The Catholic Church not afraid of Freedom

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER XVIII (3) start of chapter

Those who foolishly think, or pretend to think, that there is something in Republican institutions fatal to the extension and influence of the Catholic Church, must be ignorant of, or wilfully ignore, the evidence of history, or what is going on in the world at the present day; or must have conceived the most erroneous impressions concerning the actual position of the Church in the United States. Not only, throughout her long and chequered history, has the Church flourished under Republican governments, and that at this moment among her faithful subjects are to be found the most strenuous supporters of Republican institutions, as in America and the Catholic Cantons of Switzerland; but it is one of the striking characteristics of the Church—conceded to her even by her enemies—that she has the marvellous faculty of adapting herself to every form of government,, and to every description of human institution. Instinctively conservative—that is, of those great principles which lie at the root of all civil government, and are reverenced in every well-ordered state of society—she fully appreciates the blessings of liberty, and flourishes in vigour under the very freest form of national constitution. In every region she is readily acclimated—in every soil she takes firm hold; nay, even where she is trampled upon and persecuted, the sweeter is the odour she gives forth.

Her progress in the United States has not been over a path bestrewn with roses; but not only are the persecutions and sufferings of other days the glory of the present hour, but they have given her strength to meet with fortitude, and endure with undiminished confidence, those spasmodic outbursts of violence which are born of the mad frenzy of the moment. Under the wise guidance of able and sagacious prelates, no less patriots than churchmen—devoted to the greatness and renown of the noble country of their birth or of their adoption—the Catholic Church is not only adapting herself to the genius of the American people, and in complete harmony with her institutions, but, so far as her influence extends, is one of the most efficient means of maintaining social order and promoting public contentment. And we shall see how, in the moment of the gravest peril that ever overtook a people or tried a Church, when others waved the torch and rang the tocsin peal, she retained her holy serenity in the midst of strife; and while sounds of hate and fury reverberated through so-called temples of religion, she calmly preached her mission of peace on earth, to men of good will.

That there has been falling away, is true—that there is indifference, no one can doubt; but the falling away is not what exaggeration has represented it to be, and is moreover largely compensated by the most valuable acquisitions; and the spirit of indifferentism, which is the form of religious disease most prevalent in the United States, is steadily yielding to the zeal of the Church, and its fuller and more perfect organisation.

To appreciate rightly what has been accomplished, we must look back; and in order to understand what the Church had to contend with, what obstacles she had to surmount, what she had to create and build up, it is essential that a sketch—for anything more formal would be impossible, and indeed out of place, in this volume—should be given of her position before and at the period when the emigration from Europe began seriously to influence the population of the United States.

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