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Nov 9, 2017

I found myself seated at one of two long dining tables set with Limoges china, silver knife rests, crystal glassware and candlesticks that looked like something out of the Disney movie “Beauty and the Beast.” The setting was a dinner in the formal dining room of Chateau de Laprée, the home of Edouard-François and Sarah de Lencquesaing, that dates back several centuries, and has been inhabited by the same family all these years. The dinner was a celebration of a successful weekend for the nearby town of Saint-Omer in northern France. The town was marking the 275th anniversary of a young American boy’s arrival at the College of the English Jesuits in Saint-Omer. The boy was Daniel Carroll, one of the few Catholic Founding Fathers of the fledgling nation. A delegation of Catholics came from Baltimore to mark the occasion and foster ties between the Old and New Worlds. The group included Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori, three priests from the Baltimore Archdiocese, descendants of the Carroll family, and two American journalists, myself and my husband, Christopher Gunty, editor and associate publisher of the Catholic Review in Baltimore. The town of Saint-Omer pulled out the stops for the delegation, from afternoon tea, to a black-tie gala celebrating the reopening of the Jesuit Chapel as an arts center, to a roundtable on religious liberty, an issue near and dear to Archbishop Lori. The weekend prompted a closer look at the history of the boarding school, and three students who went on to shape the United States. In 1742, because of the suppression of Catholic schools in the American Colonies and in England, 13-year-old Daniel Carroll was sent from his home in Upper Marlboro, Md., to the boarding school in Saint-Omer. A few years later, his brother, John, and his cousin, Charles, made the two-month journey across the Atlantic to join him. If the names sound familiar, they should. Daniel Carroll of Rock Creek was one of five people who signed both the Articles of Confederation and the U.S. Constitution. John, who became a Jesuit at age 18, was the first Catholic bishop in the United States as bishop of Baltimore, the Premier See that included all 13 colonies. He also founded Georgetown University. Charles Carroll of Carrollton was the only Catholic to sign the Declaration of Independence and he was the first U.S. senator from Maryland. Chatting with descendants of both Daniel and Charles Carroll was inspirational. Not many families can trace a direct line back hundreds of years. Fewer still can claim their ancestors helped shape a new nation. Check out the story and test your American Catholic heritage history.