For Americans it is very probable that the chapter in the history of science which will demonstrate most clearly that there was not only no opposition on the part of the Popes or the Church authorities to the teachings of science or its development, but on the contrary encouragement and patronage, in spite of our English traditions to the contrary, is that which gives even very briefly the story of the evolution of science and its teaching on the American continent. Notwithstanding the very prevalent impression, indeed we might say the practically universal persuasion, that there was nothing worth while talking about in any department of education in America before the nineteenth century, except what little there was in the English colonies, and while it is confidently assumed that above all science received no attention from our Southern neighbors, Spanish America not only surpassed English America in education, but far outdistanced English America in what was accomplished for scientific research and the evolution of the knowledge of a large number of scientific subjects in a great many ways.
Even those among us who thought themselves well read in American history have, as a rule, known almost nothing of this until comparatively recent years. Professor Bourne of Yale, whose untimely death deprived the United States of a distinguished historical scholar, was the first to point out emphatically how far ahead of the English were the Spanish colonies in every mode of education, but particularly in the cultivation of science…
Two Spanish-American universities were founded under Papal charters almost a full century before Harvard as our first small college in English America began its career. Harvard was not to be a university in any proper sense of the term for a full century and a half after its foundation, while the universities of Mexico and Peru, largely under the influence of the ecclesiastical authorities and owing nearly everything to Church patronage under the Spanish Crown, had all the essential university faculties before the close of the sixteenth century. In spite of the predominant Church influence, which, if we were to credit former English traditions, must have been fatal to the evolution of science, Professor Bourne’s researches show that in the sixteenth century the Spanish-American universities were already doing such scientific work as the students in English America became interested in only during the nineteenth century.
James J. Walsh, The Popes and Science (1908)