Solemn Appeals to Catholic Duty

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER XXVII (6) start of chapter

Whatever this system may be to those engaged in it—a system, we may remark, totally repugnant to the spirit of modern legislation in this country, where there are industrial and reformatory institutions purposely denominational in character, with the view of protecting the faith of the most helpless class of the community—its longer tolerance by the Catholics of America, and in a special manner by those of Irish birth or descent, would be in the last degree shameful and discreditable. Allowance must be made for the difficulties of their position hitherto, owing to the many claims upon their means, and the various works which it was the duty of the Catholic Church to undertake; but they are now too numerous, too powerful, and too influential, to submit to the continuance of that which is degrading to them as Catholics, and deeply dishonouring to them as Irishmen. There can be no mincing terms as to what is their manifest duty. The past, with all its bitterness and shame, is irrevocable; but there is the present as well as the future, and if they cannot restore the faith to those who have lost it—not through the worthiest or most honourable means—they should at least take care themselves to gather in, under the shelter of the Church, the miserable victims of poverty, neglect, and vice, and restore them to society as good Christians and useful citizens. The wide influence of Catholic Schools will do much to counteract the evil; but the general imitation of the good work so auspiciously commenced in New York, and Boston, and Baltimore, will prove the readiest and most direct means of redeeming the honour of the Catholics of America; at the same time affording benevolent people of other communions an undisturbed opportunity of attending to their own criminal or destitute children.

The Pastoral Letter of the Plenary Council of 1866, thus refers to this subject:—

We rejoice that in some of our dioceses—would that we could say in all!—a beginning has been made in this good work, and we cannot too earnestly exhort our Venerable Brethren of the Clergy to bring this matter before their respective flocks, to endeavour to impress on Christian parents the duty of guarding their children from the evils above referred to, and to invite them to make persevering and effectual efforts for the establishment of institutions wherein, under the influence of religious teachers, the waywardness of youth may be corrected and good seed planted in the soil in which, while men slept, the enemy had sowed tares.

These solemn and hopeful words, addressed to a Catholic audience at New York, in 1864, by the late Dr. Ives—one of the most illustrious converts to the Church in America, and the master-spirit of the reformatory movement—may be listened to as to a voice from the tomb: 'But, whatever the State may do, the duty of Catholics is plain, and will be done. The probability of failure in this great undertaking cannot be admitted. Dark as the day is, and heavy as are its burdens, Catholics will be found equal to them. The work in our hands will succeed; it is God's work—dictated by His spirit, demanded by His providence, undertaken in His name, carried on in His strength and for His glory. I feel that it is no presumption to affirm that it will not fail.'

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