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A Catholic Clergyman Defends the Church

As Roman Catholic communities grew larger, more established, and more confident toward the end of the nineteenth century, clergymen such as Rev. Stephen Byrne began to mount a defense of the Church's role in America in response to the activities of the Know-Nothings and other anti-Catholic groups. In this 1873 essay "On the Church and Duties of Religion," Byrne appeals to the tolerance of everyday Americans and makes the case for the continued spread of Catholic churches and institutions.

Differences of religion do not count for much, in a temporal point of view, among Americans of the genuine type. An honest man who firmly adheres to his religious principles, and is sober and industrious withal, is certain to obtain the respect of all his neighbors in America, no matter how much they may differ with him in his religious beliefs. Since the time of the Revolution, there has been no ascendancy party here either in church or in state; but a perfect equality prevails, and even a possibility, where there is a fitness, to enjoy any office of honor or trust. Foreign-born citizens are eligible to any office in the land, excepting only the office of President of the United States.

The wonderful progress of the Catholic church, therefore, and the spirit of generous devotedness displayed by Catholics in raising magnificent churches all over the land, is a matter of admiration among Americans of every religious opinion. Often non-Catholics show the greatest liberality in helping to build and decorate our churches.

I wish to call special attention here to a remarkable fact. Wherever, among the Catholics of America, you find good churches, beautifully or decently fitted up for divine worship, there you invariably find a thrifty and prosperous Catholic people. Wherever, on the contrary, you find a poor and wretched church structure, due regard being paid to the number of the congregation, you almost as certainly find a people given up to drunkenness and other degrading vices. . . .

There have been many converts to the Catholic faith in the United States from the beginning of the present century. A fair proportion of these have been persons of eminent ability, and have filled the highest offices in church and state. It is a fact, nevertheless, that great numbers of emigrants and their children have been lost to the faith, all over the land, on account of the absence of clergymen, the fewness of churches, and the social or family alliances frequently entered into. The Catholic population is now probably six or seven millions; but, if all the Catholic emigrants of the last two hundred years had had even moderate opportunities of exercising their religious belief, it would, doubtless, be three times that number.

Source | Irish Immigration to the United States (Ayer Co. Publishing, 1969).
Creator | Stephen Byrne
Item Type | Pamphlet/Petition
Cite This document | Stephen Byrne, “A Catholic Clergyman Defends the Church,” HERB: Resources for Teachers, accessed September 18, 2019, https://herb.ashp.cuny.edu/items/show/1134.

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