The Church in 1822

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER XIX (4) start of chapter

With these passages—defending the use of ceremonies—we may turn from the New Year's Gift offered in the 'Laity's Directory' of 1822:—

If there is any faith to be given to the attestations of the primitive writers of Christianity, and usages of the Church, from the earliest ages, most of the ceremonies practised in our public service and administiation of sacraments are immediately derived from the Apostles. The Church has judged it expedient to institute additional ones; her power is from Christ.

The use of ceremony is to maintain order, decency, and uniformity in the exterior acts of religion; to raise and elevate the mind to a proper contemplation of our mysteries, and to inspire respect and awe far the supreme majesty of God. How much they conduce to this great object, every one's experience bears ample testimony. The strongest impressions are produced on the mind through the medium of the senses. The animal part of man fetters and clogs the powers of the soul, checks its activity, and blunts the edge of its conception. The sacred pomp of religion was designed, therefore, as an auxiliary to assist the efforts of the mind, and give a spring to its operations.

In 1822 the number of churches throughout the whole of the United States did not much exceed one hundred; and in some of the States not only was there no church, but a priest was never seen by their scattered population: so that if they kept the faith, they did so by a miracle of grace.

The diocese of Baltimore had then more than one-third of all the churches—meaning thereby all the missions—in the States. Baltimore boasted at that time of thirty-nine churches, and several institutions, educational and charitable.

Catholicity had a hard struggle to make any way in the New England States, the historic stronghold of the Puritans. It was nevertheless making progress, but slowly; nor was it until wave after wave of emigration from Ireland was directed to its shores, that these States began to feel the influence of the Catholic element. The diocese of Boston comprehended at that time—1822—the entire of the New England States, including Maine; and in all these States there were but six churches, two of which were in the city of Boston. There was one at Salem, one at New Bedford, and two in the State of Maine, thus leaving districts of enormous extent without church or priest. To two noble French clergymen—Bishop Cheverus and his Vicar-General, Dr. Matignon—was due the exalted merit of having rendered Catholicity respected in Boston. They were learned, pious, zealous, indefatigable, and of the most amiable disposition and conciliatory manners. They failed not, we are told by the Editor of the 'Laity's Directory,' in a short time to win the hearts and gain the affections of their dissenting brethren. 'Prejudices soon began to disappear, inquiries after truth to be made, numbers successively to join their little society; and at this present time the church of Boston forms a very prominent feature in the Catholic body of the United States. O, truly fortunate revolution in France! every true Catholic in this country may exclaim, which has brought so many edifying and enlightened instructors!'

In 1822 the diocese of New York, which comprehended the whole of the State of New York, together with the northern part of Jersey, possessed but seven churches; and including the Bishop, Dr. Connolly, who discharged the ordinary duties of the humblest missionary, the number of priests did not exceed nine. Two of the churches were in New York; the others being in Albany, Utica, Auburn, New Jersey, and Carthage. The clergyman officiating at Albany occasionally visited Troy, Lansingburgh, Johnstown, and Shenectady. Under the head of the 'Clergymen officiating in the diocese,' we find the following items, alike indicative of the laborious duties of the clergy and the spiritual destitution of the scattered flocks:—

'REV. PATRICK KELLY, Auburn, Rochester, and other districts in the Western part of this State.

'REV. PHILIP LARISSY attends regularly at Staten Island, and different other congregations along the Hudson River.'

Philadelphia, which included Pennsylvania and Delaware, was a comparatively flourishing diocese, with fifteen churches. 'It is pleasing to reflect,' says the Editor of the 'Laity's Directory,' 'that at the present day the professors of Catholicity make up nearly one-fifth of the population of the city.' Even then the Irish were strong in Philadelphia.

The Bishopric of Bardstown was then of 'prodigious extent,' comprehending the States of Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, with the Michigan and North Western Territories. A few years back all these countries were little better than a wilderness, and with scarcely a Catholic to be seen in them; and though we are told, in the 'Directory,' that they formed, in 1822, 'one of the most populous flourishing portions of Catholic America,' we must only say the Catholics were left very much to themselves; for in the entire of this diocese—we shall not state how many times larger than the United Kingdom—there were but nineteen churches, the majority of them of wood. We are not, therefore, surprised to read a passage like this—'There are yet parts of this country in which many Catholics have settled (chiefly on the borders of the great lakes) who have not yet seen the face of a Catholic clergyman.'

The diocese of Louisiana, which included the whole of ancient Louisiana and the Floridas, was then one of the most flourishing of the domains of the Church. It had a considerable staff of priests when compared with the other dioceses, though there were many portions of this extensive region in which the voice of the minister of religion was never heard.

In the diocese of Richmond, which embraced the whole of Virginia, there were but seven churches; and in the famous Bishopric of Charleston, to which Dr. England lent such undying lustre, Catholicity had made but little progress at that time.

The diocese of Charleston included North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. In 1822, or two years after the appointment of Dr. England to the see, there was but one church in the City of Charleston; there was no church in North Carolina, and no church in South Carolina, though churches 'were intended to be;' while in Georgia there were three churches, one in Savannah, one in Augusta, and one at Locust Grove. In this vast diocese there was ample field for the energies of the most zealous missionary: and we shall hereafter see how vigorously the most illustrious Bishop of his day girded his loins to his great work. There were as yet, we are informed, no Catholic schools in any part of the diocese, but active exertions were then being made by Dr. England to diffuse a correct knowledge of the principles of the Catholic Church, through the establishment of societies which had for their object the dissemination of books of piety and instruction.

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:

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