A Strange Confession

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER XXIV (8) start of chapter

The clergyman found himself one of a very miscellaneous company in a public stage. Next to him, as he sat in the front part of the vehicle, was a gentleman of grave and reserved demeanour; while the other passengers appeared to be of the ordinary class to be met with under such circumstances, who freely discussed all manner of topics, whether of a personal or a public nature, and whose language was occasionally sprinkled with profanity. The company had proceeded a considerable way on their journey, when the gentleman who sat next the future Bishop enquired of him if he were not a 'minister?' 'Why do you think so?' asked the priest. 'Well, I don't exactly know; but you say grace before meals, and you don't curse and swear.' 'I am a Catholic priest,' said the gentleman's neighbour. 'I am glad to hear it,' said the gentleman, 'for I desire to ask you a question: and believe me I do not think of asking it from an idle motive, as you will see.' The priest assured him he would be happy to answer any questions which it was in his power to answer. 'Then I wish to know if a Catholic clergyman would hear the confession of a Protestant, if the Protestant wanted to confess?' 'Confession,' replied the priest, 'has two benefits—good advice and absolution. Absolution can only be given to a Catholic, but good advice may be given to a Protestant: and, therefore, for that purpose—the giving of good advice—a priest could hear the confession of a Protestant.' 'I told you,' continued the gentleman, 'I did not ask the question from an idle motive. I am a Protestant, and I wish you to hear my confession, that I may have the benefit of your advice.' The priest consented, using the simple words, 'Very well, begin.' At this moment the passengers, who had left the stage, were walking up a long and steep hill; and while the two men were apparently sauntering, idly up that hill, one of them was pouring into the ear of the other a story of the deepest interest to his peace of soul; and when the passengers again resumed their places in the stage, and while laugh, and jest, and profane remark were heard on every side, that strange confession was continued, as the two men leaned back in the vehicle, and the one listened to the voluntary disclosures of the other. When the story had been told, and the promised advice given, the gentleman said, 'Well, now, I can't understand it! These are matters that I could not tell to my brother—that I would not for the world my wife should know—that I could not confide to my minister, or whisper to my friends, for I would die rather than that the world should know them; and here I have freely told them to you, a stranger, whom I never saw before, and whom I may never see again—and why do I tell all this to you? Because you are a Catholic priest. And what appears to me so strange is the perfect confidence I have in you; for I have not the slightest fear you will ever reveal one word of what I have told you to mortal ears. This is what I cannot understand.'

The seeds of sectarian hatred were scattered broadcast over the land, or wafted, like the thistle-down, on every breeze; and if there has been no recent crop of lusty hate and active frenzy—if there have been no burnings, and wreckings, and outrages, to record up to this time, notwithstanding that the usual period for the outbreak of such semi-religious semi-political epidemics has come and gone, this apparently strange phenomenon may be rationally accounted for. We should be glad to attribute it wholly to the good sense of the American people, who we should desire to think were no longer to be made the dupes of monstrous falsehoods and deliberate misrepresentations, or to be led astray by theories which are not only grossly absurd, but opposed to the progress of the United States. Making, however, every fair allowance for the growing good sense of the American people, we cannot but attribute much of the better feeling which now exists to an event that may be well described as one of the most memorable in the history of the world—the late Civil War. Not only has that war exhibited in the most signal manner the enormous value of the foreign element —its strength, its courage, and its fidelity; but the Catholic Church has had, during that terrible national ordeal, an unlooked-for though Providential opportunity of displaying its true policy, at once Christian and patriotic, and of convincing even the most prejudiced of its purity, its holiness, and its charity.

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