dotCommonweal

A blog by the magazine's editors and contributors

.

The `Ground Zero mosque' and the K of C's mother church

[caption id="attachment_9838" align="alignleft" width="261" caption="St. Mary's Church in downtown New Haven."]St. Mary's Church in downtown New Haven, Conn.[/caption]I'd like to continue the discussion of parallels between 19th century attacks on Catholicism and current Islamophobia by pointing to the history of the New Haven, Conn., church where Father Michael J. McGivney founded the Knights of Columbus.A reader sent me a copy of a July 28, 1879 article in which The New York Times, playing the Fox News role, offered a scathing history of St. Mary's Church under the title, "An Unprofitable Church: Roman Catholic Troubles in New-Haven." The church on one of New Haven's finest residential streets had been dedicated five years earlier, but only after a struggle in which the pastor was pressured to accept an alternate site.As The Times put it, "When the residents of this aristocratic avenue discovered that they were in danger of seeing a Roman Catholic church spring up among them, with all that the establishment of such a church implied, they bestirred themselves to oppose the project. The wisest of the Roman Catholics here did not favor it, and St. Mary's was induced to exchange the lot for a good one in some other locality." But that site was also deemed "too good" for Catholics, so a lesser lot was found. The pastor refused this, according to The Times, and built the church as originally planned on wealthy Hillhouse Avenue.According to the Times, the parish fell into debt (its parishioners being mainly "servant girls"). "The result shows how foolish were those who persisted in building the church on the spot where it stands," The Times concluded. "How much spite had to do with it cannot now be ascertained, but the complete history of the negotiations would be very interesting. The edifice was erected beyond the boundaries of the parish, and it invaded the most exclusive homes of wealth and culture. It is an eye-sore on the avenue, a source of annoyance and injury to neighboring residents, and a complete failure as a business enterprise."Today, it is a thriving community run by the Dominicans, who came to the parish in 1886. It holds a place in the history of American Catholicism for, as noted on its Web site, Father McGivney, who served in the parish for seven years, organized the Knights of Columbus in its basement in 1882.Much is contained in the Times's phrase "with all that the establishment of such a church implied," for it signifies that the writer was able to simply assume that the paper's readers were already well aware of the Catholic Church's supposed evils.Pressure to "compromise" on a site ... bias against the religion of an immigrant community ... hostile media coverage. There is nothing new under the sun.

Comments

Commenting Guidelines

Indeed! Nothing new! Alas.

" Servant girls' = Irish.. St Patrick's in NYC was also helped financed by Irish servant girls who were solicited at the 5Th ave mansions where they worked. The curse of the Irish was that too many after two generations of eating and dressing better forget 'where they came from'. I wonder what percent of the Irish/Americans are protesting against Park 51 ?

Very interesting, Paul. Mainline Protestants in the 1930s were very alert to the fact that the building of a Catholic church on a particular street would attract Catholics to live near the church (and, typically, the school) and that these streets would become Catholic enclaves.

A good addendum to this posting is "American Catholic: The Saints and Sinners Who Built America's Most Powerful Church" by Charles R. Morris.Warning for those who haven't read this 1997 bood: it is FAR from hagiographic. Some of the earliest bishops gave worried Protestants more than their fair share to worry about!(The book's dedication page has positive mention of two of the regular contributors to this very website, no less!)

Here's a similar story from my home diocese, Worcester: In August, 1866, Father John J. Power, pastor of St. Ann's Church on what is now Shrewsbury street, at the suggestion of Most Reverend John J. Williams of Boston took steps to establish a parish for Catholics arriving in large numbers into the west side of the city. He purchased the pear orchards of George T. Rice and John Milton Earle at Main and Chatham streets for $15,000 and planned to front a church on Main street. Immediately the project became the subject of heated controversy and the city fathers suddenly announced that they proposed to widen Main street at that very point. In the light of this development Father Power decided to go up the hill and erect his church on High street. It is felt that he was influenced in his decision by Bishop Williams , who, eager to avoid whatever might excite or increase anti-Catholic bitterness, followed a policy of building on side streets.http://www.cathedralofsaintpaul.com/history.htmThere must be thousands of similar stories.

I don't really have a dog in this fight, but the St. Mary's story doesn't have any explosions in it, so the comparison limps a little for me. I kinda wonder whether the building on Hillhouse Ave. would have been possible if the IRA had bombed Yale in 1867.

An eyesore! New Haven has its share, but St. Mary's sure isn't one of them. Now if we were talking about the Knights of Columbus building downtown, on the other hand...

Kathy,What if the 'IRA' had bombed Yale in 1867? Would it have been right to identify all Catholics with 'IRA'?

Picking up on Kathy and Sunil's exercise in historical imagination, are the draft riots of 1863 (most famously in NYC, but taking place in cities across the North) in any way comparable to the attacks of 9/11?And what are we to make of the fact that the mosque, or Islamic prayer room(s?), at the Pentagon have been in daily use for the past nine years?

Sunil,No, it would not be right to identify all Catholics as terrorists or to associate them with criminal acts of violence because of the actions of extremists.

And would it be best for Catholics seeking a house of worship a decade later to recognize that it was inappropriate to build a church even if not illegal, and to be sensitive to the still-raw feelings of those whose families had been affected, and build their church elsewhere--say in Hamden. Don't forget--the (French) Catholics fought a war --a whole series of wars extending, on and off, for about sixty years-- with the New England Protestants merely a century earlier --on North American soil. And the official church teaching still did not endorse religious liberty as a principled matter, only as a pragmatic accommodation while Catholics were in the minority.

Perhaps it would have been best--if that had been the situation--to continue on in whatever storefront they were using at the time, and build St. Mary's 10 or 15 years later, at a full generation's remove from the terrorism.

The Catholic Church has never taught that our free will is simply a pragmatic accommodation. Although it is true that it would not be right to identify someone as a terrorist or to associate someone with criminal acts of violence because of the actions of extremists, to claim that terrorism has a "neutral definition" is an extremist view of terrorism.

The history of the principal Civil War monuments on the Washington Mall affords one measure of how long it takes to come to terms with national tragedies. The Lincoln Memorial and the Grant Memorial were not completed until 1922, 57 years after the event. More recent civic shrines like the Vietnam memorial can be completed more quickly but only because they are mute, stripped of any obvious meaning.

While - in my opinion - this NY mosque could be a center for dialogue and understanding, I still think we all should leave the decision to the good judgement of the New Yorkers.That being said, comparing the Knights of Columbus of the 1800's to today's American Muslims is a good shot, and probably many on this blog appreciate that.However, it is worth noting that while Catholics in the 1800's were a scrappy lot (most notably the brawling Irish Catholics of the east coast) neither the Roman Catholic Church nor the K of C was associated with anything remotely like 9-11.Maybe a better (and more current) comparison would be Pope John Paul II's thoughtful response back in the 1990's to local sensitivities when he directed that a group of Carmelite nuns re-locate a convent away from Auschwitz. Of course there was nothing wrong with the Carmelites or their convent, but a fair number of locals asked that they not be there, and because he was sensitive to their concerns and considerate of their feelings, the Pope obliged.Hmm; two different approaches.

Prof. Kaveny,I take your point that we need to remember the recent defeat of the Quebecois in the 1700s. But, in the 7 years war, New England invaded French Quebec! The French Catholic threat was also used as a bogeyman by the Protestants, as I'm sure you are aware.

Catholicism did not have an easy time in 19th century. The riots in NY in the 1860s were preceded by the Prayer Riots in Philadelphia in the 1840s. If they had waited for things to calm down in New Haven, they would have run into the Molly Maguires in the 1870s. And then fear of Tammany Hall style politics would have probably have gripped the nearby cities in Connecticut.Meanwhile the Church in Europe was fighting against democratic movements, condemning religious freedom, even fighting against Italian nationalists. This was not a paltry "Catholics do not condemn the violence in the US. Confusion of 9/11 terrorists with the rest of the Muslim world is a clear error, unlike the claims of Catholic anti-democratic principles. Also, iirc correctly, the land for St Mary's was given by a prominent New Haven family after a daughter joined the Catholic Church. It was adjacent to, or near, her home. At least, that is my impression from a biography of McGiveny I read a few years ago.

During his short life (he died in his late 30's), Fr. McGivney certainly accomplished a lot. From what I have read about him, he was a tireless and much respected priest whose influence often extended beyond his parishes and the Knights of Columbus. There was something of a scandal at the time when one of the daughters of New Haven's most prominent Protestant minister converted to Catholicism. The young woman died of an illness, however, and Fr. McGivney went to the family's home to extend his condolences and to perform Catholic rites. He impressed the family, and perhaps laid some groundwork for ecumenical relations (at least by 1880's standards), when he didn't insist that the young woman have a Catholic funeral. Mollie--When it was built in the 1960's, the K of C headquarters in downtown New Haven broke new ground architecturally. I don't know enough about architecture to know why it was on the radar among architects, but it still commands attention on the NH skyline because of its cylindrical columns and glass.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knights_of_Columbus_Building_(New_Haven,_Connecticut)It's not my favorite building by a long shot, but I think it has come into its own a bit more now that the nearby New Haven Coliseum, a decaying eyesore with stonework almost the exact same color as that used for the K of C building, has been torn down.

Ken, so are you saying that the "fighting Irish" were a perceived threat because they were a "scrappy lot"? There is some truth in that statement:-)

Facts matter. You can only arrive at the conclusion that the anti-mosque sentiment is fueled solely by racism and general anti-muslim prejudice by ignoring the facts and chosing analogies that don't fit because of them.9/11 was not just perpetrated by muslims, it was perpetrated by islamic terrorists in the name of Islam. That's an important fact. It is also an important fact that there has been very, very little condemnation of the act in the muslim community either internationally - or more importantly in the US. Even the condemnation there has been is always of the, "yeah, but" variety. Yeah. 9/11 was horrible, but you (America) bear some of the blame. The very fact that the imam in charge of this project has himself said this is extremely offensive to many of the survivors and families of the dead from that day.Facts matter - The draft riots, for example, weren't done in the name of the Church. In fact, the Church was one of the few institutions connected with imigrant Irish that tried to prevent and condemned them. That is a fact that makes a difference.If you disagree with the opponent's of the cultural center, you don't need to characterize them all as racists. Moreover, you only get there by ignoring, or minimizing what actually happened.

Parallels can be useful in thinking something through, but they *prove* nothing. Indeed, it's common enough to use them to mislead and vilify.

Sean,Speaking just for myself:1) I've used historical analogies and examples not because I think the situations are exactly the same, but because I think it's important for us to remember our own history in all its complexity as we enter into the public arena on an issue such as the proposed Islamic community center in lower Manhattan. (So, for example, most 19th century US Catholics publicly defended the Church, their bishops and the pope---at least in part because they recognized that they were living among a Protestant majority, many of whom were hostile to Catholics as a matter of principle.)2) I agree that facts matter. Some facts I've found relevant in this controversy are that there has been (to my knowledge) no general outcry about Islamic prayer rooms in the Pentagon, that there have been functioning mosques within blocks of the World Trade Center buildings for decades, that there have been protests against other proposed mosques and Islamic centers hundreds of miles from the 9/11 attack sites. 3) I've read few (if any) commentators who have concluded that "the anti-mosque sentiment is fueled solely by racism and general anti-muslim prejudice". I'm sure there are all sorts of reasons why people oppose the Park51 project. I have said, and will continue to say, that some of the things said and done by some opponents of the project participate in what the bishops have called "the sin of racism".

"9/11 was not just perpetrated by muslims, it was perpetrated by islamic terrorists in the name of Islam. Thats an important fact."Sean --But *why* is that an important fact? Surely you don't mean that because a cell of terrorists claimed to act for all Muslims that they did *in fact* act for all Muslims?What is your point about the terrorists claim?

Sean makes a good point. The Irish (Catholic) draft riots were not done in the name of God; far from it. They happened because at that time wealthier Americans were able to buy their way out of military service during the Civil War. The (mostly poor) Irish however, could not.As for the slavery question during that time, interestingly, the Vatican had tried to clarify Church opinion, but was roundly ignored by local bishops and civil governments. Per Wikipedia, the pope in 1839, Pope Gregory XVI issued a Bull entitled In Supremo Apostolatus in which he condemned slavery, with particular reference to New World colonial slavery and the slave trade, calling it "inhumanum illud commercium" wherein he outlined the Churchs position:"We, by apostolic authority, warn and strongly exhort... that no one in the future dare to bother unjustly, despoil of their possessions, or reduce to slavery Indians, Blacks or other such peoples... We prohibit and strictly forbid any Ecclesiastic or lay person from presuming to defend as permissible this trade in Blacks under no matter what pretext or excuse, or from publishing or teaching in any manner whatsoever, in public or privately, opinions contrary to what We have set forth in these Apostolic Letters" (In Supremo Apostolatus, 1839).[Again, per Wikipedia] The Bull was ignored by the Spanish and Portuguese governments, both at that point of an anti-clerical cast and on poor terms with the Vatican generally. The ambiguity in the text allowed some Catholics, including some bishops in the United States and elsewhere, to continue to say that the owning of slaves was permitted by the church, while others claimed that it was a general condemnation of slave-owningIt was not until the last Catholic country to retain legal slavery, Brazil, had abolished it in 1888, that the Vatican pronounced more clearly against slavery as such (that is, the owning of slaves; see below)However now I am drifting off course sorry. My point is that I agree with Sean that it is ludicrous to compare raving 21st century Muslim fanatics flying airplanes into buildings killing thousands, with brawling (Catholic) Irishmen rioting about the draft during the American Civil War.

Does anyone recall the definition of "analogy"?

analogy - 6 dictionary results analogy /nldi/ Show Spelled[uh-nal-uh-jee] Show IPA noun, plural -gies. 1. a similarity between like features of two things, on which a comparison may be based: the analogy between the heart and a pump. 2. similarity or comparability: I see no analogy between your problem and mine. 3. Biology . an analogous relationship. 4. Linguistics . a. the process by which words or phrases are created or re-formed according to existing patterns in the language, as when shoon was re-formed as shoes, when -ize is added to nouns like winter to form verbs, or when a child says foots for feet. b. a form resulting from such a process. 5. Logic . a form of reasoning in which one thing is inferred to be similar to another thing in a certain respect, on the basis of the known similarity between the things in other respects.

As I pointed out earlier, the analogy breaks down for other reasons. In 1870, the Catholic Church as represented by the Pope was implacably against American values like democracy and religious freedom, while only a few fringe Muslims are so opposed to our political system. The draft riots could convincingly be read as enacting Catholic policy in a way that 9/11 cannot.

Has someone compared the 9/11 terrorists to the crowds who rioted against the Civil War draft? I haven't. The point is that there are many similarities between the rhetoric used against Catholics in New York in the 18th and 19th centuries and the rhetoric used against Muslims today. Of course, these are different historical periods, so it's a comparison or an analogy, not a direct match-up.

"As for the slavery question during that time, interestingly, the Vatican had tried to clarify Church opinion, but was roundly ignored by local bishops and civil governments."Clarify?? Clarify? The Pope didn't CLARIFY Church teaching, Tne Pope CHANGED Church teaching.

Ann - And the Pope was for the most part ignored by local bishops and the secular authorities of the day.

--- it is ludicrous to compare raving 21st century Muslim fanatics flying airplanes into buildings killing thousands, with brawling (Catholic) Irishmen rioting about the draft during the American Civil War.Why? Is it because of the advantage of current technology? A very few (19 total in 4 planes) were able to kill about 3,000 in the WTC, with more than 6,000 injured.I think that the bottom line in both cases is the underlying emotions of culture-based fear.During the Civil War Draft Riots (per Wikipedia), The exact death toll during the New York Draft Riots is unknown, but according to historian James M. McPherson (2001), at least 120 civilians were killed. Estimates are that at least 2,000 more were injured. Herbert Asbury, the author of the 1928 book Gangs of New York upon which the 2002 film was based, puts the figure much higher, at 2,000 killed and 8,000 wounded.I think that there is a valid parallel between the two situations in that the al-Qaeda terrorists were outspokenly anti-American. The unknown number of Irish involved in the Draft Riots were well-known to be anti-black primarily because of employment competition. Most of the known dead in the riots were black.As recently as March of 1863, white employers had hired blacks as longshoremen, with whom Irish men refused to work. An Irish mob then attacked two hundred blacks who were working on the docks, while other rioters went into the streets in search of "all the negro porters, cartmen and laborers . . . they could find." (The New York City Draft Riots of 1863 http://www.press.uchicago.edu/Misc/Chicago/317749.html)See also http://lachlan.bluehaze.com.au/books/albon_man/labor_ny_draft_riots_1863/ for an extensive history of this Irish antagonism towards blacks.

Jimmy Mac - The draft riots were about economics; richer folks could buy their way out of military service and as you note, Irish Catholic workingmen thought Blacks were taking their jobs. As such, while violent and shameful, the motives of those riots were mundate and really as old as the hills; rich, poor, jobs, on a word; economics. The notions behind the tragedy on 9-11 were quite different; it involved fanatical Muslims who had deep philosophical problems with, in their words (and minds), the "Great Satan" of this world.The fanatics on 9-11 honestly thought (albeit mistakenly) and claimed they were doing God's work. For the draft rioters, God was very far from their minds; they certainly did not (and probably would not have dared) invoke His name to justify their actions.Quite a difference it seems.

Ken: I think you are glossing over the animosity that the immigrant Irish had for blacks. I call your attention to an article entitled The Divide Between Blacks and the Irish found in The Root (http://www.theroot.com/views/divide-between-blacks-and-irish?page=0,0)(Snip)In 1841, 60,000 Irish in Ireland issued an address to their compatriots in America, calling upon them to join with the abolitionists in the struggle against slavery. Six months after the address, the abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison wrote what may be the saddest words ever written about the Irish Diaspora: "Even to this hour, not a single Irishman has come forward, either publicly or privately, to express his approval of the address, or to avow his determination to abide by its sentiments." ---A novel set in New York on the eve of the Civil War depicts a scene in which 700 workmen threaten to walk off the job in protest against the presence of a black clerk. "You can't get an Irishman, and, what's more, a free-born American citizen, to put himself on a level with a nigger...," says one of the characters. The black man is dismissed. "The contest would have been not merely with 700 men," explains the employer, "but with every machinist in the city." The writer noted, "almost every scene in this book is copied from life." ---Irish attitudes toward the free Negro in the North led them to oppose abolition. In 1838, an Irish mob burned just-completed Pennsylvania Hall, built by subscription to serve as a center for abolitionist meetings. It was not that the Irish supported slavery: They would have been happy to see slavery abolished provided all the black folk could have been kept on the plantations or shipped out of the country altogether. Since such an outcome could not be guaranteed, throughout the 19th century they were solid supporters of the Democratic Party, which before the Civil War protected slavery in the South and after the War sought to restrict the rights of the freed people. Some have pointed to competition for jobs as the cause of Irish animosity toward blacks. But in the wage system, all workers compete for jobs. It is not free competition that leads to enduring animosity, but its absence. The competition among Irish and black laborers failed to lead to unity because it did not take place under normal labor market conditions but was distorted by the color line. However much the Irish were oppressed as a race in Ireland and exploited as workers in America, once landed in Boston, New York or Philadelphia, they enjoyed one marked advantage over refugees from Southern slavery: No one was chasing them with dogs."Different biases; similar results.

Jimmy Mac - The fact that many Irishmen in New York during the mid-1800's were racists is not news. Many of them also drank whiskey; no news there either. What I think you are missing is that while they (the NY Irish of the 1800's railed loudly and sometimes violently against Blacks, they did not claim they were doing so in the name of God. They did not invoke religion to justify their actions.The fanatical Muslims of 9-11 however, did exactly that; they thought (wrongly, but honestly it seems), and proclaimed boldly that they were doing God's work and that America was the great satan of the day.I do not see how you can say that 19th-century Irish rioters "are like" the 9-11 terrorists. Sure, both groups were violent, but given the vast differences between them, how can you compare the two?You are saying something like "red is like green, because they are both colors, when of course red is not "like" green.

FYI: were working on the bug thats displaying e-mail addresses instead of usernames.

The9/11 attacks were done "in the name of Islam" only in the sense that the primary identification of people in that part of the world is as Muslims.The political bounderies were imposed for the most part by the west.Our policies toward that part of the world[where people primarily identify as Muslims] is what they object to.Therefore they see our policies as being against Muslims.The reason American Muslims don't speak out more against the "islamic terrorists" ,I believe, is because whatever they say gets twisted around by people who want to believe for self serving reasons that Islam is evil.[The mass murder of Americans becomes more palatable if rage is justified in a battle of good versus evil.Muslims along with others cannot say in the American media that our policies created "islamic" terrorism.Our public discourse does not allow it.To say it is deliberately contrued to be a justification of terrorism.American Muslims are being squeezed to either saying nothing or talking in platitudes and cliches.An example of how things get twisted around is the "offense "people have to the words Cordova initiative.Cordoba has historically been seen as a place where enlightened co-existence between three faiths took place.It has been twisted by self-serving Islamaphobes to being an expression of Islamic triumphalism.History is being rewritten and if and when Muslims speak out they are maliciously attacked for speaking the truth-"Islamic" terrorism is political not religious. Comparing the plight of Irish in the past with what's taking place today does little more than rationalize islamaphobia today.America did not invade Ireland,set up detention camps outside the country where [even if just symbolically]the message was we're outside all laws here. Just the fact that the media uses the Arabic word Allah when the English word God can be used This is part of the narrative[literaaly] to make Americans perceive Muslims as totally "other'.This is hatred Of Muslims.