Archbishop John Hughes
PopeWatch finds the near universal applause that Pope Francis is currently receiving somewhat disturbing. If a Catholic cleric is doing his job, he is likely to receive just as many boos as cheers, if not more so. Case in point, the first Archbishop of New York, John Hughes, known universally to friend and foe alike as “Dagger John”. Go here, here, here and here to read prior posts about him. Dagger John was ever a champion of the Faith and his beloved Irish, both held in low esteem by many non-Catholic and non-Irish Americans. One story about Dagger John gives the essence of the man: After the anti-Catholic riots in Philadelphia in 1844 he called on the mayor of New York, an anti-Catholic bigot, and informed him that if a single Catholic church were touched in New York, New York would be a second Moscow. (The reference was to the burning of Moscow in 1812 during Napoleon’s occupation of the city.) Not a Catholic church was touched. Russell Shaw at Our Sunday Visitor has a story in which he recalls an incident fifteen years after the death of Hughes:
New York’s cathedral was dedicated in a splendid, hours-long ceremony on the morning of Sunday, May 25, 1879. Shortly before, the Atlantic Monthly, a mouthpiece of the Northeast’s non-Catholic establishment, ran an article trashing the building and Archbishop Hughes, whose great project it was. He’d been dead since 1864. The author, architectural critic Clarence Cook, wrote that the fourth bishop of New York was a “politician” as well as a priest — one of the few Catholic priests “able to win, by their own character and energy, a national reputation.”
“We are not saying it was an agreeable reputation,” Cook continued. “The archbishop belonged to the church militant … always in the saddle, never weary, and, what was more never desponding … so convincing that, when he called for money, if a widow had but one penny, yet should he have a farthing ere he went.”
Someone reading that now may wonder what lay behind this bilious outburst against a long-dead prelate. In his history of the Church in America, “American Catholic: The Saints and Sinners Who Built America’s Most Powerful Church” (Vintage, $18.95), Charles R. Morris says Cook grasped the symbolism of St. Patrick’s just as Archbishop Hughes had done. The archbishop cherished it, but Cook, to say the least, did not.
“It enunciated a vision of Catholicism as a new power center, a major moral and political force,” Morris writes. “Cook was shouting, Beware! With a man of John Hughes’s forcefulness at the head of the Catholic Church in the United States, anything could happen.” As for the archbishop, he would probably have replied in kind to Cook’s attack. And much enjoyed the verbal tussle that followed.
Here is the full quotation from Cook’s attack on Hughes:
First of all, he was a politician, and one of the shrewdest and ablest of his class. And then he was a priest and in this capacity one of the few men in the Catholic Church in this country who have been able to win, by their own character and energy, a national reputation; so that, in his heyday, his name was as well and as widely known as that of Seward, or O’Connor, or Butler. We are not saying it was an agreeable reputation. The archbishop belonged to the church militant, and he was a courageous, adroit general, always in the saddle, never weary, and what was more never desponding. He did not need, for the work he had to do, to be a finely educated man, a man of elegant tastes, and, if we may use the hateful world so much abused in these shoddy days, a man of culture. We say he was none of these, but we say it without the least wish to disparage him. He was a manly man, a gentleman in all his intercourse with gentlemen, and among his people so persuasive, or at least so convincing, that, when he called for money, if a widow had but one penny, yet should he have a farthing ere he went. Continue reading
“Bury me in the sunshine”, were the last words of the Archbishop of New York, John Hughes, as he departed this Vale of Tears on January 3, 1864. Hughes was looked upon by his contemporaries as a force of nature rather than a man. Overseeing with skill the explosive growth of the Church in New York, and helping lead generations of Catholic immigrants out of poverty, he also found time to take part in the public affairs of his day, and was probably the best known Catholic churchman of his time. He was also a very tough and fearless man. After the anti-Catholic riots in Philadelphia in 1844 he called on the mayor of New York, an anti-Catholic bigot, and informed him that if a single Catholic church were touched in New York, New York would be a second Moscow. (The reference was to the burning of Moscow in 1812 during Napoleon’s occupation of the city.) Not a Catholic church was touched. On another occasion when a threat was made to burn Saint Patrick’s cathedral the Archbishop had it guarded within hours by 4,000 armed Catholics. No wonder his enemies and friends nicknamed him “Dagger John”!
At the beginning of the Civil War he had thrown himself wholeheartedly behind the preservation of the Union, rallying New York’s Irish to support the cause and going to Europe at the instigation of the Lincoln administration to garner support for the Union. Small wonder that after his death Lincoln wrote,
“having formed the Archbishop’s acquaintance in the earliest days of our country’s present troubles, his counsel and advice were gladly sought and continually received by the Government on those points which his position enabled him better than others to consider. At a conjuncture of deep interest to the country, the Archbishop, associated with others, went abroad, and did the nation a service there with all the loyalty, fidelity and practical wisdom which on so many other occasions illustrated his great ability for administration.”
His finest moment probably was when, visibly dying, he rose from his death bed to make a speech on July 16, 1863 which helped quell the draft riots. The speech is extremely interesting. It contains a fair amount of humor, Hughes recognizing that the Irish always loved a message if it was leavened with laughter, and the Archbishop’s message was an appeal to the New York Irish based upon their love of Ireland and their innate sense of fairness. It is a marvel to me that a dying man could do this, but Dagger John accomplished it. Here is the text of the speech:
MEN OF NEW YORK: They call you rioters and I cannot see a riotous face among you. (Cheers) I call you men of New York, not gentlemen, because gentlemen is so threadbare a term that it means nothing positive. (Applause.) Give me men, and I know of my own knowledge, that if the City were invaded by a British or any other foreign Power, (laughter.) the delicate ladies of New York, with infants at their breasts, would look for their protection to men, rather than to gentlemen. (Applause.) Of course, there is no reason why you should not be gentlemen, for there is no real difference between these terms. (Applause.) I address you of my own choice; and I would do so if I had to go on crutches. No one has prompted me to do it. My lungs are stronger than my limbs. It gratifies me that you have met in peace and good order here at this time. This, however, does not surprise me—it is what I expected. I do not address you as the President. (laughter,) or the Governor, or the Mayor, or a military officer. I address you as your father. (Cheers.) VOICE—You are worth the whole of them. And I am not going to go into the question, what has brought about this unhappy state of things. It is not my business to do so but as far as I am concerned myself, you know that I am a minister of God, and a minister of peace, who in your troubles in years past, as you know, never deserted you. (Cheers, and cries of “No, never.”) With my tongue and my pen I have stood by you always, and so shall to the end of my life, so long as you are right, and I sincerely hope that you are not wrong. (Cheers.) I am not a runaway Bishop in times of danger. (A Voice—”No, you’re not like BEECHER.”) It has been perhaps a calamity, but I do not regret it. That I never was conscious of the sentiment of fear until the danger was over, and then sometimes I might perhaps get a little nervous. (Cheers.) I could not even in the best of cases, as you know, fight for you.
The course of nature has denied me that privilege but I can still stand by you, I can still advise you, and, if necessary, I can die with you. (Great cheering.) As I said before, I will not enter into the question which has provoked all this excitement. No doubt there are some real grievances, but still I think that there are many imaginary ones—because in this world everything is comparative in its nature. There are no people in the world that have not some cause of grievance, and there are few that have not greater cause for complaint than we can complain of, after all. (Cheers.) Everything is comparative, and a change is not always an improvement.
When I cast my thoughts back to the land of my forefathers, and when I think of it’s desolation, when I see the fertile west and south of Ireland depopulated and cattle browsing on the ruins of the cottages of the noble race that once lived there, I thank God that I was permitted to be among those who had an opportunity of coming to this country, where at least no such wretched tyranny is practiced (great cheering.) If you are Irishmen, and the papers say the rioters are all Irishmen, then I also am an Irishman, (tremendous applause) but not a rioter, for I am a man of peace. If you are Catholics, as they have said, probably to wound my feelings, then I also am a Catholic (cheers.) Continue reading
This, indeed, is probably one of the Enemy’s motives for creating a dangerous world – a world in which moral issues really come to the point. He sees as well as you do that courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means, at the point of highest reality. A chastity or honesty, or mercy, which yields to danger will be chaste or honest or merciful only on conditions. Pilate was merciful till it became risky.
CS Lewis, The Screwtape Letters
Paul has mentioned here the wonderful post by Pat Archbold in which he longs for John Wayne, a death bed Catholic convert, Catholicism as opposed to what he calls the Woody Allen Catholicism adopted by too many Catholics in the past half century:
Oh how I long for a religion with enough boldness to loudly, proudly, and incessantly proclaim uncomfortable truths, even to its own supposed adherents, until they all understand what it means to be Catholic.
How I long for a religion with that quiet and gentle resoluteness. A religion that can acknowledge the mistakes of its members while loudly proclaiming the Church One, Holy, Apostolic, and Infallible.
I agree. The Catholicism that Pat longs for is the Catholicism that has existed throughout almost all the history of the Church. Some reminders:
1. John Sobieski- After defeating the Turks at Vienna in 1683 he sent the green flag of Islam to the Pope with this message: “Venimus, Vidimus, Deus vincit”! (We came, we saw, God conquered!)
2. The Martyrs of Otranto-Twelve years before Christopher Columbus discovered a New World, 800 men and boys of Otranto laid down their lives for Christ. The city of Otranto, at the heel of the boot of Italy, was seized by the Turks under Gedik Ahmed Pasha, grand vizier of the Ottoman Empire. Archbishop Stefano Argercolo de Pendinellis was murdered in his cathedral by the Turks and the garrison commander was sawn in half. Following a massacre of most of the population the Turks offered some 800 men and boys the choice between conversion to Islam or death. Led by an elderly tailor, Antonio Pezzulla, the men and boys chose death rather than apostacy, and were beheaded on the hill of Minvera outside the town on August 14, 1480, their families forced by the Turks to help in the executions.
The witness of the martyrs of Otranto was truly remarkable. Not priests or soldiers, they were just plain, ordinary folk. They had every earthly reason to attempt to save their lives, but with supernatural courage they went to their deaths for a love that passes understanding. The old tailor spoke for them all when he addressed them after the Turks had given them their grim choice:
My brothers, until today we have fought in defense of our country, to save our lives, and for our lords; now it is time that we fight to save our souls for our Lord, so that having died on the cross for us, it is good that we should die for him, standing firm and constant in the faith, and with this earthly death we shall win eternal life and the glory of martyrs.
The martyrs in response cried out that they were willing to die a thousand times for Christ.
3. Archbishop John Hughes-After the anti-Catholic riots in Philadelphia in 1844 he called on the mayor of New York, an anti-Catholic bigot, and informed him that if a single Catholic church were touched in New York, New York would be a second Moscow. (The reference was to the burning of Moscow in 1812 during Napoleon’s occupation of the city.) Not a Catholic church was touched. On another occasion when a threat was made to burn Saint Patrick’s cathedral the Archbishop had it guarded within hours by 4,000 armed Catholics. No wonder his enemies and friends nicknamed him “Dagger John”!
4. Father Joe Lacy-On June 6, 1944 at 7:30 AM, LCA 1377 landed the Rangers on Omaha Dog Green Beach, the first landing craft to land on that section of Omaha Beach. Father Lacy was the last man out just before an artillery shell hit the fantail. Everything was chaos with the beach being swept by German artillery and small arms fire. Wounded men were everywhere, both on the beach and in the water feebly trying to get to the beach. Father Lacy did not hesistate. With no thought for his own safety he waded into the water to pull men out of the ocean and onto the beach. He began treating the wounded on the beach and administering the Last Rites to those beyond human assistance. On a day when courage was not in short supply men took notice of this small fat priest who was doing his best under fire to save as many lives as he could. While his battalion led the way off Omaha Beach, Father Lacy continued to tend their wounded and the wounded of other units. For his actions that day Father Lacy was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the second highest decoration for valor, after the Medal of Honor, in the United States Army.
5. Don John of Austria and his Men-Before the battle of Lepanto Don John of Austria went about the ships of his fleet and said this to his crews: ‘My children, we are here to conquer or die. In death or in victory, you will win immortality.’ The chaplains of the fleet preached sermons on the theme: “No Heaven For Cowards”. Many of the men were clutching rosaries just before the battle. Admiral Andrea Doria went into the fight with an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe aboard his ship. Back in Europe countless Catholics were praying rosaries at the request of Saint Pope Pius V for the success of the Christian fleet.
At the hour of the battle, and this fact is very well attested, the Pope was talking to some cardinals in Rome. He abruptly ceased the conversation, opened a window and looked heavenward. He then turned to the cardinals and said: “It is not now a time to talk any more upon business; but to give thanks to God for the victory he has granted to the arms of the Christians.” So that Catholics would never forget Lepanto and the intercession of Mary, he instituted the feast of Our Lady of Victory. To aid in this remembrance G. K. Chesterton in 1911 wrote his epic poem Lepanto:
But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
Archbishop John Hughes of New York, universally known to friend and foe as Dagger John, was a very tough and fearless man. After the anti-Catholic riots in Philadelphia in 1844 he called on the mayor of New York, an anti-Catholic bigot, and informed him that if a single Catholic church was touched in New York, New York would be a second Moscow. (The reference was to the burning of Moscow in 1812 during Napoleon’s occupation of the city.) Not a Catholic church was touched. On another occasion when a threat was made to burn Saint Patrick’s cathedral the Archbishop had it guarded within hours by 4,000 armed Catholics. He earned his nickname!
Among his many accomplishments was his success in leading the New York Irish out of poverty. It is a fascinating story and relevant to our time. In 1997 in City Journal, William J. Stern wrote an article on how Dagger John did it:
Hughes once remarked that “the Catholic Church is a church of discipline,” and Father Richard Shaw, Hughes’s most recent biographer, believes that the comment gives a glimpse into the inner core of his beliefs. Self-control and high personal standards were the key—and Hughes’s own disciplined labors to improve himself and all those around him, despite constant ill health, embodied this ethic monumentally. Hughes proclaimed the need to avoid sin. His clergy stated clearly that certain conduct was right and other conduct was wrong. People must not govern their lives according to momentary feelings or the desire for instant gratification: they had to live up to a code of behavior that had been developed over thousands of years. This teaching produced communities where ethical standards mattered and severe stigma attached to those who misbehaved.
The priests stressed the virtue of purity, loudly and unambiguously, to both young and old. Sex was sinful outside marriage, no exceptions. Packed together in apartments with sometimes two or three families in a single room, the Irish lived in conditions that did not encourage chastity or even basic modesty. Women working in the low-paid drudgery of domestic service were tempted to work instead in the saloons of Five Points, which often led to a life of promiscuity or prostitution. The Church’s fierce exhortations against promiscuity, with its accompanying evils of out-of-wedlock births and venereal disease, took hold. In time, most Irish began to understand that personal responsibility was an important component of sexual conduct.
Since alcohol was such a major problem for his flock, Hughes—though no teetotaler himself—promoted the formation of a Catholic abstinence society. In 1849 he accompanied the famous Irish Capuchin priest, Father Theobald Mathew, the “apostle of temperance,” all around the city as he gave the abstinence pledge to 20,000 New Yorkers.
A religion of discipline, stressing conduct and the avoidance of sin, can be a pinched and gloomy affair, but Hughes’s teaching had a very different inflection. His priests mitigated the harshness with the encouraging Doctrine of the Sacred Heart, which declares that if you keep the commandments, God will be your protector, healer, advisor, and perfect personal friend. To a people despised by many, living in desperate circumstances, with narrow economic possibilities, such a teaching was a bulwark against anger, despair, and fear. Hughes’s Catholicism was upbeat and encouraging: if God Almighty was your personal friend, you could overcome.
Hughes’s teaching had a special message for and about women. Women outnumbered men by 20 percent in New York’s Irish population partly because of famine-induced emigration patterns and partly because many Irish immigrant men went west from New York to work on building railways and canals. Irish women could find work in New York more easily than men could, and the work they found, usually as domestics, was steadier. Given the demographic facts, along with the high illegitimacy rate and the degree of family disintegration, Hughes clearly saw the need to teach men respect for women, and women self-respect.
He did this by putting Catholicism’s Marian Doctrine right at the center of his message. Irish women would hear from the priests and nuns that Mary was Queen of Peace, Queen of Prophets, and Queen of Heaven, and that women were important. The “ladies of New York,” Hughes told them, were “the children, the daughters of Mary.” The Marian teaching encouraged women to take responsibility for their own lives, to inspire their men and their children to good conduct, to keep their families together, and to become forces for upright behavior in their neighborhoods. The nuns, especially, encouraged women to become community leaders and play major roles in church fund-raising activities—radical notions for a male-dominated society where women did not yet have the right to vote. In addition, Irish men and women saw nuns in major executive positions, managing hospitals, schools, orphanages, and church societies—sending another highly unusual message for the day. Irish women became important allies in Hughes’s war for values; by the 1850s they began to be major forces for moral rectitude, stability, and progress in the Irish neighborhoods of the city.
When Hughes went beyond spiritual uplift to the material and institutional needs of New York’s Irish, he always focused sharply on self-help and mutual aid. On the simplest level, in all parishes he encouraged the formation of church societies—support groups, like today’s women’s groups or Alcoholics Anonymous, to help people deal with neighborhood concerns or personal and family problems, such as alcoholism or finding employment. In these groups, people at the local level could exchange information and advice, and offer one another encouragement and constructive criticism. Continue reading
The above photo is one of the archetypal Matthew Brady photographs of the Civil War. Whenever religion in the Civil War is mentioned in a history, odds are you will see this picture. It was taken on June 1, 1861 in the camp of the 69th New York, later to be christened The Fighting 69th by no less an authority on fighting than Robert E. Lee, and it depicts Mass being said by Father Thomas H. Mooney, the first chaplain of The Fighting 69th.
Born in Manchester, England, and ordained in 1853 in New York City, Father Mooney had been pastor of Saint Brigid’s in New york City, as well as being the chaplain of the 69th New York. Archbishop Hughes of New York City, known universally by friend and foe as “Dagger John”, warned Father Mooney about the large number of Fenians, a precursor of the Irish Republican Army, who had enlisted in the regiment:
“They are incompetent to be admitted to the Sacraments of the Church during life and of Christian burial after death, unless they shall in the meantime renounce such obligations as have been just referred to. In regard to the whole subject, you will please to exercise all the discretion and all the charity that religion affords: but speak to the men and tell each one (not all at one time) that he is jeopardizing his soul if he perseveres in this uncatholic species of combination.”
The Church in Ireland and America had a mostly negative view of the Fenians due to an overall opposition to revolutionary movements in Europe by Pope Pius IX and because the Fenians called for a separation of Church and State In Ireland.
The 69th was one of the first Union regiments to go to Washington in 1861 in response to Lincoln’s call for volunteers. Father Mooney went with it, and quickly proved extremely popular with the men and officers of the regiment. He founded a temperance society in the regiment, held daily Masses and confessions, and was tireless in reminding wayward soldiers in the regiment that this was a great opportunity for them to return to the Faith. A correspondent for the New York Times reported on the high esteem in which Father Mooney was held:
As for the Sixty-ninth, they turned out more than twelve hundred muskets, leaving yet another hundred — the newly-arrived Zouaves — in their late headquarters at the College. This Regiment has grown into great fever in Washington — not a single one of its members ever having become amenable to the police authorities in any way; and its discipline and efficiency having frequently been made the subject of complimentary notice by Gens SCOTT and MANSFIELD. For very much of the good order and moral restraint existing in the ranks, it is doubtless indebted to the ceaseless and zealous exertions of Father THOMAS MOONEY, an admirable specimen-priest of the true high type, who, if he were not chaplain, would certainly be a candidate for Colonel — fate and a sanguine temper giving him equal adaptation to the sword of the spirit and the “regulation sword” — a veritable son of the church-militant. But this again is a degression.
Father Mooney’s career as a chaplain was cut short by “Dagger John”. On June 13, 1861 the 69th was helping to emplace a rifled cannon in Fort Corcoran, named after Colonel Corcoran the commander of the 69th, near Washington. Everyone was in high spirits. Father Mooney was called upon to bless the cannon. Instead, he decided to baptize the cannon. Continue reading
Archbishop John Hughes (1797-1864) of New York, was a titan within the Catholic Church in America in the nineteenth century. Overseeing with skill the explosive growth of the Church in New York, and helping lead generations of Catholic immigrants out of poverty, he also found time to take part in the public affairs of his day, and was probably the best known Catholic churchman of his time. He was also a very tough and fearless man. After the anti-Catholic riots in Philadelphia in 1844 he called on the mayor of New York, an anti-Catholic bigot, and informed him that if a single Catholic church were touched in New York, New York would be a second Moscow. (The reference was to the burning of Moscow in 1812 during Napoleon’s occupation of the city.) Not a Catholic church was touched. On another occasion when a threat was made to burn Saint Patrick’s cathedral the Archbishop had it guarded within hours by 4,000 armed Catholics. No wonder his enemies and friends nicknamed him “Dagger John”!