How the Faith was Lost

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER XIX (6) start of chapter

In 1829, when the first Provincial Council of Baltimore was held, which was attended by the Archbishop of Baltimore and five Bishops, four being absent, the assembled Prelates expressed their gratitude to God for the increase of the Church, whose position is accurately stated in the following enumeration:—11 dioceses, 10 bishops, 232 priests, 230 churches, 9 ecclesiastical seminaries, 8 colleges, 20 female academies, and a Catholic population of at least half a million. In four of the dioceses, Baltimore, Richmond, New Orleans, and St. Louis, the number of priests was 132, thus leaving but 100 for New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Bardstown, Charleston, Cincinnati, and Mobile. The progress, such as it was, was considerable, taking into account the difficulties with which the infant Church had to contend, especially the want of churches and pastors for fast-growing congregations, and the various hostile influences arrayed everywhere against the faith. In the Directory of 1834, we frequently read such announcements as these—'Mass occasionally'—'Mass every two months'—'Mass once a month'—'Mass twice a month.' The 'occasionally' was in those times, and for years afterwards, a word of large significance, and might mean once a year, or once in three years, as was in many instances the case. If a certain proportion of the Irish emigrants did lose their faith, the explanation is obvious. It may, however, be given from an authority that cannot be questioned, namely, the Pastoral Letter of the Archbishop and Bishops of the Second Council of Baltimore, dated the 2nd of October, 1833; from which the following passage is taken:—

In viewing the members of our flocks who are spread abroad over the surface of this country, and the comparatively small number of our clergy, we have often been forced to deplore the destitution of spiritual aid under which multitudes labour. God is our witness, that so far as we had the means we have endeavoured to supply the wants of our beloved children. We have not been sparing of ourselves, nor have our brethren in the priesthood been spared. Of this, you, brethren, are also our witnesses. But notwithstanding these efforts, the Catholic has been too frequently removed far from the voice of his pastor, far from the altar of his redeeming Victim, far from the bread of angels, far from the other sacraments and institutions of religion. The emigrant who comes to our shores for the purpose of turning his industry to more profitable account than he could do in regions long and thickly inhabited, has wandered through our forests, our fields, our towns, and some of our cities, in amazement at not being able to find a church in which he could worship according to the rites of his ancestors; he has left our Republic in the bitterness of disappointment, or he has not unfrequently become indifferent. Others have with a firm faith preserved the sacred deposit, and transmitted it to their children, looking forward with hope to that day when they would be cheered by the ancient sounds of a liturgy derived from the Apostolic ages, and known through all the nations of the earth.

From the condition of things in a single diocese, in which, for more than twenty years, the Bishop had to do far more than the hardest work of a missionary priest, the reader may form a notion of the state of Catholicity in many parts of the United States, not alone from the year 1820 to the year 1834, when the Second Council of Baltitimore was held, but down to a very recent period indeed —wherever, in fact, the circumstances were at all similar. I have been favoured with a diary kept by Dr. England, Bishop of Charleston, during the first three years of his episcopate; (29) and some extracts from its pages will afford the reader a lively idea, as well of the multiplied work which a Catholic Bishop in those days had to go through, as of certain peculiarities in the religious world of America, for which there is no match to be found in these countries, where the hard line of separation is rigidly defined. Before the Bishop speaks for himself, it may be well to show what manner of man he was, and how far he was fitted for the position to which Providence had called him.

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