March 5, 2019

Pope Francis has just announced that on March 2, 2020, the Vatican Archives relating to the pontificate of Pope Pius XII (1939-1958) will be fully opened to scholars. “The Church,” Francis stated, “is not afraid of history, rather, loves it, and would like to love it more and better, as God loves it!” This is no small feat. For the past thirteen years, Vatican archivists have been doing what archivists do: “inventorying and substantial documentation” to get it all ready… Read more

March 3, 2019

An Irish Dominican, Thomas Nicholas Burke, O.P. (1830-1882), was one of the premier Catholic preachers of the 1800’s. He joined the Dominican Order in 1847, studied in Italy and England, and was ordained a priest in 1853. His first sermon to attract attention, delivered in 1859, was on “Church Music.” A strong Irish nationalist, in 1867 he delivered a speech on Daniel O’Connell in Dublin to an audience of fifty thousand. In 1871, Father Burke was sent to the United… Read more

March 2, 2019

In ten years of blogging Catholic history, I’ve written a fair amount about women religious. That’s because they’ve been a major contributor to our history. And because I love them and their witness. When most people think of the Sisters, they think of the classroom. But the ministry of our women religious has been anything but monolithic: parochial schools and high schools yes, but also hospitals and orphanages, colleges and universities, direct ministry to and advocacy for the poor and… Read more

February 28, 2019

The late Father Andrew Greeley once called the Catholic Church’s current sex scandals the biggest challenge it’s faced since the Reformation. As a Church historian, that observation made me wonder: how did the Church get out of that earlier mess, for which its own bishops, and even popes, were largely responsible? Before answering that question, it’s important to know what led to the Reformation. Church offices were being sold and bought; many bishops and abbots were absentee landlords raking in… Read more

February 24, 2019

Pope Francis has formally cleared the way for the canonization of Blessed John Henry Newman (1801-1890), whom many consider the most important Catholic thinker since St. Thomas Aquinas. It’s been suggested that Newman could one day join Aquinas as a Doctor of the Church, for his unique contributions to Catholic intellectual life. Many people know Newman, without actually knowing him. For example, The Pillar of the Cloud, better known by its first line, “Lead, kindly light,” was one of the… Read more

February 20, 2019

Pope Francis raised more than a few eyebrows recently when he addressed the sexual exploitation of women religious by members of the clergy. It’s an issue that’s been covered up for far too long, the pontiff suggests. Or is it? What immediately came to mind for me was that lurid nineteenth century bestseller, The Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk, which addressed this very topic. During the years leading up to the Civil War, it sold over 300,000 copies. (It still… Read more

February 19, 2019

CATHEDRAL COLLEGE HAS COMMENCEMENT. Catholic Preparatory Seminary Sends Forth its First Graduates. The Brooklyn Eagle, June 24, 1919, 5. Cathedral College, the preparatory seminary of the Diocese of Brooklyn, sent forth its first graduates yesterday. The assembly hall was gaily packed with American and Papal colors and the platform was banked with palms. Seventeen young men, who had successfully completed the five-year intensive course in the classics and the sciences were graduated, and will continue their course in the Diocesan Seminary. The… Read more

February 18, 2019

This past Friday, my home diocese of Brooklyn released the names of 108 men accused of sexual abuse through the years. Two were stationed in my home parish, at the same time, when I was young. One was eventually sent to Canada, for health reasons, we were told. The other was simply reassigned. Both were laicized, and one has passed away. Personally, I’ve been struggling with my feelings on this. I have a great love both for my diocese and… Read more

February 11, 2019

Today is the the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, which offers us the opportunity to pay tribute to an old, famed, and beloved Brooklyn parish named in her honor. In its heyday, this parish occupied an entire Brooklyn city block, complete with rectory, parish and school. It was also a pilgrimage site for thousands of New York Catholics for over half a century (even from Manhattan). In September 1872, the Fathers of Mercy, a French-based religious community, started a… Read more

February 4, 2019

By any standard, the Healys were an impressive family. Michael, the father, was an Irish immigrant who became a successful Georgia planter. His children included two nuns, a Coast Guard captain, a bishop, and two priests (one of them a university president). They seemed the quintessential Irish Catholic clan. But they harbored a secret, one that by 19th-century white America’s standards was considered terrible. Their mother, Eliza Clark, had been a slave on their father’s plantation. Although Michael and Eliza… Read more

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