The Ramonat Seminar #4: Early American Catholic

St. Peter in Chains Cathedral seen above in the featured image section, is located in Cincinnati, Ohio. I chose this location and one of it’s various Catholic institutions because it use to be a boom town, and one of the many centers of the New West after the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. While the Jeffersonian vision of an agrarian nation did not stand the test of time (for the most part even in rural sections of the Midwest), this new frontier was seen as a battle ground in more ways than one, especially when it came to spreading the (Protestant) Christian message in the face of mass Catholic integration (new European Catholics, Mexicans, Native Tribes, etc.), and pre-colonization by Catholic nations such as Spain in those areas. So, that begs the question, what were people saying about Catholics back then?

I used LUC’s library’s digitized newspaper collection stretching from 1690 to the present to find out…kind of. The advent of the internet and digital archival work make this useful source of primary sources much easier to browse than years before. I’m happy to be able to access such information so easily, with a bit of a learning curve, then to have to dig up this kind of stuff manually which scholars would have had to do years ago. Some of the articles were smudged or harder to read, and though we had the constraint of observing peoples’ thoughts about Catholics before the outbreak of the Civil War (Pre-1860’s), it was still a lot of material to shift through.


I framed my search around the concept of “Manifest Destiny”, first purposed around the period beginning in the 1840’s-1850’s (though Manifest Destiny as a concept and driving American principle can arguably be seen as established in American policy then, and used for God ordained expansionism and exceptionalism ever since). The three key terms I utilized in my search were “Catholic Church” (19953 hits in total)”, “Papist” (1251 hits in total), and “Romanist” (85 hits in total), two of which I borrowed from our reading Catholicism And The Shaping Of Nineteenth-Century America by Jon Gjerde.

Working my way backwards in reverse chronological order, I investigated a number of newspapers within my three set parameters (Between 1840-1850, using one of the three keywords, and printed by or aimed at an American audience), and finally chose three to illustrate my findings. I chose these three articles keeping in mind two of the terms (Romanist and Papist) had overwhelming negative things, while Catholic Church had the most hits the most variety of sources because it is a more “neutral term”. These views were more in line with the readings we did but, with more time, especially using the more neutral term “Catholic Church”, I’m sure more positive/neutral results could have been found.

New-Hampshire Sentinel (Keene, New Hampshire) “A Little of Every Thing

  • Keyword: “Catholic Church”
  • Specific Article: Though it covered a variety of territories and topics (in line with the articles’ title), the bit about the church near the end talks about Rev. Dr. Spring of New York reply to the Bishop Hughes, who says that “infidelity was preferable to Catholicism“, which the newspaper interpreted to mean “an intolerant spirit”.
  • In General: Too broad a scope to pin down an overwhelming feeling from what I looked at alone

Morning News (New London, Connecticut) “Too Romish for Rome 

  • Keyword: “Papist”
  • Specific Article: Rev. Mr. Newman (Anglican) of the Oxford Movement who expressed Puseyist views (derogatory term for Tractarianism that grew into Anglo-Catholicism that pushed the Catholic history/practices of the church), was accused of being too “romish”, who he says (aka The Church) is too “lukewarm” to convey the message he wants.
  • In General: Concentrated in certain newspapers and overwhelming negative sentiments

The Farmers’ Cabinet (Amherst, New Hampshire) “From the Boston Recorder. Protestant Associations

  • Keyword: “Romanist”
  • Specific Article: Exaggerations of the Catholic church and the dangers it poses to civil and religious liberties in tandem with Pagans, and more so than the “innocent” religion of Mohammed in comparison. It says they’re the most idolatrous, evil, lying institution of despots focused only on “money, money, MONEY!”, calling themselves the one true church.
  • In General: Broader newspaper coverage and leaned heavily on the negative

Some interesting research questions I thought about were as follows…

“How did Catholics respond to the rise of Nativism and anti-Catholic practices throughout this period? Did the responds differ in the hierarchy compared to the laity? Did it impact practice at all?”

“What was the reputation of the newspaper in its’ time? What influence did it have on what it reported, who its’ main audience was, and how they presented the Catholic Church?”

“Do Catholics from diverse ethnic and geographical locations receive the same stereotypes or, do these factors play a role in them?”

While this search was by no means all inclusive of the time periods’ feelings towards Catholic Americans and or the Church in general (due to the specific keywords I used, few sources, etc.), it was a very new and fun experience for me! Though my time was limited, and my knowledge limited, I am happy that I got to mess around with this source of information, which will hopefully help me later on as we start to unpack Catholic immigration in Chicago during this period of early American Catholic history, through their eyes for once hopefully!


The Ramonat Seminar #3: (Her)story in Context

Though I had to dip in for the last moments of her presentation, I was happy to catch the few minutes I could last Thursday of Dr. Catherine O’Donnell’s (Associate Professor of History at Arizona State) talk about her up and coming biography of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, or Elizabeth Seton for short. Here’s a quick history before I get into my topic of woman religious, especially in a historical context.

Elizabeth Ann Bayley was born in 1774 in New York City, two years before the Declaration of Independence was signed.  At age 18, she married William Seton.  He died nine years later, leaving her with five children to raise alone.

In 1805, Elizabeth converted to Catholicism and was shunned by her family.  Soon after, she moved to Emmitsburg, Maryland, and opened a boarding school for girls to support herself and her children.

In 1809 Elizabeth took religious vows and founded the Sisters of Charity, the first religious community in the United States.

She was canonized a saint–the first native-born American saint–in 1975 by Pope Paul VI.

The unabridged version can be found here. With that in mind, I come to her story with two very big obstacles when it comes to understanding why she did what she did in her time—I am not catholic so don’t regard her as a Saint, and my first exposure to her as a living person was through letters (via the chapter of Dr. O’Donnell’s work I was privileged enough to read) many years separated between myself and her.

These two facts, facts that might be shared by other readers of this biography once it hits the press to a broader audience, means that there are many challenges when it comes to constructing a history of this woman. One doesn’t want to unfairly bias her in the eyes of the reader, while also telling a truthful account that can be up for interpretation, not under the veil of dogma from the church, seeing as she is a saint.


Continue reading “The Ramonat Seminar #3: (Her)story in Context”

The Ramonat Seminar #2: The Power of Paint and Prejudice

These past two weeks in the Ramonat seminar, we’ve focused on the European origin story of the various Catholic groups we are going to study, that end up in Chicago. Our main groups have been the Italians and the story of their eventual unification into the peninsula we know today, and that of the Irish pre- and post- potato famine.

What has struck me about the whole thing has largely been the similarities in the stories of these internal refugees or and political factions within their home country, who then look outward and within for some semblance of a more universal community.

While I could go into the readings and the trip we took last week (all of which can be found on the main blog for our cohort), Professor Roberts has challenged us to look at a mediums beyond the written word, and to focus on the Irish in particular.

Mick Moloney, a singer and professor, will be visiting us later in the month for the beginning of our seminar series. While I sadly can’t attend, I was happy to hear his rendition of a song around this period of mass immigration from Ireland entitled “The Green Fields of America”. Two lines stood out to me, but the first is a good lead way into a particular Irish practice, that feeds into the images I’ve chosen to study this week.

“For me mother is old and me father quite feeble…Oh, the tears down their cheeks in great drops they are rolling, To think I must die upon some foreign shore”

Thomas Hovenden’s Breaking Home Ties (1890), the image for this post, features a young man seemingly being sent away from his home. He’s dressed very nicely, young and fresh faced if not ghostly pale, while his family and pet surround him in muted colors with forlorn faces. While eclipsing the time period of focus, it hearkens back to a practice called the wake in which Irish families celebrated the lose of their sons to the so-called “green fields of America”. Much like the song lyric above evokes a generational split, one in which the young leave the older generation grieves, so too does this painting speak to that reality.

Patrick Fitzgerald and Brian Lambkin in their book Migration in Irish History, 1607-2007 chart out the three-stage process of Irish immigration (Leaving, Crossing, and Arriving), and of particular interest the scenes of migration between 1845-1850 onward, pre- and post famine. One practice the stood out before the journey was that of the wake. N.A. Woods, An Irish Wake (1819) below shows the chaotic scene of what we usually associate with a wake—death. The scene is in blacks, whites, and grays. The moonlight shines in as people pour in, drunk, angry, sobbing, praying, as the dead man lays in white with a heavy cross. The wake was unique to Ireland where “…even in southern Italy and southern Spain which were the only other regions of Europe where traces of pre-Christian funeral customs survived into the twentieth century” (Fitzgerald and Lambkin 17).


Continue reading “The Ramonat Seminar #2: The Power of Paint and Prejudice”