A Sermon on Catholic Patriotism at St. Francis Xavier Church, Manhattan, May 1894

A Sermon on Catholic Patriotism at St. Francis Xavier Church, Manhattan, May 1894 November 10, 2013

Monsignor Henry A. Brann (1837-121), who preached the sermon at St. Francis Xavier Church which is listed below.

OBJECT LESSON FOR BIGOTS. CATHOLIC AND PROTESTANT IN THE MEMORIAL PARADE. Both Fought Bravely for the Same Flag—One the A.P.A. Would Debar from the Country’s Affairs—Sermons of the Rev. Madison C. Peters as They Sound Compared with the Rev. Father Brann Memorial Sermon in St. Francis Xavier’s. (The New York Times, May 31, 1894)
There was a fine object lesson yesterday for the intolerant bigots of the American Protective Association in the memorial parade of the Grand Army of the Republic, if they had but cared to see it. Marching side by side, shoulder to shoulder, the ranks of the battle-scarred veterans, were men of all creeds and nationalities, who had followed the Stars and Stripes together in many a hard fight regardless whether the men in front of them or behind them were Roman Catholics or Protestants, Jews or Gentiles.

There was many a man maimed by the cannon of the Confederates, who trailed wearily, but yet with enthusiasm, behind the ragged battle flags through the streets yesterday, who could have told the Rev. Madison C. Peters and the rest of the A.P.A. advocates that a man may be a staunch, true citizen and patriot, willing to offer up his life for his country, no matter whether he be a Catholic or a Protestant.

It is claimed by some statisticians that there are 15,000,000 Roman Catholics in this country. The A.P.A. is hoping for strength enough to prevent any of these 15,000,000 from holding public office. They are to be taxed, say the A.P.A. fanatics, and in time of war they are to be considered good enough food for powder, in case their services should be required in the defense of the American flag, but they are not to hold office under any circumstances. As a matter of course, it follows that that if these people are not good enough to hold civic positions they are not good enough to hold positions of command in the army and navy. In fact, the “Americans” make no secret of this belief. They have again and again declared that the Catholics are “Romanizing the army and navy,” and they call upon their fellow bigots to “Protestantize” the forces of national defense.

Then of course, if this movement should prove successful, the country would have no use for such men as Sheridan and Shields and McMahon and Milligan and Meagher and Kearny, and the other brilliant commanders in the civil war who professed the Catholic faith. Soldiers and patriots like these would henceforth be told, if the A.P.A. propaganda should succeed, that they could not be entrusted with the command of American forces at times of emergency. They might turn them over to the Pope of Rome.

No other logical deduction is possible from the inflammatory and incendiary utterances of the Rev. Mr. Peters and the other A.P.A. champions.

Mr. Peters for months has been unwearying in picturing the Catholic citizens as enemies of the government and its institutions. His sermons have breathed the fire of proscription and persecution in every word. They have been, Sunday after Sunday, of a character to inflame the mind of the unthinking Protestant against the Catholic neighbor. Read yesterday, while there was still in the air the music of the rolling drum which led the Catholic veteran and the Protestant veteran in the same column of mourning for their dead brethren, Mr. Peters’s incendiary expressions had a particularly cruel, un-Christian, un-American, and untruthful ring. There was a presage in them of riot and bloodshed.

On Sunday, April 2, Mr. Peters, addressing his congregation in the Bloomingdale Reformed Church, said:

Pension Commissioner Lochren, the old soldier’s enemy, in reply to my charge of the nuns begging in his department, answered in Romish style: ‘That fellow is an intolerant, lying bigot,’ and that when In confronted him with the undeniable facts he admitted I told the truth and said, ‘I understand that one or two Little Sisters of the Poor come to the bureau on the last day of the month. There is no solicitation of any kind; instead, I am told, they stand in a corner with a basket in one hand, but do not ask for contributions. There is no rule that I know of that prohibits them from coming.’ Mr. Lochren denies being a Romanist, which report was never denied. At all events, he is Rome’s devoted tool.

Having satisfied himself that nuns were engaged in undermining the institutions of this country by visiting the Pension Department and receiving charitable donations, Mr. Peters said on the following Sunday:

The times indicate a revival of Americanism, evoked by the constant encroachments of Rome on the public schools, the political offices, and the municipal, State and National Treasuries. Our cities are in the hands of the ‘bosses,’ ‘lewd fellows of the baser sort,’ most of them Irish Romanists, and the Bishops and the priests have forced men on the voters’ list who ought to be in the penitentiary. The determination to resist Rome’s aggressive political power is seen in scores of anti-Romanist organizations forming all over the country. The most efficient of all these orders is the American Protective Association, an order about two years old, numbering now upward of 1,500,000 and steadily increasing at the rate of 10,000 a week. Why are the priests forming the Irish Roman Catholics into regimental organizations? Is it to prepare them for the coming conflict? Why should the Irish Roman Catholics organize themselves into great numbers of secret organizations, almost all of them military ones? The Irish Catholics may have their beneficial and civic orders, but it is certainly not a good thing that they organize into military companies and regiments bearing arms.

Again, on April 30, Mr. Peters assaulted his Roman Catholic fellow-citizens as follows, in speaking in his pulpit on the work for woman suffrage:

I don’t believe in universal suffrage for men. We have now about 3,000,000 of ignorant Irishmen, Italians, and people of other races who are driven like cattle to the polls to vote the dictate of alien political syndicates. There are horses and birds more intelligent than nearly one-third of our voters. On the school question we know how Bridget would go. Rome is everywhere and always in league with the rum machine, and Bridget would vote for the saloons to cripple the influence of Protestantism in American politics. The combined Romish vote gathered together in our large centres of population is to-day the greatest menace to our civilization, and to double that priest-controlled vote would be absurdly dangerous.

In his sermon a week ago last Sunday the chief champion of the A.P.A. campaign of Know-Nothingism in the East pronounced this judgment on the Church which is, like his own, working for humanity:

Romanism is not Apostolic Succession, but a baptized paganism. All students can see the conformity between pagan and Popish rites.

It is instructive to turn from these terrible and distorted pictures of the Roman Catholics and their Church, as Mr. Peters draws them, to the reality as witnessed yesterday at St. Francis Xavier’s, which is under the ministration of the Jesuits, to whom Mr. Peters attributes even worse motives than to ordinary Catholics.

A special memorial service was held in this church, as in other Catholic churches, for the repose fo the souls who fell in the war. The great edifice was crowded to the doors with devout worshipers, who were privileged to listen to a sermon that was as full of glowing, broad-minded patriotism as are the semons Mr. Peters was full of prejudice and bigotry. The preacher was the Rev. Dr. H.A. Brann, pastor of St. Agnes’s Church in East Forty-third Street. Addressing his listeners as the “sons, relatives, and friends of American Catholic soldiers, Dr. Brann said:

You come of a loyal race, because you are Catholics. You belong to a Church which in every land is loyal to the powers that be, whether they be pagan, Protestant, or Catholic. Your holy religion teaches that rebellion is a mortal sin; that respect to legitimate authority and for the laws of your country is incumbent on you as Christians and as citizens; that you cannot be the judge of the laws of the land any more than you can be the interpreter of the articles of your creed; that there are superiors above you, whom, in the spiritual and civil order, you must obey.

From your earliest years you have been trained to obedience to law, and taught to preserve and defend order, not merely for fear of human penalties, but because God wills it and imposes an obligation on your conscience. You have been taught that immorality and infidelity sap the foundations of the State.

You have read in history that every nation that deserted God and religion finally decayed and disappeared from the stage of history. Because your minds have been imbued with Christian principles, you know and feel that you are devoted sons of the land you live in, determined by pure morals and honest toil to make your country honored abroad, and to defend her flag on sea or land from the assaults of foreign aggression.

Sons, relatives, and friends of American Catholic soldiers, you have a right to be proud of your Church in this land of liberty and law. She is a Church with a stainless record—the only one with such a record in this country. From the very beginning she loved it. Her early missionaries, many of them spiritual sons of the great Spanish soldier who infused his own noble spirit and sublime aspirations into the society which he founded, gave names to our lakes and rivers, explored our trackless forests, and prepared the way for succeeding progress and civilization.

When the tocsin sounded the call of liberty the sons of that Church were among the first to answer that summons. The great Catholic nation, with its Catholic King, sent his Catholic soldiers and Catholic sailors to help the cause of American independence. Every Catholic in the land, lay or cleric, from the rich and powerful Carrolls of the South to the hardy Sullivans of New England, lent his aid.

The armies of liberty were filled with Catholics, while the gallant son of the ever-loyal Church, John Barry, founded our navy and won its first victories. Who that knows the history of our Republic but is fully aware of these facts? While those outside of the Catholic Church were divided in sentiment and action, and while some of them, even in New York—the Episcopalians, for instance—were notoriously hostile to the American cause, betraying the patriots and furnishing funds to help put them down, the Catholics to a man were loyal to the cause of Washington and independence.

Again in our second war with the foe that has until recently persecuted Catholics with a hatred second only to that which she has shown American institutions, our Church was the most loyal in the country. Catholics were numbered in the armies of 1812 from the borders of Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. The hero of New Orleans knew their valor and admitted their devotion.

Even when we made war on our neighboring Catholic republic, the loyalty of our Church to the starry flag remained unsullied, and among the bravest and best soldiers of the Mexican War were Catholics like Shields, who knelt for the priest’s blessing before drawing the sword that conquered.

And is the history of our civil war so soon forgotten that Catholic loyalty to the Union should be called into question? What battlefield was not stained with the blood of Catholic soldiers? Ye heroes who sleep beneath the white crosses in every cemetery in the Union attest that ye fought better because of the Catholic faith and the Catholic principles instilled into your hearts by the ever-loyal and immortal Church.

What Church can show such a record of loyalty as our Church did in the war for the Union? Before that war, were not the preachers of the sects habitually stimulating the passions of their congregations, preaching the gospel of hate, and helping to arm section against section? Did not the fanaticism of non-Catholic preachers of every pulpit in the North provoke the secession of the South and cause the bloody war which cost the Nation hundreds of thousands of lives and hundreds of millions of dollars? Slavery could and would have gone down without a war.

It was not the Catholic Church which provoked the war. The Catholic clergy were conservative and law-abiding. But when the war came and it was necessary to save the Union, when the conquering armies of secession thundered almost at the very gates of the capital, who were prompter, who were braver in the fight to preserve our beloved Republic than the Catholic soldiers of the North? This war divided the Protestant sects.

The Southern Protestants in many instances would have no communion with the Northern churches. Catholics were very few in the South. The armies of the rebellion were commanded and filled with Protestants. A Protestant Episcopalian, Bishop Polk, gave up his clerical gown and donned the sword to help to destroy the union of our States, and when these rebels, chiefly Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Baptists, and Methodists, came conquering up the Shenandoah Valley, who was it that met them and turned the tide of battle? Who was it that rode the gallant horse on the famous ride from Winchester, turning defeat into victory and driving these men who hated the Union and the Catholic Church back into their own territory? It was the Catholic Gen. Phil Sheridan, afterwards commander of our whole army.

Do our citizens so soon forget that the great Archbishop Hughes, the friend of Lincoln and of Seward, did more than anyone else by his influence at home and abroad to save the Union?

Our Church gave the first lesson in religious liberty to the American colonies. That Church blessed Maryland with religious toleration, unknown in the other colonies, where persecution for conscience’s sake was the law. A son of that Church, Gov. Dongan, gave the first charter of civil liberty to the State of New York.

Jealousy, bigotry, and fanatical hate, which disgrace a portion of our American fellow-citizens, are responsible for the refuted charge that our Church is opposed to republican liberty. Illegal conspiracy and secret plotting are used to injure American citizens because they are Catholics. Again and again have plots been hatched and conspiracies formed to injure Catholics, to abridge their liberty, and impede the progress of their saving and conservative creed.

Judge us by the record which our Church has made in this Republic. We never persecuted or tried to persecute anyone, even when we had the power to do so. American Catholics never burned witches nor exiled Quakers, nor hanged men for not believing as they did. It is remarkable that the leaders in the anti-Catholic conspiracy, which is disgracing the fair fame of Americans, are chiefly the children and the grandchildren of the men who did burn innocent men and women at the stake.

Take care, gentlemen, of what you are doing. If you love the Constitution and its liberty, do not try by your penal laws to force 15,000,000 of your fellow-countrymen into the ranks of the discontented. We Catholics cannot use vile or unlawful weapons. We shall not belie you. We shall not slander you. Our Church forbids conspiracy. We shall not make war on you by secret societies. The Catholic Church despises cowardly methods.

If we are unfit to be citizens exempt us from the burdens of citizenship. If we are not to be citizens let us pay no taxes.

We Catholics are now paying double taxes in nearly every town in the Union. We pay a double tax for education and charitable institutions. If we had as little charity and as little religion as our accusers, we know how we could punish them. We could close all our schools and charitable institutions and force the State to support their inmates. What would be the consequence? Our enemies would then find their taxes for education and for charitable institutions doubled.

But, while we thus express the natural feelings of insulted men and the righteous indignation of loyal citizens, we must not forget the charity of the Christian. It is not by the sword that we are to fight or conquer in the present warfare, but by justice, truth and honesty. We are taught by our holy Church to forgive our enemies and to pray for them. This we shall continue to do, and faithful to the letter and the spirit of the religion of Christ, no insults or false charges can make us disloyal to our beloved country. We shall continue to be as we have always been, the most devoted patriots in the grand Republic of the West.

The church was specially decorated for the memorial services, and for the first time in the history of the Jesuit College of St. Francis Xavier, which connects with the church, the students of the institution to the number of 300, appeared in full military costume in honor of the occasion. They have been under the instruction and drill of Captain Drum of the United States Army, and during the services, they performed all the military evolutions in a manner that showed how well they had been taught.

The presence of these boys, their uniforms, and their drill, instead of eliciting the praise and admiration that the ordinary citizen would have for them, regardless of his religious predilections, may furnish a text for Mr. Peters to preach further on the favorite topic of “the Catholics are arming; their churches are arsenals.” But if he does, his wearied listeners may point to the fact that in yesterday’s parade there was no prettier or more inspiring sight than the boys of the Baptist Brigade, who, like their brethren of the Jesuit College, were perfect in appointments and drill.

NOTE: The successor of the Know Nothing Party of the 1850’s, American Protective Association (A.P.A.) was formed in Clinton, Iowa, by Henry C. Bowers on March 13, 1887. Its purpose was to counteract Catholic influence in American public life. At its height, the group probably numbered 500,000 nationwide. Its main planks were immigration restriction, opposition to Catholic schools, and voting against Catholic political candidates. By the time of the 1896 presidential election, their influence had largely declined.  The A.P.A. path read as follows:

I do most solemnly promise and swear that I will always, to the utmost of my ability, labor, plead and wage a continuous warfare against ignorance and fanaticism; that I will use my utmost power to strike the shackles and chains of blind obedience to the Roman Catholic church from the hampered and bound consciences of a priest-ridden and church-oppressed people; that I will never allow any one, a member of the Roman Catholic church, to become a member of this order, I knowing him to be such; that I will use my influence to promote the interest of all Protestants everywhere in the world that I may be; that I will not employ a Roman Catholic in any capacity if I can procure the services of a Protestant.

I furthermore promise and swear that I will not aid in building or maintaining, by my resources, any Roman Catholic church or institution of their sect or creed whatsoever, but will do all in my power to retard and break down the power of the Pope, in this country or any other; that I will not enter into any controversy with a Roman Catholic upon the subject of this order, nor will I enter into any agreement with a Roman Catholic to strike or create a disturbance whereby the Catholic employes may undermine and substitute their Protestant co-workers; that in all grievances I will seek only Protestants and counsel with them to the exclusion of all Roman Catholics, and will not make known to them anything of any nature matured at such conferences.

I furthermore promise and swear that I will not countenance the nomination, in any caucus or convention, of a Roman Catholic for any office in the gift of the American people, and that I will not vote for, or counsel others to vote for, any Roman Catholic, but will vote only for a Protestant, so far as may lie in my power. Should there be two Roman Catholics on opposite tickets, I will erase the name on the ticket I vote; that I will at all times endeavor to place the political positions of this government in the hands of Protestants, to the entire exclusion of the Roman Catholic church, of the members thereof, and the mandate of the Pope.

To all of which I do most solemnly promise and swear, so help me God. Amen.

The Bloomingdale Reformed Church, then located at West 106th Street and West End Avenue, closed in 1913. Rev. Madison Clinton Peters (1859-1918) was pastor there for eleven years. He was a popular author and lecturer. Monsignor Henry Athanasius Brann (1837-1921) was born in Ireland and came to America as a child. He studied at the North American College in Rome, where he was ordained in 1862. After teaching in colleges and seminaries, he served as a pastor in New York before assigned to St. Agnes Church in 1890. He remained there until his death in 1921.  

Like Reverend Peters, Monsignor Brann himself is guilty of a few inaccuracies in stating his case. For example, not all Catholics supported the American Revolution. There were, in fact, a good number that supported the Tory cause. Similarly, the Confederacy was not an exclusively Protestant enterprise. Many Catholics were present in the high echelons of leadership, such as Generals P.G.T. Beauregard and William Hardee, and a good number of rank and file soldiers were Catholic. The Civil War was from being the Protestant-Catholic conflict that Brann depicts. In addition, he mistakenly refers to Major General Philip Kearny as Catholic. He wasn’t, but his wife was.

The Captain Drum referred to above was Captain John Drum (1840-1898), a veteran of the Civil War, Indian Wars and the Spanish-American War. From 1894 to 1898 he was Commandant of the Xavier Cadets. He was killed at the Battle of San Juan Hill in 1898. His son Walter became a Jesuit priest and his son Hugh became a Lieutenant General in the U.S. Army.

Founded in 1847, the Jesuit College of St. Francis Xavier, located on West 16th Street, ceased to function as a college after the First World War, but its high school branch continues to this day as Xavier High School. 

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