The Liberal American Protestant

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER XXVI (5) start of chapter

To provide what they rightly consider to be the best education for their children, Catholics freely tax themselves; but among the generous contributors to Catholic schools are American Protestants, who desire to promote education wherever they can, and who recognise in Catholic teaching a benefit to the community as well as to the individual. They are specially pleased to witness the attention bestowed by the clergy on the schools of their parish, the pride they manifest in their improvement, and the efforts they make to induce cleanliness of person, decency of dress, and propriety of demeanour. It is customary for the priest to refuse admittance to the child unless it is clean and properly clad, the priest knowing well that the vice, not the poverty of the parent, is the cause of the condition of the child; and very often the parent is thus shamed into a sense of decency by the rebuke implied in this refusal, and the child is soon fit to pass muster, and to be received among the other children of the school. The priest also tries to reach the parents through their children, and frequently with signal success; the growing intelligence and modest piety of the child acts as a check on the folly of the parent, and brings the indifferent or the obdurate within the salutary influence of the Church. What most impresses the liberal Protestant in his observation of Catholic schools is the paternal solicitude of the pastor for the welfare of his young flock. And not only will a really enlightened non-Catholic of any denomination rarely refuse an application for assistance towards the extension of Catholic education, should such be made to him, but most frequently are voluntary offerings—and to a considerable amount—made by Protestants who appreciate the conscientious opposition of the Catholic clergy to any system of training of youth which is not based upon religion, and who witness the strenuous efforts they make to raise the standard of teaching in their schools.

An unprejudiced observer—and there are perhaps more of that class in America than in any country in the world—will naturally say: 'The Catholic Church is responsible for the conduct and character of its flock—responsible to the world, as well as to God; it must know what description of education is most suited to its youth—which system will make them better Christians, better men and women, better citizens. It is the oldest Church in the world, therefore the ripest in the wisdom of experience; and that experience convinces it that education based on religion—education which comprehends the spiritual and moral as well as the intellectual nature of the human being—that which strengthens and purifies the heart and moulds the conscience, while it developes the mind and stores the memory of the pupil—is that which is the best preparation for the battle of life. If, then, the Catholic Church is held responsible—as undoubtedly it is—for the character and conduct of those who call themselves Catholics, or are recognised as Catholics, why should it not adopt and insist upon having that system of instruction which it knows to be most conducive to the useful end at which it aims? If we are not yet wise enough, or liberal enough, to assist them through the State, at least we should do so as individuals.'

The educational resources of the Catholic Church of America—meaning thereby the teachers, the buildings, and the pecuniary means—are not as yet equal to the daily-increasing requirements of the country; but though they do not and cannot keep pace with the demand made upon them, they are being steadily and even wondrously developed. The teaching staff is deficient alone in numbers; its energy, its zeal, and its efficiency are equal to every legitimate effort. What can be done under the circumstances is done, and admirably done; but more teachers and more schools and larger means are in many, indeed most instances indispensable. For female schools, and infant schools for both sexes, the American Church can boast of a noble array of the Religious Orders, who are carrying true civilisation into every quarter. Even while an infant city is struggling into existence, beginning to dot itself here and there with an odd building in red brick, you see a convent; and in the school attached you hear the grateful hum of youthful voices. The religious communities in America are numerous, but all are devoted to works of active, practical usefulness, which even the most sceptical must appreciate. Among this glorious army of human benefactors—the most successful civilisers whom the world knows—are the Orders of Charity and Mercy, of Notre Dame, the Sacred Heart, the Ursulines, the Presentation, Benedictines, Dominicans, Franciscans, the Holy Cross, of St. Joseph, of Providence, of the Visitation, of Nazareth, of Loretto, of the Precious Blood, of the Holy Name of Jesus, and others known to the Catholics of America. For male schools, of every class, the Church enjoys the invaluable services of the world-famous Order of Jesus, whose colleges, academies and schools cannot be excelled by any educational establishments in the United States. To these are added Sulpitians, Franciscans, Vincentians, Redemptorists, the Congregation of the Holy Cross, and the Brothers of the Christian Schools. But these, and others not particularised, though numerous and zealous in the cause of Christian education, bear still but a small proportion to the increasing demand for their teaching.

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

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