Irish Catholics and French Creoles: Ethnic Struggles within the Catholic Church in New Orleans, 1835-1920
Doorley, Michael, The Catholic Historical Review
At the funeral service for Archbishop James Hubert Blenk of New Orleans in 1917, Bishop John Edward Gunn of Natchez painted a grim picture of the state of Catholicism in this Latin city of the South:
If anyone imagines the position of Archbishop of New Orleans to be a sinecure, let him explain why it is a proverb here that no Archbishop can survive ten years work .... Is it the worry? Is it the want of responsiveness? Is it the consciousness that in spite of a devoted clergy, of efficient educational advantages, the old Voltairianism still lingers...?
Blenk, a native of Bavaria, Germany, had been Archbishop of New Orleans since 1905. In his funeral speech, Gunn had undoubtedly referred to Blenk's frustrated attempts to improve the standing of the Catholic Church in his diocese. These efforts had been beset by opposition and outright antagonism from both clergy and laity alike. Much to Blenk's humiliation, the Catholic population failed to respond to his appeals for a major seminary for New Orleans. His campaign to restore the crumbling St. Louis Cathedral also came to nothing. These constant setbacks may well have contributed to Blenk's untimely death from a heart attack in 1917 at the age of 61.1
Gunn was not the only contemporary observer who noted the widespread religious indifference of so much of the Catholic population of New Orleans. In 1916, in an unpublished manuscript entitled, "Our Native Clergy," the Reverend Leo Gassler, the Swiss vicar general of the diocese, posed the question,"Is Catholic Louisiana backwards in matters religious?" Gassler argued that the Church in Louisiana was somehow less American than the Catholic Church elsewhere. Writing in 1916, two years after World War I had cut off the European supply of priests to the city, he lamented the inability of the diocese to produce its own native clergy. Gassler also noted that his clerical colleagues in the North often spoke disparagingly about Louisiana Catholicism. The Swiss prelate fully accepted their criticism and by way of explanation referred to the grim legacy of the French colonial heritage that still manifested itself. Under French rule the colonists had never provided for the Church, which had always relied on state and aristocratic philanthropy. In the Northern cities Gassler noted that "persecution from without" had stimulated the Church.'
Interestingly, Gassler pointed to the lack of immigrants as a major reason for the backward state of Catholicism in his diocese. However, this view of New Orleans history needs to be questioned. New Orleans was hardly devoid of Catholic immigrants in its history. Indeed, during the four decades before the Civil War, it had drawn more immigrants through its port than any North American city except for New York. True, this immigration flow slowed dramatically from 1860 to 1880, but thereafter significant new immigration from Sicily, South America, and the Philippines added to the ranks of foreign-born Catholics in New Orleans.
Clearly, what preoccupied Gassler was not so much the number of immigrants in New Orleans but their failure to have any great impact on the character of Catholicism in the city. This view of immigrant church relations seems paradoxical. One might assume that immigrants would hinder rather than enhance the development of an American Catholic Church. Yet, when one studies the history of American Catholicism on a national level, one cannot ignore the vital role played by immigrants, above all Irish immigrants, in transforming the Catholic Church in the United States into an American institution.
But Gassler was correct: New Orleans was an anomaly. Somehow its nineteenth-century immigrants failed to seize control and transform the Catholic Church in New Orleans. Despite a heavy influx of Irish into the city in the mid-nineteenth century, they proved unable to push aside the French and Creole leaders of New Orleans Catholicism, in marked contrast to their victories elsewhere in the United States. This had inevitable consequences for the subsequent development of the Catholic Church in the city. Until 1918 church leadership remained firmly in the hands of a predominantly French ethnic group. Meanwhile, the Creole culture of New Orleans, despite undergoing a certain degree of Americanization, continued to influence Catholic religious practices until well into the twentieth century.
To understand the uniqueness of the Catholic Church in New Orleans, reference must be made to immigrant church relations on a national level. In the early years of the nineteenth century, the American Catholic Church in the United States was a small and feeble institution tolerated only because of its insignificance. Its mainly English and French leadership confronted not only religious indifference on a mass scale but also a tremendous social upheaval caused by urbanization and industrialization.
The arrival of large numbers of Catholic immigrants in America transformed the Catholic Church in America. The American Catholic historian Jay P Dolan estimates that the American Catholic population grew from about 318,000 in 1830 to reach 3,103,000 by 1860 and that immigrants accounted for seventy percent of this growth. Because of famine conditions and economic dislocation in Ireland, the Irish made up a significant proportion of these new arrivals. By the time of the Federal Census of 1860,1,611,304 Irish-born persons were reported in the country, the majority Catholic.3
Irish immigrants were a valuable asset for the growing American Catholic Church. They were largely English-speaking, and their religious traditions seemed especially suited to American conditions.' By the 1850's, Irish names, whether of immigrants or sons of immigrants, filled the rosters of clergy in Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, and St. Louis.1 They also transformed the ethnic make-up of the American hierarchy. Outside of Louisiana Irish and Irish-Americans came to dominate the American hierarchy. On the eve of the American Civil War, bishops of Irish birth or descent, such as John Hughes of New York, were already serving as the chief spokesmen for American Catholicism.6 On a national level this Irish predominance continued after the Civil War despite the influx of large numbers of Catholics from other nations such as Germany, Italy, and Poland. By 1886 the Irish, or those of Irish ancestry, accounted for thirty-five of the sixty-eight Catholic bishops in the United States.7
The new Church represented a fusion of Irish and Anglo-American Catholicism. It was not the folk church of rural Ireland but an IrishAmerican urban institution. The simple beliefs and rural rituals of pre-- Famine Irish Catholicism were hardly suited to the American cities, where most Irish Catholic immigrants now found themselves. As in post-Famine Ireland, a reforming Catholic Church modeled itself on Victorian Protestantism. Ideals of hard-work, temperance, and strict adherence to family values were promoted by the Catholic clergy. Meanwhile, regular religious observance, unquestioning faith, respect for clerical authority, and support for parish schools became accepted features of both Irish and American Catholicism.'
This Irish orientation of American Catholicism had consequences for later groups of Catholic immigrants who not only had to acclimatize themselves to an American urban environment but had also to adjust themselves to an Irish-dominated church. The Italians in particular found the austere cast of American Catholicism especially offensive. Many held strong anticlerical beliefs which scandalized their Irish coreligionists. Rudolph Vecoli, in a study of the Catholic Church in Chicago, points out that those Italians who ventured into Irish churches found them as alien as Protestant churches: "the coldly rational atmosphere, the discipline, the attentive congregations were foreign to the Italians who were used to behaving in church as they would in their own homes." Thomas McAvoy argues that the history of the American Catholic Church after the Civil War was characterized by German protests at being Americanized by the Irish. Meanwhile the Irish insisted that they were in fact "the American Church."'
The Irish interaction with the Catholic Church in New Orleans offers an interesting deviation from the American norm. Unlike other American cities of Irish settlement, New Orleans, because of its French and Spanish colonial heritage, was already predominantly Catholic long before the large waves of Irish immigrants arrived."I Following the transition to American statehood in 1812, Protestants from the Northern States migrated to the city in large numbers; yet New Orleans still remained a predominantly Catholic city.
In New Orleans, therefore, the Irish found not just one host culture but two competing societies as they tried to assimilate. This was even reflected in the local government of the city. Until 1852, New Orleans was divided into three separate municipalities, two dominated by its colonial native population or Creoles and one uptown sector controlled by Anglo-Americans.11 That one culture was Catholic and the other largely Protestant did not lead to any simple choice for the Irish immigrants. The Catholic Creoles not only spoke a foreign language, but their culture stood at variance with many basic Irish beliefs. Moreover, the Creole descendants of the original French and Spanish settlers displayed little real attachment to their inherited faith. As P G. T Beauregard (a prominent example of a Creole Catholic) once tolerantly remarked, "If an individual was good and followed the ten commandments the matter of his religious affiliation was of small consequence." This religious indifference was particularly pronounced among Creole males who viewed religion as the duty of women and children and usually appeared in church only for weddings and funerals. 11
Religious apathy was not the only mark of Creole Catholicism. During the French Colonial period, ideologies such as Voltairianism and Gallicanism, with their stress on skepticism and independence from Rome, gained an enthusiastic audience among the Creole Catholics of Louisiana. Many Creoles joined the largely anticlerical Freemasons and were not averse to harassing their clergy openly. French immigrant and Creole newspaper editors attacked the Church for being too reactionary and obedient to Rome while they accused the Irish of being "bound with the iron shackles of an odious spiritual tyranny."14'
The Irish found this Creole brand of Latin Catholicism very different in temperament from their own. Stubborn Creole hostility to ecclesiastical authority shocked a people accustomed to view clerical leaders with deference and respect. In contrast, the Anglo-American Protestants spoke their language, a language that was increasingly gaining ground in the city.15 Despite the dominant Protestantism of the AngloAmericans, their culture nonetheless seemed to hold out the major promises of jobs and democracy that so beckoned the Irish to America.
The challenge for the Irish in New Orleans, therefore, was not to create a new church as they had done elsewhere in the United States, but rather to Americanize the already well established brand of Creole Catholicism. The optimism of the Irish community was emphasized by their decision in 1835 to build a new edifice to rival the existing St. Louis Cathedral, where most sermons were in French. This new brick, Gothic-style building was destined to replace an old wooden frame structure which had served as an Irish church since 1833. Situated on Camp Street in the heart of the American sector, St. Patrick's symbolized the link between Irish Catholicism and the English-speaking American population of New Orleans."
The construction effort was led by Father Ignatius Mullen, who personified the Americanized Irish priest. Though born in Ireland, he had spent almost all his life in the United States and had even served in the American Navy during the War of 1812. Despite his Irish origin, Mullen gloried in all things American, an attitude which sometimes antagonized his French colleagues. In 1845 a French cleric, Hercule Brassac, in a letter to Bishop Anthony Blanc of New Orleans, criticized the fiery Irish pastor: "This good man Father Mullen sees nothing like the United States and anathematizes all nations of the world as unworthy to see the sun.... I told him, if one is a cross-patch like he is, one ought to stay in his own corner."17
Despite the animosity which the dynamic Irish cleric incurred from some of his French colleagues, Mullen pressed ahead with his plans to expand the Irish church in New Orleans. In the decades before the Civil War, New Orleans was booming. The popular cry was "a million population in ten years." Mullen had every reason to believe that economic prosperity would continue and that Irish immigrants would swell the Catholic population."18
The initial development of the Irish church in New Orleans paralleled that of the Irish experience elsewhere in the United States. Under Mullen's auspices, the Irish parish consciously attempted to Americanize the newly arrived immigrants. In 1841 Mullen formed St. Patrick's Total Abstinence Society in an effort to combat drunkenness. In 1850 the society invited the "famous Irish apostle of temperance;' Father Theobald Mathew, to administer the "pledge" at St. Patrick's.19 In this way the parish attempted to acculturate the Irish immigrants into their new environment while at the same time strengthening their attachment to an Americanized brand of Catholicism which emphasized strict religious observance and respect for religious authority.
The beginning of construction work on the new St. Patrick's Church in 1835 also coincided with the appointment of the Reverend Anthony Blanc as Bishop of New Orleans. The appointment of yet another French bishop did not necessarily mean an obstacle to the growth of the Irish church in New Orleans. Indeed, Blanc looked to the newly arrived Irish immigrants as a means of strengthening the Church in his diocese. In this task Blanc was following a pattern that had already been established elsewhere. like his English and French counterparts in Baltimore and Boston, he relied on the increasing numbers of Irish immigrants to revitalize and Americanize the Catholic Church.
There is much evidence of Blanc's alliance with the Irish community. For Blanc the future of Catholicism in New Orleans became associated with the interests of the English-speaking Catholics. In 1844, in a thinly veiled reference to the Irish, who comprised the majority of the city's English-speaking Catholics, Blanc reported,"It is highly important to the interests of religion in New Orleans to uphold especially the influence of the Catholic portion which speaks English. That portion will always sustain the Bishop."
From the beginning, Blanc enjoyed the close co-operation of the Irish in his efforts to strengthen church authority in New Orleans. When in the early 1840's the Creole trustees of St. Louis Cathedral repudiated the authority of the bishop and the validity of his clerical appointments to the cathedral, the Irish of St. Patrick's Total Abstinence Society offered Blanc overwhelming support. On November 18,1843, the members of the Society informed Blanc that they viewed "the persecutions" Blanc had experienced with great regret and that if the Creole wardens continued their rebellion, he could count on the loyal support of all 1,560 members of St. Patrick's Total Abstinence Society" This gesture was well received by the beleaguered Blanc. He later wrote to a fellow bishop: "The Irish and Americans have always sustained us and will always be on the side of authority.""
In 1844 Blanc appointed Father Mullen as editor of the Catholic Sentinel, the first English-language Catholic newspaper ever to appear in New Orleans. The agenda and leadership seemed clear: Blanc would work with Irish priests such as Mullen to create an American church, free of Creole control, English-speaking, and obedient to the authority of the hierarchy.
A tremendous growth in the Irish population in the late 1840's gave fresh impetus to Blanc's vision of a strong, centralized Church in New Orleans. As a result of famine conditions in Ireland and the availability of cheap transportation on the Liverpool-New Orleans cotton route, the Crescent City experienced a veritable "invasion" of Irish immigrants. In terms of numbers alone, the Irish dramatically influenced the social and demographic character of New Orleans. The New Orleans 1850 census revealed that out of a population of 116,375, over 20,200 came from Ireland.23
The impact of this huge growth in the Catholic population can be seen against the backdrop of overall church development in New Orleans. When Blanc became bishop in 1835, only two major Catholic churches served the city-St. Louis Cathedral and St. Patrick's. By 1852 Blanc had established fourteen new parishes. Three of these, St. Peter's, St. Alphonsus, and St. John the Baptist had their own Irish pastors and catered to predominantly Irish congregations. Bishop Blanc played a major role in the subsequent development of each of these additions to the Irish church in New Orleans."
The remarkable institutional growth of the Catholic Church in New Orleans won the admiration of Blanc's fellow bishops in the American hierarchy. Following their recommendations, Pope Pius IX in July, 1850, established the Archdiocese of New Orleans and named Blanc as its archbishop. Interestingly, the ceremonies appointing the new archbishop took place in St. Patrick's, which served as pro-cathedral while renovations were being carried out in St. Louis Cathedral." Though perhaps only coincidental, this event, nevertheless, symbolized the newfound importance of the Irish church in New Orleans.
Given the heavy Irish presence in the city, historians have generally assumed that, as elsewhere, the Irish ultimately took control of the Catholic Church in New Orleans. Dennis Clark argues in his book Hibernia America: "In both numbers and ecclesiastical ambitions the Irish altered the city's Latin heritage and imparted a new kind of Catholicism to it." Clark's analysis has been shared by others. Earl Niehaus in The Irish in New Orleans, 1800-1860, claimed that the Irish parishes became the principal vehicle for the Americanization of the New Orleans church.26
Another historian, Randall Miller, in an essay entitled, "A Church in Cultural Captivity: Some Speculation on Catholic Identity in the Old South," described the close relationship between the Irish and the Church as an ethnic coup d'etat: "In New Orleans, lay and clerical authority converged because the Irish conquered the church. "17 In a later essay, "Immigration through New Orleans: A Comment," Miller argued that the Irish experience in New Orleans paralleled their experience in other American cities in that other Catholic immigrants were "Irish-- ized" on their way to becoming Americanized.'
These studies are limited in that they relate to the Irish experience in New Orleans before the Civil War. In this regard their conclusions are perhaps understandable. Throughout the 1850's, the Irish population grew steadily. By 1860, out of a population of 168,675, the Irish numbered 24,385, the vast majority Catholics.' The Church in New Orleans, therefore, appeared to be on the verge of the same "Hibernization" that had occurred earlier in other cities of similar Irish settlement. An examination of church archives, however, reveals little evidence to support the contention that the New Orleans church had become thoroughly Americanized. There is even less to suggest that the Irish immigrant group dominated the church as they had in other areas of largescale Irish immigration.
In prewar New Orleans the Irish had certainly gained influence in the Catholic Church, but the extent of this influence should not be exaggerated. In 1860, of the thirty-two diocesan priests serving in the various city parishes of New Orleans, only eight had Irish or AngloAmerican names." Compared to the relatively high Irish percentage of the Catholic population, the paucity of Irish parishes was also clearly evident. Of the twenty parishes established in New Orleans during Blanc's episcopacy, only three were officially Irish parishes. The largest Irish parish, St. Alphonsus, occupied the lowest rung of the ethnic ladder. It not only remained under the control of the French but remained politically and financially dependent on the German Redemptorists.311
In other cities where the Irish occupied a similar percentage of the population, the Irish acquired almost complete domination of the Catholic Church. A comparison with Chicago is valuable in this instance. By 1850, twenty percent of Chicago's inhabitants were Irish immigrants. Irish predominance in the clergy was already evident at this time. Of the ten priests serving in the various city parishes in Chicago in 1850, five had Irish or Anglo-American names. By 1860 the Irish had increased their ethnic representation in the clergy. Out of a total of eighteen priests, twelve had Irish names. Irish domination of the hierarchy was even more pronounced. From the appointment of the first bishop, William Quarter, in 1844 until the death of Archbishop James Quigley in 1915, all the bishops of Chicago but one were either Irishborn or of Irish parentage.32
What prevented the Irish, given their demographic strength in New Orleans, from achieving a similar conquest of the city's Catholic Church? Perhaps the main obstacle to Irish ambitions in the Crescent City was the established nature of the French church. The Diocese of Louisiana had been founded in 1793. Following the incorporation of the former colony into the United States in 1803, this diocese became the second oldest in the country. Though weak and disorganized, it nevertheless displayed an ethnic defensiveness that the Irish could not overcome.
Irish ethnic domination of the Church in New Orleans might well have occurred if New Orleans had continued to draw on an expanding and self-rejuvenating Irish population. Yet demographic forces, which had infused Irish Catholicism with so much energy in other cities of Irish settlement, conspired against it in New Orleans. This decline is evident from the census and immigration returns of the decade. The 1850 census returns indicate an Irish population of 20,200. Immigration returns reveal that approximately 70,000 immigrants entered the port of New Orleans during the 1850's; yet the 1860 census returns indicate an Irish population of only 24,000. Clearly most Irish arrivals saw New Orleans merely as a port of entry into the United States and did not linger long in the city.13
Even before the outbreak of the Civil War, New Orleans had lost its attractiveness for Irish immigrants. By the middle of the 1850's, New Orleans' importance even as an immigrant port of entry was seriously undermined. Improvements in ocean-going passenger transportation made the Northern ports more accessible for the immigrant. Eastern railroads, moreover, reached St. Louis by 1857 and made it cheaper and easier to travel to the interior of the United States via New York than via New Orleans. This revolution in transportation is borne out by the immigration statistics. In the period 1850-1855, as many as 67,000 Irish immigrants landed in New Orleans. Immigration returns for the latter half of the decade, 1856-1860, indicate that less than 3,000 landed."
Another obvious deterrent to the growth of the Irish church in New Orleans was the city's reputation as a city plagued by epidemics. Yellow fever, cholera, and malaria decimated the susceptible European immigrants. The newly arrived Irish, often weakened and undernourished, were especially vulnerable. Of the 12,000 who died during the terrible epidemic of 1853, an estimated one-third were Irish.31 Those who survived burdened the Church by requiring orphanages, charity, and benevolent care. Blanc frequently lamented the effects of the epidemics on his reforming efforts and described the Irish as "fresh material for the prevailing disease.""
Indeed, throughout the decade of the 1850's the Irish community suffered a series of devastating blows from which it never recovered. The combined effects of a declining economy, altered immigration routes, and epidemics had a detrimental effect on the Irish community in New Orleans. The advent of the Civil War in 1860 and the Union blockade administered the coup de grace to any Irish hopes of conquering the New Orleans church. Not only did the Irish suffer disproportionate casualties relative to their population, but Irish immigration, already reduced to a trickle, ceased completely during the war years and never revived afterwards. The census returns for 1870 show an Irish population of 14,693, a decrease of almost 10,000 from the 1860 figure.37
These developments obviously had a negative impact on Irish church development. Blanc's death in 1860 also removed an important Irish ally. Blanc's French-born successors, Jean-Marie Odin (1861-1870); Napoleon Perche (1870-1883); and Francis Leray (1883-1887) lacked Blanc's reforming zeal and were less supportive of the Irish church in New Orleans.
Indeed, far from conquering New Orleans Catholicism, the Irish church seemed in decline in the postwar period. The desperate plight of St. John the Baptist Church in the mid-1870's illustrates this trend. The original wooden structure, erected in 1851, continued to serve its mainly Irish congregation until after the Civil War. In 1868 the pastor of St. John's, Father Jeremiah Moynihan, decided to go forward with his project for a new and more permanent brick structure. As the parish history states: "Father Jeremiah Moynihan forgot about so many family fortunes being swept away in confederate paper money and presumed that before long business in the great port would be booming."18
The new structure was finally completed in 1874, but Moynihan had badly misjudged the future. Despite every effort by the popular and energetic priest, he simply could not find the money to pay the enormous construction debt. The Irish priest finally had to admit defeat and approach his French superior, Archbishop Perch6, for financial assistance. Perche apparently made him pay a price. As the parish history states, "dismayed and broken in spirit, Father Jeremiah gave his resignation to the Archbishop in August 1874 and left the parish."19
The Irish Redemptorists serving the largest Irish parish, St. Alphonsus, did not experience the same sense of financial desperation as Moynihan. However, this was due to their dependence on the German Redemptorist order and not to a self-sustaining Irish community Moreover, the Germans did not tolerate any Irish displays of nationalism which would have been customary elsewhere. Irish Redemptorists learned this painful lesson in 1874. A serious ethnic dispute ended only when the Irish Redemptorist involved was forced to leave the German-- dominated order.'
This incident involved an Irish Redemptorist named Father James Gleason and his German counterpart Father Maximus Leimgruber. After Leimgruber had begun "rousing the German congregation with appeals to nationalism," Gleason had followed suit with the Irish members of the parish. As the conflict developed, a German Redemptorist, Father Fridolin Luette, well aware of Father Gleason's dislike of African Americans, prominently displayed a picture of St. Patrick in the newly opened Redemptorist school for the black children of the area. As Luette expected, the Irish Redemptorist exploded with rage when he heard the news. He accused Luette of insulting St. Patrick and the Irish nation. In reply, Luette accused Gleason of heresy. Matters deteriorated even further between the two men. In desperation, Gleason took his case to Perche, and threatened Leimgruber with a $10,000 lawsuit for defamation of character. Getting satisfaction from neither his German superior nor the French archbishop, Gleason appealed for a release from the order."
The outcome of this battle over nationalism in St. Alphonsus illustrates the weakness of the Irish church in New Orleans. It would be difficult to imagine a similar Irish surrender in the Irish-dominated Catholic Church of the northern cities. Clearly, a priest with an overdeveloped sense of Irish identity did not enjoy the same prospects for career advancement as that enjoyed by Irish priests elsewhere. One can also draw this conclusion from the case of James Gibbons, a onetime hardware shop clerk in New Orleans, who later became a famous IrishAmerican cardinal. In 1854, in response to a religious mission conducted by the Redemptorists, Gibbons decided to enter the priesthood. Despite the fact that Gibbons could have attended the Archdiocese of New Orleans seminary, the Irish Redemptorist pastor of St. Alphonsus, Father John B. Duffy, advised him to pursue his ecclesiastical career in Baltimore.41
The lack of career prospects for assertive Irish priests in New Orleans is also revealed in the Catholic directory. A study of the register for 1880 indicates that only twelve of the seventy-two diocesan priests serving in the various city parishes of New Orleans had either Irish or Anglo-Saxon names.43 Despite the fact that English was slowly becoming the language of all Catholics in New Orleans, little had changed since the 1850's. The Latin character of New Orleans Catholicism held little attraction or opportunity for Irish priests.
In the economic depression that followed the Civil War, the New Orleans church had fallen on hard times. Matters were not helped by financial mismanagement under Archbishop Perche. Perch6's successor, Leray, managed only to avert bankruptcy. After an "investigation" into the affairs of the diocese by Cardinal Gibbons, Rome decided to appoint a coadjutor to assist Archbishop Leray in the running of the diocese in 1885.4' The French character of the city's Catholicism was typified by the controversy surrounding the appointment of a coadjutor to Archbishop Leray.
In a revealing letter to Rome in March, 1887, Leray stressed the need for a French-born coadjutor for the archdiocese. Perhaps with some exaggeration, Leray wrote that the countryside surrounding New Orleans contained 100,000 Creole Catholics who spoke only French and that the French language was used in the majority of parish transactions. Leray added that even in New Orleans where"because of trade" English had gained more ground, there were still twelve churches where only French was used and five where the sermons were both in French and English. French and Italian were used in one church, and German was the language in four. Only eight churches used English exclusively. Leray also added that of the diocesan clergy, about one hundred were Frenchspeaking, and of the seven who did not know that language three were German and four were Irish."
Within a few months, the ethnic conflict which surrounded the appointment of a coadjutor was overtaken by the sudden death of Archbishop Leray of a stroke in September, 1887. Rome dropped its plans to appoint a coadjutor since a new archbishop had now to be appointed. As Rome pondered the decision in the early months of 1888, the French clergy of the diocese were especially anxious that a French cleric be appointed to the vacant see. The French-born vicar general, Gustave A. Rouxel, wrote directly to Rome in February, requesting a French-born archbishop. In the weeks that followed, his letter was followed by a series of similar petitions signed by many of the almost one hundred French-born priests in the diocese.'
The existence of these petitions in the Propaganda Fide archives obviously illustrates the still pervasive French influence in the Archdiocese of New Orleans. Yet significantly, the archives also contain three letters from a lone priest, Jean-Baptiste Bogarts, opposing the appointment of a French archbishop. Bogarts was pastor of St. Henry's Church, a German church on Berlin Street in New Orleans. He complained that the petitions to Rome were the work of "a clique" that wished to continue the traditional French "regime" in the diocese. Priests representing English- and German-speaking groups had refused to sign. Bogarts added that even if the majority of secular priests were French, there was no need to have a French archbishop forever."
Bogarts' letter to Rome in 1887 throws an interesting light on the ethnic conflicts within the diocese. It is clear that the French ethnic group was still dominant in the New Orleans Catholic Church. Indeed, Bogarts claimed that some English-speaking churches had French priests who refused to speak anything but French. Bogarts believed that the French clergy considered the diocese as "une annexe" of France and were thus unable to deal with the increasing Americanization of their congregations. He believed that it was necessary to have a spiritual chief that could rise above French prejudices: "To attach the fate of religion in Louisiana to such a system would be like attaching it to a decaying building or to a sinking ship."
Bogarts, of course, was a minority voice, but his views seemed to be shared by Rome. Anxious that long-neglected reforms be carried out, the Holy See appointed the Dutch-born bishop of Natchez, Francis Janssens, as the next Archbishop of New Orleans.49 Perhaps not surprisingly, a wave of indignation swept the archdiocese.As Baudier reported, the new French-born vicar general, Father Gilbert Raymond, resigned from further service; the French chancellor, Father Chasse went back to France; one of the pastors of a large city parish also departed for France, vowing not to return until a French archbishop was appointed. Another French pastor, Father Fran4;ois Rouge, was especially critical: "In a diocese without a single Dutch priest, it might as well have been a Chinaman.'50
Gallic tempers cooled somewhat when the French clergy realized that Janssens came from a part of Holland both culturally and linguistically akin to France. Janssens' unassuming manner and his fluent use of French also soothed the delicate sensibilities of the French. Nevertheless, some opposition continued. In 1892 a small group of dissident French clergy led by Father Rouge,"the most embittered of Archbishop Janssens' enemies," founded the monthly magazine, L'Observateur Louisianais, to oppose the Dutch archbishop."
This opposition to Janssens again illustrates the hybrid character of New Orleans Catholicism. The absence of any Irish involvement in the dispute is not surprising. The Irish clergy were still relegated to the periphery of the New Orleans church. Out of sixteen higher officials of the local hierarchy listed in the 1891 Catholic directory for the Archdiocese of New Orleans, not a single Irish name can be found.52
Janssens was aware of the unusual character of New Orleans Catholicism. Less than a year after his arrival in New Orleans he wrote to his friend, Archbishop William Henry Elder of Cincinnati:"There is a great lack of discipline in the laity... This Diocese is a very peculiar one."53 Janssens may well have suspected that this lack of discipline was due to an over-reliance on French priests who were reluctant to encourage the Americanization of Catholicism in his diocese. As part of his program of reform, Janssens therefore determined not to "continue serving as an ecclesiastical recruiting agent in Europe.TM In 1891 he opened a minor seminary (staffed by Benedictines with a German background). In these efforts Janssens could hardly look to any assertive Irish immigrant group for assistance. Instead he faced opposition from some of the French priests who were accustomed to the recruitment of priests from their own country. In the L'Observateur Father Rouge criticized Janssens'"petit seminaire" and attacked "the American church."55
After some progress had been made,Janssens' efforts at Americanization were cut short by his untimely death in 1898. After his death the French clergy seem to have reasserted their control over the diocese. Janssens' successor was another Frenchman, Archbishop Placid Louis Chapelle of Santa Fe, whose candidacy had been petitioned by the French clergy. According to Gassler, Rouge persuaded Chapelle to discontinue financial support for Janssens' seminary. The seminary was thus forced to close in 1899, and the recruitment of French and other European clergy had to be resumed. Rouge and his allies thus helped to perpetuate the colonial nature of the New Orleans church into the early twentieth century."
Following Chapelle's death in 1905, a large group of the clergy petitioned Rome for yet another Frenchman, the Reverend jean Marius Laval, who had already served as an auxiliary Bishop of New Orleans, as the next archbishop. This time, however, the Holy See deemed otherwise and selected James Hubert Blenk, then Bishop of San Juan and a native of Bavaria. Blenk took up the task of Americanization that had been left in abeyance since the death of Janssens. Baudier, the diocese's historian, felt that Blenk's appointment marked a real turning point in "the general apathy of Catholic men in regard to church duties and activity, a discouraging stolid indifference among so many that had perlisted decade after decade. . . ."17 This view is also supported by the author of the Archdiocese of New Orleans Centennial Supplement, published in 1950. The appointment of Blenk was described as the "final breaking away of the venerable Archdiocese from the old French school of thought and views, attachments and influence." Yet the author of this study also cautioned that this process of Americanization did not happen overnight. While Blenk managed to reopen the small preparatory seminary,"his pleas for vocations, support for the seminary and for the laity to build a major seminary, seemed to have fallen on deaf ears. This was a "crushing experience" for Blenk which contributed to his early death."
Baudier does not mention any Irish role in this Americanization process. Again this is hardly surprising. By 1910 the Irish population numbered 2,996 out of a total population of 339,075. Second and third generations of Irish had by now become thoroughly assimilated into the white community and would seem to have absorbed the religious laxity of Creole Catholicism. As the descendants of the Irish immigrants moved out of the old neighborhoods, the former Irish national parishes lost their ethnic significance. This was particularly true of even St. Patrick's. In 1911 Father Carra, a native of Palermo, became the ninth pastor of this once proud Irish national church. 19
By 1914 the Church was still heavily dependent on Europe,especially France, for clergy. This is evident from a study completed by Charles Nolan in his work, Mother Clare Coady. Nolan investigated the country of origin of the 163 diocesan priests serving in the Archdiocese of New Orleans in 1914. Eighty priests (49%) were natives of France or Alsace-- Lorraine while twenty-three (14%) were from Holland, and fifteen (9%) were from Germany. Only eighteen priests (11%) were native-born Americans, fifteen of whom came from Louisiana and three from New York. Twenty-one (13%) came from Canada, Belgium, Switzerland, Italy, and England, and only five (390 came from Ireland.'
The Swiss vicar general, the Reverend Leo Gassler, had concluded his report on the New Orleans church in 1916 on a hopeful note: "May the day soon dawn when Louisiana will fill up the many vacant places in the ranks of her clergy and sisterhoods from her own native sons and daughters:' In the end, Gassler's optimism may have proved justified. Creole indifference to the education of a local priesthood gradually yielded to the relentless but slow moving force of Americanization in New Orleans. As the former French colony slowly became culturally absorbed into the United States, Creole society lost its pervasive influence. The imposition of non-French Bishops by Rome helped to expedite this process. In 1920 John William Shaw, the eighth Archbishop of New Orleans, opened Notre Dame seminary, the first major theological seminary in the archdiocese."
It was perhaps ironic that this giant step forward for New Orleans Catholicism occurred during the episcopacy of the first Irish-American Archbishop of New Orleans. Shaw's parents came from Ireland, and he himself had studied in the diocesan seminary at Navan, County Meath, Ireland .61 Yet despite its symbolism, this unheralded Irish accomplishment did not result from any Hibernian conquest of the New Orleans church. Clark's argument that Latin Catholicism was displaced by a driving and rigorous (Irish) religious movement was certainly true of other areas of Irish settlement but not of New Orleans. During the antebellum period, Bishop Blanc attempted to use the Irish as a means of strengthening the New Orleans church. Yet his efforts were only marginally successful. Irish immigration dramatically declined before the outbreak of the Civil War and never revived afterwards. Subsequent attempts to Americanize New Orleans Catholicism under Janssens and Blenk were only partially successful. Indifference, apathy, and even a certain amount of anticlericalism remained the hallmark of New Orleans Catholicism. In particular, the diocese's continued dependence on Frenchborn clergy helped to maintain its colonial roots.
The failed attempt by the Irish to conquer the Catholic Church in New Orleans not only demonstrates the resilience of an entrenched local culture and historical heritage but also emphasizes the important role the Irish played elsewhere in determining the ethos of the Church on a national level. To be sure, the French-dominated Creole church in New Orleans finally yielded to the relentless forces of Americanization. Peripheral cultures such as existed in New Orleans slowly became part of the American mainstream. The great nationalist outpouring of World War I helped spur the process. The war and its aftermath effectively severed the close cultural connection between France and Louisiana, and the conservatism of the postwar era helped bolster American Catholic principles such as respect for religious authority among the native population. With the opening of the Notre Dame seminary in 1920, the Archdiocese of New Orleans at last began to produce significant numbers of native-born clergy. The hierarchy too, lost its predominant French bias. The New Orleans Catholic Church had finally transcended its century-old Creole dominance and reluctantly became American.
'Blenk died on April 20, 1917. Of the eight archbishops that served the New Orleans Archdiocese from 1850 to 1917, one died of yellow fever; two died of stroke, and five died of heart failure. Catholic Action of the South Archdiocese of New Orleans Centennial Supplement, October 5,1950.
'Leo Gassier, "Our Native Clergy" unpublished manuscript, March 3, 1916, Gassler Papers, Archives of the Archdiocese of New Orleans (hereafter cited as AANO).
3Jay P Dolan, Catholic Revivalism: The American Experience, 1830-1900 (Notre Dame, Indiana, 1978), pp. 10, 25-26. U.S. Census Office,Population of the US.A.: Sib Census (Washington, D.C., 1854), pp. xxxi-xxxii.
'A "Devotional Revolution" took place in Ireland after the Famine of the midnineteenth century. This involved tighter hierarchical discipline and a sustained campaign to introduce Catholic conformity with regard to beliefs and practices. See Emmet Larkin,"The Devotional Revolution in Ireland, 1850-75,"American Historical Review, 77 (June, 1972), 625-652.
5Tomas McAvoy,A History of the Catholic Church in the United States (Notre Dame, Indiana, 1969), p. 136.
6Ibid., p. 270.
John Tracy Ellis, American Catholicism (Chicago, 1969), p. 47. The distribution according to ethnic background was as follows: Irish, thirty-five; German (including Austrian and Swiss), fifteen; French, eleven; English, five; and Dutch, Scotch, and Spanish, one each.
"For an account of the Irish impact on the Catholic Church in New York see: Jay P Dolan The Immigrant Church: New York's Irish and German Catholics, 1815-1865 (Baltimore, 1975).
9Rudolph Vecoli,"Prelates and Peasants: Italian Immigrants and the Catholic Church," Journal of Social History, II (Spring, 1969), 230.
10McAvoy, op cit., p. 272.
"For a general history of the Irish in antebellum New Orleans see Earl E Niehaus, The Irish in New Orleans, 1800-1860 (New York, 1976).
'"Arnold R. Hirsch and Joseph Logsdon,"The American Challenge, in Creole New Orleans, Race and Americanization, edd.Arnold Hirsch and Joseph Logsdon (Baton Rouge, 1992), p. 93. For an account of the cultural conflict between Creoles and Americans see also Joseph G. Tregle, Jr.,"Creoles and Americans," in Creole New Orleans, pp. 131-185.
13 P. G. T Beauregard to Major J. G. Barnard, November 16, 1853, Beauregard Papers, Archives of the Howard-Tilton Library, Tulane University, New Orleans. Robert Reinders, "The Louisiana American Party and the Catholic Church," Mid-America, 40 (1958), 219.
"L'Orleanais, February 10, March 31,April 27, 1852.Semi-Weekly Creole, February 21, 1855. For a fascinating account of Creole support for the anti-Catholic Know-Nothing movement in Louisiana see Reinders, op. cit., pp. 218-228.
"Paul Lachance has estimated that the linguistic turning point for New Orleans occurred toward the end of the 1830's, when English replaced French as the dominant language of the city. Paul E Lachance, "The Foreign French," in Creole New Orleans, p. 119.
"Roger Baudier,"St. Patrick's of New Orleans, 1833-1958,"St.Patrick's of New Orleans, ed. Dufour (New Orleans, 1958), p. 57.
17Hercule Brassac to Blanc, April 29, 1845, Blanc Papers, AANO. 18Baudier,"St.Patricks,"p.60. 19Ibid.,p.61.
'Blanc to the Sacred Congregation de Propaganda Fide, Rome,January 3, 1844. Purcell Papers, Church Archives, University of Notre Dame Archives. Also cited in John Gilmary Shea, History of the Catholic Church in the United States from the Fifth Provincial Council of Baltimore, 1843, to the Second Plenary Council of Baltimore, 1860 (New York, 1892), p. 268.
"St. Patrick's Total Abstinence Society to Anthony Blanc, November 10,1943, Blanc Papers, AANO. On the bishop's conflict with the marguilliers see Brother Alfonso Comeau, C.S.C.,A Study of the Trustee Problem in the St. Louis Cathedral Church of New Orleans, Louisiana, 1842-1844," Louisiana Historical Quarterly, XXX (1948), 897-972.
"Bishop Blanc to Archbishop Samuel Eccleston,January 8, 1844, cited in Shea, op. cit., p. 270.
"Joseph Logsdon,"Immigration through the Port of New Orleans," in Forgotten Doors, The Other Ports of Entry to the United States, ed. Mark Stolarik (Philadelphia, 1988), pp. 108-109. U.S. Census Office, Statistical View of the US.A.: Compendium of the 7tb Census (Washington, D.C., 1854), p. 399. Compared to other cities of Irish settlement, the absolute numbers of Irish in New Orleans ranked fourth after New York, Philadelphia, and Boston.
"'Nolan, op. cit. See also Charles Nolan,Mother Claire Coady: Her Life, Her Times and Her Sister (New Orleans, 1983).
"Baudier, The Catholic Church in Louisiana (New Orleans, 1939), p. 368. The ecclesiastical province now embraced the dioceses of Mobile, Natchez, Little Rock, and Galveston. Shea, op. cit., p. 274. Niehaus, op. cit., p. 101.
"Dennis Clark, Hibernia America: The Irish and Regional Cultures (Westport, Connecticut, 1987), p. 102. Niehaus, op. cit., p. 98.
"Randall M. Miller, "A Church in Cultural Captivity: Some Speculations on Catholic Identity in the Old South, in Catholics in the Old South, edd. Randall M. Miller and Jon L. Wakelyn (Macon, Georgia, 1983), p. 36.
'Randall M. Miller, "Immigration through New Orleans: A Comment," in Forgotten Doors, p. 131.
'Population of the US.A.: 8th Census (Washington, D.C., 1864), pp. xxxi-xxxii. 'Dunigan's American Catholic Almanac (New York, 1860), p. 120. Based on Irish, Anglo-American names appearing in the directory for the city parishes of the Archdiocese of New Orleans.
"Charles E. Nolan, "Parish Development, 1850-1980,' unpublished research study, AANO.
"Compendium of the 7th Census, p. 399. Dunigan's Almanac, p. 121.The figures for the number of priests serving in Chicago are based on the number of Irish and AngloAmerican names listed as serving in the various city parishes. The place of origin of the hierarchy is based on more precise sources. Joseph Bernard Code, Dictionary of the American Hierarchy, 1789-1964 (New York, 1964), lists the place of birth of all bishops and archbishops who served the city of Chicago. For similar comparisons with Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, and St. Louis, see also Michael Doorley, "The Irish and the Catholic Church in New Orleans, 1835-1918" (unpublished M.A. thesis, University of New Orleans, 1987).
"Reports of the Immigration Commission, "Statistical Review of Immigration, 1820-1910,"p. 313,Table 29. See also Censuses, 1850-1860.
""Statistical Review of Immigration, 1820-1910," p. 313,Table 29. See also A. Conway, "New Orleans as a Port of Immigration, 1820-1860" (unpublished M.A. thesis, University of London, 1949), p. 206.
"Edward H. Barton, The Cause and Prevention of Yellow Fever, Contained in the Report of the Sanitary Commission of New Orleans (Philadelphia, 1855), p. 40.
"Blanc to Bishop John Baptist Purcell of Cincinnati, September 16, 1839, and October 1,1847, Purcell Papers, University of Notre Dame Archives.
,Ninth Census of the United States, 1870, Vol. 1: Population and Statistics, p. 389. 38Roger Baudier, St.John the Baptist Church New Orleans:A Century of Parochial Service (New Orleans, 1952), p. 25.
391bid., p. 29.
Thomas J. Spitzfaden,"Irish Redemptorists in New Orleans, 1848-1878" (unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, 1977), pp. 164-165. "]bid., pp. 134-136.
"John Tracy Ellis, The Life of James Cardinal Gibbons, Archbishop of Baltimore, 1834-1921 (2 vols.; Milwaukee, 1952), I, 29-31. The St. Vincent de Paul Seminary had
been opened by Blanc in the spring of 1838. Following a fire, a new seminary for the diocese was opened in 1858. However, this institution was closed by Archbishop Odin in 1867 because of inability to obtain funds for its maintenance and operation. Catholic Action of the South,July 29,1943, p. 58.
"Sadlier's Catholic Almanac (New York, 1880), p. 91.
"Ellis, op. cit., 1, 272-281. Annemarie Kasteel, Francis Janssens 1843-1897, A Dutch American Prelate (Lafayette, Louisiana, 1992), p. 172.
"Archbishop Leray to Cardinal Giovanni Simeoni, Rome, March 11, 1887, cited in Kasteel, op. cit., p. 173.
46bere are more than twenty cables, letters, and petitions from New Orleans connected with the new appointment in the Propaganda Fide Archives (APF). The Rouxel letter is dated February 7,1887; see Kasteel, op. cit., p. 178.
47Bogarts to Victor Van Der Branden, March 12, March 15, and May 5,1887; see Kasteel, op. cit., pp. 179-182. Van Der Branden was one of the sixteen consultors of Propaganda who were to make recommendations on the appointment of the new archbishop. 'Ibid.
"Propaganda Fide records indicate that an Irish bishop, Edward Fitzgerald, Bishop of Little Rock, Arkansas, was at first considered for the post. Fitzgerald would not accept the appointment. Fitzgerald, in a letter to Denis O'Connell, rector of the American College in Rome, claimed that he did not have the heart for New Orleans: I would regard it as a calamity to be sent there." Fitzgerald to O'Connell, Mary 6,1888, cited in Kassel, op. cit., p. 179.
"Catholic Action of the South, October 5,1950. Kasteel, op. cit., p. 178.
"L'Observateur ridiculed the English-language newspaper, The Morning Star, and declared itself in opposition to "everything not French." Eugene Willging and Herta Hatzfeld, Catholic Serials of the Nineteenth Century in the United States, Second Series, Part Thirteen (Washington, 1966), p. 21.The copies of L'Observateur, from its foundation on January 2, 1892, until its suppression by Janssens in December, 1897, are contained in the archives of the Howard-Tilton Memorial Library, Tulane University, New Orleans.
"Sadlier's Catholic Almanac (New York, 1891), p. 23.
"Janssens to Archbishop William Elder, February 2, 1889, cited in Kasteel, op. cit., p. 196.
"Catholic Action of the South, October 5, 1950.
"L'Observateur, July, 1894. Gassler in his manuscript,"Our Native Clergy," is very critical of Rouge and his fellow dissidents.
"Gassler. See also Catbolic Action of the South,July 29,1943, pp. 52,58.
57Baudier, Catholic Church in Louisiana, p.521. 58 Archdiocese of New Orleans Centennial Supplement, Catholic Action of the South, October 5, 1950. 59Baudier, St. Patrick's,p.85. 60Nolan,Mother Claire Coady,p.39.
61Gassler manuscript. Tregel, op. cit., pp. 173-174. Catholic Action of the South, Octo ber 5, 1950. 62Baudier, catholic Church in Louisiana,p.523.
*Dr. Doorley is an associate lecturer in the Open University Dublin and in the American College Dublin. Research for this article was made possible through a Hibernian Research Award and the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism.…
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Publication information: Article title: Irish Catholics and French Creoles: Ethnic Struggles within the Catholic Church in New Orleans, 1835-1920. Contributors: Doorley, Michael - Author. Journal title: The Catholic Historical Review. Volume: 87. Issue: 1 Publication date: January 2001. Page number: 34+. © 2003 The Catholic University of America Press. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.