Matthew Carr O.S.A. was one of the founding figures of the Order of Saint Augustine in the United States of America.
He was born in Dublin, Ireland in 1755. He joined the Province of Ireland of the Order of Saint Augustine in 1772, and was for his studies was sent to the Augustinian house (convento) in Toulouse, France, and became a priest there in 1778. On his immediate return to his native land, Carr he carried out a number of ministries for the Order in Ireland. By the year 1795, he was in charge of the central Augustinian community in Dublin. He obtained permission to respond to a call to serve the Church in the United States, which was receiving from Europe many immigrants who were Catholic. With letters of support from the Order and from the authorities of the church in Dublin, in the year 1796 he reached Philadelphia.
Another Augustinian from Ireland, John Rosseter O.S.A., had already been working there for two years. By working together, the men established a community of the Order. At the age of forty one years, Carr assumed leadership, and immediately determined to build a church. Within weeks of his arrival he issued a public appeal to the inhabitants of Philadelphia for financial assistance. He received a generous response, although the financial climate was difficult and would delay for five years the first use of the planned building. Public figures who contributed to the church fund included President George Washington, and Commodore John Barry (who is called "the father of the U.S. Navy"). Both men were among those who had signed the Declaration of Independence of the United States.
With these donations, he purchased the land that was necessary. The foundation stone for the Church of Saint Augustine was placed in September 1796. This had all happened before the dynamic Carr had been in the United States for six months. Although this was not the first Catholic church built in Philadelphia, it was the first one constructed in the United States of America by member of the Order of Saint Augustine. The church was first used on 7th June 1801. During the construction of this church, from 1799 to 1801 Carr was pastor of Saint Mary's Church, which was the principal Catholic church in Philadelphia. Carr was also appointed as Vicar General of the church in the northern part of the diocese of Bishop Carroll, who lived in Baltimore and who was responsible for the whole United States.
In the year 1796, Matthew Carr and John Rosseter asked the Augustinian Prior General in Rome to declare a province of the Order in the United States. Based on the potential for growth rather than on what already had been achieved by so few men, the status of a province was officially granted on 27th August 1796. It can be seen how early a step this proved to be, because it was another seventy eight years before the first provincial chapter was held what is now called the Province of Villanova. By the decree of 27th August 1796, Carr was named the leader of the community of the Order in Philadelphia. He was made the vicar-general of the new Province (meaning that he could function without the usual provincial structures). Unfortunately in the twenty four years that Carr was vicar-general of the Order in the United States, the number of Augustinians there increased only by two.
One of these, George Staunton O.S.A., stayed only for three years, but the other, Michael Hurley O.S.A. was born in the United States. He became the sole member of the Order of Saint Augustine in the United States when Matthew Carr died on 29th September 1820. Carr would have been gratified by the gradual but nevertheless steady growth on the years that followed. He had helped to establish a sound foundation upon which this growth occurred. This page is based on material published by the late Father Arthur Ennis O.S.A. in various publications over a number of years.
For Augnet's page on the Church of Saint Augustine in Philadelphia, click here. AN4319