Catholic Teaching favourable to Parental Authority

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER XXVI (3) start of chapter

The writer explains the other feature of interest, which is of scarcely less importance:—

'We develope in our pupils a taste for useful and elegant reading, not always or necessarily religious, but in all cases perfectly unexceptionable. By thus cultivating their tastes, we hope to give them rational occupation for their leisure, and to hinder them from contracting a liking for foolish or pernicious reading. I need not tell you that the other schools do not take this precaution, and the consequence may be seen in the immense circulation of works of a deleterious character, which are eagerly read, even by children, and to which much of the crime so prevalent may be traced. Circulating libraries are established in common with our schools, sodalities, &c.'

'It is hard to bring up youth, especially boys, in this country,' has been the grave complaint of Irish fathers to whom I spoke on this subject, or who themselves made it one of anxious remark. This is felt more keenly by parents who have reared children in the old country as well as in America. In Ireland the family ties are strong and enduring, while respect for parents and deference to parental authority is the characteristic of the country —of all but the vicious and the worthless.

The mind of Ireland tends to moral conservatism,—it reverences authority, eminently that of the parent or the pastor. It is otherwise in America, whose institutions, no less than the circumstances of a country yet in its early youth, are favourable to the most complete personal independence. When guided by reason, and controlled by the religious principle, nobility of character and dignity of bearing are the natural result of this consciousness of personal as well as public freedom; but without such controlling influences, this independence too often degenerates into a manner and tone of thought which is neither admirable nor attractive. The youth of the country rapidly catch the prevailing spirit, and thus become impatient of restraint at a period of life when restraint is indispensable to their future well-being. This is peculiarly observable in the youth who are educated in the Public Schools. The boy who is trained in these institutions is too apt to disregard, if not altogether despise, that authority which is held so sacred in Ireland; and once this first and holiest of all influences is lost, on goes the headlong youth, reckless of consequences, and the slave of every impulse. There is nothing more graceful than modesty in youth, and that proper respect which it manifests towards age and worth. Self-esteem, not reverence, is the bump which the Public School system of America—a system purely secular—developes; and of all the pupils gathered within the walls of these schools, none are so quick to catch and reflect the prevailing influence as the children of the Irish. The young urchin of eight or ten is not a little proud of the distinction of being a free and independent citizen of the Great Republic; and it may be doubted if the pity which he occasionally feels for his homely and unaffected Irish father is not unconsciously tinctured with Native American contempt for the 'foreigner,' and the 'Pat.'

The Catholic Schools, on the contrary, inculcate obedience to parental authority—respect for the head of the family—reverence for holy things,—for what is great and good and noble; while at the same time they carefully prepare their pupils for the ordinary pursuits of life, and tit them to make their way in the world, by honesty, industry, and intelligence. They send the youth better armed into the world to fight his way against difficulty and temptation, and they give him a resource on which he may fall back at every period of his future career. A sound Catholic education affords the best protection against the blight of indifferentism, which is a dangerous evil to the Irish in America—to that portion of the population whose conduct is most severely scrutinised, or who are regarded, at least by some, and those not a few, with suspicion or dislike.

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