The Catholic Church in Advance of the Age

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER XXVI (2) start of chapter

The Catholic Church holds that religious education is necessary for the children of its communion. Others may hold different notions; but this is its fixed and unalterable belief. Nor is it singular in this respect. If it be a grave error to consider that it is well to form and mould the moral nature of youth, while you develope and strengthen its intellectual faculties, that error is shared in common with the most advanced nations of Europe,—Protestant Prussia and Protestant England—Catholic Austria and Catholic France.(45) Fortunately for the future of the Irish in America, this is the belief of the best and greatest portion of the Catholic population throughout the United States.

To obtain the advantages of strictly religious training for their children, Catholics must of necessity make large sacrifices. They have no option but to pay the tax for the maintenance of the Public Schools, to which all classes have free access, and in which all receive a gratuitous and liberal education; but while Catholics pay their quota of the public rate, they assess themselves voluntarily for the support of the schools of which their Church approves. There have been unavoidable defects in the Catholic schools in some districts, and under certain circumstances; it being difficult for a poor congregation, that has everything to provide, everything to accomplish to vie with the State in the character and material of its schools. Defects there have been, and there must be for a time; but these have been wisely borne with, so long as they were unavoidable; for whatever inferiority there may have been, or may still be, in one respect it has been more than compensated by immeasurably greater advantages. But these defects belong rather to the past, and to parishes still in their first difficulties of church building and other costly undertakings of a kindred nature—not to parishes in which the main wants have been provided for, or where the schools have been any time established. On the contrary, there are numerous instances in which the Catholic school is greatly superior to the Public school, and where the Catholic college puts to shame the most advanced of the educational institutions of the State. Notwithstanding the stupid assertions of the bigoted or the ignorant, the Church never did lag behind in the march of intellect; it has ever put itself in the van of the intellectual movement in every country.(46) It thoroughly comprehends its position, its responsibility, and its duty; and while it is solicitous for the spiritual welfare of its flock, it never disdains the task of fitting youth for the practical business of daily life, and the varied pursuits and duties of citizenship.

How eminently practical is the training given in America under the auspices of the Catholic Church may be understood from the following description of the system adopted in the schools of the Sisters of Mercy. The same system, I may remark, is common to the religious communities of the United States. The writer is a Sister of the Order of Mercy, who thus writes to a friend, from a convent in Missouri. The letter is dated the 3rd of June 1867:—

'Two points of difference between our schools and the Public Schools I will note: with us, children of every class learn to work, devoting nearly two hours a day to it; drawing is also taught in connection with fancy work. We believe it of the greatest importance to bring up our children to industrious habits, especially in a country like this, where reverses are so common, and where people are often so suddenly thrown upon their own resources. The public common schools never teach manual work of any kind—hence their pupils grow up with a sort of contempt for it, and, in case of family reverses, find it difficult to hit upon any honest way of earning a livelihood. They are willing to take professions, but dislike much to apply to trades. Many Protestants of the more sensible classes send their children to us on this account. In some places the school authorities have given several public schools to the Sisters of Mercy, who now teach them in these'—the places mentioned—'and other places.'

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