Saturday, January 10, 2015

Gray's Ferry...steeped in American History and Geneological Roots!

Recently, I attended a meeting of the Friendly Sons of Saint Patrick and encountered someone that never heard of Grays Ferry and its place in American history. The individual was a graduate of the Naval Academy at Annapolis, and he strongly without reservation maintained the United States Naval Academy was founded in Maryland, and would not change his mind. Well, nothing gets my Gray's Ferry up more quickly thank someone that diminishes the role our neighborhood played in American history. So I naturally went into the story of the Naval Asylum and the original design by William Strickland, the great architect (who by the way is entombed in his last work, the capitol in Nashville, TN), the skirmish at Gray's Ferry on September 27, 1777, American sharpshooters protected George Washington's flank as he retreated from the Battle of Brandywine, headed to Valley Forge, the first steam engine ship by Fulton happened on the Schuylkill river in 1820, the Federal Arsenal, first in the nation on Gray's Ferry Avenue and finally the facts concerning the Naval Asylum  and the contributions the lost area of Gray's Ferry have made to American society and history. Finally convinced, the Annapolis graduate conceded defeat and promised to read my writings on the topic. While the reasons for my writing on Gray's Ferry are not rooted in self promotion, they are deeply rooted in my love for personal ancestry and generations of history that occurred over the centuries in Gray's Ferry.
When I was growing up, my maternal grandfather used to tell me that he had relatives that fought in the American Revolution, some came on the Mayflower, some fought in the French and Indian Wars and even more uniquely some were settlers at Jamestown. Those points always made me curious and I finally got a chance to research all of those remote conversations with my maternal grandfather and with much surprise...they are true. With the assistance of bibliographical resources,, and other resources I tracked down each long lost ancestor and discovered names such as Babb, Bischoff, Gray (my maternal great-grandmother was a Gray.), Hancock, Wharton and even some Reeds. On a mission I finally found one connection to the American Revolution, Captain James Gray. Shocked, he was from Vermont, and his son James Jr. also was a Patriot and fought for American Independence. Now really determined, I continued research and called the local president of the Sons of the American Revolution (SAR is a hereditary membership society, that traces the roots of modern Americans to colonial Patriots in the fight for American Independence.) The results staggered me, not only had I found 2 past Patriot relatives, but 24 that fought from Bunker Hill to Yorktown. My story is not unusual, and is quite common for most of the people that lived in Gray's Ferry prior to the American Revolution, they just don't know it, or have never believed the stories their grandparents and other relatives have told them throughout their lives.
Now I am trying to convince all of my first cousins to join the Sons of the American Revolution, the Daughters of the American Revolution & Children of the American Revolution. While we in America do not have titles of nobility, we are indeed a nation, city and neighborhood of rich histories that have many stories to tell, and show clearly that the fabric of America was woven in part in Gray's Ferry. When describing the SAR membership, I joked with one cousin that it was easier to believe that we had colonial ancestors, the larger question was how the heck did we end up in Gray's Ferry? In my case it was through marriage, as was common for 18th century natal Americans.
Now most of the people that grew up in Gray's Ferry, now live in Washington Township, New Jersey, especially in Sewell. Often I say that if Saint Gabriel Parish could be transported to Sewell, all of the parishioners would already know each other.
The next time you think about growing up in Gray's Ferry, try asking relatives the question: How did we come to settle in Gray's Ferry? I am sure the answer will surprise you, inspire you and make you proud that your family's roots are deeply rooted in the area from pre-Revolutionary America up to the 21st century. History is important, Gray's Ferry's history is important and each Gray's Ferry family in some manner is quite honestly related to each other through marriage, through faith and through American ancestry.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Hope for the future of Saint Gabriel's Parish!

The recent announcement that the Archdiocese of Philadelphia will close almost 50 schools throughout the Archdiocese is indeed a stinging wound that hurts everyone that has had the benefit of Catholic education. I admit, the proposed closing of Saint Gabriel School distresses me because my very roots of my Catholic beliefs were instilled there by the Sisters Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and the generations of priests that FAITHFULLY served thousands of faithful Catholics from the parish's inception. The closing of a school, or for that matter the closing of a parish marks a life cycle that has come full term, not happening overnight but rather taking generations of a declining spiral based on many, many points and issues. First, I emphatically support efforts to keep Saint Gabriel School and Parish fully operational, not for nostalgic and sentimental reasons;but because there is a genuine need for educational and spiritual nurturing in Gray's Ferry. One of the least read writings of the late Father Karl Rahner, was Towards a Church in the 2st Century, which speculated that Catholicism would experience great difficulties in the United States in the 21st century if considerations were not made to compensate for, shifting demographics of ethnic populations, the grave immoral invention and use of the birth control pill and Catholic's rejection of the official prohibition against artificial methods of birth control, and declining numbers of vocations to the priesthood and the religious life. Well, we can now say after looking into the rear view mirror, that Father Rahner was our own 20th century Nostradamus. What most of us also forget is the great industrial demise of the United States since the end of the Second World War, second and third generations of immigrant's children, living the American dream and escaping the confines of the city to the sprawling suburbs post WWII and finaly and regretfully White Flight from the urban environment. While we all lament the closure parishes and schools, how many of us would honestly return to live in the brick row homes of our youth, give up a driveway with a 2 car garage, a (dreaded) lawn that always needs to be cut, and a large home with 4 or 5 bedrooms with lots of closet space to hold as George Carlin most famously caricatured in his conceptualization of a house as just a big place to store more,"things."
Growing up in Gray's Ferry during the 1960's and 1970's marked the last vestiges of the 19th century's Industrial Revolution, and surge of Irish immigration to Philadelphia. When, we were growing up in the area, there were mills that made clothing, factories that made furniture, refineries that produced oil and gasoline to fuel the industries of the 19th and 20th centuries, DuPont Chemicals, Barrat's Chemicals, and dozens of industrial installations ran 3 shifts 24/7 to built "American Made Things", from ships at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, to clothing, military tanks and vehicles and even beer and whiskey (Ortliebs and Publickers). All of these jobs are gone, and frankly fueled the nation and the world from Gray's Ferry. The nation's first Federal Arsenal provided munitions and clothing on Gray's Ferry Avenue until its demolition in the late 1950s, the river provided hundreds of jobs for Irish immigrants in the area loading and unloading coal barges in order to keep the flames of industry and in most cases home heating burning. The birthplace of the United States Naval Academy in a building designed by William Strickland, proudly served as initially an educational institution and then a rest home for retired U.S.Navy sailors. Now that same property, has been developed into luxury condominiums and the local industries have moved offshore to places like Thailand, India and the former Eastern Block of the Soviet Union.
Saint Gabriel's Parish and School has seen all of these changes, including the painful race riots of the 1960's, the traumatic changes of Vatican II, that initiated the end of local eating establishments that supplied fish for our now cast-off tradition of abstinence on Fridays all year around.I would give anything to enjoy a dinner of fried oysters, oyster stew or a piece of flounder or a crabcake from any of the local bars( or tap rooms,as we called them) in Gray's Ferry. While my wife thinks I am ancient, there was indeed a time that there were icemen, milkmen, ragmen, itinerant window washers and street cleaners in Saint Gabriel Parish.  However, that era of Americana has been in rapid decline since the Second World War, and Catholic parishes unfortunately have felt the seismic effects more directly.
Another consideration regarding Catholic education that is often forgotten are the countless men and female religious that taught in the Catholic school system, well into their 80's teaching children by the thousands for decades for a stipend of about $100.00 per month. Remember, Mother Maria Robert, who was not only principal of Saint Gabriel's Schol, but prior of the convent of Sisters. She taught, administered, cleaned, mediated and oversaw a student population of over 2000 children and perhaps 30 I.H.M. Sisters for about $100.00 per month, with room, board and meals included. The decline of female and male religious as the primary educators in Catholic Schools directly affected the cost of Catholic education because laity now were required to fill the positions of religious, that were virtually free labor to provide Catholic education. These women, had 50-60 students per class, lived in community, wore a dozen layers of religious habits and they still scrubbed floors with mechanical floor polishers, controlled 1000 kids with a "clicker" and went back to a convent every night for a community meal (the choice of which was not theirs), evening prayer, night prayer and perhaps a short respite of television watching whatever Mother Superior wanted. Wow....what a charmed life. We forget the vocational sacrifices these men and women made to spread the Gospel to the parochial school system.They even had to staff, The Children's Mass" on Sunday, making sure their classroom charges behaved through the changing liturgical results of Vatican II.
Priests in the parish of course had life quite different. They called the shots, they had cars and they made all of the real decisions about the school, church convent and rectory, without having to be in a classroom all day will hundreds of sugar hyped children that really couldn't care about the right angle of a triangle, or the proper Palmer Method of using a cartridge pen (This author is living proof of the failure of the Palmer Method, I recently reviewed my 6th grade report card and noticed my grade for handwriting was a meager 75)! However, the priests of the parish did not have permanent deacons, extraordinary ministers of communion, lay teachers, outreach assistants and CCD offices. They celebrated all of the Sacraments, said Mass daily, including funerals and grave services, visited and took communion to the sick and infirmed, heard confessions on Saturdays from 2-5 and during the week for the school children and even like Father now Msgr.Shoemaker gave out the report cards quarterly in either a cassock or a priest's rabat and suitcoat. Report card day was often dreaded because Fr. Shoemaker looked over each report card and offered words of encouragement to each relieved student. In those days, Saint Gabriel had an actie parish life, a Sodality of the B.V.M., the Men's League of Prayer, C.Y.O., Block Collections, Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament on Sunday afternoons, Catholic league grade school sporting events, basketball, football, bowling. The parish priest drew the winning tickets at the weekly 50/50 raffle that offset the parish's high school tax paid to the diocese. Priests also, like Msgr. Joseph Waldron( while puffing a cigar) sat in the rectory basement and counted the collection with the men of the Holy Name Society and got it ready for afternoon pickup on Sunday by armored car for deposit to the bank. Priests at Saint Gabriel and all of the other parishes in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia rotated weeks of "on call" which meant they fielded the phone calls, requests to write Mass cards, hear confessions and oversee the nightly running of the parish rectory on alternating weeks. Often called out to administer Extreme Unction, or what is now the Anointing of the Sick to those dying and sometimes those that were perpetually dying over 40 years, but just wanted to call out the priest for a chat.
Weekly Mass began at 5:30 am until the High Mass, with a full male choir at 12:15pm. Today, Catholic parishes are forced to endure a cadre of evangelical/Protestant music, usually with a strumming Sally and no real appreciation of the liturgical and theological importance of music in the Liturgy, and a disdain for anything that contains Latin or polyphonic chant as old fashioned or out of touch with the modern Church. And of course, every parish has the Evita like, arms waiving leader of song, that provides a Mitch Miller touch to the Sacred Liturgy and leads the community in songs that have been stripped of any references to gender, in concession to political correctness, despite the fact that the phrase, Sons of God is intended to be inclusive of all women as well.
I also need to respond to the allegations that Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary is and continues to be a breeding ground for pedophiles and sex offenders that eventually become Catholic priests. As a Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary graduate, I speak for myself, non-ordained and the ordained alike that lead morally upright lives as priests , married men and some even still celibate men of faith. I have known hundreds of Seminary companions since 1978 and am proud to have been associated with them as men , as priests and as fellow graduates. To condemn the entire population and educational purpose of the institution because of the actions of a small percentage of the thousands of men that have called Saint Charles , Borromeo Seminary their home and alma mater for over 175 years is an gross exaggeration of implied complicity that implies all of us( myself included) were pedophiles in training. Such ignorance and exaggeration is not only reflective of a Catholic population that is unable to comprehend the widespread effects of the clergy sex scandal, but also neglects to understand and appreciate the fact that without priests, there is no Eucharist, which is the source and summit of our Catholic faith. Because some priests were not faithful to their promises of celibacy and obedience does not indite all graduates of Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary both ordained, non-ordained, and those legitimately released from their priestly, or deacon  obligations as pedophiles and sex offenders. There are those that proclaim this on places like FaceBook and Twitter that hold this opinion, some even the siblings of Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary graduates that perpetuate this erroneous understanding of priestly formation. I have known hundreds of priests, deacons and seminarians since grade school and have a great respect for all of them and continue to pray for those that might have erred as part of my Catholic obligation to fulfill the priestly prayer of Jesus, "That they may be one." The task of being a priest in today's agnostic or often atheistic society is to put it mildly, stressful and lonely at best.
Returning to the potential closure of Saint Gabriel's School...perhaps and regretfully the time has come to reinvent and reinvigorate the parochial system of education as we have known it over the past 100 years. If indeed one really wants to save Saint Gabriel School, move back into Gray's Ferry, enroll your children in the parish, attend weekly Mass, relearn to parallel park and put currency other than coinage into the collection basket and resurrect a neighborhood that has been subjected to multiple injustices, some self inflicted that have caused the current situation to exist. Most importantly return to celebrating Catholicism, by not only endorsing Catholic education, but by attending Mass, contributing appropriately and becoming active participants in the parish family.
While many will read this article and disagree with me, you have that right. I personally would love to return to a nostalgic Saint Gabriel Parish of times gone bye, but the reality is quite different than the memories. Rising costs of operations, teacher's salaries, the lack of active Catholics despite the inflated real estate prices in the neighborhood still does not indicate an area of sustainable economic or Catholic growth. If 200 former families of Saint Gabriel Parish would move back to Gray's Ferry and once again call it home, and actively participate in the fiscal, spiritual and temporal life of the school, parish and neighborhood....count me in....and I will see you at Dean's for a round. However, without people, revenue and youth population, coupled with the opportunities for viable employment Saint Gabriel and 48 other parishes in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia need to envision a new model of Catholicism for the 2st century, that is rooted in a grass roots faith, anchored by a Catholic family, following Catholic traditions and contributing to the support of a parish complex before there will be a reversal of closures at Saint Gabriel and other parishes throughout the United States. If every Catholic would just attend Mass and contribute 25.00 per week in the collection basket...imagine the revitalization Catholicism would experience. It is time to let nostalgia go, place the scandals in their correct perspective, focus on stirring up the Holy Spirit to provide viable vocations and come out of the closed Upper Room, and like the Apostles leave fear behind and proclaim our Catholic faith and educational morals and values as exemplary models for faithful Catholics, evangelization and conversion to our faith and using the Catholic family as the cornerstone of our faith that will restore Christ's prominence to a Catholic world full of fragile peace and broken promises.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Immaculate Mary....processing around Saint Gabriel's Church!

October is alsways a memorable month, as is May when I recall the parochial school days at Saint Gabriel Parish School. It was Mary's Month, and the school was festooned to reflect Marian Blue in all of the classroooms and hallways. The most favorite recollection is the magnificent decorations that decorared the Mary Altar within the Church itself. Draperies of blue velvet and gold silk, covered the great painting of the Annunciation of Saint Gabriel and focused all of the atention on the pristine white marble, largrer than life representation of the Blessed Virgin. Of course, the penultimate factor was the sparkling diadem, with diamonds. The Marian Altar was transformed from the usual ancillary altar that balanced out the church with Saint Joseph on the other side, and became a monumental shrine devoted to Mary...just as important as Lourdes, Knock or Fatima for the multicultural parish of Saint Gabriel.
Throughout the years of grade scool, we processed to the song, Immaculate Mary, accompanied by the boming organ and Sister Maureen Rose I.H.M. leading the singinging. While we were not climbing the foreirn pilgrimage sites of Saint Patrick's Rock in distant Ireland, nor following the Stations of the Cross in Jerusalem, we were indeed on a circular processional of pilgrimage honoring the Theotokos, the God Bearer and asking for Her Divine intercession with Her Son to the Eternal Father. Today, my thoughts of Mary as Theotokos are usually infused with a theological reflection or historical understanding of the Council of Ephesus; despite this my seminal faith is transported always back to my memories of processions and the Marian Altar at Saint Gabriel Church. Pragmatic and simple devotions are the touchstones that link us to our historical and theologicaal past, present and future. What I now understand as kairotic time, was rooted in signs and symbols of Catholic devotions that transcended generations of faithful Catholics.
October, as Mary's month had all of us gradeschool students carrying rosary beads, the boys, looping them through their belt loops and pacing the crucifix in their pockets, the girls, draping them in a similar manner in the waistbands of their uniform jumpers. Rarely do I see a Rosary when I watch the students at my daughter's school of Saint John the Beloved in Pike Creek Delaware, seemingly the Rosary is viewed as an antiquated sacramental displaced by outlandinsh and incorrectly instructed notions what Saint Francis might say in a contemporary world.
Every day, the bells at Saint Gabriel Church tolled precisely at noon for the Angelus. We stopped, stood and prayed the prayer that commemorated the great moment of Christ's Incarnation and prayed afterwards for the souls of the faithful (and not so faithful departed). Our parish doesn't even ring the bells out of deference for the fear of ecumenical offense to neighboring denominations, let also recall the magnificence of the Incarnation. Our desire to experience God and to feel and in some manner see God depends strongly on all of our traditions of signs and symbols. 
I personally always carry a Penal Rosary to remind me of the great persecutions my Irish forefathers endured both in Ireland and in the early days of the British colonies to pray and celebrate their faith. Additionally, I carry it to remind me of the unconditional faith and trust Mary must have felt as a frightened young girl that precipitated the Archangel Gabriel to first say to Her, "Non Phobia", "Do not fear." In recalling Gabriel's exclamation at the Annunciation it allows me to also reaffirm a personal lack of fear, through Mary's, "Fiat!" and the transformational mgnificence of Christ Among Us, the Incarnation, that always brings me back to the refrain, "Immaculate Mary, Our Hearts are on fire.", the same feeling Mary surely experienced at the Annunciation, the Nativity, the Crucifiction and with the tounges of fire at Pentecost.
The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary...and she conceived by the Holy Spirit....
constantly reminds of of the circular processions around a neo-Gothic Church in the inner city thay I remebber on a daily basis as the formational and foundational touchstone for my entire love and desire for Mary, Mother of God, the Church and each and every one of us,
Finally, find those rosaries and start putting them to good use, pray for the Church, past, presnt and future, It is realy more enriching and fulfilling than transactional psychological analysis!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Irish Diaspora...the Traditions Continue!

Rituals are part of the Irish Catholic lifestyle. Perhaps the most dreaded ritual is when a loved relative dies and all of the Celtic nuances of mourning are set into motion. Namely, the entire family is notified of the passing of either a grandparent, aunt, uncle or some other relative. Then the wake is planned, the funeral and finally internment at the Catholic cemetery. Usually this ritual remains unchanged and has seemingly remained firm, since the first Irish settlers set foot into the United States.
As a third generation descendant of great grandparents that emigrated from Ireland, I have always been fortunate to have a large extended family of pseudo- aunts and uncles, cousins of multiple degrees and scores of indeterminate relatives that always help when the Irish families of the Diaspora gather to celebrate life, weddings and death. They fascinate me in the fact that despite the distances between all of us by physical location everyone finds the time to come together to mourn and celebrate the life and the new life in Christ the deceased relative now enjoys.
These reunions are great opportunities to recall the lives and heritages of all of our Irish relatives that made successful and productive lives for themselves in a new country…in most cases with just the clothing on their backs, assistance from other family members that arrived in the United States a bit earlier and perhaps a few dollars to spare. Irish families after immigration to the United States generally were reliant on each other for support and encouragement. Another critical means of support was of course their Catholic faith, which often targeted them for many forms of discrimination and pejorative treatments by non- Catholic Americans. However, the Irish American emerged from the 19th century as a formidable influence that helped determine American society, lifestyles and politics.
I find it most interesting that despite the passage of generations and years, my Irish cousins and extended family of relatives is still in a sense embracing the traditions of our grandparents and great-grandparents and handing on these values as part of not only our Irish ancestry heritage, but also our heritage as good American citizens. While we sometimes only see each other when someone is baptized, married or buried, I know I am able to call on any or all of them for any sort of assistance if the need ever arises. That type of familial bond is perhaps rooted in the ancient Celtic tradition of the clans on some level; however I firmly believe that in the case of Irish Americans that sense of familial connections and obligations has a more deeply rooted foundation, namely in the long struggle for support and recognition the Irish fought as new immigrants to this country.
Many examples of prejudices are often cited as part of the contemporary American society, however our Irish ancestors were saddled with many forms of prejudices that took the form of anti-Catholicism and anti-equal opportunity discrimination that ranged from denial of employment to consigning the Irish immigrants to the proverbial slums of the 19th & 20th centuries simply because the Irish were considered anti-American based on their allegiance to their Roman Catholicism and the goal to achieve better lives then the ones they left behind in Ireland because of agricultural famine and British tyranny.
Growing up in an ethnically Irish family, in an urban environment (Gray’s Ferry) was perhaps the greatest lesson that imparted the true meaning of family, faith and civil responsibility one could ever receive. The lessons learned from a Catholic education (Saint Gabriel Parish), surrounded by multiple generations of relatives and friends that shared the same Irish identity and struggled to achieve better lives was a remarkable example of living the American dream and achieving it through hard work, strong faith and most importantly the support and love of an extended family that transcended generations of hard working and well intended Irish immigrants that all worked towards the same goal.
Recently, I attended the funeral for a great-aunt and lamented the fact that there are so many of my extended McNichol Family that I don’t even know simply because I myself have now become the older generation of the same extended family of Irish immigrants. It is refreshing however to know that all of these young members of my family, while not all retaining the family name are aware of the strong bonds and ties that unite all of us together as family, as Catholics and as productive citizens.
The names have changed over the generations but many of my extended cousins are still engaged in careers of law enforcement, lawyers, education and even skilled labor much in the way their great-grandparents made a living for themselves and their families. It is even more refreshing to note that we have all kept the faith and remained Catholic and shared the faith that brought out Irish ancestors to America in order to freely celebrate their faith in Christ and their devotion to the Catholic Church. Most impressive and reassuring finally is the fact that we still find it important to gather together to celebrate milestones such as births, weddings and deaths, not because we are required to participate, but because we want to be present at all of these events because of our common heritage as family, Catholics and above all friends to each other whenever and wherever there is a need to show our familial support that joins us as a transcendent clan of McNichols, there for each other whatever the reason, in faith and love.

Hugh J.McNichol is a Catholic author and journalist that reflects on Catholic topics and issues. Hugh studied both philosophy and theology at Philadelphia's Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary. He is currently in an advanced theology & history degrees program at Villanova University in suburban Philadelphia. He writes daily at , . Hugh writes on his Irish Catholic parochial experiences at
He also contributes writings to The Irish Catholic, Dublin, British Broadcasting Company, and provides Catholic book reviews for multiple Catholic periodicals and publishers, including Vatican Publishing House.
Hugh lives in Delaware's Brandywine Valley with his wife and daughter.
Hugh welcomes your comments via

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Father's Day...a day to celebrate my Father's ongoing wisdom!

Father’s Day, the annual event that creates a rush of activity in the Hallmark stores nationwide, and multiple traffic jams throughout the parking lots of shopping malls and raises revenues at Macy’s stores is a really remarkable day. As a son, I never quite understood the real significance of the day…because my father was and is always there to help me in innumerable ways that I cannot adequately explain.
Throughout my parochial school years, my father never generated any academic stress on me or my siblings. When report card time came around, he usually looked at the quarterly grades and either said “Good job!”, or “Your mother won’t like that one!” My father was not a “school-hanger”, meaning he didn’t get involved in our school activities, grades, or anything on a regular basis. The only time my father ever came over to Saint Gabriel’s School was to tell the school nurse, Mrs. Gorman…”never touch him again!” when I failed the annual hearing test, administered in February, when I was usually recovering from my perpetual ear, nose and throat infections. Of course he was there for graduations and all of the other important milestones. However, my father is the most superlative example of someone that always loved his job…as a Philadelphia policeman and narcotics detective. He worked multiple shifts, weekends and holidays. He was usually working on Father’s Day, so we often got a glimpse of him before or after his shift. The most important lesson I have always received from him is this: always do your job and do it well.
Often, my father passed on counsel through his everyday remarks and comments. I never realized how intensely accurate these little tidbits of pragmatic information were. For example, my father (to this day) does not paint, plumb or fix things around the house. He always told my mother, “Cass I’m a cop…call someone when you need something fixed around the house!” This fortunately has always resulted in a maintenance job being done correctly, well and without collateral damage. Once, my father was putting up wooden folding doors at our house in Avalon. It was 95 degrees, sawdust was everywhere. My father was in the basement (yes basements do exist at the shore), with his Craftsman power saw, trimming the doors for installation. That went well, until he cut the doors a little too much and what were supposedly solid wood doors, turned out to be hollow…and with the overcut…they fell apart. Well that was the end of the Bob Villa experience…from that moment on, it was adhere to the concept and, “call someone to put things in around the house.”
In the 50 plus years of my parent’s marriage, my mother has controlled everything…the house, the kids, the finances, even my father’s wardrobe. As a now father of a 12 year old daughter, I understand how this route of least resistance made my father exceptional. He was always there for the important milestones in our familial lives…but was never overbearing or excessive in expressing his love and concern for his children. Most importantly, he saw his role as the provider, which he has always done 1000% for me and my siblings, Karen and Stephen.
In the McNichol household, we have never been known to run around expressing our feelings of love for one another. Perhaps it is the remnant of Irish Jansenism that still pervades that side of the family “roots”; maybe it is the remnant of German pragmatism that still courses through our genealogical DNA on the other side of the hybrid family tree that keeps us from saying those three words…I love you! But I have always known my father has loved us, because he has always been there as a provider, pragmatic sage and constant influence on the events of our daily lives.  While we don’t run around in a 1960’s sense of “love fest”, we love our father, even though it is sometimes not often said verbally enough. So yes, “I love you Dad…and thank you for always being there…even though we haven’t always appreciated everything you continuously do for me, Karen and Stephen during his brief life!”
Happy Father’s Day to a great Father, who is in his own way, Socrates, Archie Bunker and Clint Eastwood all rolled into one…a pragmatic philosopher, that always told us truthfully and honestly with the reality of Inspector Harry Callaghan the best way to accomplish our goals and tasks in life. We love ya!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The real reason for Memorial Day!

Remembering all of those that bravely served, fought and died in defense of American freedom and liberty!

Friday, April 29, 2011

Catholics During the American Revolution

Old Saint Mary's, Philadelphia    Photo courtesy of Philadelphia Archdiocese Historical Research Center at Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary,

The roots of Anti-Catholicism in the American colonies have its primary roots in the Protestant Reformation and in principle are grounded by the Act of Supremacy of King Henry VIII in 1534. However the landing of English settlers at Cape Henry and the subsequent foundation of the Jamestown settlement in April, 1607 provided the early colonists with the first precepts of religious establishment based on the Anglican Church of England.2 With this settlement the story of Anti-Catholic sentiments becomes part of the settler’s legislative and daily routines. Roman Catholicism is officially outlawed, but is in most instances tolerated in the newly formed Jamestown and the remainder of the British colonies. There were some exceptions when the colonial legislatures relaxed the prohibitions against Catholics, especially in the colonies of Maryland, New York and Pennsylvania.
The initial sentiments developed against Catholics were the influx of the Puritan sect in New England. Their relationship against Catholics in colonial America is perhaps best summarized as the apotheosis of Protestant prejudice against Catholicism.3 The Puritan government enacted an anti-priest law in May of 1647.
“…death for all and every Jesuit, seminary priest, missionary or other ecclesiastical person made or ordained by any authority, power or jurisdiction, derived, challenged or pretended, from the Pope or the See of Rome.”4
Georgia, the thirteenth colony was established by royal charter under George II allowed full religious freedom in the colony,” except papists,” the common term to describe Catholics during the period.5
Rhode Island, considered an exception regarding the ease of its religious toleration laws, regulated Catholics and their rights in the legal codes of the colony in 1719, and were not repealed until after 1783.6
2 Paul Rasor and Richard E.Bond From Jamestown to Jefferson (Charlottesville, Virginia: 2011) pps.2-3 Introductory remarks of the author.
3 Stanley Katz and John Murim, “The Ideology of English Colonization from Ireland to America,” Colonial America, Essays in Political and Social Development (New York: 1983) pps 47-68.
4 Sister Mary Augusta Ray, American Opinion of Roman Catholicism in the Eighteenth Century (New York 1936)
5 Francis Curran S.J., Catholics in Colonial Law (Chicago:1963) p.54
Catholics During the American Revolution 5
Maryland was a colony that experimented with religious tolerance. When the colony was established there was a general acceptance of Christian believers. That policy was in effect until Maryland’s Religious Toleration Act was terminated in 1692. After this act’s conclusion, there were restrictions imposed on Catholic worship, the most severe penalty was that priests could be imprisoned for celebrating Mass. Catholics in the Maryland colony were also prohibited from any participation in public office, voting or even technically from owning land.7
Catholics in the colony of New York fared little better than other colonies. They were subjected to rumors of “papist plots,” that speculated colonists in New York were conspiring with French Canadians to overtake the English colony. In 1688, the royal Governor of New York issued orders for the immediate arrest of papists,” and abolished all civil liberties for Catholics.8 The 20thcentury Catholic Church historian, Father John Tracy Ellis stated that the restrictions on Catholics during this period were so severe, “that it is doubtful if any (Catholics) remained in New York.”9
Religious liberty did however receive a great degree of latitude in William Penn’s colony of Pennsylvania. Catholics in this colony perhaps enjoyed the greatest freedoms in order that they might celebrate their faith from William Penn’s great avocation of the liberty of conscience and religious principles. Up until the 1689 Tolerance Act, Catholics were considered foreign powers, loyal to the Pope and were barred from public office. More restrictive legislation came in Pennsylvania after 1700.
However, Catholics were generally permitted to practice their faith clandestinely throughout the colony. In 1757 a census taken cites the number of Catholics in Pennsylvania at 1365. At the time the entire Colony had
6 Patrick Conley and Matthew Smith, Catholicism in Rhode Island, the Formative Era,(Providence:1976)pps.7-9
7 John Tracy Ellis, Catholics in Colonial America,(Baltimore,Dublin:1965)pps.315-359
8 Ibid.pps344-46,367
9 Ibid.,p.363
Catholics During the American Revolution 6
between 200,000 and 300,000 citizens.10 Despite the small numbers of Catholic in Penn’s colony, the Catholic faith was established through the missionary activities of the Jesuits. They established Jesuit run farms in order to support missionary activities in the area. Two of these settlements established by the Jesuits were Saint Paul’s Mission at Goshenhoppen (Today, Church of the Blessed Sacrament, Bally, and Pennsylvania) in 1765, and Saint Francis Regis Mission at Conewago (Today, The Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Hanover, Pennsylvania. It is the oldest stone church in use in the United States) in 1787.11
During the period following 1763 persecution of Catholics in the American British colonies was somewhat relaxed due to the increasing disfavor of the colonists against British colonial rule. In 1774, the Quebec Act permitted religious freedom to French speaking Catholics in Canada. The act included the guarantee of the free practice of the Catholic faith in both Quebec and the Thirteen Colonies. However, the act itself was not always favorably received by the British colonists in the American colonies. It was often considered an inflammatory piece of legislation that abandoned Protestant ideals and favored the establishment of Roman Catholicism in the colonies as a fully tolerated religion.
Quebec Act
The Quebec Act enacted in 1774 provided the option for Canadians that were Roman Catholic to become British citizens after the Seven Years War. The British victorious over the French in this war were increasingly aware of popular unrest in the American colonies to the south of the Canadian settlements. They were most concerned that the French Canadians might support the American’s cause for independence. The
Quebec Act was in effect a negotiating tool intended to keep the French Canadians from assisting the increasingly unhappy colonists in the Thirteen Colonies. For the most part the Quebec Act was intended for
10 John Tracy Ellis, Catholics in Colonial America (Baltimore, Dublin 1965)p.363
11 Diocese of Harrisburg Website and Thomas Hughes, The History of the Jesuits in North America: Colonial and Federal, Volume 1, (London, New York1907) ,second edition 1970
Catholics During the American Revolution 7
implementation just in Canada. However, because of the popularity among the French Canadian Catholics, the policies of the Act extended religious tolerance to all of the North American colonies. This was in effect good news for Catholics in the British colonies on the verge of the American Revolution. 12 With the dawn of religious freedom now established in British ruled North America; Catholics finally were able to freely and openly become positive citizens of their respective colonies. They offered many positive aspects to the growing colonies and greatly contributed to the economic, political, social and military aspects of the oncoming Rebellion of the American colonies. Catholics in colonial pre-Revolutionary America became a strong economic force, as they prospered they built parish communities, schools and provided charitable services for a growing nation’s future. As the Continental Congress convened Catholic infrastructure actually contributed to the success of the rebellion and provided the structure for a new American republic.13
Catholics as Patriots
Catholics served in many capacities during the cause for American Independence. There were Catholics deeply committed to the patriots cause; there were also great numbers of Catholics that remained as Loyalists to Great Britain. My purpose is to indicate a few examples of Catholic American’s that were committed to the struggle for Independence. While we are all familiar with the most notable Catholics in the cause for American Independence, such as Commodore John Barry and Thomas Fitzsimons there are other notable contributors to the cause. I would like to provide a brief summary of persons engaged in ordinary activities during the hostilities and show how they contributed their skills and support to the American cause and the deepening of Catholicism in the United States.
12 Hilda Neatby, The Quebec Act: Protest and Policy (Scarborough, Ontario, Canada 1972) pp68-75
13 Helen Heinz, We are all as one fish in the sea…Catholicism in Protestant Pennsylvania (Temple University Press: Philadelphia 2007) pp 5-9
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The most obvious involvements of Catholics during the American Revolution were the many men that joined the ranks both the Continental Army and Continental Navy. Most Americans are familiar with the exploits of Commodore John Barry, the first commissioned officer in the Continental Navy and the legendary accomplishments of the Marquis de Lafayette and the Franco-American alliance. However records of the period show that Catholics served and died in all of the campaigns of the Revolution. Notable examples of during the conflict included Francis Corcoran, the ship’s doctor on the American ship, Morning Star, and Messrs. Dennis Lynch and John Downey, both 1st Lieutenants on the Colonial privateer and Brig of War Holker. Nathaniel Durham, Joseph Jakuay and David Kennedy, named as Catholic men, went down with at least three other Philadelphians on the Continental ship, Fair American under the command of Stephen Decatur.14 Other sailors hailed from German or Irish ancestries also served in the service of the rebellious Americans, half of the sailors that died on the Reprisal were Catholic. Joseph Caufman, a Catholic physician sailed and went down with the American frigate Randolph. Other Catholics included, John Devetter who died on the Royal Lewis, George McKean on the sloop, Sachem. Neil Cook served on the frigate, Washington and wrote his will while on board the ship serving as a marine. Thomas Vaughn was a 2nd Lieutenant on the frigate Confederacy and John Boyer was a boatswain on the schooner Rattlesnake. None of these men, patriots and Catholics survived their service during the war.15 In addition to service in the Continental Navy, Catholics served in the colonial army and local militias. They contributed through their lives and service to the cause of American Independence and the development of Catholicism as a viable part of the emerging American nation.
There were also Catholic priests that served in the cause of American Independence in a variety of ways. Perhaps the most remembered is Father Ferdinand Farmer, S.J. who served as a Jesuit missionary throughout
14 Helen Heinz, “We are all as one fish in the sea…” Catholicism in Protestant Pennsylvania: 1730-1790 (Temple University Press: Philadelphia2007) pps.410-430.
15 Ibid.pps 420-422
Catholics During the American Revolution 9
the colonies of Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland and New Jersey prior to and during the American Revolution. Father Farmer was approached by the British General Howe to recruit English and Irish Catholic men into forming a “Roman Catholic or Irish regiment.” Howe, appointed Father Farmer as the Catholic Chaplain for the regiment and many Catholics from Saint Mary’s in Philadelphia were recruited for the regiment. However, Father Farmer did not serve the cause of the British and used the recruitment of men for a Catholic regiment as a ruse intended to mislead the British General Howe and this lack of action on Farmer’s part enhanced the cause of the Americans.16
Catholics in the local Philadelphia area worked in a multitude of occupations during the hostilities. Messrs. James Mease and George Mead provided munitions and guns to the rebellious colonists. Catholics throughout the Delaware Valley worked on iron plantations, mining and forging in support of the war effort. They even supplied Congress with cannons, guns, iron shot and gunpowder.17 Even with the threat of arrest and even the penalty of death, Catholics provided works of charity towards the Americans and provided firewood and sometimes food to the troops during the winter of 1776-1977.
In New York, General Washington initiated an alliance with Catholic rebels and ordered an end to the tradition of, “Pope’s Day,” during which an effigy of the Pope was burned in mockery. Washington’s intention was that the Catholics would further support the American cause if any semblance of anti-Catholic practices were excluded from the military forces.18
16 Helen Heinz, “We are all as one fish in the sea…” Catholicism in Protestant Pennsylvania 1730-1790 (Temple University Press: Philadelphia 2007) pps 416-417. Information extracted from Dr. Heinz’s thesis and her cited sources: Whitfield Bell, Unpublished draft papers on early members of the American Philosophical Society. See, Ferdinand Farmer.”, Roman Catholic Volunteers, October 1777. Website for Advanced Loyalist Studies and finally a letter from Father Farmer to a friend in England: RACHSP, April 1889, pps 81-82 and the Woodstock Letters volume XIV, p.196. Personal thanks to Dr. Heinz for her informative points and conversations on Father Farmer.
17 Ibid.pp410
18 Jason K.Duncan, Citizens or Papists: The Politics of Anti-Catholicism in New York, 1685-1821( New York: Fordham University Press 2011) pp38-42
Catholics During the American Revolution 10
Catholic women were not excluded from their participation in support of the American cause during the Revolution. Father Farmer S.J. recruited members of his parish at Saint Mary’s in Philadelphia to serve in the capacity of nurses to tend to the wounded Americans. In his journals he mentions the help of one of his parishioners, Mary Waters as being an invaluable nurse that assisted the wounded American soldiers during the Philadelphia campaign.19 So while we frequently are reminder of the more prominent heroes of the American Revolution, everyday Catholic men and women contributed to the struggle for independence during the Revolutionary War. I mention these individuals so that as Catholics we can remember their contributions derived from ordinary service and patriotism in hopes of living in a country without fear of religious persecution.
Catholics as Founding Americans
Any consideration of Catholic participation during the American Revolution would be negligent in its scope if the contributions of some of the more noted Catholics in the American Colonies were forgotten. Most prominent among colonial Catholics was the Carroll family of Maryland. Charles Carroll was the only Catholic signatory of the Declaration of Independence and also the last signatory of the document to die. 20 Charles Carroll increasingly became an advocate for American independence and served as an emissary of the revolutionary government to Canada in 1774 to seek the assistance of the French Canadians against the coming
confrontation with Great Britain. On this diplomatic journey, he was accompanied on this mission with another prominent American Catholic, his cousin Father John Carroll, Benjamin Franklin and Samuel Chase. His fluency in French and his Catholic faith made him well suited to represent the fledgling nation with the French speaking colonists of Boston. After the American Revolution the inclusion of the First Amendment to the
19 Joseph L. Kirlin, Catholicity in Philadelphia (Philadelphia,1908)
20 James Hutson, Forgotten Features of the Founding: The Recovery of Religious Themes in the Early American Republic (Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books) 2003.pp168-170
Catholics During the American Revolution 11
Constitution was reportedly written as a sign of appreciation for his financial and political support for the Revolutionary War. 21
Another Catholic patriot that should always deserve attention is Thomas FitzSimons. FitzSimons was born in Ireland in 1741 and immigrated to the United States and settled in Philadelphia in the 1750’s. He established a trading business with George Meade and specialized in trading goods with the West Indies. In Philadelphia, FitzSimons became quite active in the Irish merchant community and became the head of the Friendly Sons of Saint Patrick in 1771. As the war with Great Britain approached, FitzSimons served as a captain in the Pennsylvania Home Guards and later participated in the Battle of Trenton in 1776. He also served as the head of an organizational body that procured materials for the Pennsylvania Navy which merged into the Colonial Navy. Fitzsimons was also a member of the Continental Congress and helped establish the Bank of America (not associated with the contemporary BOA), served as a trustee of the University of Pennsylvania and locally notable a member of Saint Mary’s Catholic Parish in Philadelphia. He is also buried in Saint Mary’s Cemetery there. 22
John Carroll, while not a member of the Continental Congress or any legislative body during the American Revolution is perhaps the Father of American Catholicism in the United States because of his role as a Jesuit priest, diplomat, Bishop and founder of Georgetown University. Georgetown is the oldest Catholic University in the United States. John Carroll was born in Ireland around 1753 and entered the Society of Jesus in 1753. He was ordained a priest in 1769. He accompanied his cousin on a diplomatic mission to French Quebec and solicited the assistance of the French Catholics in a prelude effort to support the American cause. While the diplomatic mission proved unsuccessful it made John Carroll a prominent figure in support of the
21 Stephen M.Krason, Editor Catholic Makers of America: Biographical Sketches of Catholic Statesmen and Political Thinkers in America’s First Century 1776-1876 (University of Maryland Press:Lantham, Maryland 2006) pps.5-11
22 Ibid. pp23-35
Catholics During the American Revolution 12
American cause. Uniquely, as a result of his political endorsement of the American colonists he was excommunicated from the Catholic Church by Bishop Briand of Quebec. Because of the terms of the Quebec Act, Bishop Briand was obligated to support the British government in Canada. The Bishop saw no need for Canadians to support the rebellious Americans and therefore excommunicated Father Carroll. Unusually, in August 2008, Cardinal John Foley, Grand Master of the Knights of the Holy Sepulcher, requested from Cardinal Ouellet, Bishop Briand’s successor that he finally lift the centuries old excommunication of the late Father and later Archbishop Carroll. Foley stated, “in the interest of better Canadian-American relations and in recognition of the fact that Americans now enjoy religious liberty…I would deeply appreciate it if you might lift the excommunication against John Carroll.” Cardinal Foley later quipped, “A government official down here said he (Cardinal Ouellet) said yes!”23 Archbishop John Carroll is an important figure in the establishment of American Catholicism in the United States not only because of the contributions of his influential and politically active family, but because he in effect was the first American Catholic Bishop whose Diocese of Baltimore had spiritual control over all of the new American Nation in 1789. With this designation, Archbishop Carroll might realistically be considered a Founding Father. Catholics in revolutionary era America are well represented by their priests and members of the developing American government.
Jesuits as Patriots
One of the most prominent groups that contributed to the cause of American independence was the Society of Jesus, or the Jesuits. During the American Revolution, the Jesuits had already well established educational institutions throughout the original thirteen colonies. In addition to the educational facilities, they also established unique commercial enterprises that establish “Jesuit-farms,” which provided an interlinked source of trade between Jesuit communities which provided a conduit of communications and resources for the
23 Catholic News Agency, Address of Cardinal Foley at Knights Dinner in Quebec City, Canada 2008.
Catholics During the American Revolution 13
revolutionary colonists throughout the Eastern seaboard. In 1774, John Carroll arrived in Maryland and organized the Jesuit efforts in that colony. While the Jesuits did not openly support the rebellion, it is suggested by some historians they indirectly through their commerce and monetary contributions sided with the colonists that sought American independence. The Jesuits considered the revolution as a great social movement that sought to restructure the various forms of colonial rule throughout the British Empire and transform the American Colonies into a working example of the precepts of the Enlightenment which emphasized the individual rights of all men over the rule of an individual monarch.24 With the intervention of the Jesuits in colonial commerce and trade, the Jesuits were able to influence the direction of the struggle and provide monetary assistance to the rebels without discovery by the British. It is also suggested the Jesuits, through their great commercial relationship with the East India Trading Company were able to divert funding through the activities of the Vatican Bank to help finance (indirectly) the war of insurrection. With the alliance of the Americans with the French in both Canada and Europe, the Jesuits were able to provide philosophical and pragmatic influences on the outcome of the American Revolution and at the same time ease and at times completely alleviate any notions of anti-Catholic rhetoric that might have existed in the colonies. 25
An important fact to remember regarding the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) is this: the Society provided most of the Catholic clergy in the American colonies. As a result of their numbers they were dispersed throughout all of the colonies and were able to provide religious structure and political influences wherever they establishes Catholic parishes and schools. Perhaps the most evident sign of Jesuit influence was felt in the colonies of Maryland, Virginia, Delaware and Pennsylvania, where the Jesuits were firmly established. Additionally, Father John Carroll, a Jesuit also played a pivotal role of influence on the Continental Congress
24 Ronald Hoffman, Peter Albert :The Transforming Hand of the American Revolution, (University Press of Virginia, London, Richmond 1995).pps 69-78
25 Christopher Beneke and Christopher Grenda: The First Prejudice: Religious Tolerance and Intolerance in Early America,(Oxford University Press, Philadelphia,Oxford 2011)pps 238-252
Catholics During the American Revolution 14
through his cousin Charles Carroll, a member of the Continental Congress. John Carroll, was also a diplomatic representative of the Continental Congress to Quebec seeking the support and assistance of the French Canadians against English rule.26 The Jesuit community throughout the duration of the American Revolution provided materials, arms and supplies to the colonial rebels through their farm plantations which provided not only a source of materials but also a place where Catholic sympathizers might gather in order to communicate essential details of the progress of the war in the officially neutral Jesuit territory.27
Catholics as Loyalists
One point worth considering regarding the role of Catholics during the American Revolution is that role they played as Loyalists to the British Crown. While the number of Catholics in the British colonies was relatively small in the colonies, there were attempts to recruit Catholics to fight against the American cause for freedom. One Loyalist Regiment that was predominately Catholic was the King’s Royal Regiment of New York (Royal Greens) which was composed mainly of Highland Scots and almost entirely Catholic. This Regiment was made up of primarily Irish and Canadians. There were according to records 549 men that were reported as Catholics. The second battalion of the same regiment consisted of 199 men that are listed as Catholics.
One particular Regiment that was Catholic during the Revolution was recruited at Saint Mary’s Parish in Philadelphia under the command of Colonel William Clifford. They listed 168 men from the parish as members of the Regiment that served under British General Sir William Howe. At the time the Catholic population of Philadelphia was listed as 1200-1500 men, women and children. If indeed the number of 168 men serving in the British military is accurate, then over 10% of Philadelphia’s Catholic population was loyal to Great Britain
26 Charles Metzger, Catholics and the American Revolution, (Loyola Press:Chicago 1962) pps 86-92
27 Thomas Peterman, Catholics in Early United States, Delmarva (Cook Publishing:Devon,Pa. 2006) pps 138-145
Catholics During the American Revolution 15
during the conflict.28Another regiment called the Volunteers of Ireland with approximately 871 officers and men under Lord Rawdon listed Catholics among their ranks. New York Volunteers under Colonel Turnbull listed 425 throughout all ranks and the Maryland Loyalists under Colonel James Chalmers recorded 425 Catholics among them. 29
At the time of the American Revolution it was illegal for Catholics to join the British military, however, there was special permission granted by General Howe that permitted the establishment of regiments that were entirely Catholic for the duration of the war; and to be disbanded after the conflict.
According to some accounts the Roman Catholic Volunteers was collectively impossible for the British officers to discipline during the war. As a result, the units were effectively unsuccessful as soldiers fighting against the American insurrection and were disbanded in October 1778. While there were Catholic men that served in the British Army as soldiers against the American Cause, their contributions against the American Revolution were in reality minimal. The underlying conflicts that existed in Ireland between Great Britain and colonial rule of that country undermined their military discipline and prohibited the Catholic units from forming a cohesive threat against the American troops. In equality, it is important to note in this research paper that the Catholic Loyalist did indeed exist contrary to the historical writings of Martin Ignatius Griffin who maintained there was never a Catholic representation among the British troops, and Catholics were indeed in favor of the split with Great Britain.30 Uniquely while there were both Catholic Loyalists and Catholic Patriots that served on both sides of the conflict during the American Revolution, there is no record to indicate any hostilities
28 T.H.Breen, American Insurgents, American Patriots: The Revolution of the People (Hill and Wang:New York 2010) pps 158-169.
29 Ibid.
30 Martin Ignatius Griffin, Catholics and the American Revolution (Published by Author: Ridley Park, Pa. 1907) pps 37-50 ***author’s note: Griffin’s work idealized Catholics as revolutionaries that greatly contributed to the cause of American Independence.
Catholics During the American Revolution 16
among Catholics of either side when it came to their participation in Catholic activities and Sacraments. This unusual harmony between political divisions between Catholics seemingly did not carry over into the Catholic Church and permit any disturbances during Catholic celebrations of their common faith. This illustrates very clearly that the struggle for American Independence was more correctly seen by colonial Catholics as one based in political ideology rather than theological discussions of religious intolerance.31
Catholics it seemed were more content to either support or not support the causes of American liberty based upon political principles rather than personal religious convictions. This sentiment further implied there was already a distinctly strong Catholic practice of religious isolationism that separated religious from political principles.
Philadelphia and Catholicism
Philadelphia during the American Revolution was not only the political center of the colonial cause for independence; it also provided a central place for the development of American Catholicism. The Catholic population already had two parishes established in the city and they were basically assured of religious tolerance of the Catholic faith by their surrounding Protestant neighbors. The first established parish in the city of Philadelphia was the Parish of Saint Joseph’s (today called Old Saint Joseph’s) in 1733. The parish was established by the Jesuit fathers and has been in continuous operations since the parish’s establishment. Located within walking distance to Independence Hall, the parish church witnessed many of the activities of the Continental Congress and on occasions played host to various dignitaries of the Continental Congress and visiting foreign diplomats when they convened in Philadelphia to plan the struggle for American Independence. The parish is the first established parish in Philadelphia and has been staffed by the Jesuit fathers since its inception. In addition to the establishment of a Catholic parish, the Jesuits also established a high school
31 Jack Green, The American Revolution, It’s Character and Limits (New York University Press:New York, London 2000) pps 353-388
Catholics During the American Revolution 17
preparatory school at the site and a college as well. Both of these institutions are the foundational roots for Saint Joseph’s Preparatory School and Saint Joseph’s University which still operate in the Philadelphia area.32
The second established parish in Philadelphia was Saint Mary’s, established in 1763. Saint Mary’s Church was a prominent place in the city of Revolutionary Philadelphia. In 1776 it was the site of the first public religious commemoration of the Declaration of Independence. Members of the Continental Congress attended services there at least four times from 1777 to 1781. Included among the worshipers was George Washington, who attended services there at least twice. John Adams attended a “popish” ceremony there and wrote home to his wife Abigail to describe the event:
“the music, consisting of an organ and a choir of singers, went all the afternoon except sermon time, and the assembly chanted most sweetly and exquisitely. Here is everything that can lay hold of the eye, ear and imagination, everything which can charm and bewitch the simple and ignorant, I wonder how Luther ever broke the spell.” John Adams, letters to his wife Abigail.33
Saint Mary’s was also the parish church of various prominent Catholics that served the military during the American Revolution. Commodore John Barry, considered the Father of the American Navy was a parishioner at Saint Mary’s (described in those days as a “subscriber”), Thomas FitzSimmons a member of the Continental Congress was also a subscriber, Stephen Moyland, George Washington’s aide-de-camp was also a parishioner at Saint Mary’s. While these individuals are a few of the more prominent names associated with both the American Revolution and Catholicism in Colonial Philadelphia, they are a representative cross section of the vibrancy the Catholic Church enjoyed in Philadelphia during the conflict of the American Revolution.34
32 Website for Old Saint Joseph’s Parish,
33 Old Saint Mary’s Parish website,
34 Ibid.
Catholics During the American Revolution 18
Catholic Legacies
Catholic participation during the American Revolution provided an opportunity for the nascent Catholic Church in the British Colonies and the newly formed United States to demonstrate the principles of religious toleration for all faiths as one that worked effectively in colonial America. With the establishment of Catholic parishes throughout the American colonies, educational facilities and social services began to emerge as part of the Church’s ministry in the newly formed United States. Catholics as part of the participating members of the American Revolution clearly illustrated they were committed to the ideals of American independence and freely assisted the effort towards the establishment of the new Republic. At the same time, it should also be clearly noted that, Catholics also respected the rights of other colonial citizens to disagree with their political causes and didn’t allow political dissention to carry over into the life of the Catholic celebrations of Mass and the parish organizational structure. Most importantly, Catholics provided a strong vehicle of support for both sides during the American Revolution, and their sentiments were not based on religious principles primarily, but principles of self rule for the colonies and religious toleration for all faiths. 35 In all perhaps the greatest contribution of Catholics during the American Revolution was their political, social and economic support of the insurgence that resulted in American freedom from colonial rule without reservation and influences of their religious principles and papal leadership. At the conclusion of the American Revolution, the Catholic population of the newly established Republic was equally accepted into American life and enjoyed the same benefits and political principles as non-Catholics and was readily accepted into American society. While there is considerable speculation regarding strong anti-Catholic sentiments that might have existed against the colonial Catholics, evidence of these sentiments is difficult if not impossible to discover among the records and redactions of historical writers. Catholics in Philadelphia and other colonial cities provided a important and
35 T.H.Breen, American Insurgents, American Patriots: The Revolution of the People (Hill and Wang:New York 2010) pps245-270.
Catholics During the American Revolution 19
positive contribution to the establishment of charitable institutions, hospitals, orphanages and of course schools and later universities. 36 The Jesuit community in Philadelphia continued in their priestly ministry and provided a strong source of guidance for not only the city’s Catholic population but provided advice and council to the secular community and local government that helped establish the infrastructure of municipal, state and federal government policies well into the 19th century.37
Many Catholics that remained in the City of Philadelphia began to establish themselves and played an active role on local politics, civic affairs and even in the organization of new Catholic parishes. Prominent Catholic, George Meade, (the grandfather of the later Civil War general), was influential in establishing a strong banking relationship between the large banks of London and provided financial support for local Catholics to develop professional businesses, purchase land and even finance new churches for Catholics and non-Catholics alike.38
Another effect that favored Catholics after the Revolution in Philadelphia was great number of leadership positions that were vacant either through death or evacuation with the British. Irish Catholics that were new immigrants into the city began to fill these roles of social and political prominence while adding new commercial ventures to the economy of the newly established nation.
The Jesuits continued their sacramental and pastoral ministry. Because of their abilities to operate without any fear or coercion, Catholics began to undertake the responsibilities of social reforms and invited communities of religious women into the city to establish schools, nursing homes and orphanages. With the influx of Catholic religious communities into American society after the American Revolution the Catholic
36 Helen Heinz, “We are all as one fish in the sea…”Catholicism in Protestant Pennsylvania: 1730-1790 (Temple University Press, Philadelphia 2007) pps 441-451
37 Ibid.p.430
38 Ibid. p.440
Catholics During the American Revolution 20
Church was poised to take advantage of the principles of religious tolerance and establish itself as an integrated component of life and government. 39
In addition to the contributions to Catholic life from the clergy and religious, lay Catholics were instrumental in the growth and development of the faith in the post-Revolutionary Period. In the Philadelphia area in particular, Catholic families purchased properties and handed them over to the Catholic Church, which provided the seminal foundations for many parishes, schools and institutions that exist even to the present day. Catholic settlements were established as parishes and schools followed which set up the potential for later educational ventures and humanitarian services such as orphanages and hospitals.
While the contributions of Catholics during the American Revolution is often considered as inconsequential in size and scope, nonetheless these contributions enriched the principles of religious tolerance, individual freedoms and the social and cultural needs of a newly established American society. Catholics through their military service, political influence and religious celebrations have provided an essential part of American identity in both the War of Independence and the decades that followed the establishment of the United States.
Catholic contributions to our American society have transcended the colonial era and through the establishment of a parish and diocesan structures provided an integral social, educational and moral structure that has positively contributed to our American quality of life from 1776 until the present day.
39 Ibid. p.445
Catholics During the American Revolution 21
Bell, James B. A War of Religion: Dissenters, Anglicans, and the American Revolution. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire (England: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.)
 Book provided great background reading regarding the religious situation in colonial America.
Beneke, Chris, and Christopher S. Grenda. The First Prejudice: Religious tolerance and Intolerance in Early America. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011)
 Book was valuable in showing the deep roots of religious intolerance in the American colonies.
Breen, T. H. The Marketplace of Revolution: How Consumer Politics Shaped American Independence. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.)
 Great source to show that the American Revolution was based not only on religious principles but more effectively, economic principles.
Breen, T. H. American Insurgents, American Patriots: The Revolution of the People. (New York: Hill and Wang, 2010.)
 Clearly demonstrated the multi-layered struggle of classes during the American Revolution.
Bric, Maurice J. Ireland, Philadelphia and the Re-Invention of America, 1760-1800. (Dublin: Four Courts, 2008.)
 Great source of information regarding the importance of Philadelphia as the colonial seat of government and the strong Gaelic roots that influenced the outcome of the Revolution.
Brown, Stewart Jay, and Timothy Tackett. The Cambridge History of Christianity 1660-1815. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.)
 Strong reference book to ascertain factual points for research.
Carp, Benjamin L. Rebels Rising: Cities and the American Revolution. (Oxford: Oxford University Press,
Catholics During the American Revolution 22
 Book clearly details the critical importance of cities in determining the outcome of the Revolution.
Conley, Patrick T., and Matthew J. Smith. Catholicism in Rhode Island: the Formative Era. (Providence: Diocese of Providence, 1976.)
 Good insights into the struggle of Catholics in Rhode Island during the period.
Cotlar, Seth. Tom Paine's America: The Rise and Fall of Trans-Atlantic Radicalism in the Early Republic. (Charlottesville: University Of Virginia Press, 2011.)
 Exceptional book that showed the clear influence of the Enlightenment and European intellectualism on the causes and outcome of the American Revolution.
Curran, Francis X. Catholics in Colonial Law. (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1963).
 Most likely the definitive source for understanding Catholic social status in colonial America.
Duncan, Jason K. Citizens or Papists? The Politics of Anti-Catholicism in New York, 1685-1821. 1. ed. (New York: Fordham University Press, 2005.)
 Informative work that illustrated how certain areas of the pre-Revolution colonies and post-Revolution colonies harbored some sense of anti-Catholicism.
Ellis, John Tracy. Catholics in Colonial America. (Baltimore: Helicon, 1965.)
 Great source for information. However, despite great respect for John Tracy Ellis, book is dated in presentation of the facts.
Ellis, John Tracy. American Catholicism. (Garden City, N.Y.: Image Books, 1965.)
 Same as above.
"George Washington Letter to the Catholic Church." Â The Civil War.
Catholics During the American Revolution 23
(accessed April 7, 2011).
 Used to show how Catholics were indeed part of the social and political climate of American Revolution.
Greene, Jack P. The American Revolution: Its Character and Limits. (New York: New York University Press, 1987.)
 Interesting book that gave a wide scope of appreciation for different points of view in understanding the causes and effects of the American Revolution.
Griffin, Martin I. J. Catholics and the American Revolution. (Ridley Park, Pa.: The Author, 1907.)
 Perhaps the Grandfather of Catholic historians, however a glorified version of history. Included mostly as homage to local Catholic historians and their work.
Heinz, Helen A. "We are all as one fish in the sea...” Catholicism in Protestant Pennsylvania: 1730--1790. Philadelphia: (Temple University Press, 2007)
 Significant thesis on the true relationship of Catholic in Pennsylvania to the Protestant government during the colonial period. Used this work extensively and communicated with author on a number of points. Strictly speaking Helen’s perceptions of the relationship between Catholics and the Protestant community deserves greater exploration and study. Her research sheds new light on the previously thought…anti-Catholic sentiments that existed in colonial Philadelphia.
Hennesey, James J. American Catholics: A History of the Roman Catholic Community in the United States. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981.)
 Great background material for researching the topic.
Hoffman, Ronald, and Peter J. Albert. The Transforming Hand of Revolution: Reconsidering the American Revolution as a Social Movement. (Charlottesville: Published for the United States Capitol Historical
Catholics During the American Revolution 24
Society by the University Press of Virginia, 1996.)
 Great work that proposed the real underlying currents that fueled the cause of the American Revolution, as a great revolution of an enlightened society and not just a revolution against colonial rule.
Hughes, Thomas. History of the Society of Jesus in North America, Colonial and Federal. (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1907)
 Book was good for source material regarding the Jesuits. However, very dated and also written with the intent to always exonerate the Society of Jesus despite their actions.
Hunt, Owen B. The Irish and the American Revolution: Three Essays. (Bi-Centennial ed. Philadelphia: O. Hunt, 1976.)
 Interesting work that showed how the Irish influenced the flames of revolution as a carry over from the seeds of Irish Rebellion in Europe to the New World.
Hutson, James H. Forgotten Features of the Founding: The Recovery of Religious Themes in the Early American Republic. (Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books, 2003.)
 Book was important to highlight the underlying religious principles that merged from many Protestant especially Puritan sources to be a formative influence on the colonial governments.
Kammen, Michael G. A Season of Youth: The American Revolution and the Historical Imagination. (New York: Knopf, 1978.)
 Good reading material to establish some sense of background for the events that erupted into conflict and Independence.
Katz, Stanley Nider, and John M. Murrin. Colonial America: Essays in Politics and Social Development. 3rd ed. (New York: Knopf, 1983.)
 Good source to explore the political and social implications that were part of the struggle between Great
Catholics During the American Revolution 25
 Britain and the American colonies.
Kirlin, Joseph L. J. Catholicity in Philadelphia from the Earliest Missionaries Down to the Present Time. (Philadelphia: J.J. McVey, 1909)
 While this book provided colorful material, it is homage to the historical works that examined American history in the Philadelphia area during the late 19th and early 20th century. Kirlin is of course a native son.
Krason, Stephen M. Catholic Makers of America: Biographical Sketches of Catholic Statesmen and Political Thinkers in America's First Century, 1776-1876. (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2006.)
 Exceptional work that clearly showed the depth of intellectual thought that precipitated the Revolution and the subsequent founding of the American Republic.
Mays, Terry M. Historical dictionary of the American Revolution. (2nd ed. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 2010.)
 Reference book with exceptional background materials for research of the topic.
McCullough, David G. 1776. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005.)
 Great book, good background material for the topic, included as a source of literary color for the research. A favorite author and historian.
Metzger, Charles Henry. Catholics and the American Revolution; a Study in Religious Climate. (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1962.)
 Sometimes difficult to understand and follow, however a good source that studies the religious principles that fueled the conflict.
Neatby, Hilda. The Quebec Act: Protest and Policy. (Scarborough, Ont.: Prentice-Hall of Canada, 1972.)
 Good source of factual information and explanation of the Quebec Act.
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Nicolini, G. B. History of the Jesuits: Their Origin, Progress, Doctrines, and Designs. (London: G. Bell & Sons, 1879.)
 Dated and somewhat nostalgic portrayal of the Jesuits.
Peterman, Thomas Joseph. Catholics in Colonial Delmarva. (Devon, PA: Cooke, 1996.)
 Exceptional source for local Catholic history in Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland. Author is priest in Wilmington, De.
Peterman, Thomas Joseph. Bohemia, 1704-2004: A History of St. Francis Xavier Catholic Shrine in Cecil County, Maryland. (Devon, Pa.: William T. Cooke Pub., 2004.)
 Ibid.
Peterman, Thomas Joseph. Catholics in Early U.S. Delmarva: A Sequel to Catholics in Colonial Delmarva. (Warminster, Pa.: Cooke Pub. Co., 2006.)
 Ibid.
Purcell, Sarah J. Sealed With Blood: War, Sacrifice, and Memory in Revolutionary America. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002.)
 Especially good presentation of all of the great struggles of the American Revolution from the perspective from a contemporary Philadelphia historian and professor.
Randall, Catharine. Black robes & Buckskin: a Selection from the Jesuit Relations. (New York: Fordham University Press, 2011.)
 Well written and precise appreciation of the role of the Jesuits and their contributions to American colonial life and government. Perhaps best source with contemporary perspective of the Jesuits true role behind the scenes of both revolution and commerce.
Rasor, Paul B., and Richard E. Bond. From Jamestown to Jefferson: The Evolution of Religious Freedom in
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Virginia. (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2011.)
 Well written and explain presentation regarding the real establishment of religious principles as developed by Jefferson for the Virginia Colony with the inclusion into the Declaration of Independence as a principle directive of American independence.
Ray, Mary Augustina. American opinion of Roman Catholicism in the Eighteenth Century. 1936. (Reprint, New York: Octagon Books, 1974.)
 Dated in presentation of material regarding the view of non-Catholic Americans during the 18th century. Frankly very anti-secular in the authors approach.
Resch, John Phillips, and Walter Sargent. War & Society in the American Revolution: Mobilization and Home Fronts. (DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2007.)
 Interesting points on how the military operations of the American Revolution affected the lives and daily happenings of ordinary citizens in the colonies.
Rozbicki, Michał. Culture and Liberty in the Age of the American Revolution. (Charlottesville: University Of Virginia Press, 2011.)
 Written in great detail regarding the cultural and philosophical influences of the Age of Enlightenment contributed to the causes of the American Revolution. Very interesting in the presentation that uses the American Revolution as the presupposition and foundation for the French Revolution.
Stout, Harry S., and D. G. Hart. New Directions in American Religious History. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.)
 Good materials that explore the multi-religious influences that are part of the American cultural and social development.
Wood, Gordon S. The Radicalism of the American Revolution. (New York: A.A. Knopf, 1992.)
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 Book that speculates American Revolution was more a radical departure from monarchial rule than just a military opposition to any one particular difficulty with the government of Great Britain.
Young, Alfred Fabian, and Harvey J. Kaye. Liberty Tree: Ordinary People and the American Revolution. (New York: New York University Press, 2006.)
 Very enlightening book that studies the average individual and the effect the conflict had on their lives, religions and everyday activities as colonial Americans.