Reverend Louis William
Valentine DuBourg, a French Sulpician in addition to being a
demanding mentor of the saintly Mother Elizabeth Seton and a
principal figure in the establishment of her original school and
convent, distinguished himself in priestly service as the
administrator and then bishop of a battlebesieged New Orleans.
He was a constant organizer
and promoter of educational institutions and it was his 1822 trip
to Washington, D.C., that convinced the United States War
Department to support Indian schooling. During that same visit he
persuaded the Jesuits of Maryland, including Father Pierre Jean de
Smet, to begin missionary work in Missouri. One of their
accomplishments in that field was the establishment of the first
school for Indian boys.
Mother Rose Philippine
Duchesne of the Society of the Sacred Heart put to good use her
years of teaching experience in a war torn France when she and
four companions came to New Orleans in May of 1818. Bishop DuBourg
commissioned Mother Duchesne to open a school in St. Charles,
Missouri. This was the first free schook-open to Catholics and
non-Catholics alike west of the Mississippi River. Other convents,
schools, and orphanages were to follow.
This pious servant of God
was seventy-two years old and had been at her vocation for
fifty-three years when she founded a mission school for Potawatomi
Indian girls at Sugar Creek, Kansas. These youngsters called her "Quah-kah-kanum-ad"
(Woman who prays always).
Father Pierre Jean de Smet
was a Jesuit who labored in the Indian mission fields along the
Missouri River and in the Rocky Mountains, as well as throughout
Oregon. He promoted and established many new missions, becoming a
familiar friend to the Indians. His reputation as a trusted
confidant of these people caused the United States government to
seek his aid a number of times. He was, in fact, the only white
man allowed into the camp of Sitting Bull in 1868 when
negotiations for peace with the Sioux would have been impossible
without his help.
Suipician Father Benedict
Joseph Flaget was credited with transforming the spiritual life,
as well as inspiring the material growth, of the French settlement
of Fort Vincennes, Indiana, during his two-year stay there just
before the turn of the century. His priestly works eventually led
to his being chosen first Bishop of Bardstown.
Although Bishop Flaget had
protested this appointment, here began the most illustrious years
of his career. A true missionary, the prelate set out immediately
after his June, 1811, installation to visit each of the widely
scattered Catholic settlements in Kentucky. By 1815, Bishop
Flaget's diocese held ten thousand Catholics, ten priests,
nineteen churches, one monastery, and two convents. Covered in his
years of missionary travel was an expanse of territory that later
became more than thirty-five dioceses in Kentucky, Tennessee,
Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Michigan.
Other distinguished French
missionaries on the western frontier included Jean-Baptiste
Lamythe subject of Willa Cather's Death Comes To The
Archbishop-who was named first bishop of the
Indian-Spanish-Mexican-American Diocese of Santa Fe in 1853, and
the Canadian, Father Albert Lacombe, who was one of the first to
be sent to the Northwest Territories and who authored a grammar
and dictionary of the Cree Indian language.
John England's priestly
career began with twelve years of service in Ireland, after which
his appointment as the first bishop of Charleston brought him to
that community in December of 1820. Not only did his diocese
consist of five thousand Catholics spread over 140,000 square
miles of both Carolinas and Georgia, but for fifteen years of his
tenure other administrators periodically asked him to "look after"
Florida as well.
Soon after his arrival,
Bishop England issued a pastoral letter to the faithful-the first
such message in the history of the American Church. His visits to
congregations throughout the diocese convinced him of the great
need for education, and he prepared a missal and a catechism which
were printed and distributed, although some other American bishops
objected to this.
He founded the first
Catholic newspaper in the United States-The United States
Catholic Miscellany, its main purpose being to combat attacks
upon the Church by anti-Catholic factions of the press. Except for
a few brief periods, it was published weekly from 1822 until 1861.
Most of its material was compiled, written and edited by the
bishop, who even helped tend the presses. The bishop's sister,
Johanna, a woman of great talent, did much of the newspaper work.
She wanted to join Mother Seton's Sisters but the bishop needed
her more. A vital part of his writings concerned his people's duty
to be model citizens of their adopted country. On visiting
Washington D.C., in January, 1826, he was invited to address the
Congress, the first Catholic clergyman to be accorded that honor.
Bishop England was
considered a radical by some, but actually his progressive ideas
on councils that would include lay representatives of parishes as
well as priests helped to avert some of the serious trusteeism
problems being experienced elsewhere. His aid to the poor, the
orphans, and the ill, as well as his establishment of seminaries
and convents, were lauded, but others of his concerns were not so
popular. Slaveowners blocked his attempts to operate a school for
But if it was unusual for
the Irish bishop of a deep southern diocese to be so broadminded
at this early date, the Irish bishop of a northern diocese-New
York-during a subsequent period was not less typical in his
beliefs. They simply demonstrated the wide diversity of opinions
of pre-Civil War Catholics on what was considered a non-religious
Bishop John Joseph Hughes of
New York, who was consecrated in 1838, the same year in which
Bishop England died, felt that slaves would not be able to cope
with sudden emancipation and that western colonization would lose
some of the faithful because of a shortage of priests. He
condemned Irish anti-slavery movements as an intrusion into
politics of the United States and urged Catholic support of the
American Constitution, which at that time proscribed the
activities of the Abolitionists. Of course, the Abolitionists were
also violently anti-Catholic. Before that time, many had been
The Diocese of New York then
included all of that state, plus half of New Jersey about 5,500
square miles. The entire country was growing at a fantastic pace,
but population growth in New York City was five times the national
rate. City churches were heavily in debt and trusteeism problems
arose intermittently. Bishop Hughes had inherited a monumental
Even before ascending to the
episcopate, he had, as coadjutor, toured a number of European
cities soliciting aid. Then, in 1840, he led a campaign for public
support of Catholic schools and thus encountered the opposition of
the New York Public School Society which eventually brought the
demise of this organization, the complete secularization of public
education, and the promotion of parochial schools throughout the
During this period more than
two hundred Catholic elementary schools began operation. This
marked the beginnings of the greatest private system of education
in the world, an enterprise which would -grow, by the early
1970's, to include an enrollment of 4.42 million students in
11,560 elementary and high schools, and 426,205 students in 213
colleges and universities.
Eleven years after New York
became an Archdiocese, the Civil War broke out. Archbishop Hughes
did not see its end. He died, in January of 1864, after a long
Archbishop Martin John
Spalding of Baltimore initiated the Second Plenary Council in the
fall of 1866 to deal with the challenges facing the Church after
the Civil War. He wanted the Council to be an exhibit of Catholic
unity in a land recovering from tragic division. The urgent
situation of four million emancipated Blacks was to be taken up.
Tension was not completely absent from the deliberations, but much
was accomplished in the areas of planning, church discipline, and
service. President Andrew Johnson attended the solemn closing of
the Council on October 21, 1866 at Baltimore's venerable
In A Changing World
Abraham Lincoln was
elected President and South Carolina seceded from the Union in
1860. The six other southern nmost states followed suit in the
next two months. The Great Emancipator, who had spoken up against
anti-Catholicism some sixteen years earlier and was now determined
to block the spread of slavery as well as to hold together the
Union, was not as revered in his own day as he is now.
Every colony had some Negro
slave labor, but the South depended on it for survival. And
although most Northerners could afford to free the few workers
they owned, some Yankee shipowners profited greatly from the slave
trade a practice generally more inhumane than slaveholding.
From the April 12, 1861,
bombardment by southern forces of the federal government's Fort
Sumter in Charleston until the bloodbath finally ended with the
Texas surrender in May of 1865, a month after the president's
assassination, religious differences were all but forgotten.
Protestants, Catholics, and Jews joined forces according to their
political beliefs and homestate allegiances.
Well known Catholic generals
in the Civil War were General Pierre Beauregard and General
William Rosecrans, brother of the Bishop of Cleveland.
The draft riots of 1863
caused heartache to New York's Catholics, since most of the
demonstrators were poor Irish who had no political pull or
financial means to avoid conscription. Much of their anger is
heaped upon freed slaves who were becomng a threat to their hard
won jobs, in addition to presenting a reason for the draft.
In that same year, the
rebellion in Poland provided spur for Polish immigration to "the
land of the free and the home of the brave."
But on and off the
battlefields, great missionary endeavors carried on. The first
privately owned hospital in Washington, D.C., was founded in June
of 1861 by four Daughters of Charity from Emmitsburg. Providence
Hospital cared for both civilian and military patients. Other nuns
braved death as angels of mercy on the front lines. Records show
that about eight hundred Catholic Sisters served as military
nurses during these four years.
Despite the fact that new
Know Nothing-type forces in the form of the Ku Klux Klan were born
in the year following President Lincoln's death, the Church
continued and expanded its work among the Negro people. Catholic
nuns, in many places, had been the first to tutor black children,
but a post-Civil War endeavor, as described by John Gillard, S.J.,
in his book, The Cathofic Church And The American Negro,
was particularly significant:
1877 a home for colored waifs was started by a colored woman in an
alley of Baltimore. It grew and prospered until a large house was
donated by a good
Catholic lady. This was henceforth known as
Elizabeth's Home. Once in the large
house, the number of children outgrew the abilities of the colored
matron, who urged the need of Sisters to take over the work. The
response came from the Franciscan Sisters of Mill Hill, England, a
community of Sisters founded by Cardinal Herbert Vaughan. Four
Sisters arrived in Baltimore on St. Stephen's Day, 1881, the first
white Sisters in America to devote themselves entirely to the
welfare of the Negroes.
Of course, there had been
black nuns for some years, beginning with those admitted by
Reverend Charles Nerinckx to the Sisters of Loretto in Kentucky as
early as May of 1824, followed a few years later by the founding
of the Oblate Sisters of Providence in Baltimore.
While the South was slowly
beginning its reconstruction efforts after years of destructive
war, a swifter devastation visited Chicago. On October 8 and 9,
1871, the city that had sprung to maturity around first generation
immigrants, where former wilderness had become, almost overnight,
a commercially thriving strip of business property selling for one
thousand dollars per front foot, was tragically decimated in a
conflagration that left the heart of the diocese in a smouldering
pile of ashes.
Bishop Thomas Foley, who was
away at the time administering the sacrament of Confirmation in
Champaign, Illinois, returned to a new frontier. Diocesan
buildings alone would cost over a million dollars to replace.
In response to pleas for
funds for the relief and re-building of the parish, contributions
began to pour in generously from all over the country. And so,
upon the skeleton of a burned out Cass Street (now Wabash Avenue)
home, on the corner of Chicago Avenue, new lumber was nailed into
a long, low building that was immediately dubbed "the shanty
Cathedral." It was packed from door to altar each Sunday with
devout people who contributed sacrificially toward the
construction of a new cathedral.
The work of diocesan
reconstruction began not only of churches, but convents and an
orphan asylum a sad necessity after the tragedy. Food, clothing,
and money came from people in parishes throughout our continent to
help restore human dignity to destitute souls.
In the meantime, the man who would become,
in 1880, the first Archbishop of Chicago was doing his best to
alleviate miseries in Tennessee. For the fifteen years after the
Civil War, Bishop Patrick Feehan distinguished himself in the
reconstruction of the Diocese of Nashville after its total
devastation in the Civil War and then through the catastrophe of a
cholera and yellow fever epidemic that claimed the lives of
And Sister Blandina Segale
of the Cincinnati Sisters of Charity, a native of Italy, was
braving Indians, outlaws, poverty, and political resistance in her
energetic labors through Colorado and New Mexico. Her perils would
make fiction thrillers seem tame.
Missionary endeavors and
reforming crusades spread throughout the country as the Church
expanded and her people continued to grow in God's Word.
A well-known temperance
crusader was Bishop (later Archbishop) John Ireland of St. Paul,
who became a leader of the Catholic Total Abstinence Union and
soon gained a nationwide reputation as a great orator.
Disturbed by the plight of
immigrants crowded and jobless on the east coast, he organized,
with the cooperation of the State government and the western
railroads, the Irish Catholic Colonization Association of the
United States, Inc., bringing more than four thousand Catholic
families to over 400,000 acres of farmland in western Minnesota
and just over the border of Nebraska. This organization began in
1879, despite the floundering of three previous colonization
attempts in that region. Bishop John Spalding of Peoria was made
president of the board of directors, which consisted of thirteen
laymen and six bishops-a position he held through 1891.
At the time, Bishop Edward
Fitzgerald of Little Rock, Arkansas, had several flourishing
colonies and an association committee was formed there in 1881,
but this area never attracted the numbers that flocked to
Bishop Ireland was an
enthusiastic supporter of the American system at a time when some
Catholics were operating as a separate entity within the physical
boundaries of the United States. His aims were similar to those of
James Cardinal Gibbons in many ways. He acted as an interpreter,
through eloquent orations and prolific writings, of political and
ecclesiastical policies. Neither Gibbons nor Ireland would support
moves to further disgregate the American Church by forming foreign
speaking enclaves a plan endorsed by some, especially the Germans,
who felt that the hierarchy was too Irish dominated and was
pushing too hard to "Americanize" the immigrants.
In fact, in 1880 Father
William Keegan was appointed Vicar General for the
English-speaking Catholics of the Diocese of Brooklyn, while
Monsignor Michael May was Vicar General for the German-speaking
people. Bishop John Laughlin had devised this method to avoid
clashes between the German and Irish immigrants, who were each
intensely loyal to the religious customs and traditions of their
Bishop Ireland, a colorful
character, worked with Bishop John Keane, a gentle soul, of
Richmond in promoting the establishment of The Catholic University
of America, for which the Holy See's approval was received on
March 7, 1889. President Harrison attended the formal opening on
November 13, 1889.
Bishop Ireland also founded,
in his own diocese the College of St. Thomas (1885) and the St.
Paul Seminary (1894). On May 19, 1910, he acted as chief
consecrator for six bishops in the chapel of St. Paul Seminary an
His reputation as a learned
man of great insight led to his serving, on separate occasions, in
negotiations with other countries, as official representative of
both the United States Government and of the Church of Rome.
Father James Gibbons, at the
age of thirty-two, was made titular bishop of the nearly fifty
thousand square miles of North Carolina, where it was estimated
only about seven hundred of the more than one million residents
were Catholic. When he attended Rome's first Vatican Council
(December, 1869 to July 1870) he was the youngest of more than
seven hundred bishops from all over the world.
Bishop Gibbons attended the
Council along with other American bishops including Bishop
Fitzgerald of Little Rock. Then Bishop Fitzgerald made a place in
history for himself by being one of the two bishops at Vatican
Council I to vote against Papal infallibility. The other was a
bishop from Sicily.
Just two years later, the
additional burden of the bishopric of Richmond was added to Bishop
Gibbons' North Carolina responsibility, but for the lustrum of his
double-tenure great strides were made in both states, as he
traveled and visited and inspired the faithful. His book Faith
Of Our Fathers, published in 1876, is a simply and beautifully
stated exposition of Catholic teachings, inspiring to Catholics
and non-Catholics alike.
As Archbishop of Baltimore,
to which position he was elevated in 1877, Gibbons became one of
the guiding lights of the American Catholic Church. On June 30,
1886, in the Baltimore Cathedral, the red biretta of the
cardinalate was conferred on him.
His role as an intermediary
was an important one. He took steps to control the internal
German-Irish conflicts by constantly stressing the oneness of
their new nationality and of their faith. He also served to allay
the fears of Protestants who believed that Catholics were under a
"foreign jurisdiction," at the same time trying to keep Pope Leo
XIII constantly aware of these American fears and the operations
of this new "democracy" a form of government not familiar to
Cardinal Gibbons was a great
patriot and his last published article included a statement that
he was "more and more convinced that the Constitution of the
United States is the greatest instrument of government that issued
from the hand of man." He was also a great friend of the working
man and defended the Knights of Labor, a secretive organization
that grew out of the labor movement.
Father John Joseph Keane was
a zealous worker who,aided in the inauguration of the Catholic
Total Abstinence Union of America (1872), the Catholic Young Man's
National Union (1875), Carroll Institute (1873), and the
Tabernacle Society in Washington.
His devoted service led to
his appointment as fifth bishop of Richmond in 1878. His
administration could be truly termed "catholic" for he spread his
attention to all. Protestant tension was nullified when he
lectured to many of its groups; he fought opposition to catechize
Negroes, succeeding in winning a number of converts. He was
instrumental, with Bishop Ireland, in gaining approval for the
Catholic University and became its first rector upon its opening
in November, 1889.
His liberal political views
and splendid oratory helped quash the ecclesiastical disapproval
of the Knights of Labor and aided in the Americanization of
Catholic immigrants. His "Americanist" political views were
considered a threat to Catholicism by many Europeans and finally
his reputation caused the Pope to cancel his rectorship and give
him a position in Rome. He continued to battle the attacks against
him by Europeans, convincing Pope Leo of his honest and pious
When the governing board of
the University requested his aid in 1899, he undertook, with papal
approval, a tour of the United States soliciting funds from
wealthy Americans. His modest success in this endeavor and his
obviously genuine devotion earned his appointment to the
archbishopric of Dubuque in July, 1900. Here he concentrated on
the development of educational institutions and the campaign
against alcoholism, organizing an Archdiocesan Total Abstinence
Union in 1902.
While the bishops were
carrying on their national and international crusades, each
parish-country farmer or city polyglot-had its own mission to
As the century came to a
close, there were not very many plush churches in this land. Far
more common were little wooden cross-topped structures with coal
or wood stoves and outhouses. Even in New York City, miles of
streets were unpaved and it was not strange to see cowboys
breaking horses on dirt roads that rambled through rolling
farmlands. Each evening, the lamplighter toured the neighborhood,
climbing his ladder and touching his torch to the gas lamp atop
each post. The iceman's horse clopped slowly down the street,
pulling his cart, as his master checked windows for signs propped
up by housewives-"50 Lbs.," "75 Lbs."
Reminiscent of Chicago's
"shanty Cathedral" was the location of the first Mass, in Wendell,
Massachusetts, for one hundred and ten people on August 20, 1882,
in a shack belonging to the Fitchburg Railway Company, which
served as a home for itinerant railroad workers. But this, too,
was typical of the times.
Maspeth, Long Island's first
Sunday Masses were held in a storefront, beginning in 1869. The
first Masses of St. Philip Neri Parish in the Bronx were offered
in 1898 in the former clubhouse of the Jerome Park Race Track and
later in a store until the church was built. Men of the parish
were expected to aid in the excavation for the structure or to
lend their horses and carts.
In the Spring of 1904, the
mission parish of St. Francis de Sales in Washington, D.C.,
celebrated Mass in a private home and then in a chapel set up on
the second floor of the Town Hall. Subsequently, the chapel was
moved downstairs to, a room especially redecorated by the
building's owners. The altar used for Mass was on rollers. After
Saturday night dances, parish men would clean up the hall, roll
out the altar, and unfold chairs for Sunday morning worship. When
parish men began construction of a church building, their chapel
landlord took a horse-drawn wagon to the Carolinas seeking
lower-priced lumber. Some of the interior appointments of the
church they built were purchased secondhand.
Through the years and right
into our own day, Masses have been celebrated wherever the
faithful may gather. In September of 1914, St. Pascal's Parish of
Chicago, Illinois, worshipped in "the Nickel Show." A parishioner
recalls that "many of the children who attended Mass in the
theater in the morning returned in the afternoon for the five cent
movies. To the amusement of all, some would genuflect before
taking their seats, completely forgetting that they were now
attending a movie."
In May of 1921, when Ty Cobb
was managing the Tigers and Henry Ford had initiated an assembly
line that was producing thousands of "Tin Lizzies', a day, a
weatherworn wooden tavern, vacated for two years by Prohibition,
was converted to the "church" of St. Cecilia in the Grand River
Livernois section of Detroit. Its first Mass welcomed an overflow
crowd of some 250 persons, many of whom had to stand on the
building's long and narrow front porch.
Polish factory workers built
their own Church of St. Stanislaus Kostka in New Brighton, Staten
Island, New York, in 1923. Parishioners excavated the ground,
pushed wheelbarrows, built the stone walls and the concrete
stairs. Their first Masses were held under a tarpaulin in the
In 1924, the new Parish of
St. Cyril of Alexandria, Pittsburgh, had no building, and all of
its vestments and appointments were borrowed or donated. For its
first twenty Sundays, four hundred people gathered for Mass in
private homes a different one each week.
And through four 20th
Century wars, those at home received letters from sons, fathers,
husbands, lovers, brothers, friends, telling of Masses in a tent
on a battlefield, from the tailgate of a jeep on a hilltop, or in
a dimly lit foxhole.
Bishop Alfred Curtis of
Wilmington, Delaware, was a most unusual member of the hierarchy
for his day. The people of his more remote missions, in the
"wilderness" as he called it, were accustomed to seeing him arrive
on a bicycle on Saturday evening, open the church, sweep the
floor, kindle the fire, and then roll up his coat to use for a
pillow on his floor-bed. In the morning he would be at the door to
greet parishioners as they came for Mass. He recommended the use
of bicycles to all his clergy, explaining they were much more
economical than horses and they could be conveniently carried on
The dedication demonstrated
by Bishop Curtis in the 1890's was a story similar to so many
others over the years. One priest in Maryland built a beautiful
altar for his church. "Even the brass on the tabernacle door was
hammered out by him, in which work he was assisted by a young man
of the parish . . ."
And a letter written by
Father John Basty to Archbishop John Shaw of New Orleans in
September of 1919, which tells of how he managed to build a
rectory for only $4200, using his personal stocks and bonds as
mortgage collateral, suggests the need for a new church building:
old Red Church built in 1806 with rough boards, painted in deep
red, is a relic of long ago it is true; but very much dilapidated,
parts of which are nothing but dry rot. I have seen most of the
parish churches of the diocese and none looks so bad as mine. The
Red Church has to be repaired and somewhat enlarged for the time
being. It holds twenty two pews only, practically no sanctuary.
The sacristy is a shed which is a haven of lizzards (sic),
spiders, mud-diggers, and birds of all kinds. When you come up
here which I hope will be soon, you will realize the truth of my
statements. I may not be able to conjure snakes to appear in
church when you are there, (I am not a St. Francis) still I can
produce witnesses who will tell you that snakes come to hear Mass
occasionally and of course produce great disturbance amongst the
fair sex ...
Francesca Cabrini, born in
Lombardy, Italy, and imbued with the missionary spirit since
childhood, founded orphanages and seven missions of a new order
the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus before being
assigned by Pope Leo XIII to minister to Italian immigrants in
America. The Mother Superior and six of her missionary Sisters,
none of whom spoke English, sailed for New York, where they landed
on March 31,1889. They found destitute families who were arriving
by the thousands each month to escape poverty in Italy, only to
find discrimination, slave wages, and misery in their new home.
Assuming their mission to aid these people the seven Sisters, led
by God, began begging in the streets each day until they had
amassed a sum sufficient to construct their first American school
and orphanage. From this humble start, Mother Cabrini eventually
established sixty seven schools and orphanages.
"The Vagabond of God"
covered the globe in her travels, always followed by her devoted
missionary Sisters, some of whom she left behind to cultivate the
seeds she had sown. At the time of her death in 1917, the original
seven Sisters in the Order of the Sacred Heart of Jesus had added
more than four thousand devout missionaries to their ranks.
The body of Mother Frances
Xavier Cabrini is preserved in the chapel of Mother Cabrini High
School in New York City. She was beatified on November 13,1938,
and canonized by Pope Pius XII on July 7,1946, the first american
In the year that Mother
Cabrini first set foot on these shores, Katharine Drexel of
Philadelphia entered the religious life. Well-educated and well
traveled, Katharine inherited a fortune upon her father's death in
1885. During a visit to Rome and an audience with Pope Leo XIII
she offered to donate her fortune to the Church, but only if it
were to be used to aid Indians and Negroes.
The Pope suggested that she
should be their missionary herself and so, in 1889, she began her
novitiate with the Sisters of Mercy in Pittsburgh. Two years
later, she and a few of her devoted friends founded the Sisters of
the Blessed Sacrament for Indians and Negroes. Their convent had
once been the Torresdale, Pennsylvania, summer home of the Drexels.
Mother Drexel's missions
began with Negroes of the South and Indians of the Southwest, but
soon became a proliferation of schools and convents scattered
throughout the country. In 1915 she opened Xavier University in
New Orleans. Its rapid growth led to a beautiful campus dedicated
by Dennis Cardinal Dougherty in 1932. Before her death at the age
of ninety-six, she had seen her vast stores of money and love grow
to forty nine foundations in the Northeast, Middle West, and Deep
In 1893, an American
community of the St. Joseph's Society of the Sacred Heart (Josephite
Fathers), also dedicated to work among the Negroes, was founded.
The Paulists and Glenmarys, and the Missionary Trinitarians, were
also home missionaries.
And in 1908, Pope
Pius X finally terminated the mission status of the American
The American Church had
already proved capable of caring for its own and then some.
Generations of immigrants had been embraced by brothers in Christ,
even when there was little to share. And newcomers continued to
swell the ranks of our parishes.
In the first five years of
the 20th Century, three and-a-half million Italians came to our
shores. By 1930, one fourth of our country's Italian-American
population lived in New York City, giving that city more Italians
Polish immigrants came in
only slightly fewer numbers, peaking just before World War 1.
Having suffered Russian-German repression for so many years, they
formed closely knit groups to retain and enjoy their own cultural
and lingual heritage, often establishing national parishes.
The Titanic disaster in
1912, the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914 with its subsequent
boost to our productivity, the declaration of war in 1917, the
all-out support at home of "our boys over there" and the spirit of
brotherhood it kindled throughout the War To End All Wars capped
by the great joy of Armistice Day were turbulent and exciting
years for our country.
Immigration legislation of
the Twenties stemmed the flood that had always looked to the
Church for aid. No longer would the care of immigrants be the
Catholic Church's major concern in this country.
Now a great movement began
for conversion; large numbers of Negroes, for instance, were
converted in New York City. Very few blacks had been Catholic
before, except in Louisiana and southern Maryland where there were
a large number of Black Catholics since Colonial days-yet the
conversion of Blacks was a nation wide phenomenon that continued
to grow until the late Fifties. Schools grew and many new
classrooms served as convents for their teachers after school
Alfred Emmanuel Smith of New
York City, a "wet" Democrat, lost to Herbert Hoover in 1928's
presidential race, but he surprised pollsters by gaining more than
forty percent of the popular vote. In fact, he brought in more
votes than the Democratic party had ever before received. During
the campaign there was a revival of interest in the Ku Klux Klan,
since he was popular with not only the papists" but with the
"foreigners" as well.
At least, his loss meant
that he could not be blamed for October 29, 1929 the black day
that led to miseries and a skyrocketing suicide rate for the next
few years. Not only financial investors lost in those Great
Depression years. People from every walk of life stood in
breadlines. Many farmers lost their lands to mortgage-holders. St.
Xavier Farm at old Bohemia Manor, deeded by the diocese to the
Jesuits in 1898, had been used as loan collateral. It, too, was
As Rudy Vallee's melodious
voice echoed Life Is Just A Bowl 0f Cherries from
American radios, the Lindbergh baby was kidnapped and murdered;
Franklin Delano Roosevelt left the Governorship of New York and
became President of a deeply troubled United States; Prohibition
was repealed; the Morro Castle disaster killed 137 persons; Will
Rogers and Wiley Post lost their lives in an Alaskan plane crash;
a three year drought turned the Great Plains into "the Dust Bowl."
The Church was a blessed
solace and source of strength to the faithful in those hours of
trial. God is our refuge and strength, a very present
help in trouble.
Church affairs were the
center of the Catholic family's life in the Twenties and Thirties
as they enjoyed peace after war and then sought relief from
Depression tribulations. Dramas, minstrels, and pageants were
planned for all age groups. Strawberry festivals, bazaars, balls,
concerts, lectures, card parties, interspersed with Masses,
special devotions, society meetings, religious festivals and
processions, filled the days and nights of good Catholics.
"Five-dollars-a-month" pews were reserved for the more prosperous,
but giving was a natural part of belonging and building.
Some new parishes
particularly, but not only, national" parishes had to prove a need
for their existence by accumulating funds for a building before
their establishment was approved. These fund-raising campaigns
often included the "selling" of bricks for the church usually at
ten cents apiece. Sometimes Protestant friends, as well as
neighboring parishes, joined in the crusade. Old timers recollect,
"our campaign lasted so long, each brick must have been bought at
Active St. Vincent de Paul
Societies, and other church-sponsored groups, visited jails,
established homes for wayward and orphaned boys, and were
missionaries to homeless and "downtrodden" men. They helped pay
rents and brought foodstuffs to families suffering under the
burdens of Depression days. Well known during these times was
Dorothy Day and The Catholic Worker.
Hard times had united our
nation as never before. It was not long before that spirit of
unity was to be tested again. While Shirley Temple and the dance
team of Astaire and Rogers were captivating movie theater
audiences in 1936, Germany was rearming. In 1938, Walt Disney
created Snow White and Orson Welles unwittingly created a panic
with his radio broadcast War of the Worlds. "Knock knock" jokes
swept our country; Austria fell, and Czechoslovakia was
dismembered. In September of 1939, World War II started with the
invasion of Poland. Hitler's minions began a crazed dance across
Europe's face that would leave devastation and the murder of more
than eleven million innocent victims in their wake.
The bombing of Pearl Harbor
in 1941 brought America into the war and her young men were
sailing off to foreign shores from which many would not return.
Builders of homes were out of work, but jobs were plentiful in
other trades. The automotive industry retooled to produce tanks
and bombers and weapons, providing employment for hundreds of "Rosies
the-Riveter." Market lines grew longer as we waited for rationed
butter, sugar, coffee. Gas rationing proved a boon to horse
traders-figuratively and literally. A preview of today's
ecological movement, those years saw parishioners saving
basements-full of paper and old clothes for "the rag man," coffee
cans full of cooking fat to bring to the grocer, and flattened
vegetable cans to be recycled for weapons. We had backyard Victory
Gardens, Civil Defense air raid drills, and Kate Smith singing
God Bless America. Many churches published special
bulletins and newspapers for their parishioners in the armed
services. School children and parish societies wrapped Christmas
gifts for hospitalized veterans and knitted socks and afghans to
send overseas. And Japanese-Americans of our Pacific Coast were
held in detention camps an action upheld by the Supreme Court.
The Medal of Honor, highest
military decoration of the United States, was first awarded for
Civil War Service, but it was not until World War II that a
chaplain received this honor. Father Joseph O'Callahan, a Jesuit
from Boston, survived the holocaust of a Japanese attack on his
bomber carrier, Franklin, ministering to the dead and
wounded, directing fire fighting crews, and assuming
responsibilities far beyond the call of his duties, in the midst
of the siege.
The bloodshed and
deprivation, the support and prayers of Americans everywhere
finally led to the restoration of peace. Masses of Thanksgiving
were joyously celebrated throughout the world on V-J Day in 1945,
only four months after the death of President Roosevelt who had
begun his fourth term in office. With the typical American
elasticity and ingenuity, people picked up the pieces, tried their
best to recapture a normal mode of life, and turned to the
important task of post war reconstruction.
The 1950's brought back
memories of other decades. We were again at war except it was
officially known as "a police action." Racial prejudice came under
government fire, with President Truman's Executive Order, in 1948,
ending segregation in the armed forces and then the outlawing of
segregation in public schools in 1954 also the year in which
"Under God" was added to the Pledge of Allegiance. Confraternities
of Christian Doctrine and Decent Literature Committees assumed new
importance. Parish to servicemen publications and holiday gift
package programs were revived. And, in 1959, two new states joined
But the Sixties, for the
Church, the country, the world, embraced an astonishing number of
turning points. When the decade opened with a Catholic of Irish
heritage being nominated for the presidency, there were some KKK
rumblings. But an era of total openness and instant communication
was in full swing, and would be enforced and emphasized by the
fresh, clear spirit of "Aggiornamento" provided by Pope John XXIII
and the Second Vatican Council. The American people sought to be
well informed and, as historian Francis J. Lally states in The
Catholic Church In A Changing America: "The
characteristic fairness of Americans saw to it that in unfriendly
areas where Catholics and the Catholic position seemed to be under
attack, equal time and equal space were provided for Catholic
rejoinders and for explanations of the true position of the Church
on vexing questions. No one can estimate the direct fruits of this
exposure in terms of votes, but one thing is sure: many ancient
illusions were dispelled simply by the dissemination of authentic
information on religious matters into areas formerly closed
One of Pope John XXIII's
first concerns when he ascended the Pontiff's throne in 1958 had
beeri the convening of an Ecumenical Council. One of John
Kennedy's first acts as President of the United States was the
creation of the Peace Corps. The world was becoming ever closer to
unity and brotherhood. Ecumenism was the upcoming byword.
The post-war building boom
had started a population movement that carried over into the
Sixties. A typical shift would see an inner-city parish, in the
span of a decade, evolve from Irish step-dancing and feis
celebrations to fiestas and soul food. As various ethnic groups
fled city ghettoes and immigrants of other nationalities refilled
them, as younger people married and moved up and out into new
subdivisions, while their Social Security supported parents
remained rooted, as whole parishes seemed to come and go, merge
and separate, with the shifting sands of time and fortune,
Catholic building and refurnishing programs alternately suffered
and prospered. In some area's, Catholic schools-even modern, not
yet paid for facilities closed down as teaching orders dwindled,
costs rose, and enrollments dropped. But even now, other
congregations are constructing institutions of learning for their
sons and daughters. And some of the over ambitious "white
elephants" of the past are being adapted to new uses.
The entire world joined in
mourning as the two Johns left this mortal life in 1963. The Pope
was taken in June. An assassin's bullet claimed President Kennedy
in November. Surely, John XXIII had spoken for both of them when
he said earlier that year:
"All human beings ought to reckon that what has been
accomplished is but little in comparison to what remains to be
done ... Organs of production, trade unions, associations,
professional organizations, insurance systems, political
regimes, institutions for culture, health, recreation, or
sporting purposes ... must all be adjusted to the era of the
atom, and of the conquest of space: An era which the human
family has already entered, wherein it has commended its new
advance toward the limitless horizons."
Here was a decade in which
churches their priests and their people-became actively involved
in projects such as the building of community centers, work
programs, urban renewal, participation in marches and picket
lines, census taking, inter-denominational councils, summer day
camps, vocational training, surveys, recreational programs, senior
citizens' facilities and activities, Headstart and Montessori
Schools, classes for the retarded and handicapped, Red Cross
bloodmobile visits, sponsorship of sports programs for youngsters
programs available to those of all races and creeds.
This is not to say that the
Catholic Church has not always been involved in missions to the
community. In fact, the record of Archbishop James Quigley, who
came to Chicago from Buffalo, New York, in 1903, is not unusual,
even though impressive. He not only founded seventy five new
churches and ninety schools during his thirteen-year
administration here, but he opened the Cathedral College in 1905
as the nucleus of the archdiocesan seminary, founded the Working
Boys' Home on Jackson Boulevard, the Ephpheta School for the Deaf,
St. Joseph's Home for the Friendless, and developed Archbishop
Freehan's project, St. Mary's Training School. These were similar
to the works of the Sixties, but with one important difference.
Today's Church and her services are missions of parishioners. To
be first in extending a helping hand is no longer the duty of the
On January 11, 1964, Pope
Paul VI said:
"We must give the life of the Church new attitudes of mind, new
standards of behavior; make it rediscover a spiritual beauty in
all its aspects-in the sphere of thought and word, in prayer and
methods of education, in art and canon law. A unanimous effort
is needed in which all groups must off er their cooperation. May
everyone hear the call which Christ is making to him through our
And God's people responded.
Even in the midst of murder and mayhem. And sometimes in answer to
the murder and mayhem.
1964 was a year in which
Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., conferred with Pope Paul, and
Archbishop John Dearden, in the face of racial tensions, organized
the Archbishop's Committee on Human Relations. But it was also a
year of racial disturbances in Harlem.
In February of 1965, the
United States bombed North Vietnam and Malcolm X was shot as he
addressed his Afro-American Unity organization in New York City.
In August, the Watts riots cost thirty lives. Massive anti-war
demonstrations rocked the Capitol and Hurricane Betsy devastated
parts of our South. Then Pope Paul, on a mission of peace, visited
New York-the first Supreme Pontiff to come to these shores.
On that one day October 4,
1965 Pope Paul inspired a nation in person and through the miracle
of television, as he conferred with President Johnson, spoke to
representatives of the world in his message to the United Nations,
attended an interfaith meeting at Holy Family Church, celebrated a
Papal Mass for Peace at Yankee Stadium, and visited the Vatican
Pavilion at the World's Fair. Those who heard were encouraged and
enlightened for Pope Paul's words were echoes of the Ecumenical
Council, bringing joy not only to those of the Catholic faith but
to all the peace loving peoples:
"Peace must be built; it must be built up every day by works of
peace. These works of peace are, first of all, social order;
then, aid to the poor, who still make up an immense multitude of
the world population, aid to the needy, the weak, the sick, the
ignorant. Peace must be like a garden, in which public and
private beneficence cultivates the choicest flowers of
friendship, of solidarity, of charity and love."
But not all people listened.
Not all hearts were opened.
On Sunday, July 23, 1967,
six days of rioting began in Detroit. During those terror-filled
hours, forty-one died, five thousand were rendered homeless, and
property damage mounted to five hundred million dollars. The pale
stone statue of Christ at Sacred Heart Seminary turned Negro with
the careful application of jet black paint to its face and hands.
Other riots continued to erupt throughout the country racial,
anti-war, antidraft. And in the following year, Dr. Martin Luther
King, Jr., and Robert Kennedy were victims of assassins' bullets.
But it was in 1969 that the
man made miracle of the century occurred as the world watched and
waited. Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin, Jr., took a giant step
for mankind-onto the moon.
In the years after the
Second Vatican Council, the Synod of Bishops was convened as a new
advisory board to the Pope. During this period, efforts were made
by the Pope to expand the College of Cardinals to include more
members from the United States and other countries. At this time,
the Bishop of Pittsburgh, John J. Wright, became Cardinal along
with John J. Carberry and Terence J. Cooke of New York. Shortly
thereafter, in 1969, Cardinal Wright and the American Church were
honored by his appointment to the Pope's Curia as Prefect of the
Congregation of the Clergy. Cardinal Wright relocated to Rome to
assume his new position at the Vatican. He has achieved the
highest rank attained by any American in the Church.
As the 1970's began their
progression, Catholic parishes of America were still in the
process of embracing the many changes now brought to their
religious life. Parish Councils, English-rather than Latin-masses,
"Jazz" and "Folk" masses, and in many cases Spanish masses,
congregational singing, lay commentators, repositioning of the
Altar, participation rather than spectatorship in the Mass.
Priests and Protestant ministers visited each other's pulpits.
Though parish men seldom dug
church foundations anymore, they did form work crews for painting,
decorating, repairing, refurbishing, just as the ladies have
always attended to the scrubbing, polishing, and beautifying
through the actual labor as well as fund raising. Masses held in
private homes now by choice rather than long ago necessity brought
a special closeness to many.
Another special closeness
that of perfectly attuned married couples was engendered by a
movement called "Marriage Encounter." In a weekend of study and
self-exploration, husband and wife learn a new way to "reach out
and experience one another." The interlocked rings encircling a
cross and crowned with a heart form a red and gold car window
insignia that elicits smiles and warm greetings from other
Marriage Encounter families wherever they cross paths.
A phenomenon of the
Seventies has been the emergence of the "new ethnicity," a
resurgence of interest and pride in the diverse nationalities that
form American Catholicism. A new emphasis on neighborhood, parish,
and family by Poles, Italians, Slovaks, Lithuanians, Ukrainians,
Croatians and others has served as an antidote for the
rootlessness of the day.
Social concerns continue to
occupy the Church and her people. In 1970, the National Conference
of Catholic Bishops helped negotiate a settlement between striking
farm workers and owners. Prolifers of all religions have joined
the Catholic people in the Right To Life battle against abortion
and "death with dignity" laws.
The Seventies brought such
seemingly innovative concepts as the "team ministry" pastorate. In
actuality, this is an extension of the work done by Christ and His
apostles as they worked together among the people, serving
individual needs. The priests within the group set an example for
the greater team ministry of the faithful themselves in their
responsibility to share in the mission of Jesus.
Lay ministries were
established in many progressive programs spear headed by young
people as well as adults. And "the Charismatics" swept a
refreshing new movement into Catholicism.
The June 16,1973, issue of
america, in describing the Charismatic Renewal Conference held at
Notre Dame two weeks earlier, quipped, "the Holy Spirit is a ghost
no longer in Roman Catholicism." The story explained: "The weekend
was an experience of the unity and universality of the Church.
Besides those from every state in the Union, there were
charismatic Catholics from Australia, Israel, France, Mexico,
India, Colombia, Korea, Haiti, Holland, and Germany. Even more
strikingthanthisgeographicaluniversalitywasthe religious unity of
liberal and conservative, old and young, black and white, rich and
poor, the sophisticated and the simple."
Cardinal Leo Suenens,
Archbishop of Malines-Brussels, Belgium, who was a speaker at the
Notre Dame Conference, said later:
... We are in a springtime of the church and we must be open to
what is going on. Something is happening and we must approach it
in a spirit of wisdom... The charismatic renewal today is for
each of us a grace coming to our souls. It is a grace which
vitalizes everything which in the ages past became too
formalistic, too ritualistic. We are coming out of that
formalism more and more...
On Christmas Eve, 1974, men
and women of good faith throughout the world heard Pope Paul VII
designation of 1975 as a Roman Catholic Holy Year. A new year of
grace, of spiritual renewal and reconciliation, prayer, penance
and devotion, was declared.
The tradition has roots in
God's commandment to Moses: "And ye shall hallow the fiftieth
year, and proclaim liberty throughout the. land unto all the
inhabitants thereof; it shall be a jubilee unto you. . ."
(Leviticus 25:10). First at fifty-year intervals, then at
quarter-centuries, the designation of the Holy Year has taken
place since Pope Boniface VIII in 1300.
What made the Holy Year
different in our time was the theme of "Reconciliation" proclaimed
by Pope Paul; the reflection of changes in the contemporary world
that have inspired the Church to more progressive social and
political reform during the past twenty five years than at any
other time in its long existence.
Pope Paul, in keeping with
the spirit of the Second Vatican Council, turned the direction of
the Holy Year of 1975 toward spiritual inner renewal for each
individual and reconciliation-of man with God, race with race,
young with old, nation with nation, East with West ... In his own
words: "We have ... been convinced that the celebration of the
Holy Year not only can be consistently fitted in with the
spiritual line adopted by the council itself which it is our
responsibility to develop faithfully but also can very well be
harmonized with, and contribute to, the tireless and loving effort
being made by the church to meet the moral needs of our time, to
interpret its deepest aspirations and to accept honestly certain
forms of its preferred external manifestations . . ."
On Sunday, September 14,
1975, in one of the more important events of the Holy Year, and in
the presence of tens of thousands of reverent spectators gathered
in St. Peter's Square, Pope Paul VI celebrated the canonization of
Blessed Mother Seton. An estimated 16,000 pilgrims from parishes
throughout America were present at this momentous 20th Century
Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton
(1774-1821) is the first native American elevated to sainthood. An
Episcopal socialite who converted to Roman Catholicism, her loving
endeavors concentrated on the poor and the sick and led to the
founding of the Sisters of Charity. She has also been immortalized
throughout the world by the many schools and libraries named in
her memory, including Seton Hall University, South Orange, New
Jersey; Seton Hall College, Greensburg, Pennsylvania; and
Elizabeth Seton College in Yonkers, New York.
Her challenges were far from
purely spiritual. She dealt effectively with the problems of a
neglectful father, a despondent husband, ne'erdo-well sons, high
handed clerics, feuding religious, and constant creditors. Her lot
was never easy and seldom pleasant. Her salvation, in fact her
sanctity, was worked out in the endless toil of an American wife
and mother, widow and nun.
More than a century and a
half ago, Mother Seton called her daughters together to bid them
farewell. And she left her loved ones a final phrase that remains
as part of her legacy to all: "be children of the Church."
Over one million pilgrims
traveled to the historic city of Philadelphia in August, 1976, for
the Forty-first Eucharistic Congress, a worldwide spiritual
assembly that gave the faithful of all lands deeper understanding
of the diversity of culture and the unity of the Holy Spirit.
Seven Congress sponsored
conferences and seminars collected the wisdom and experience of
prelates and lay men and women outstanding in the causes of social
During the week-long
gathering, forty-five different liturgies featured national dress
customs, and languages of the multi-ethnic participants in the
The planners of the
Eucharistic Congress had instructed that no event was to have an
air of "triumphalism" about it. Those who attended the Eucharistic
Congress, and experienced the dedication of the great crowds,
could sense a spiritual uplift and unity that far outshone any
Catholics observed America's
Bicentennial Year, 1976, with liturgical celebration, studies in
church history, and a nation-wide reflection on justice that
culminated in 1977 in a five-year program of study and action to
better realize social justice in our nation and world.
The broadest of
consultations between bishops and laity ever undertaken in the
American Church involved over 800,000 Catholics in parish,
diocesan, and regional conferences during the 1975 Holy Year. In
October, 1976, over thirteen hundred delegates carried to a
national conference in Detroit, entitled A Call To Action,
over 180 specific recommendations of Church policy in eight
subject areas: justice in the Church, personhood, neighborhood,
the family, work, nationhood, humankind, and ethnicity and race.
The recommendations offered
new approaches to realizing social goals to which the Catholic
Church has long been committed, such as the elimination of racial
discrimination and poverty, the guaranteeing of rights to the
unborn, the commitment of the parish church to its neighborhood,
and the support of family life. Other recommendations reflect
newer concerns, within and outside the Church, such as the
expansion of women's ministries; the necessity of evaluating our
entire economic system; the quality and morality of the public
schools; and the need for more effective adult religious education
Some of the recommendations
remain untenable in the light of Church teaching, concluded the
National Conference of Catholic Bishops in their response to A
Call To Action. But as a result of the consultation, the
Bishops now feel more acutely their responsibility to clearly and
effectively express Church teaching. The pastoral agenda for the
Church is unfolding and the proposals of A Call To
Action have been heard and weighed. Some were accepted and
others declined, but the voice that the consultation gave to the
joys, hopes, and griefs of the people of our age stands out as a
strong statement in support of the vitality with which shared
responsibility infuses the Church.
America rejoiced at
receiving its third saint on June 19, 1977, when John Neumann,
immigrant, Redemptorist priest, and Bishop of Philadelphia, was
canonized. This was truly a gift to our country from the Church,
for John Neumann's quiet, steadfast virtue in everything that he
did calls out for emulation to all who know his story.
came to America with great men of vision almost five hundred years
ago perhaps even earlier. Men of our Church helped to found the
United States two hundred years ago and have contributed to every
step of its incredibly swift growth.
community has taken gigantic strides to keep pace ecumenically.
The faith of our fathers remains constant with merely a shift of
emphasis in the greater participation of the people in the duties
formerly relegated to priests and religious alone.
Traditions and beautiful
ceremonies of the past are still cherished. But new forms of
worship have joined them. The image of the devout Catholic
follower of Christ is still with us, but now our arms are
outstretched in brotherhood as we walk in His footsteps.
Each and every Christian is
an apostle as well. Each shares in the responsibilities as well as
the rewards of the Gospel. We rejoice in this knowledge as we
greet the future with renewed dedication, despite the
understanding that man has not the gift, nor the burden, of
knowing what the future will be. This is the Lord's way. We affirm
that nothing remains the same, and that some things are ever
unchanged. The world in chaos or the world at peace: both still
experience the sun and the moon. A new day breaks; it is fresh and
untried, yet joined to all others and therefore already part of
history. Each day is flexible, but constant. And so it is with the