The Catholic Church and the American Civil War

John Francis Maguire

The Catholic Church and the Civil War—The True Mission of the Church—The Church speaks for Herself—The 'Sisters' during the War—The Patients could not make them out—The Forgiven Insult—'What the Sister believes I believe'—The Chariot of Mercy—'Am I to forgive the Yankees?'—Prejudices conquered —'That's she! I owe my Life to her'—An emphatic Rebuke—'We want to become Catholics.'

THE Catholic Church of America, regarding war as a great calamity, and civil war—of State against State, citizen against citizen, even brother against brother—as the direst of all evils, scrupulously abstained from uttering one word that could have a tendency to inflame or exasperate the passions which others were doing their utmost to excite to uncontrollable fury. The mission of the Church was to proclaim glad tidings of peace to man, not to preach strife and hatred amongst brethren. Thus those who visited the Catholic churches of the United States from the Spring of 1861 to the Autumn of that year, would never have supposed, from anything heard within their walls, that the trumpet had sounded through the land; that armies were gathering, and camps were forming; that foundries were at full blast, forging implements of death; that artificers were hard at work, fashioning the rifle and the revolver, sharpening the sword, and pointing the bayonet; that dockyards rang with the clang of hammers, and resounded with the cries of myriads of busy men—that America was in the first throes of desperate strife. Nor, as time went on, and all the pent-up passions of years were unloosed, and a deadly war progressed with varying fortunes, and fury possessed the heart of a mighty people, could the stranger who entered a Catholic temple scarcely believe in the existence of the storm that raged without; the only indications of the tremendous conflict being the many dark robes, the sad livery of woe, worn by women and children—the mothers, wives, or orphans of those who had fallen in battle; for, save in the greater solemnity of the priest, as he raised the hearts of his congregation to the throne of God, there to sue for grace and pardon, there was nothing to imply the existence of a struggle whose gigantic proportions filled the world with amazement.

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