As late as 1847

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER XXIII (6) start of chapter

There is the strong Catholic likeness in all the Bishops of the American Church—the same energy, the same zeal, the same self-sacrifice, the same disregard of toil or labour; and Bishop Timon's visitation in 1847, or in years after, might be fitly described in the very words employed by Dr. England in 1821. He preached in Protestant churches, when they were offered, or the Catholics could obtain 'the loan of them,' or in court-houses, or in school-houses; or, when he had none of these at his disposal, in the open air. In his first visitation Bishop Timon confirmed 4,617 of his flock, half of whom were adults—a fact significant of previous spiritual destitution. It is not to be supposed that this state of things is limited to a period so remote as twenty years—it was the same in many of the States so late as a few years back; and even to this day there are Catholic families in America who have rarely entered a church or heard the voice of a priest.

There was never, at any time, on the part of the Irish Catholic, a lack of zeal for religion, or an indifference as to procuring a place for the worship to which, from his infancy, he had been accustomed in his own country. Indeed, one of the inducements which the Irish had to remain in the great cities, instead of pushing on to take possession of the land, was the facility afforded, through their churches and their staff of clergymen, for practising their religion, and of training their children in the knowledge of its principles. Still, better for thousands had they penetrated the remote forest, and there, in the depths of their own hearts, kept alive the love of the faith, and thus lived on in expectation of happier days, than have yielded to a feeling which was commendable rather than blamable. It is true, the children of mixed marriages—especially when the mother was a member of some Protestant body, and where the Catholics were few and thinly scattered amongst persons of other sects—did occasionally adopt the religious belief of their relatives and friends; but in the vast majority of cases the faith was cherished, and kept strong and ardent amidst the gravest discouragements. When the mother was a Catholic, there was little fear for the children; though there have been innumerable instances of fathers resisting the influence of their Baptist or Methodist wives, and bringing up their children in their own faith.

The Irish in America, first published in 1868, provides an invaluable account of the extreme difficulties that 19th Century Irish immigrants faced in their new homeland and the progress which they had nonetheless made in the years since arriving on a foreign shore. A new edition, including additional notes and an index, has been published by Books Ulster/LibraryIreland:

Paperback: 700+ pages The Irish in America

ebook: The Irish in America