Douglass, John (DNB00)

DOUGLASS, JOHN, D.D. (1743–1812), catholic prelate, born at Yarum, Yorkshire, in December 1743, was sent at the age of thirteen to the English college, Douay. He took the college oath in 1764, and defended universal divinity cum laude in 1768. Afterwards he went to the English college, Valladolid, as professor of humanities, arriving there 27 June 1768. At a later period he taught philosophy. Owing to ill-health he left Valladolid 30 July 1773, and was priest of the mission of Linton and afterwards at York. While he was a missioner at York he was selected by the holy see for the London vicariate in opposition to the strenuous efforts made by the ‘catholic committee’ to have Bishop Charles Berington [q. v.] translated from the midland to the London district. Several catholic laymen, adherents of that association, went so far as to maintain that the clergy and laity ought to choose their own bishops without any reference to Rome, and procure their consecration at the hands of any other lawful bishop. It was even proposed by them, after the appointment of Douglass, to pronounce that appointment ‘obnoxious and improper,’ and to refuse to acknowledge it. Dr. Charles Berington, however, addressed a printed letter to the London clergy, resigning every pretension to the London vicariate, and the opposition to Douglass was withdrawn.

He succeeded the Hon. James Talbot, D.D., as vicar-apostolic of the London district. His election by propaganda on 22 Aug. 1790 was approved by the pope on the 26th of that month, and expedited on 1 Sept. His briefs to the see of Centuria in partibus were dated 25 Sept. 1790. He was consecrated 19 Dec. the same year, in St. Mary's Church, Lullworth Castle, Dorsetshire, by Dr. William Gibson, bishop of Acanthus, and vicar-apostolic of the northern district.

The Catholic Relief Act, passed in June 1791, repealed the statutes of recusancy in favour of persons taking the Irish oath of allegiance of 1778. It was Douglass who suggested that this oath should replace the oath which was proposed during the debates on the measure and warmly discussed by the contending parties. The act likewise repealed the oath of supremacy imposed in the reign of William and Mary, as well as various declarations and disabilities; and it tolerated the schools and religious worship of Roman catholics. Douglass was one of the first members of the ‘Roman Catholic Meeting,’ organised in May 1794, in opposition to the Cisalpine Club (Milner, Supplementary Memoirs of English Catholics, p. 201). He seems to have been of a gentle disposition, though he was resolute in matters of principle. He was a determined opponent of the veto, and he severely censured the Blanchardist schismatics. To him St. Edmund's College, Old Hall Green, owes its existence as an ecclesiastical establishment, in which is preserved the continuity of the English college of St. Omer, through its president, Dr. Gregory Stapleton, settling there with his students at the invitation of Douglass, 15 Aug. 1795, after their liberation from imprisonment during the French revolution. Dr. Milner submitted his ‘Letters to a Prebendary’ to Douglass for revision. Douglass erased nearly one-half of the original contents before sending it back to the author, who printed the work in its curtailed form. Douglass died at his residence in Castle Street, Holborn, on 8 May 1812 (Gent. Mag. vol. lxxxii. pt. i. p. 599). Dr. William Poynter, who had been appointed his coadjutor in 1803, succeeded him in the vicariate-apostolic of the London district.

An account by Douglass of the state of the catholic religion in his vicariate in 1796 is printed in Brady's ‘Episcopal Succession,’ iii. 180 seq. He published some charges and several pastorals, two of which were translated into Spanish. He also for many years published ‘A New Year's Gift’ in the ‘Laity's Directory.’ The volume of that publication issued in 1811 contains an engraved portrait of him, and a bust of him by Turnerelli was executed in the following year.

[Brady's Episcopal Succession, iii. 178–84, 185, 224, 226; Gillow's Bibl. Dict. of English Catholics; Panzani's Memoirs, 433 n.; Husenbeth's Life of Milner, pp. 29, 213; Evans's Cat. of Engraved Portraits, No. 15236; Cat. of Printed Books in Brit. Mus.; Amherst's Hist. of Catholic Emancipation, i. 169, 170, 177, 191, 205, ii. 34, 39, 54.]

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