The Past and the Present

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER XXVIII (5) start of chapter

When Bishop England terminated his apostolic career, there were in the whole of his diocese, which comprehended the States of North and South Carolina and Georgia, but 8,000 Catholics; and now in Charleston alone there are 12,000 Catholics, 8,000 of whom are Irish-born, or the descendants of Irish, And in the city of Mobile, which bounded the vast diocese of that great prelate, there is now a Catholic population of some 12,000, mostly Irish—a thriving, orderly, prosperous community—presided over by a good and zealous Irish bishop.

Take a Northern city, Manchester, in New Hampshire; and we shall see how the good work proceeds. The case of Manchester is more important, as we may contrast the past—of a few years since—with the present. The existing Catholic church being too small for its growing Catholic congregation, now numbering 8,000, a similar edifice is in the course of erection. Shortly after the existing church had been erected, which it was in evil days, and under circumstances of the greatest discouragement—in fact, of insult and actual outrage—a band of riotous Know Nothings assembled on the Fourth of July, and commenced its destruction. They had succeeded in destroying its windows of stained glass, when a party of Irish Catholics gallantly encountered and dispersed the mob, and saved from further injury the church which had cost them so much sacrifice. To the credit of the local authorities, they not only expressed their regret at the outrage, but offered, as a compensation, to repair all damages. This the Rev. Mr. McDonald declined on behalf of his flock, simply requiring protection from future violence. The attempt on the church was not the only one made against the Catholics in Manchester. The Convent of Mercy, which is adjacent to the church, was near being destroyed by fire at the hands of a fanatical workman who was engaged in its erection. He remained one evening after the other workmen had left, and deliberately set fire to some shavings that he brought with him to the cupola for his nefarious purpose. Fortunately, no sooner had the flames broken out than they were discovered, and the fire was extinguished before any serious injury was done. But since then both church and convent have remained unmolested, and there are few cities in which religious and clergy are now more respected than in Manchester. Since the arrival of the Sisters, in 1858, there have been over 250 converts instructed by them in the faith, and mostly from the wealthier class of society. In the free schools under the charge of the Sisters, there are more than 800 children, all of whom are either Irish-born, or of Irish extraction. Besides the free schools, there are also, under the same management, two pay schools, and a select boarding school.

Twenty-five years since, a room of very moderate size contained all the Catholics that assembled to worship God in the city of Newark. In this temporary chapel the women alone were accommodated with seats, which were formed of rude planks laid across empty boxes. What a change in 1866! A cathedral, with other churches, a church of grand proportions in contemplation, several valuable institutions, an efficient staff of priests, and 13,500 communicants at Christmas!(51)

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