Protestant Tribute to the Catholic Church

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER XXVIII (2) start of chapter

The assembling of the Council elicited from an able newspaper of Baltimore (50) a testimony to the conduct of the Catholic Church, which thoroughly represents what I have heard expressed in more than a hundred instances throughout the States. I find it quoted, among other articles from the public press, in the volume containing the official record of this memorable manifestation of the progress of the Church. I know it represents the almost universal feeling of the South, and of all but the extreme or violent of the North:—

But while we do not propose to enter upon a theme so nearly boundless, and involving so many considerations which divide the minds of men, it is but appropriate to the occasion, and it certainly is a pleasure to us to say, that the course of the Clergy of the Roman Catholic Church, during our late civil dissensions, will make this demonstration of its vitality and vigour very welcome to multitudes, who, but a little while ago, would have witnessed it with jealous concern. With but few exceptions—and those chiefly noted for their rarity—the priesthood of the Roman Catholic Communion have kept their hands clean of brothers' blood. They have preached only the Gospel, and the great doctrines of peace and good will on which it rests, and have not sullied their altars with fratricidal emblems, or turned their anthems of praise into songs of hate and war. In the camps of both armies they were ministers of God only, and faithful to their high calling amid the terrors of the battle-field and the dangers of the pest-house and the hospital; they dedicated themselves exclusively to the alleviation of bodily suffering and the gentle and holy ministerings of religious consolation. It is for this that men reverence them to-day, who, ten years ago, would have been prompted by prejudice to revile them. It is for this that the Church, whose ministers they are, is recognised now by thousands who dispute its freed as a worthy depository and teacher of the sacred truths which, in making men Christians, make them love one another. In all the proud annals of the Church of Koine there is no prouder page than that which records her purity and steadfastness and independence—her indifference alike to the threats and seductions of power during the Confederate Revolution.

Seduction could not betray the Church from the straight path of her duty; and to threats, though backed by the power of armed legions, she opposed that same sublime 'Non possumus' by which the Sovereign Pontiff has so persistently baffled the wiles of political intriguers, and resisted the fiercest rage of the enemies of the Papacy. 'We cannot do this evil thing—we cannot prostitute our pulpits to the worst passions of man—we, ministers of peace, cannot preach havoc and slaughter—we cannot desecrate God's temple by substituting for the Cross the banner of human strife.' This was the Non Possumus of the American Church. Two Prelates—one of them of the most eminent rank—were called on during the great struggle to exhibit this courage, in which the Catholic Church has ever excelled. To the order of a general, high in command, that a flag should be displayed on his cathedral, the Archbishop, a meek and saintly man, replied in the spirit of the old Roman—had that old Roman been a Christian—'My banner is there already: that banner is the Cross of Christ—none other shall be there, with my consent.' Coarse threats were used in the second instance, and even personal violence was not altogether improbable; but the undismayed Prelate, a man of lofty stature, drew himself up to his full height, and, as he seemed to fill the entrance to his cathedral with his swelling form, he exclaimed to those who were rudely pushing on—'Then, if you attempt to pass, it must be over my dead body; for so long as I live, no war flag shall desecrate the house of God.' The Clergy caught the spirit of their Bishops, and displayed a quiet resistance to the requirements of vehement partizans which was little short of heroic. Thus, in a moment of the severest trial did the Catholic Church of America maintain a strict neutrality, increase and extend her means of usefulness, and secure the respect of those who admire consistency, or who deplored the disastrous consequence of a war which they were powerless to prevent.

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