Anti-Catholicism in Jacksonian Philadelphia

Anti-Catholicism was present in America since its founding though, by the early 19th century it had become “largely rhetorical.” The influx of Catholic immigrants, however, as well as the increasingly aggressive and authoritarian stance of the papacy, which became more outspoken in its denunciations of modernism and liberalism, established a fear that Catholics posed a genuine threat. Conspiracy theories of a papal takeover of the United States abounded.  

 A large dimension of the Protestant revival that began in the late 1820s included militant attacks against the Catholic Church which claimed that the Catholic religion was threatening to America’s Protestant culture. Nativists and evangelicals characterized Catholicism as an authoritative religion incompatible with republicanism. Viewed as submissive and unquestioning followers, those of Catholic faith were seen as lacking the individuality and free thinking required of democratic citizens. Moreover, the Catholic immigrant, whose allegiance was to a foreign ruler, was seen as disloyal to America.               

 Anti-Catholic sentiments led to violence in the summer of 1834. Sparked by rumors that nuns were being kept against their will, a mob attacked and burnt to the ground an Ursuline convent and school (attended mostly by the daughters of wealthy Protestants) in Charlestown, Massachusetts. Fortunately, no one was killed.        

Philadelphia became one of the centers of anti-Catholic protest, second only to Hartford Connecticut in the amount of anti-Catholic materials published. The trustee problems that plagued Philadelphia beginning in the 1820s played a significant role, badly damaging the reputation of Catholics and left Philadelphians suspicious of the motives of the Catholic hierarchy.    

In this pamphlet published in Philadelphia in 1833, Samuel Smith, a former priest, discusses what he sees as significant problems with the Catholic Church

  

  

Trusteeism involved the practice of Catholic laity assuming control of the administration of churches, even to the point of hiring and firing pastors. This practice began in colonial times when laymen raised money, purchased land, and built churches themselves due to the decentralized structure of the early Church. Bishops’ rejection of such lay involvement caused frequent confrontations and denunciations that often led to the interdiction of churches. The trustees’ presentation of themselves as defenders of democratic rights against autocratic authority of the bishop bolstered Protestant beliefs that the Catholic Church was incompatible with American values.      

In 1842, the American Protestant Association was formed in Philadelphia by more than 50 Protestant clergymen from every denomination. The APA’s objective was to alert the public, through lectures, publications, and revivals, to the dangers of popery, or “romanism.” The association gained attention through a series of popular lectures, especially those by the ex-priest Reverend William Hogan, who spread incredible lies about the Catholic Church after leaving it.     

  

  

  

Heated debates between Catholic and Protestant clergymen occurred in Philadelphia during the 1830s. One of the most well-known were the exchanges between John Breckinridge, secretary and general agent of the Board of Education of the Presbyterian Church and John Hughes, pastor of St. John the Evangelist Church, who later gained notoriety as bishop of New York.         

Bishop John Hughes, circa 1861

As a way to present his side of the argument, Hughes started The Catholic Herald, the first long lived diocesan paper in Philadelphia. The newspaper would become the mouthpiece for Bishop Kenrick’s campaign to end Protestant proselytizing in public schools. 

  

First issue of The Catholic Herald, January 3, 1833

  

The nativist riots that occurred in the city of Philadelphia in the spring and summer of 1844 were the culmination of anti-Catholic sentiments and the growing nativist movement in the city. Sparked by the fiercely-contested issue of the presence of the Bible in public schools, the riots resulted in at least 20 deaths and more than 100 injuries. The Irish neighborhood of Kensington was practically destroyed and two churches and a convent were burnt to the ground.     

Engraving of the "Rioters in Kensington" from A Full and Complete Account of the Late Awful Riots in Philadelphia Philadelphia: John B. Perry, 1844

  

One of the numerous broadsides Bishop Kenrick had posted throughout the city on May 7, 1844 warning Catholics to stay indoors.

  

  

The 1844 riots shaped both the growth and development of the city of Philadelphia as well as Catholicism in Philadelphia. They led to the consolidation of the city and county of Philadelphia and the establishment of an organized police force. Moreover, the riots resulted in the creation of a distinct Catholic subculture in which the Catholic population would establish its own network of parishes, schools, and social service institutions as a haven from a hostile Protestant culture.      

  

   

  

     

  

 

References: Feldberg, Michael. The Philadelphia Riots of 1844: A Study of Ethnic Conflict. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1975; O’Toole, James M. The Faithful: A History of Catholics in America. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2008; Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Our faith-filled heritage : The church of Philadelphia bicentennial as a diocese 1808-2008. Strasbourg : Editions du Signe, 2007.

PAHRC has a significant number of 19th-century pamphlets in its General Pamphlet Collection. The Archives also has an almost complete run of official Philadelphia Diocesan newspapers up to the current Archdiocesan paper, The Catholic Standard and Times. More information on the riots can be found in the Nativist Riots of 1844 Papers.    

Bishop Francis Kenrick and His Journals

As a volunteer at PAHRC this summer, I was tasked with labeling descriptions of letters from one of the journals of Bishop Francis Kenrick, who served as bishop of Philadelphia from 1830 until 1851. This particular journal, which Kenrick kept while in Philadelphia, has never been published or translated from the original Latin in which much of it was written. In addition to this journal, Kenrick also kept another journal known as his Diary and Visitation Record that provides an account of his Episcopal Visitations throughout the Diocese of Philadelphia. This journal was translated into English by Reverend Francis Tourscher and published in 1916.

After noting the page on which each letter started, I marked whether the letter was written in English or Latin, which was the primary language of correspondence used by clergy during this time period. In his journal, Kenrick alternated between drafting long letters to fellow clergymen and jotting down short descriptions of letters written elsewhere; however, the inclusion of dates and the repeat appearance of various names made the letters easy to locate.

Bishop Francis P. Kenrick

Bishop Francis P. Kenrick

Born in Dublin in December of 1797, Kenrick first came to the United States after completing his clerical studies in Rome in 1821 and served as a professor of theology and history in Kentucky for the next nine years.  It was after attending the First Provincial Council of Baltimore in 1829 that Kenrick began his work in Philadelphia. During his twenty years in the city, Kenrick supported the building of asylums for young boys and girls and dozens of new churches throughout the diocese; wisely encouraged the establishment of a new diocese in Pittsburgh; and consented to the creation of the newspaper The Catholic Herald. Kenrick was succeeded by Bishop John Neumann in 1852 after Kenrick was named the Archbishop of Baltimore.

The early years of Kenrick’s time in Philadelphia were not without controversy, and many of the letters at the beginning of his journal detail the events surrounding the conflict between the bishop and the trustees of St. Mary’s Church, then the cathedral of Philadelphia. Named coadjutor bishop while Bishop Henry Conwell retained the title, Kenrick took pains to assert his authority amidst opposition from the trustees and even placed the cathedral under interdict for a short time. Bishop Kenrick’s efforts contributed to a decline in the power of the trustees and to an increased sense of stability in a diocese that had been long divided by tensions arising from trusteeism.

A letter written by Bishop Kenrick describing the conditions to which he hoped the lay trustees of St. Mary's would agree.

A letter written by Bishop Kenrick describing the conditions to which he hoped the lay trustees of St. Mary’s would agree.

While Kenrick maintained in several of his letters that Masses and funeral services should continue to be said in Latin rather than in a vernacular language such as German, his letters reveal a concern for the growing population of German Catholics in his expansive diocese. It is clear from a letter written to Kenrick from the president of the Council of Lyon in 1843 that some missionaries of the time were concerned for the welfare of German Catholics in America (Correspondence 120). Bishop Kenrick provided money to aid a new German parish in Philadelphia (Nolan 252) and allowed for the publication of a Catholic newspaper in German.

A page from Kenrick's journal that mentions the establishment of the Catholic newspaper for Germans.

A page from Kenrick’s journal that mentions the establishment of the Catholic newspaper for Germans.

It was also interesting to note that two of the letters mentioned in Bishop Kenrick’s journal were written to Joseph Bonaparte, the older brother of Napoleon Bonaparte. In these letters Kenrick requests an image of St. Mary Magdalene and expresses his thanks for The Flagellation of Christ by Hannibal Carracci.

Perhaps most noteworthy was Bishop Kenrick’s recognition of the importance of ensuring that the priests in his diocese were well-educated, and it was his welcoming of a young student named Patrick Bradley into his home that marked the establishment of what is today St. Charles Borromeo Seminary. Having such extensive experience as an educator, Kenrick taught his own students until his brother Peter arrived in 1834 and began to assist him. It seems fitting that a man so earnest in his desire to share his learning with others would refer to this particular endeavor as of the greatest “importance for the future of the Church” (qtd. in Nolan 187). The seminary continued to grow throughout Bishop Kenrick’s time in Philadelphia, especially after the Vincentians assumed control of its operations.

A letter in Latin written from Bishop Kenrick to Cardinal Pedicini in which he mentions the seminary, which was begun earlier that year.

A letter from 1832 to Cardinal Pedicini in which Kenrick mentions the seminary, which was begun earlier that year.

Learning more about the bishop who was so integrally responsible for the founding and expansion of the seminary was especially intriguing as a volunteer here. It is fortunate that Kenrick was so meticulous in keeping records of his life, since we are now able to use these records of his letters and travels to gain a deeper understanding of the Diocese of Philadelphia during a time of both hardships and great advances. The journal with which I worked offers insight into Kenrick’s personal relationships with other clerical officials, while his visitation journal details his travels throughout Pennsylvania and reveals him to be a man deeply interested in the spiritual well-being of the Catholics living in his diocese.

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A typical page from Kenrick’s Visitation Records that shows the bishop’s concern with administering the sacraments to Catholics throughout the diocese.

This journal that Bishop Kenrick kept between 1830 and 1851 during his time in Philadelphia, as well as translations of many of his letters and of his diary and visitation records, can all be found here at the Historical Research Center. A summary and brief description of the main entries in Kenrick’s journal is also available here at PAHRC.

 

References

Kenrick, Francis Patrick. Diary and Visitation Record of the Rt. Rev. Francis Patrick Kenrick,  Administrator and Bishop of Philadelphia, 1831-1852, Later Archbishop of Baltimore. Trans. Francis Edward Tourscher. Lancaster: Wickersham Printing Co., 1916.

The Kenrick-Frenaye Correspondence: Letters chiefly of Francis Patrick Kenrick and Marc Antony Frenaye Selected from the Cathedral Archives, Philadelphia. Trans. Francis Edward Tourscher. Philadelphia: Wickersham Printing Company, 1920.

Looby, John. “Francis Patrick Kenrick.” Edited Appleton’s Enyclopedia. Virtualology, 2001.  <http://famousamericans.net/francispatrickkenrick/>.

Nolan, Hugh J. Francis Patrick Kenrick: Third Bishop of Philadelphia. Philadelphia: American Catholic Historical Society of Philadelphia, 1948.

O’Shea, John J. “Francis Patrick and Peter Richard Kenrick.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 8. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08618a.htm>.