The two Systems Illustrated: Protestant Asylums and Catholic Reformatories

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER XXVII (3) start of chapter

One passage from the Report deserves special approval; and were the example which it offers generally adopted, there would remain but little cause for anger or contention: 'A few children belonging to parents not Catholics have been sent to us by the Courts. In such cases the children are received, if the parents or guardians so request. If they object, the children are returned to the magistrate. No interference is allowed with the religious tenets of non-Catholics employed at the Protectory.'

One of the institutions referred to in the foregoing Report is the 'New York Juvenile Society.' In its Report for 1863, there is a table stating the 'Religious instruction previous to commitment;' and the result for ten years, from 1853 to the date of publication, is as follows: 'Roman Catholics, 5,210; Protestants, 3,933; Jewish, 67; Unknown, 256—Total, 9,467.' So that the Catholics were in a considerable majority of the whole. Now, what became of these 5,210 Catholic children, in an institution in which, as the Catholics of New York stated before the Legislature, no Catholic manager, superintendent, teacher, or preacher, is tolerated, and from which the Catholic religion is the only one excluded? In page 9 of the same Report, we find these words:—

The benefits of the course of training and education pursued in the institution is seen, not only in the improved character of the children returned to their parents, but also in that of those sent to the West. To how many children has been opened there a bright and prosperous future! Scattered among the farm-houses of Illinois, they are members of comfortable households, many of them adopted as sons and daughters, and all in a land where competence is within the reach of all, especially of those who begin there with an education fully equal to that of the average of the farmer's children among whom they dwell, and with whom they are prepared to keep pace.

It is scarcely necessary to enquire how many of the 5,210 Catholic children were 'returned to their parents,' and how many were 'sent to the West.' It may be remarked that the 'Juvenile Asylum' is only one of many similar institutions. Another extract from the Report is most suggestive:—

'But not the least valuable and interesting proofs of success are the letters received from our young Emigrants in their new spheres. These letters are often full of filial love and gratitude to the teachers, who have been to them as parents, and under whose kind care and guidance they had their first experience of a happy life.'

There is no word here of the parent, possibly the widow of an Irish soldier who died fighting in defence of the Union, and whose boy got beyond her maternal control. But in a letter published in the transactions of another Association—the 'Children's Aid Society' of Baltimore—the following production of a poor perverted child is strangely published. It is here given as it appears in the twenty-sixth page of the Report for 1866:—


'When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up.'


JULY 22nd, 1866.

'Respected Friend.

'I have been thinking of writing too you for some time, i am well and i hope you are the same i like my home very much i went to school four months last winter and had lots of fun, i had two slay rides i would not be back to Mr. V.'s for any money the country is beautiful up hear we have plenty of black berries, like the country better than the city. i dont care to know of my parents for i am better off without knowing. philip and george are well they are both happy and enjoy themselves very mutch in the country we wold all of us like to see you very mutch come see us soon as you can. Philip lives in the same house that i do and George lives right across the road Mrs C has a nice little boy only two years old i love him very mutch i beleave I have told you all at present


As a contrast to the teaching which, whatever the intention, had the effect of inducing a wretched child to write that odious sentence—'i dont care to know of my parents for i am better off without knowing,'—may be quoted an extract from the first year's Report of the Association established in Boston for the protection of Catholic children. It will commend itself to the mind of the Christian and the heart of the parent:—

Next to their duty to Almighty God, the children are taught to have regard to that which they owe to their parents. Even under the old Law, God not only commanded, as a duty of eternal obligation, that children 'honour and succour their father and mother,' but pronounced a fearful curse upon such as refused to comply! While it is a notorious fact, that in His providence, all those countries which are characterised by a neglect of this command are sunk to the lowest degradation; and that just in proportion as a nation becomes truly civilised, on the basis of Christianity, are the domestic relations elevated and strengthened.

It has, therefore, been a matter of deep solicitude with the Managers, so to discharge their duty as that children may not be alienated from their parents, or led to forget or disregard their obligations to them. Hence in all those cases where children of parents able to support them have been committed for the minor offences, we insist upon returning them so soon as, in our judgment, it can safely be done. In regard to many of this class of young delinquents, a few weeks of strict but kind discipline is found as effectual in subduing their tempers and restoring a spirit of filial obedience, as a much longer period.

This will account for the number which have already been discharged and sent home to their family.

The benefit of this policy is twofold: it tends to strengthen the family bond, and to promote the essential virtues of industry and economy. For we have not only to avoid the serious evil of weakening the family tie by unnecessarily separating children from their parents, but also to guard against, what is hardly less pernicious, the mischief of taking away from these parents that main stimulus to exertion, the necessity of providing for their own households.

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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