Roman Catholicism and the American Way of Life

By Thomas T. McAvoy | Go to book overview

JAMES P. SHANNON*


VII. The Irish Catholic Immigration

Writing in 1880 John Lancaster Spalding, the first bishop of Peoria, reminded the Irish in America that "God's providence can prepare no higher destiny for a people than to make them the witnesses and apostles of the truth as revealed in Christ. And this, as I take it, is the religious mission of the Irish people in the new era upon which the Catholic Church is now entering." Bishop Spalding's luminous prose makes thrilling reading as he describes the apostolic missions of Irish monks and prelates who in earlier centuries had carried the Gospels to Bavaria, Scotland, England, France, Belgium, Germany, Norway, and Iceland. Applying the same concept of Irish destiny in the nineteenth century Cardinal Manning, Archbishop of Westminster, once remarked, "In the Vatican Council ( 1870) no saint had so many mitred sons as St. Patrick."

In a somewhat more critical but still realistic vein, Evelyn Waugh, with his customary acerbity, has described the fulfillment in America of the prophecy of Bishop Spalding. "The Irish have never suffered a prick of shame in avowing their origins. Indeed the further they move in time and place from their homeland the louder they sing of it. What Europe has lost (in the migration of the Irish people), America has gained. The historic destiny of the Irish is being fulfilled on the other side of the Atlantic, where they have settled in their millions, bringing with them all their ancient grudges and the melancholy of the bogs, but also their hard, ancient wisdom. They alone of the newcomers are never for a moment taken in by the multifarious frauds of modernity. They have been changed from peasants and soldiers into towns

____________________
*
Father James P. Shannon is President of St. Thomas College, St. Paul, Minnesota and author of Catholic Colonization in the Western Frontier, ( 1957).

-204-

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