Wednesday, April 22, 2009

U.S. Catholic history, blogged

Recently New Advent has been linking to the blog of Dr. Patrick McNamara, Church historian and assistant archivist at the Diocese of Brooklyn.

His posts feature brief profiles of important figures, historical summaries and also original sources.

To start with, here is Dr. McNamara's description of colonial America's Maryland Tradition in American Catholicism, "a tradition that stressed interfaith harmony, public service, and an attachment to such American principles as religious liberty and separation of Church and State."

A brief foray across the Atlantic touches upon Joseph de Maistre and his ultramontanist views on the papacy.

McNamara reports on Brooklyn's anti-Catholic riots of 1844 using a period newspaper article. Priestless parishes are not a new phenomenon, he adds, explaining that they were common on the American frontier.

For the Civil War period, McNamara informs us of Father James Sheeran, chaplain of the failed Confederacy and author of the mournful poem "Conquered Banner." The Catholic Encyclopedia article on the priest begins with this precious description: "He inherited from his parents, in its most poetic and religious form, the strange witchery of the Irish temper."

We also learn that General James Longstreet was a Catholic convert.

Given its sad history, it is not surprising that the largest group lynching in U.S. history took place in the South. But the action's victims were not blacks, but Italians.

They had been officially acquitted of the murder of an Irish-surnamed New Orleans police chief in 1891.

Obviously the Catholics of the U.S. labor movement cannot go unmentioned. Let Mary Kenney represent them.

Then there are the "modest proposals" of Brooklyn's Monsignor William McGuirl. In his tongue-in-cheek 1917 St. Patrick's Day address at the Waldorf Astoria, he asked the Irish to petition Congress to enact a law prohibiting any immigration for three decades, "except for the Irish."

"For thirty years none but Irish need apply."

The monsignor called for a boy in every family to be named Patrick or a girl to be named Patricia, so that "the virtues of the great old Saint might be perpetuated by psychology." Further, he advocated that incoming immigrants from Eastern Europe or Italy to be made to take the name of Patrick.

McNamara reproduces the full text of President Theodore Roosevelt's 1905 address to the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts.

The president, the first to speak at a Catholic college's commencement, used the opportunity to promote Celtic literature. He claimed he had grown "particularly interested" in it in the preceding three years, adding:
I feel it is not a creditable thing to the American Republic, which has in its citizenship so large a Celtic element, that we should leave it to the German scholars and students to be our instructors in Celtic literature. I want to see in Holy Cross, in Harvard, in all the other universities where we can get the chairs endowed, chairs for the study of Celtic literature.

Noting the revival of old Norse poetry, Roosevelt predicted an “awakening to the wealth of beauty contained in the Celtic sagas.”

Dr. McNamara also discusses black U.S. Catholics such as the twentieth century's Sister Thea Bowman

Further, there is an account of the inspiring heroism of Congressional Medal of Honor awardee Father Joseph T. O'Callahan, S.J.. When he was serving on the carrier U.S.S. Franklin, a March 1945 Japanese attack devastated the ship.

His award citation reads:

...calmly braving the perilous barriers of flame and twisted metal to aid his men and his ship, Lieutenant Commander O'Callahan groped his way through smoke-filled corridors to the open flight deck and into the midst of violently exploding bombs, shells, rockets and other armament. With the ship rocked by incessant explosions, with debris and fragments raining down and fires raging in ever increasing fury, he ministered to the wounded and dying, comforting and encouraging men of all faiths; he organized and led fire-fighting crews into the blazing inferno on the flight deck; he directed the jettisoning of live ammunition and the flooding of the magazine; he manned a hose to cool hot, armed bombs rolling dangerously on the listing deck, continuing his efforts despite searing, suffocating smoke which forced men to fall back gasping and imperiled others who replaced them.

The battleship U.S.S. O'Callahan was named in Father O'Callahan's honor.

Let's end with McNamara's appreciation of Myles Connolly's short novel Mr. Blue. Comparing Connolly's creation to F. Scott Fitzgerald's, he writes:
I have come to realize that the character of Blue must also have appealed to us all, and to countless other readers, because he was a uniquely American personality. As Myles Connolly wrote him, J. Blue was the man that the ambitious Jay Gatsby might have become had he steered by a higher truth than the sound of money in Daisy Buchanan's voice.

Dr. McNamara was a great help to me in writing my first freelance essay for Our Sunday Visitor, in which I discussed the place of bishops in the public square.

In Dr. McNamara's remarks, published in the April 19 edition, he explained how intense public engagement by bishops produced the New Deal-foreshadowing Catholic Miracle. However, he said the divergence between Catholic life and American culture has increased in recent decades, as evidenced in the rise of an anti-clericalism new to the U.S.

My thanks to both Dr. McNamara and OSV editor John Norton for their help with the piece.


Fr. James Weldon said...

I love his blog. It is very informative.

William Luse said...

I'll check it out, Kevin. Sounds fascinating.