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Beginning with the early intermittent clerical visits, the story builds through colonial times to the development of a stable and growing Catholic community in the new republic. Throughout this book, Faherty acquaints the reader with not only the history of Catholicism, but he also shows how the Church affected the community as a whole as well as the contributions of the Church in St. Louis to the national and universal churches. Much of the book is organize into chapters in which the stories of the succession of bishops are told. Other chapters deal with various other themes in the history of the local church.
St. Louis has been blessed with a series of good shepherds. The first bishop to call St. Louis home, Bishop Louis DuBourg of Louisiana, got St. Louis started on the road to religious prominence by establishing his see in St. Louis, rather than the more likely City of New Orleans. Too much of an impractical idealist to be well suited for service on the frontier, DuBourg nevertheless made important contributions through the utilization of his European contacts to attract the first of many religious who would contribute so much to St. Louis from DuBourg's time to the present day. His service to St. Louis concluded, DuBourg was appointed to a diocese in France.
The first bishop of St. Louis, Joseph Rosati, was a much more practical builder who raised his diocese on the foundations laid by DuBourg. During his stewardship (1827-43) the recruitment of European religious communities continued to contribute to the city. Among the challenges which Rosati confronted was the rise of anti-Catholicism during the Know-Nothing movement as well as the problems arising from the immigration of new ethnic and religious groups. His greatest brick and mortar legacy is the Old Cathedral in downtown St. Louis in which he is now buried.
The century following Rosati's tenure was dominated by two giants, Peter Kenrick and John Cardinal Glennon. Kenrick, the first Archbishop of St. Louis, led his archdiocese from 1843-1895. During his tenure St. Louis passed from being a frontier town, through Civil War to become one of the leading cities of the nation. Adopting a policy of strict neutrality while shepherding a divided city, the only statement which Kenrick issued about the Civil War was one calling for moderation.
It was during the First Vatican Council that Kenrick took his place as one of the leading churchmen of the English speaking world, being one of the leading opponents of the definition of the doctrine of Papal Infallibility. Thereafter he submitted to the definition, but spoke of the issue never again.
The Twentieth Century Giant was John Cardinal Glennon, Archbishop. 1903-1946. A leading national religious figure, it was Glennon who built the current Cathedral Basilica and as a beloved leader who presided over the expansion of the church over the first half of the century.
The next Archbishop, Joseph Cardinal Ritter, was to make his mark through his advancement of racial integration, the expansion of church facilities to meet the needs of the growing suburbs after World War II and through his role as a leading figure of the Second Vatican Council.
Father Faherty also chronicles the contributions of the more recent Archbishops, John Cardinal Carberry and John L. May.
The story of a church is not just the story of its bishops. Fr. Faherty does an excellent job of weaving the contributions of the various individuals, lay and clerical, organizations and parishes into the story of the church as a whole.
I must admit to one disappointment. In the original edition of the book, the index contains a listing for my high school. When I anxiously looked for the entry, I was shocked to find that it was not in book. The most recent edition still has the listing in the index, but no reference on the indicated page. It is a small thing, but high schools are important in St. Louis.
"Dream by the River" is a book to read and reread. It is a book to keep close at hand for reference whenever a question about the history of St. Louis Catholicism arises. Most of all, it is a book to cherish.
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This book is a collection of brief biographies of ten priests who, in taking courageous stands, rebelled against either their superiors or the prevailing cultural mores. Their stories give an insight into the rich contributions these priests have made to American life.
The first featured priest is one whom I have studied extensively, the French-Canadian missionary, Fr. Pierre Gibault. Fr. Gibault spent his career in the what was then the Illinois Country. From 1768 to 1802 he served the scattered communities of Cahokia and Kaskaskia, Illinois, St. Louis and New Madrid, Missouri and Vincennes, Indiana. Fr. Gibault's interaction rendezvous with destiny began with the arrival of the Virginia militia at Kaskaskia on July 4, 1778. Fr. Gibault's ecclesiastical superior the Bishop of Quebec, had instructed his flock to support the British cause, partly because of British support of religious freedom in Canada. Despite his instructions, Fr. Gibault successfully encouraged the habitants of Kaskaskia, Cahokia and Vincennes to support Clark and the Americans. Without the support of these French and their Indian allies, it is quite likely that Clark's mission would have failed resulting in a more southerly boundary line between the United States and Canada in the Western Great Lakes region.
Peace among nations did not bring peace to Gibault. Ignored by both the Bishop of Quebec and Bishop Carroll of Baltimore, who jurisdiction covered the United States, Fr. Gibault ultimately crossed to the Spanish west bank of the Mississippi to conclude his career under in New Madrid, Missouri.
The actions of Fr. Gibault, the first dissenting priest in American history, played a major role in determining the extent of the country whose cause he adopted.
The second dissident priest is another about whom I have studied and written, John B. Bannon. Ordained in Ireland at a time of clerical surplus, Bannon followed so many other Irish across the water to serve his compatriot, Archbishop Peter Kenrick of St. Louis. Settling in St. Louis, a city to be divided by Civil War, Bannon served as pastor of St. John Parish where he presided over the building of its church in which I occasionally worship. With the coming of war, Bannon, in disobedience of Archbishop Kenrick's orders of neutrality, slipped away to serve as chaplain of the First Missouri Confederate Brigade. After capture and parole, Bannon undertook a mission to Ireland to discourage young men from immigrating to join the Union Army. Cognizant of anti-southern climate prevalent in Missouri after the war, as well as the displeasure of Archbishop Kenrick, Fr. Bannon remained in Ireland where he became one of the leaders of the Irish Jesuit community.
The third featured dissident, Fr. John Cummings, became entangled in controversy flowing out of the Civil War. The Missouri Constitution of 1865 required clergymen to take an oath denying 86 acts ranging from outright treason to "admitting dissatisfaction with the government of the United States. Archbishop Kenrick had advised his priests not to take the oath, apparently in hopes that it would not be enforced. Enforced it was and Fr. Cummings, of Louisiana, Missouri, became the test case for the oath. Convicted and confined to jail for a week, the case ultimately became a politically charged issue in the Supreme Court of the United States where the conviction was overturned on a 5-4 vote. His moment in history over, Fr. Cummings had only three years of service left before his untimely death in 1870.
For the next few chapters, Fr. Faherty turns to priests who became involved in social justice issues. Fr. Cornelius O'Leary sided the Knights of Labor in 1886 in its struggle with the Missouri Pacific Railroad in DeSoto, Missouri. In so doing, Fr. O'Leary placed himself in direct opposition to the position of his Archbishop, Peter Kenrick. Always a supporter of labor, Fr. O'Leary was denied a pastorate for the lifetime of Archbishop Kenrick.
The story of Fr. Edward McGlynn of New York highlights his efforts to fight poverty in late 19th Century New York by supporting the economic and political initiatives of Henry George. George's promotion of the single tax theory was condemned by Church authorities in the United States and Rome. Fr. McGlynn's actions lead to his priestly suspension for a time before his reinstatement to his priestly duties.
The first half of the 20th Century saw the work of Fr. John Ryan to implement the social principles of Rerum Novarum through support of labor legislation in the United States.
The struggle for Negro equality attracted the efforts of many priests, represented by three of Fr. Faherty's heroes. Fr. Stephen Theobold was the first black priest trained in the United States. Throughout his career he challenged the color barrier in the Church. Fr. William Markoe, S.J., devoted himself to the then unpopular Negro apostolate in St. Louis. Fr. Louis Twomey, S.J., spent his career working for social progress throughout the south until his death in 1969.
The final biography is that of Fr. John Courtney Murray, S.J., a theologian who played a major role in leading the church to greater support for religious freedom, culminating in the Vatican II's "Declaration of Religious Liberty".
These brief biographies give us an insight into the important role played by these priest in guiding the life of our country and church. They are stories truly worth reading and pondering.
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On a personal level, any member of this Celtic Community, which includes Fr. Faherty and myself, can enjoy reading the extensive list of names of people who have enriched our Community over the centuries. In the early chapters we read names familiar to us from a variety of sources. Some names we know from the other historical books we have read or from the mosaics of the St. Louis Cathedral Basilica which we have admired. Other names remind us of streets or businesses which have been part of our community for as long as we can remember. Some names are those of contemporary friends or acquaintances who may be descendants of these notable citizens. In the later chapters we read of people known to us personally.
This book also teaches us the history of St. Louis, which has been shaped, in large degree, by its large Celtic community. St. Louis' unique history as a Catholic center prepared it to be a fertile ground for Irish settlement. Unlike eastern cities whose original aristocracy was Anglo-American and Protestant, the original St. Louis aristocracy was French-Canadian and Catholic. This originally French city welcomed the Irish and smoothly integrated them into all walks of St. Louis life. From the early days of Irish immigration, the Irish have prospered and contributed to the life of the St. Louis community. I was surprised to learn that many of these early immigrants who were proud members of the St. Louis Celtic community were Protestants, as was the case among the Irish of Ireland.
The study of the St. Louis Irish gives us an insight into the histories of America, the Irish and the Irish Americans. Here we see that many of the pre-famine Irish immigrants brought educations and mercantile traditions which were maintained in their new homes. Many Irish, barred, like European Jews of the day, from land ownership and the professions, had turned to mercantile trades for the employment of their talents.
As the world approached the middle of the nineteenth century two related events impacted on our story. The failure of the Irish potato crop in the 1840s sent millions of poor, uneducated Catholics teeming onto American shores. For the first time, millions of Catholic, non-Anglo-Saxons threatened the WASP vision of an American culture exclusively its own. In response to this influx, a nativist movement arose which sought to exclude immigrants and Catholics from American society. This movement found its political expression in the "Know Nothing" party in the years before the Civil War.
The "Know Nothing" movement had a significant affect on the St. Louis Irish. With the mass immigration of the Famine Era, the Irish Community became more working class than mercantile, more Catholic than ecumenical, more self contained rather than an integrated into the local community. The altered national mood made the Celtic community one with which Protestants preferred not to be identified. After this time the Protestant Irish tended to identify with and meld into the predominant Anglo-American identity, leaving the Irish community largely Catholic. From this time on, to be Irish, largely meant to be Catholic.
In the later sections of the book, much of the history of the St. Louis Irish is reflected in the history of the Church in St. Louis. Throughout this period, Fr. Faherty does an excellent job of highlighting many Irish people who played prominent roles in the life of the community.
After World War II, the Irish identity became more a memory than an ever present part of our lives. Irish remained active and prominent in many organizations, but the organizations were no longer exclusively or predominantly Irish in their identity and membership. We now shared our parishes with Catholics of other ethnic backgrounds, rather than worshipping in national parishes as had earlier generations. To a large degree, the Irish have merged into the American melting pot. In order to recover that which we have lost, we now study our past to learn what it is to be Irish. Many St. Louis Irish of today know more about Irish history, culture and art than our ancestors to whom Irish was a way of life, rather than an object of study. Reflecting, perhaps, the divisions in Ireland, St. Louis has become a two parade city. St. Louis Irish now have to opportunity to choose between two rival St. Patrick's Day Parades.
It is said that being Irish is a terrible thing-until you consider all the alternatives. The behavior of the Irish is sometimes bewildering, even to ourselves. This book helps us understand better the way we were and how we became the way we are.
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Padre Leon undertakes the task, not only of rebuilding the Church of San Sebastian, but that of uplifting the entire community. Undertaking a myriad of projects, religious, engineering and agricultural, Padre Leon gradually wins the hearts of his parishioners. Recognizing that only with some security from the annual Commanche raids can San Sebastian lift itself out of its lethargy, Padre Leon undertakes his greatest task, that of building a wall for San Sebastian.
As the story progresses toward its climax, Padre Leon is torn between service to his people as a Son of Cortez or greater service to God and his people as a Son of St. Francis. Ultimately the son of Cortez restores his village's spirit and prosperity while it is through his response to his higher calling as a son of St. Francis that he secures peace for his people.
In this book we see Padre Leon as a a soldier turned priest, in the mold of St. Ignatius of Loyola, a builder of missions in the spirit of Junipero Serra, a defender of villages after the model of Padre Kino, and a bulwark against barbarians as was his patron, St. Leo the Great. The story combines history, the flavor of life in colonial New Spain and soul searching of people trying to do right in their lives. It is a book well worth reading.
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We are introduced to an interesting cast of characters, both historical and fictional. Probably the greatest development of an historical character is that of Fr. Pierre Gibault, the Patriot Priest of Mid-America, who guided his Francophone flock into the American Revolution. Here we meet George Rogers Clark, the Virginia adventurer whose daring expeditions won the heart of a continent for the U.S. Of local interest, we meet Pierre Chouteau, founder of St. Louis. The nations playing roles in the drama are represented by the Indian Chief Pontiac, French Commander St. Ange and the Spanish Commandant, De Leyba.
All of these characters are skillfully woven into the life story of Hugh O'Rome. Fr. Faherty uses O'Rome's life story to teach us a bit of history along the way. O'Rome is the son of an Irishman and his local French-Canadian wife, a common domestic arrangement of the time and place.
It is explained that the name "O'Rome" had been adopted in Ireland in an effort to trade an obviously Irish name for one more acceptable to the British overlords. Perhaps that is how my mother's family acquired the name of English.
Through the lives of three O'Romes, we see the resentment of the British Empire among the Irish and French, as well as the gradual incorporation of our region into the American Commonwealth. With these three generations of the O'Rome family we live through love and hatred, victory and defeat, moral crises and spiritual blessing. We meet a family whose goals and beliefs are not all that different from our own.
Perhaps test of greatness in literature is whether or not the work leaves us with a thought which has changed our world view. For me, "Wide River Wide Land" meets that test. In the St. Louis region today, the Mississippi River is often seen as the wide river which separates Illinois and Missouri. Since my first reading of this book, I have often thought of it, as Hugh O'Rome saw it, as the Wide River which unites the Wide Land. So may it forever be.
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