Leonard Neale

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Leonard Neale (October 15, 1746 — June 18, 1817) became, in 1800, the first bishop ordained in the US where he devoted almost all his time on the Visitation Sisters.

Leonard Neale was born in Tobacco Port, Maryland on October 15, 1746 the fifth son[1] of William and Anne (Brooke) Neale. He was educated in the College of St. Omer, France, and later at Bruges and Liege, Belgium.[2]

At Ghent, he became a member of the Society of Jesus in 1767.[3] After his ordination on June 5, 1777 he taught in colleges and officiated as pastor in different places in Europe. Father Neale was teaching in the Jesuit college of Bruges when that institution was seized by the Austro-Belgian government, and along with the other Jesuits was expelled. He moved to England, where he had charge of a small congregation, but after several years he sailed in 1779 for Demerara, where he worked among the natives and settlers. His health is said to have been almost ruined by the inclemency of the climate and the severity of his labors. He left Demerara in January of 1783, and after a dangerous voyage, in which he fell into the hands of British cruisers, he reached the United States in April 1783.

In June of 1783 he attended a meeting of the clergy of Maryland at Whitemarsh and took an active part in its deliberations. He was stationed at St. Thomas's Manor among his relatives till 1793. He then went to Philadelphia and tended to victims of a yellow-fever epidemic, even though his own health was in a delicate state. He was vigilant in his attentions to the sick and dying, and on the reappearance of yellow-fever in 1797 and 1798 he resumed his former exertions until he was stricken by the disease. While he was in Philadelphia he was appointed vicar-general for the northern states.

In 1798 Bishop Carroll called Father Neale from Philadelphia to succeed Rev. Dr. Dubourg in the presidency of the college at Georgetown. He acted in the dual capacity of president and tutor for several years and under his guidance the institution was developed from an academy into a college in 1801. Bishop Carroll had previously applied to Rome to name Father Neale as his co-adjutor. He was consecrated by Bishop Carroll in 1800, but remained as President of Georgetown until 1806 when he was succeeded by the Rev. Father Molyneux.

In 1799, the archbishop founded the Georgetown Visitation Preparatory School, under the direction of the Sisters of the Visitation. Both the school and the convent are still active more than 200 years later in the heart of Washington, DC.

A story that has come down through the years is that in the early morning hours of December 14, 1799 Father Neale was called to Mount Vernon from St. Mary’s Mission across the Piscataway River to give former President George Washington his last rites.[4] Although Washington was an Episcopalian but was supposed to have had a death bed conversion to that faith being baptized by Father Neale. Although some people argue against this story, because it is not mentioned in most of the Washington biographies, there is some further evidence to support such a possibility. In the inventory of Washington's effects there is included a picture of the Blessed Virgin Mary and one of St. John.[5][6]

In 1809, his brother, Francis Neale, became president of Georgetown College.

Neale served as spiritual director until his naming into the archbishopal role following John Carroll as archbishop of Baltimore from December 3, 1815 to June 18, 1817. During his reign as an archbishop, he presided St. Mary's Catholic church's operations and decided upon his decision that the French priest Joseph Clorivière was to serve office in the church. This wasn't welcomed by Irishman John O'Raw and this nominee refusal was met with the Charleston schism (1815-1819). Neale was buried in the crypt under the Visitation Convent Chapel.[7]

His other brother, Charles Neale (1751 - 1823), was the leader of the Jesuit Mission in America by the time he died.


  1. Family of Faith: Maryland's Neale family played a major role in early work of the Jesuits, John LaMartina, SJ.
  2. Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume X, Robert Appleton Company, 1911
  3. Family of Faith: Maryland's Neale family played a major role in early work of the Jesuits, John LaMartina, SJ.
  4. The National Catholic Register, February 24, 1957
  5. text;idno=abt5709.0001.001;didno=ABT5709.0001.001;view=image;seq=291;page=root;size=s;frm=frameset Washington's Inventory
  6. The National Catholic Register, May 11, 1952
  7. Family of Faith: Maryland's Neale family played a major role in early work of the Jesuits, John LaMartina, SJ.