgetown Chapel, later known as Holy Trinity Church and then as the Chapel of St. Ignatius, was called a "chapel" because it remained uncertain whether it was lawful for Catholics to build public churches in the city.[15][16]
  2. The corporation was created in 1792 in response to the suppression of the Society of Jesus. Its purpose was to preserve the property of the former Jesuits with the hope that the Society would be one day restored and the property returned under the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Jesuit superior in America.[22]



  1. St. Mary's Church and Residence 1885, p. 108
  2. Chandler's Hope: Architectural Survey File 2003, pp. 2, 15
  3. Warner 1994, p. 18
  4. Warner 1994, p. 19
  5. Currier 1890, p. 53
  6. Griffin 1882, p. 5
  7. Warner 1994, p. 98
  8. Downing 1912, p. 42
  9. Treacy 1889, p. 181
  10. Warner 1994, p. 15
  11. Warner 1994, p. 17
  12. Warner 1994, pp. 18–19
  13. Warner 1994, p. 20
  14. "From the Pastor's Desk" (PDF). Holy Trinity Catholic Church Bulletin. Washington, D.C.: Holy Trinity Catholic Church. December 6, 2015. p. 2. Archived (PDF) from the original on December 16, 2018. Retrieved January 4, 2019.
  15. "Old Holy Trinity Church". DC Historic Sites. Archived from the original on May 18, 2020. Retrieved May 18, 2020.
  16. "History of HTS". Holy Trinity School. Archived from the original on April 7, 2017. Retrieved March 18, 2020.
  17. Warner 1994, p. 21
  18. Warner 1994, p. 23
  19. Warner 1994, p. 25
  20. Warner 1994, p. 26
  21. Warner 1994, p. 27
  22. Curran 2012, pp. 14–16
  23. St. Mary's Church and Residence 1885, pp. 61–62
  24. Shea 1891, p. 38
  25. Shea 1891, p. 35
  26. Curran 1993, p. 404
  27. Curran 1993, p. 62
  28. Buckley 2013, p. 101.
  29. Curran 1993, p. 63
  30. Warner 1994, p. 99
  31. Shea 1891, p. 39
  32. Curran 1993, p. 64
  33. Curran 1993, pp. 64–65
  34. Shea 1891, p. 516
  35. Shea 1891, p. 517
  36. Shea 1891, p. 522
  37. Warner 1994, p. 97
  38. Warner 1994, pp. 97–98
  39. Curran 1993, p. 58
  40. Devitt 1931, p. 217
  41. Currier 1890, p. 209
  42. "Pastors of St. Ignatius Church". St. Ignatius Church. Archived from the original on July 25, 2011. Retrieved May 18, 2020.