England, John (1786–1842), catholic bishop and theologian, was born 23 September 1786 in Cork, one of ten children of Thomas England, hedge-schoolmaster and tobacconist, and Honora England (née Lordan). After education at protestant schools in Cork, he was for a while apprenticed to a lawyer before deciding to join a seminary. In 1803 he entered St Patrick's College, Carlow, and after only two years was selected to give public lectures on religion. He was ordained priest by Bishop Francis Moylan (qv) in Cork on 10 October 1808 at the age of 22. Appointed chaplain to the North Presentation Convent, Cork, he also lectured at the cathedral. In December 1808 he became general superintendent of the schools of the charitable society in Cork. Also chaplain for the Magdalen Asylum and the county's prisoners, it was through this work that he became an impassioned critic of the government's policy of transportation to Australia. As a result of his campaigning the system was reformed, and the rules prohibiting non-anglican clergyman from the penal settlement were abandoned. Because of this achievement he has been credited with founding the catholic church in Australia.
Briefly president of St Mary's seminary at Cork (1814–17), he was a leading proponent of catholic emancipation and helped found a newspaper, the Cork Mercantile Chronicle, to promote religious liberty in Ireland. He also published and edited a periodical, The Religious Repository (1809, 1814, 1815). He was a fervent opponent of the government's proposed veto on the appointment of bishops. In 1817 he was transferred to the town of Bandon, Co. Cork, but the following year led a campaign for catholic voter registration in Cork, and became campaign manager of Christopher Hely-Hutchinson (qv), helping him win a seat in parliament.
Having petitioned for permission to go on the American mission, in 1820 he was appointed bishop of Charleston, South Carolina, an appointment that was popularly regarded as the removal of a difficult priest. He arrived on 30 December and soon introduced some radical improvements in his diocese, which comprised the Carolinas and Florida. Within twelve years his diocese had risen from 5,000 to 11,000 Roman catholics. In 1822 he founded the philosophical and classical seminary in Charleston, and the first catholic newspaper in the country, the United States Catholic Miscellany (1822–61). He also founded an anti-duelling association that had considerable success.
England was a master of logic and doctrinal letter-writing, the medium by which he expounded most of his theological thinking. Adapting to American conditions he published in 1823 Constitution of the Catholic Church of North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, in which he proposed the establishment of consultative councils to allow for participation by both laity and clergy in decision making. In 1825 he addressed a series of letters to Daniel O'Connell (qv), in which he argued that catholic emancipation would not be worth the disfranchisement of the forty-shilling freeholders. In 1828 he allegedly told the secretary of the Catholic Association that he had organised 40,000 men to invade Ireland if emancipation was refused. On Saturday 8 January 1826 he became the first catholic priest to speak before congress, invited by the president to give an address in the house of representatives.
Working tirelessly for the poor in his diocese, he was particularly active in supporting blacks. Nevertheless he justified the principle of slavery, which he believed the church had validated. In 1835 he opened a school for free blacks, and this resulted in an attack on church property that was stopped by the arrival of Irish militiamen. The school was forced to close shortly afterwards. As apostolic delegate to Haiti (1833–7) he drafted a concordat, but this was rejected by Pope Gregory XVI. His diocese suffered in his absence, although he refused to abandon his work there and repeatedly refused an Irish see; in 1833 he was apparently even offered the archbishopric of Cashel.
He visited Europe four times in the 1830s, including a visit to Ireland in 1832. In 1841 he was struck by malignant dysentery while attending to the sick on his return to America, and died four months after returning to Charleston on 11 April 1842. His younger brother, Thomas Richard England (1790–1847), after ordination to the priesthood, was curate of St Peter and St Paul in Cork city, then parish priest, first of Glanmire, and then of Passage West, Co. Cork. He was author of Letters and memoirs of Abbé Edgeworth (1818) and the Life of the Reverend Arthur O'Leary (1822). He died 18 March 1847 in Passage West.