Bishop England's Devotion to the Negro

John Francis Maguire

Bishop England's Devotion to the Negro—The Frenchman Vanquished—The Bishop stripped to his Shirt—Bishop England's Death—Spiritual Destitution—As late as 1847—The Sign of the Cross—Keeping the Faith—Bishop Hughes—Bishop Hughes and the School Question—A Lesson for the Politicians—The Riots of Philadelphia—The Native-American Party—The Bishop and the Mayor—Progress of the Church

WE may return to Bishop England, ere, worn out—spent by fatigue and malady—he is snatched from the faithful that loved him as their father, and from the Church which honoured him as one of her stoutest champions and strongest pillars.

Notwithstanding the difficulties of his position, arising in no small degree from the infidel spirit displayed by some unworthy members of his flock, whose vanity and self-sufficiency rendered them impatient of all control, Bishop England prosecuted his mission with characteristic energy. Nor were the three States which constituted his enormous diocese wide enough for the greatness of his zeal. He was to be heard of in most parts of the Union, preaching, lecturing, propagating truth, confounding error; and wherever he went he was surrounded by the leading members of other churches, or those who were of no church, who constitute a rather numerous body in America. He also made frequent visits to Europe; and it is told of him with truth that from a chamber in the Vatican this 'Steam Bishop,' as he was styled in Rome, would announce the day when he was to administer confirmation in the interior of Georgia! This Catholic Bishop found time amidst his pressing avocations, to promote the spread of literary and scientific knowledge in the City of Charleston; and as a minister of peace he fulfilled his vocation by the formation of an anti-duelling association, of which General Thomas Pickney, of revolutionary fame, was the president. As a lecturer, few, if any, equalled Bishop England, and in the pulpit he had no rival in his day in the United States; but it was when the Yellow Fever made havoc among his flock—black as well as white—that the Christian Bishop was seen in all his glory. It was as he hurried from sick bed to sick bed, his charity glowing with an ardour more intense than the sun that seemed to rain down fire on his head, while it scorched the ground beneath his badly-protected feet, that those who were not of his communion thoroughly understood the man. When the poor negro was in health, the Bishop would turn from the wealthy and the learned to instruct him in the truths of religion; and when stricken down by the plague, of which the Black Vomit was the fatal symptom, his first care was for the dying slave. Bishop England did not venture to oppose slavery—few men would have been rash enough even to have hinted at such a policy in his day; but he ever proved himself the truest friend of that unhappy class, and did much to mitigate the hardship of their position. His, indeed, was the policy of his Church in America.(32)

In the diary from which I have quoted, the Bishop more than once makes an entry of this kind: 'Was invited to preach before the Legislature. Preached to a numerous and attentive audience.' Not a word to afford an idea of the effect produced by his discourse. But we have in the brief memoir written by his devoted friend and admirer, William George Read, an account of one of these discourses and its effect:—

An illiberal majority was once organised, in the Lower House of the Legislature of South Carolina, to refuse a charter of incorporation to a community of nuns, whose invaluable services he was desirous to secure for the education of the female portion of his flock at Charleston. They were a branch of that same admirable Ursuline Order whose convent had been pillaged and burned, with such unmanly cruelty, in one of our eastern cities. Some of his friends procured him an invitation to preach before the Senate, and many of the members of the Lower House attended through curiosity. He spoke of religion, its claims, its obligations. He discoursed of toleration. He held up Massachusetts to their scorn. He adverted to the subject of his charter—hurled defiance at them—showed them how he could possess the entire State, for ecclesiastical purposes, had he the means to buy it, despite their narrow-souled policy. He exposed to them the folly of driving those of his communion from the high road of legalised establishments, into the bye-paths of the law. He changed his theme, and told of Catholic charity; arrayed before them her countless institutions for promoting the glory of God and the welfare of man. There was not a dry eye in the house; his Bill was passed without a division on the following day.

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