There were very few Catholics in the Thirteen Colonies, except in Maryland. The vast majority of the population was Protestant. There were no religious congregations, so the clergy had no institutions, such as hospitals or asylums for the poor.
In New France, most members of the clergy lived in monasteries or convents, and had little contact with the population. Others lived closer to the people, but still maintained a certain distance. In the Thirteen Colonies, religious leaders were not priests but church ministers who could get married and live in the community. As a result, they were closer to the people. They were also educated and had influence on a local level.
In New France, the government financially supported the Catholic Church, which was not the case in the Thirteen Colonies. Still, religion was very important to Protestants. When the Puritans founded Massachusetts, the political leaders were often religious leaders. The political role of the clergy gradually declined as the population became more diverse.
The clergy’s most important contribution was in the area of education, because universities were often created to train ministers. This was the case of Harvard University, although it also offered a general education.
Instead of having one large church, towns and villages tended to have several smaller, less grandiose churches and temples. Some denominations, like the Society of Friends (Quakers), intentionally created very simple places of worship and shunned the more luxurious décors favoured by the Catholics.
Author: Léon Robichaud
See also – Traces of the past: