1772 – 1839 (April 20)
Robert Browne was born in Ireland in 1770. The records of the Irish Province show that he asked to enter the novitiate on November 13, 1786, when he was about 16 years old. He made his novitiate in Rome and, at his profession, took the name Nicholas. He studied at St. Matthew’s, the Irish Augustinian seminary in Rome, and at Bologna from 1790 to 1796. He was ordained in 1795. He returned to Ireland where he is listed as a member of the Dublin community in 1803. He left for the United States in either 1808 or 1810, and was assigned by Bishop Carroll as pastor of Locust Grove, Georgia, and soon after, to found a new parish in Augusta. Father Browne also served the missionary Church in South Carolina, and New York. He was pastor of several churches and directed the construction of others. In Augusta, Georgia, he built the church for the first Catholic congregation in that area. In addition, Father Browne made great contributions to the formation of the Dioceses of Richmond, Virginia, and Charleston, South Carolina. He also first suggested the formation of a Catholic University in America.
He served mission areas under the jurisdiction of both Bishop Carroll and Bishop England. After the new diocese of Charleston was formed, Father Browne received appointments as pastor in several parishes, and in 1832, he served as Vicar-General and administrator for the newly consecrated Bishop England. Father Browne died while he was pastor of Saint Mary of the Annunciation Parish in Charleston, whose second church he himself had had built. Death came on April 20, 1839, when he was 67 years of age, the oldest priest in the diocese, indeed, one of the oldest in the United States. The U.S. Catholic Miscellany of Saturday, April 27, 1839, reported that his death had been tedious and painful, but that he had borne it with patience and fortitude. It also notes that “his remains were conveyed on Monday morning from the Cathedral, and interred at the side of the Altar, in the interior of Saint Mary’s Church.”
In April, 1838, a year before his death, a widespread fire destroyed a large section of the parish neighborhood, including the church which Father Browne had built. The new church, to which the newspaper makes reference, was dedicated on June 9, 1839, less than two months after his death.