Bishop England's Death

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER XXIII (4) start of chapter

Too soon, alas! was the life of the great Bishop to come to a close. Returning from Europe in a ship amongst whose steerage passengers malignant dysentery broke out, this noble Christian minister laboured incessantly in the service of the sick. He was at once priest, doctor, and nurse, and during the voyage he scarcely ever slept in his cabin; an occasional doze on a sofa was all that his zeal and humanity would allow him to enjoy. Exhausted in mind and body, and with the seeds of the fatal disease in his constitution, Dr. England landed in Philadelphia; but instead of betaking himself to his bed, and placing himself under the care of a physician, he preached, and lectured, and transacted an amount of business suited only to the most robust health. In Baltimore he stayed four days, and preached five times.

When he arrived here (says Mr. Read) his throat was raw with continued exertion. I discovered the insidious disease that was sapping his strength. I saw his constitution breaking up. He was warned, with the solicitude of the tenderest affection, against continuing these destructive efforts. The weather was dreadful. But he felt it his duty to go on. He said only, 'I hope I shall not drop at the altar—if I do, bring me home.' He wished to do the work he was sent to perform. Exhausted by fatigue, overwhelmed with visitors, he was yet ready at the last moment to give an audience to a stranger who begged admission for the solution of a single doubt; and never did I listen to so precise, so clear, so convincing an exposition of the transubstantiated presence of our Redeemer in the Holy Eucharist. His auditor was a person of intelligence and candour, and the Bishop exhausted, for his instruction, the resources of philosophical objection to the sacred tenet; to show how futile are the cavils of man in opposition to the explicit declaration of God.

His death was worthy of his life. Nothing could be more in keeping with the character of the Christian Bishop. The dying words of this great Prelate of the American Church, addressed to his clergy, who were kneeling round his bed, were noble and impressive, full of paternal solicitude for his flock, and the most complete resignation to the will of his Divine Master. He humbly solicited the forgiveness of his clergy for whatever might at the time have seemed harsh or oppressive in his conduct; but he truly declared that he had acted from a sense of duty, and in the manner best adapted to the end he had in view—their good. 'I confess,' said the dying Prelate, 'it has likewise happened, owing partly to the perplexities of my position, and chiefly to my own impetuosity, that my demeanour has not always been as meek and courteous as it ever should have been; and that you have experienced rebuffs, when you might have anticipated kindness. Forgive me! Tell my people that I love them—tell them how much I regret that circumstances have kept us at a distance from each other. My duties and my difficulties have prevented me from cultivating and strengthening those private ties which ought to bind us together; your functions require a closer and more constant intercourse with them. Be with them—be of them—win them to God. Guide, govern, and instruct them, that you may do it with joy, and not with grief.' In this his last address he did not forget his infant institutions, which were never so dear to his paternal heart as at that moment, when he appealed to his weeping clergy in their behalf; and to the Sisters, who afterwards knelt by his bedside, he bequeathed lessons of wisdom and courage. Almost his last words were, 'I had hoped to rise—but I bow to the will of God, and accept what He appoints.'(33)

By his grave stood the representatives of every sect and communion, offering their last tribute of respect to one who did honour to his native land in the country of his adoption. The press of the United States joined in one universal chorus of sorrow for his loss, and admiration of his exalted merits as a scholar and orator, as a Christian minister, a patriot, and a citizen; for had he been born on her soil, he could not more thoroughly have identified himself with the glory and greatness of America than he did. Even in 1842, when he was lost to the Church, his flock—scattered over three vast States -did not exceed 8,000 souls; but by his matchless zeal and singular power of organisation, and his firmness in dealing with the turbulent and refractory, he succeeded in establishing order in the midst of chaos; and, by his own living example of every virtue which could adorn humanity, even more than by his intellectual power, did the illustrious Bishop England render the name of Catholic respected.

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

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