Washington's Reply to the Catholics

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER XVIII (7) start of chapter

In his reply, Washington thus referred to that passage in the Catholic Address:—-

As mankind become more liberal, they will be more apt to allow that all those who conduct themselves as worthy members of the community are equally entitled to the protection of the civil government. I hope ever to see America among the foremost nations in examples of justice and liberality. And I presume that your fellow-citizens will not forget the patriotic part which you took in the accomplishment of their revolution, and the establishment of their government, or the important assistance they received from a nation in which the Roman Catholic religion is professed.

To Baltimore we must naturally look for the first establishment of the Catholic Church in America. Members of various religious Orders, especially the illustrious Society of Jesus, those heroic soldiers of the Cross, had shed their blood, or wasted themselves in a life of labour, in the propagation of the faith. Spain, France, England, and Ireland too, had all their share in the glory of those early missions. But, previous to the revolution, the number of those who proclaimed their adherence to the Church was not very considerable. Besides, the priests were few, and many of them worn down by age and hardships. The Catholics of the United States were under the jurisdiction of the Vicar Apostolic of the London district, and during the war there was not the least communication between them and their ecclesiastical superior. Of course, after the termination of the war, which ended in the independence of the American colonies, it was impossible that the Catholics of the United States could any longer remain in subjection to an English bishop; and accordingly the clergy of Maryland and Pennsylvania addressed the Holy See, praying that they themselves might be allowed to choose a spiritual superior, subject to the approbation and confirmation of His Holiness. Dr. Carroll, then the most eminent ecclesiastic in the country, was selected to represent the case of the American Catholics before the Holy See; and in praying that the episcopal power should be placed in the hands of one 'whose virtue, knowledge, and integrity of faith,' should be certified by the clergy of America, he was unconsciously describing his own universally admitted qualification for the high office to which, in the year 1789, he was raised, to the great satisfaction of the clergy and laity of the infant Church, and the approval of the foremost American citizen of that day.(22)

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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