Bishop Connolly's Note-book

John Francis Maguire

Bishop Connolly's Note-book—'Laity's Directory' for 1822—Dr. Kirwan previous to his Apostacy—The Church in 1822—Progress in 1834—How the Faith was Lost

AN extract or two, taken from a note-book, unhappily only a fragment, kept by Dr. Connolly, Bishop of New York, and quoted by Bishop Bayley in his 'Brief Sketch,' will tell us something of the Irish of his day, as also of the condition of his diocese, which comprised the whole of the State of New York and part of New Jersey.

March 10th, 1816.—Wrote to Dr. Troy an account of my voyage to America; illness here for nearly two months. Catholics dispersed through the country parts of the State of Pennsylvania, New York, Jersey, and New England, where they seldom see a priest: they are not able to maintain one in any particular district—ambulatory zealous priests, necessary for them to prevent their children from conforming to the persuasions of neighbouring sectaries, who all of them have their respective ministers. Only four priests in this diocese, though the Catholics of New York and its district are about seventeen thousand.

Feb. 25th, 1818. .... At present there are here about sixteen thousand Catholics, mostly Irish; at least ten thousand Irish Catholics arrived at New York only within these last three years. They spread through all the other States of this Confederacy, and make their religion known everywhere. Bishops ought to be granted to whatever State here is willing to build a cathedral, as Norfolk has done. The present Dioceses are quite too extensive. Our cathedral owes 53,000 dollars, borrowed to build it, for which it pays interest at the rate of 7 per cent. yearly. This burthen hinders us from supporting a sufficient number of priests, or from thinking to erect a seminary. The American youth have an almost invincible repugnance to the ecclesiastical state.

The names of the priests ordained by Dr. Connolly—O'Gorman, Bulger, Kelly, Brennan, Shanahan, and Conroy —are sufficient evidence of the country from which the infant Church of the United States obtained the greater number of its pastors. Dr. Bayley mentions one of the many amusing incidents in the missionary life of Father Bulger, whose ardent zeal and buoyant spirits enabled him to bear up against many hardships, and not a few insults; for the horror of 'Priests and Popery,' as Bishop Carroll said of Boston, was 'incredible.' Trudging along one day on foot, carrying a bundle, containing his vestments and breviary, under his arm, Father Bulger was overtaken by a farmer and his wife in a waggon. The farmer invited Mr. Bulger to ride; but it having come out in the course of conversation that he was a priest, the wife declared that she would not remain with him in the waggon, and he was obliged to get out and resume his journey on foot. But the strange part of the story is, that the farmer afterwards applied to Father Bulger for instructions, and became a Catholic.

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