Circumstances of Protestant and Catholic Emigrant different

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER XXVIII (10) start of chapter

And now, what more need be said of the progress of that Church which has in its charge the spiritual welfare and moral worth of the Irish in America? She has her enemies, and will continue to have them, as she has ever had; and these have been her glory rather than her shame. Sects will assail her, and even parties may league against her; but she will pursue the even tenor of her way, neither looking to the right nor to the left, as indifferent to threat as to seduction—preaching peace and love to all men—lifting up her children, by her holy influence, to a truer appreciation and a more practical fulfilment of their duties as Christians and as citizens—teaching them to love and honour and serve the great country in which, notwithstanding the idle rage of the fanatic and the folly of the shortsighted, she has full freedom of development, of active and noble usefulness.

For this glorious Church of America many nations have done their part. The sacred seed first planted by the hand of the chivalrous Spaniard has been watered by the blood of the generous Gaul; to the infant mission the Englishman brought his steadfastness and his resolution, the Scotchman his quiet firmness, the Frenchman his enlightenment, the Irishman the ardour of his faith; and as time rolled on, and wave after wave of emigration brought with it more and more of the precious life-blood of Europe, from no country was there a richer contribution of piety and zeal, of devotion and self-sacrifice, than from that advanced out-post of the Old World, whose western shores first breast the fury of the Atlantic; to whose people Providence appears to have assigned a destiny grand and heroic—of carrying the civilisation of the Cross to remote lands and distant nations. What Ireland has done for the American Church every Bishop, every priest can tell. Throughout the vast extent of the Union, there is scarcely a church, a college, an academy, a school, a religious or charitable institution, an asylum, an hospital, or a refuge, in which the piety, the learning, the zeal, the self-sacrifice of the Irish—of the priest or the professor—of the Sisters of every Order and denomination—are not to be traced; there is scarcely an ecclesiastical seminary for English-speaking students in which the great majority of those now preparing for the service of the sanctuary do not belong, if not by birth, at least by blood, to that historic land to which the grateful Church of past ages accorded the proud title—Insula Sanctorum.

A writer who is not remarkable for enthusiasm, and who judges with wisdom and praises with reserve, thus describes to what extent the American Church is indebted for its progress to the Irish population of the United States:(54)

In recording this consoling advancement of Catholicity throughout the United States, especially in the North and West, justice requires us to state, that it is owing in a great measure to the faith, zeal, and generosity of the Irish people, who have emigrated to these shores, and their descendants. We are far from wishing to detract from the merit of other nationalities; but the vast influence which the Irish population have exerted in extending the domain of the Church is well deserving of notice, because it conveys a very instructive lesson. The wonderful history of the Irish nation has always forced upon us the conviction, that, like the chosen generation of Abraham, they were destined in the designs of Providence to a special mission for the preservation and propagation of the true faith. This faith, so pure, so lively, so generous, displays itself in every region of the globe. To its vitality and energy must we attribute, to a very great extent, the rapid increase in the number of churches and other institutions which have sprung up and are still springing up in the United States, and to the same source are the clergy mainly indebted for their support in the exercise of their pastoral ministry. It cannot be denied, and we bear a cheerful testimony to the fact, that hundreds of clergymen who are labouring for the salvation of souls, would starve, and their efforts for the cause of religion would be in vain, but for the generous aid which they receive from the children of Erin, who know, for the most part, how to appreciate the benefits of religion, and who therefore joyfully contribute of their worldly means, to purchase the spiritual blessings which the Church dispenses.(55)

In concluding this sketch of the progress of the Catholic Church in America, I may refer again, though in a passing manner, to the alleged loss of faith on the part of the Irish. The reader who has gone through the foregoing pages must have found in them sufficient to account, easily and rationally, for whatever loss of faith did occur from the migration of a people without priests, flocks without pastors; while he must have seen no little to admire in the fidelity—the miraculous fidelity—with which the same people kept the faith under circumstances the most unfavourable, and in the face of discouragements of the most formidable nature.

Let it be distinctly borne in mind, that the Irish Catholic had everything against him, nothing in his favour. With the Irish Protestant, of whatever denomination, the case was totally different. The Irish Protestant practically knew nothing of the difficulties by which the Irish Catholic was surrounded, nothing of the trials and temptations to which the Catholic and the family of the Catholic were subjected or exposed. Wherever the Irish Protestant turned his face, there he found a congregation and a church, nay even the people and the very atmosphere to suit him. If he had not, convenient to his dwelling, a church or a congregation of his immediate denomination, there was some kindred church which opened its doors to welcome him, some sect to sympathise with his belief, and receive him in the spirit of religious fraternity. Not so with the Catholic. The multitude of denominations was to him of little avail. There was no friendly sect or kindred communion to receive or sympathise with him. He had to stand alone and aloof, for with none could he amalgamate, or, as Protestant sects might, fuse down in one grand accord every minor difference. Thus, alone and aloof, the Irish Catholic, without church or pastor, had to keep the faith alive in his own breast, and foster it by every parental influence in the breasts of his children; who were exposed to the perilous seductions of association with those young as themselves, but who, unlike them, had a church, a pastor, or a congregation. The wonder is, not that some lost the faith; but the miracle is, that it was so amazingly preserved.

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