A Brief History of the Growing Pains of the Church in Philadelphia

While the founding of Philadelphia as a diocese dates back to 1808 when it was separated from the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the history of the Catholic Church in Pennsylvania dates back another hundred years. The first Mass in Philadelphia was said in 1708 in a private home; however, the first church would not be built until 1729 when St. Thomas the Apostle in Glen Mills was built.[1] The Catholic community continued to slowly expand so that by 1785 there were three more parishes, Old St. Joseph’s, Old St. Mary’s, both in Philadelphia and St. John the Baptist in Ottsville, Bucks County.[2] Furthermore, at this time there were only five priests for the entire state.[3] As Philadelphia was a major metropolitan hub, its population continued to increase with immigrants coming from counties across Europe.  With the influx of these immigrants, Holy Trinity Church in Philadelphia, the first ethnic church in the country, was built in 1789 for the German Catholics and by 1808 the population of Catholics in the city had grown to 30,000.[4]

2010_047_078

Catholic Historical Research Center Digital Collections https://omeka.chrc-phila.org/items/show/7133

The original boundary of the Diocese of Philadelphia included all of Pennsylvania, Delaware, and South Jersey. The first bishop was Michael Francis Egan, who had only 11 priests and 12 churches under his jurisdiction in Pennsylvania.[5] As the first bishop, Egan faced problems in establishing authority, with the trustees who ran Old Saint Mary’s Parish posing the biggest problem. Trustees were incorporated religious congregations that owned and managed the church property. The trustees at Old St. Mary’s challenged Bishop Egan’s authority on the ability to appoint and dismiss priests assigned to the church. The conflict was left unresolved as Egan passed away on July 22, 1814 and his replacement, Henry Conwell, was not appointed for another six years.[6]

Bishop Michael Egan, n.d.

Bishop Michael Egan, n.d.

Similar to Egan, Conwell struggled with the trustees of Old St. Mary’s. The conflict came to a head when Conwell excommunicated William Hogan, a popular priest from the parish. This was due to the fact that Hogan and members of the parish had continued to push against the authority of Bishop Conwell.[7] Even after Hogan was excommunicated, Old St. Mary’s supported him by ordering all “episcopal insignia be taken down” from the church and that Hogan resume his position as pastor of the parish.[8] The schism would even gain the attention of the Vatican, which sided with the authority of the bishop in a 1822 ruling.[9]

Engraving of Old St. Mary, n.d.

Engraving of Old St. Mary, n.d.

With the questions of authority resolved, the Church continued to grow under Conwell and his successor Francis Kenrick. Kenrick was actually appointed as coadjutor to Conwell in 1830 and would become the third bishop in 1842 upon Conwell’s death.[10] It would be under Kenrick that the church in Philadelphia would greatly expand, with the building of Saint Charles Seminary and the establishing of the first diocesan newspaper, the Catholic Herald.[11] By the end of Kenrick’s time as bishop in 1851, the diocese had added 80 churches, 90 priests, and 150,000 Catholics from when the diocese was founded in 1808.[12]

2010_047_079

Catholic Historical Research Center Digital Collections https://omeka.chrc-phila.org/items/show/7134

 

 

[1] Thomas Hughes, History of the Society of Jesus in North America vol. II, (London: Longmans, Green and Co, 1908) 473; Archdiocese of Philadelphia Catholic Directory, (Philadelphia: CatholicPhilly.com, 2018).

[2] Archdiocese of Philadelphia Catholic Directory, (Philadelphia: CatholicPhilly.com, 2018).

[3]John Gilmary Shea, Life and Times of the Most Rev. John Carroll, Bishop and First Archbishop of Baltimore, (New York: 1888).

[4] Thomas Rzeznik, “Roman Catholic Parishes,” The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia, http://philadelphiaencyclopedia.org/archive/roman-catholic-parishes/; “A Brief History of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia,” Archdiocese of Philadelphia, http://archphila.org/history.php.

[5] The Catholic Standard and Times, (July 29, 1976); “The Catholic Church in Pennsylvania before 1800,” http://omeka.pahrc.net/admin/items/show/id/7133.

[6] Christine Friend, “Philadelphia’s First Bishop,” CHRC (February 22, 2010), http://www.chrc-phila.org/philadelphias-first-bishop/.

[7] Martin I. J. Griffin, “Life of Bishop Conwell,” Records of the American Catholic History Society of Philadelphia, vol. 25, no. 2 (June, 1914), 160.

[8] Martin I. J. Griffin, “Life of Bishop Conwell,” 161.

[9] Thomas Rzeznik, “Roman Catholic Parishes.”

[10] “A Brief History of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.”

[11] Katherine DeFenzo, “Bishop Francis Kenrick and His Journals,” CHRC (August 20, 2015), http://www.chrc-phila.org/bishop-francis-kenrick-and-his-journals/.

[12] “A Brief History of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.”

Thomas Nast Anti-Catholic Cartoons

In the last blog post, Nast’s anti-Irish cartoons were examined, revealing beliefs that the Irish were inferior and unable to handle American liberty. This made the Irish a threat to the United States and thus a focus of Nast’s criticism. Connected to this anti-Irish sentiment was also a strong Anti-Catholic feeling throughout the county. Thomas Nast’s cartoons dealt with Anti-Catholicism in two different ways, the first focused on the menace of the pope and the second dealt with the threat to the public school system.

The Promised Land," as seen from the Dome of St. Peter's, Rome http://omeka.pahrc.net/items/show/7354

“‘The Promised Land,’ as seen from the Dome of St. Peter’s, Rome”
https://omeka.chrc-phila.org/items/show/7354

Tied to His Mother's Apron-Strings http://omeka.pahrc.net/items/show/7360

“Tied to His Mother’s Apron-Strings”
https://omeka.chrc-phila.org/items/show/7360

One of themes conveyed through Nast’s cartoons was that the pope was looking to rule the United States by converting its people to Catholicism. This could be seen in his cartoon drawn in 1870 where the pope and other clergy stand atop St. Peters Basilica and greedily eye America as the promise land. Furthermore, with the inclusion of the weapons in the background, it is clear that Nast is suggesting that unless America is vigilant, it risks conquest by the papacy. This perceived threat of Rome is seen elsewhere in Nast’s work, such as with a cartoon showing Uncle Sam offering to free an American Catholic priest from the Pope’s plans to rule both church and state. This is an important cartoon since it suggests that the problem with Catholics is not their faith but rather their allegiance to a foreign power, and thus if Catholics removed that, then they would be acceptable.

A Roman Catholic Mission from England to the "heathens" of America http://omeka.pahrc.net/items/show/7358

“A Roman Catholic Mission from England to the “heathens” of America”
https://omeka.chrc-phila.org/items/show/7358

In addition to anti-papal sentiment, Nast seems to question the merit of Catholicism on a whole in another cartoon where he drew a Catholic priest trying convert a recently freed African-American family. However, behind his back the priest holds a pair of shackles, implying that through Catholicism the family will be enslaved again. It is also interesting to note, that in the background is a public school which the family was heading towards, which directly connects into Nast’s other theme that education is the way to fight Catholic enslavement. Through these three cartoons, Nast demonstrated the idea that the pope, by having authority over American Catholics, was a threat to the United States government and its people.

The American River Ganges. The priests and the children http://omeka.pahrc.net/items/show/7357

“The American River Ganges. The priests and the children”
https://omeka.chrc-phila.org/items/show/7357

Another reason for Nast’s anti-Catholic drawings was a fear that Catholics were attacking the public school system, which Nast saw as integral to the foundation of the United States.[1] The reason Nast and others were concerned over the public school system was at this time Catholics were protesting the use of Protestant bibles and prayers at schools and wished to see the practice ended. Furthermore, the rise of parochial schools and some attempts by politicians, most notably Boss Tweed, to use state money to help fund these parochial schools raised concern that these religious institutions would replace the public school system completely.[2] One of Nast’s most famous cartoons, “The American River Ganges,”  published in 1871 depicts bishops shaped as crocodiles coming to devour children as a public school lays in ruins. Thus, the cartoon demonstrates a belief that Catholicism by destroying public schools will destroy the future of the country. Additionally, in the background of the cartoon, an image of the Vatican with both the papal and Irish flags flying as well as a building titled “the political Roman Catholic school,” reveal the origins of these threats to America.

Tilden's "Wolf at the Door, Gaunt and Hungry." Don't let him in http://omeka.pahrc.net/items/show/7367

“Tilden’s ‘Wolf at the Door, Gaunt and Hungry.’                 Don’t let him in”
https://omeka.chrc-phila.org/items/show/7367

Indeed, Nast was deeply troubled by the Church’s attempt to infiltrate the public school system as seen in two cartoons drawn in 1876. The first depicts a wolf with a papal and Democrat party collar trying to force its way into a school room as the children barricade the door. Nast makes clear that public schools need to be made safe from the Catholic menace since they are the “bulwark of the American Republic.” Indeed, in the background of the cartoon, Uncle Sam can be seen grabbing a gun above a plaque that reads “free for all; no sectarianism,” implying that the only way to protect the schools, and by extension America, is to eliminate the Catholic Church. The second cartoon takes much of its inspiration from Hamlet as Uncle Sam banishes a nun trying to teach at a public school to a convent. An interesting aspect of this cartoon is a parody of a quote by Lincoln that reads “a government of the priests, by the priests, for the priests shall perish from the earth.” This illustrates that Nast believes that Catholicism is incompatible with American democracy and will eventually die out once people are free from the Church. Additionally, Nast’s anti-Catholic sentiment was made even clearer by the use of the Shakespeare quote that the nun, representing the Church, makes monsters out of men. Indeed, when coupled with the phrase, “our public school system must and shall be preserved,” it reveals that Nast saw Catholicism as a threat to the very core of America.

Madness (Yet there's method in it) http://omeka.pahrc.net/items/show/7363

“Madness (Yet there’s method in it)”
https://omeka.chrc-phila.org/items/show/7363

Thomas Nast’s cartoons from the 1870s expressed his strong anti-Irish and anti-Catholic feelings and his fear these forces would destroy America. With a circulation on average of 100,000 and reaching peaks of 300,000 Harper’s Weekly not only was a vehicle for spreading these sentiments but was also a reflection of its readership’s feelings, since Nast would not have remained widely popular if his audience disagreed with his cartoons.[3] Thus by studying this cartoons one is able to come to a better understanding of the social conflicts and prejudices that existed in America during the late 1800s.

Visit our archives or our digital collections for more historic cartoons.

 

  • [1] Benjamin Justice, “Thomas Nast and the Public School of the 1870s,” History of Education Quarterly, Vol. 45, No. 2 (Summer, 2005), 180.
  • [2] Ibid., 182.
  • [3] Joshua Brown, Beyond the Lines: Pictorial Reporting, Everyday Life, and the Crisis of Gilded Age America, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006), 62; Niall Whelehan, The Dynamiters: Irish Nationalism and Political Violence in the Wider World, 1867–1900, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 225.

Thomas Nast Anti-Irish Cartoons

Among the recently digitized images added to our online collection are a number of drawings by cartoonist Thomas Nast. In 1846 at the age of six, Nast immigrated with his mother to the United States and by age 15 he had begun drawing for Frank Leslie’s Illustrated News.[1] He joined Harper’s Weekly in 1862 and at his height of fame was earning close to $20,000 a year (roughly $500,000 in today’s dollars) drawing for the paper.[2] Studying these cartoons can help us better understand the culture of the United States during the 1870s. Examining cartoons is an important tool because, as historian Thomas Milton Kemnitz asserted, the cartoons’ value rests in what they can “reveal about the societies that produced them.” [3] Once a cartoon is understood within its historical context, it can highlight public opinions that could not be revealed in more traditional written records.[4] Thus, in many ways cartoons are not only an artifact of popular culture but also help to shape and reflect public sentiment.

2016_013_10_01

The Thomas Nast cartoons in our collection tell a story of the ingrained anti-Irish and anti-Catholic attitude during the 1870s. Before discussing the content of the cartoons it is important to establish the context of their period. Dating back to the founding of America, there has been fear that immigrants, because of their supposed ignorance, will “fatally depreciate, degrade, and demoralize” the government and culture.[5] Nativism in the United States often took the form of anti-Irish and anti-Catholic feelings as seen in the Nativist Riots in Philadelphia in 1844, which resulted in dozens killed and over a hundred wounded, along with two churches and a convent burned to the ground.[6] These anti-Catholic feelings stemmed from the allegiance of the Irish Catholics, who were seen by many Americans as loyal to the pope over the United States. Indeed, many believed that Catholicism was incompatible with democracy and that it threatened the established Protestant culture in the country.[7]

“Something that will not "blow over." http://omeka.pahrc.net/items/show/7366

“Something that will not “blow over.”
https://omeka.chrc-phila.org/items/show/7366

Nast’s anti-Irish cartoons focus on the Irish as a destructive and lying group, who endangered American society. In the immediate aftermath of the Orange Riot of July 12, 1871 in New York City, in which Irish Catholics clashed with the National Guard protecting an Irish Protestant parade, Nast drew a number of anti-Irish cartoons for Harper’s Weekly. One cartoon illustrated the Draft Riots of July 1863, where Irish Catholics attacked African-Americans throughout New York City. At the top of the drawing Nast wrote that the Irish Catholic is bound to respect “no caste, no sect, no nation, any rights,” highlighting the believed lack of respect the Irish immigrants had for American society. Furthermore, the contrast between the Irish and the Anglo-Saxons in this cartoon clearly shows the Irish in negative light. While the Anglo-Saxons are drawn as regular looking people, the Irish are drawn with ape-like faces illustrating their inferiority as well as the lack of intelligence. Such depictions of Irish were not limited to Nast, with other papers such as Puck and Judge also using caricatures of Irish as primitive and violent.[8]

The other drawing that Nast published on the front cover of Harper’s Weekly in 1871 shows an Irish man with an ape-like face attacking Columbia, a common representation of America. However, Columbia was able to stop the attack and defiantly clutches the Irishman by the neck as he drops his shillelagh. The contrast between the two is clear, the Irishman in his ripped and tattered clothes, with a loose suspender looking not unlike a tail, represented his inhumanity as well as his threat to American society, which was represented by Columbia dressed in pure white and holding a whip labeled “law.”[9] Thus for Nast, the riots that the Irish Catholics were regularly involved in demonstrated clear evidence of their inferiority and justified his concern that they would be a threat to democracy.

Chorus of Rising Patriots (?). "We can not tell a lie! We did not do it! http://omeka.pahrc.net/items/show/7364

“Chorus of Rising Patriots (?). ‘We can not tell a lie! We did not do it!'”
https://omeka.chrc-phila.org/items/show/7364

Another cartoon a few years later also illustrates anti-Irish sentiment but in a different way. In this cartoon, a group of children representing Irish Catholic Democrats have cut down the tree of truth and have put up a sign for a new school with the slogan, “our rule, mob rule.” The cartoon further shows them supporting Boss Tweed, the Democrat whose political machine ran New York. Thus by depicting them as children, Nast was questioning their ability to think on their own and their ability to partake in democracy. Another important aspect of this cartoon is Columbia, who this time is dressed as a Greek goddess. Here she holds a bundle of sticks with the phrase “in union there is strength, patriotism, honor, and unity” and is clearly defending the spirit of the Revolution by standing in front of the “school of the old 1776.” Thus, this cartoon along with the other two demonstrate how Nast believed that the ideals that the United States were founded on were in danger because of the treachery of the Irish.

Examining Nast’s anti-Irish cartoons has revealed the deep-seated anti-immigrant feelings that were held by many in the United States. Such beliefs were developed in the wake of riots and other violent episodes that many saw as a sign that the Irish were incompatible with the ideals of the nation. Indeed, nativism arose due to the fear that the Irish and other ethnic groups would corrupt the fabric of America. This fear of the Irish was compounded because of their Catholic faith, which faced its own opposition in the United States as expressed by Nast in his cartoons.

 

Next blog will explore part two: Nast’s anti-Catholic cartoons.

  • [1] Fiona Deans Halloran, Thomas Nast: The Father of Modern Political Cartoons, (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2013), 2-3.
  • [2] Vinson, J. Chal. “Thomas Nast and the American Political Scene.” American Quarterly 9, no. 3 (1957): 338 & 340.
  • [3] Thomas Milton Kemnitz, “The Cartoon as a Historical Source.” The Journal of Interdisciplinary History 4, no. 1 (1973), 82.
  • [4] Ibid., 92-93.
  • [5] Bill Ong Hing, To Be an American: Cultural Pluralism and the Rhetoric of Assimilation, (New York: NYU Press, 1997), 14.
  • [6] Karla Irwin, “Chaos in the Streets: The Philadelphia Riots of 1844,” Villanova University Falvey Memorial Library, (2011), https://exhibits.library.villanova.edu/chaos-in-the-streets-the-philadelphia-riots-of-1844.
  • [7] Allison O’Mahen Malcom, “Loyal Orangemen and Republican Nativists: Anti-Catholicism and Historical Memory in Canada and the United States, 1837-67,” in The Loyal Atlantic: Remaking the British Atlantic in the Revolutionary Era, eds. Jerry Bannister, Liam Riordan, (Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 2012), 218.
  • [8] Benjamin Justice, “Thomas Nast and the Public School of the 1870s,” History of Education Quarterly, Vol. 45, No. 2 (Summer, 2005), 177.
  • [9] Michele Walfred, “‘Bravo, Bravo’: Thomas Nast Cover- 29 July, 1871.” Illustrating Chinese Exclusion, https://thomasnastcartoons.com/irish-catholic-cartoons/something-that-will-not-blow-over-29-july-1971/bravo-bravo-thomas-nast-cover-24-july-1871/.

Elizabeth Sarah Kite and the Seminaries of France

As I was processing the correspondence series of the Elizabeth Sarah Kite papers (MC2), I came across a group of letters written to Kite and signed by “Geoffroy”, which are all in French. As I am not able to read French, nor did I have the time or inclination to transcribe the handwritten letters into Google Translate, I was pleased to find a grouping of records which included some letters from Geoffroy (who turns out to be Theophile (or Theophilus) Geoffroy, a priest in Bethelainville, France) along with letters from Herman Joseph Heuser, editor of The American Ecclesiastical Review, referencing the letters from Geoffroy.

Geoffroy1a

Geoffroy1b

Geoffroy1c

Letter from Theophile Geoffroy, dated January 6, 1921

Letter from Theophile Geoffroy, dated January 6, 1921

It seems that Kite had sent some of Geoffroy’s letters, along with a short article written by her, to The American Ecclesiastical Review, hoping to have them published in order to raise awareness and solicit support for the plight of French Catholic seminaries after World War I. French Catholic clergy were sent to fight in the war, as were other French citizens, and so the Catholic Church in France experienced a serious dearth of clergy after the end of the war. As a scholar of American history and in particular, of French-American relations during the Revolutionary War, Kite knew the extent to which the French assisted the Americans during their fight for independence. Heuser’s initial response was that the piece was out of scope for the magazine, and that they were not able to respond to and publish every such appeal that they receive: “…if we were to print the truly moving cries of priests and religious here and there in Belgium, France, Central countries, Ireland, and the far East, it would cause odious distinctions and open the gate to a thousand furhter [sic] demands that we are unable to answer.”

Letter from Heuser

Letter from Heuser. Postscript reads: “P.S. the MS is being returned by this post under other cover.”

However, a subsequent letter reveals that Kite’s appeal struck an emotional chord in Heuser:

Heuser2a

“Miss Elizabeth S. Kite.
My dear Miss Kite,
Your note explaining the occasion of the communication for which you ask space in the E.R. cannot, of course, leave me indifferent. I hope to publish it, with a few introductory words in the spirit of your letter. It may not be possible to get the matter into the March issue which is overcrowded with material previously engaged, and much of which would lose its value and timeliness if omitted or delayed. But the appeal will be still opportune if it appears in the April number.
May God bless the holy zeal that animates you and give you the joy of seeing the wishes of the venerable Cardinal Luçon relayed.
With sincere regard,
Faithfully in J.C.,
H. J. Heuser
[?] 8th 1921.”

In 1921, Kite’s article was published in The American Ecclesiastical Review (see our online catalog for our collection of The American Ecclesiastical Review here) and entreated Americans of any faith to come to the aid of France:

Yet may we not hope that the generous spirit of the American clergy and people who are…so largely indebted to the priesthood of France, and that under many more titles than that of their readiness to help us to independence and with it to religious freedom—may we not come to the aid of the French Bishops in this matter of the seminaries, and to revive the flagging hopes of the venerable Cardinal of Reims?

I could not help but notice that Theophile Geoffroy was not mentioned in the piece published in The American Ecclesiastical Review. My conclusion is that the publication may have felt that featuring a more well-known or prominent figure would have a more significant impact. Based on the piece that Kite wrote, she had been in contact with the Cardinal of Reims as well (though I did not see evidence of this correspondence in the collection). The Cardinal of Reims at the time was Louis-Henri-Joseph Luçon, whose church in Reims became a symbol of the victims of German aggression during the war. The German army began dropping bombs on Reims in September 1914 and did not cease until June 1918. Cardinal Luçon remained in Reims with his parishioners even as the bombs destroyed the cathedral and the town. He was the last to leave Reims and the first to return to rebuild after the armistice. Due to a French law, Luçon could not expect to receive monetary assistance from the government to rebuild his church. As such, he appealed to the Dean of the American Hierarchy for help. John D. Rockefeller was among those who gave money for the restoration of the cathedral, which was eventually finished in 1938. Incidentally, Reims is where the Germans officially surrendered to President Eisenhower in 1945, one day before VE-Day.

Reference

Kite, Elizabeth Sarah. “A Plea for the Seminaries of France.” The American Ecclesiastical Review 64 (1921): 407-411. Print.