The Archivist’s Nook: Catholic Patriots of the American Revolution

Charles Carroll of Carrollton, the only Catholic to sign the Declaration of Independence, One of Maryland’s two statues in the U.S. Capitol, Photo from Catholic Action magazine, February 1932, p. 7. National Catholic War Council Records, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.
Charles Carroll of Carrollton, the only Catholic to sign the Declaration of Independence, One of Maryland’s two statues in the U.S. Capitol, Photo from Catholic Action magazine, February 1932, p. 7. National Catholic War Council Records, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

Americans celebrating their independence from Great Britain on the Fourth of July seldom remember Catholic contributions to the national cause.  This is not surprising, as Catholics made up only an estimated one percent of the population of the nascent republic. Colonial America was generally prejudiced against Catholics and, with the notable exception of Pennsylvania, had enacted various civil and legal restrictions. As the American Revolution loomed, The Quebec Act of 1774 especially inflamed fears of an authoritarian alliance between the British Crown and the Vatican Pontiff to crush American liberties. Nevertheless, many Catholics rose to prominence in the front ranks of freedom’s struggle, despite their status as a distrusted and often proscribed minority.

A set of vestments that once belonged to Bishop John Carroll. They include chasuble, tunic, dalmatic, chalice veil, stole and maniples. Museum, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.
A set of orange vestments that once belonged to Bishop John Carroll. They include chasuble, tunic, dalmatic, chalice veil, stole and maniple. Museum, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

Among these Catholic Patriots of the Revolution were three remarkable members of the prominent Carroll family of Maryland. The preeminent Catholic patriot was Annapolis-born Charles Carroll of Carrollton (1737-1832), who risked both his liberty and fortune as the only Catholic to sign the Declaration of Independence. His cousin, John Carroll (1735-1815), born in nearby Upper Marlboro, was an ex Jesuit and one of the few Catholic priests in Maryland who would became the first American bishop in 1789. His story is told in the December 19, 1957 issue of the Treasure Chest comic book.

As patriots and Catholics, Charles and John answered the call of the Continental Congress to join Benjamin Franklin and Samuel Chase on an unsuccessful mission in 1776 to convince Catholic Quebec in Canada to remain neutral. John’s older brother, Daniel Carroll (1730-1796), served in the Continental Congress, signing the Articles of Confederation, and was one of only two Catholic signers of the U.S. Constitution, the other being Irish-born, Philadelphia merchant, Thomas Fitzsimons (1741-1811). Other important Catholic contributors include another Irish-born Philadelphia merchant, Stephen Moylan; Casimir Pulaski and Tadeusz Kosciuszko of Poland; and, of course, George Washington’s famed friend and protégé, the Marquis de Lafayette of France.

America’s first naval heroes, Fighting Celts of the Sea, Scottish-born John Paul Jones and Irish-born John Barry, U.S. Postage Stamp, 1 cent, December 15, 1936
America’s first naval heroes, Fighting Celts of the Sea, Scottish-born John Paul Jones and Irish-born John Barry, U.S. Postage Stamp, 1 cent, December 15, 1936

Perhaps the most significant Catholic military contributions to the war came from another Irish born merchant from Philadelphia, John Barry (1745-1803).  Along with his more famous friend and compatriot, John Paul Jones (1747-1792), Barry was a co-founder of American sea power. He was the first commissioned officer in the Continental Navy, the first to capture a British war vessel at sea, fought on land at the battles of Trenton and Princeton, authored an effective signal book for ships’ communication, fought the last naval battle of the war in 1783, and was President George Washington’s choice to head the U.S. Navy when formally created in 1794.  Barry’s exploits are colorfully recounted in the June 8, 1961 issue of the Treasure Chest comic as well as several statues and memorials, the most recent being at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis in 2014.

Cover of a print pamphlet of an address given by CUA Professor, Rev. Peter Guilday during the university’s celebration of the Washington Bicentennial, May 30, 1932. George Washington Bicentennial Collection, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.
Cover of a print pamphlet of an address given by CUA Professor, Rev. Peter Guilday during the university’s celebration of the Washington Bicentennial, May 30, 1932. George Washington Bicentennial Collection, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

President Washington paid tribute to American Catholics in 1790 as “faithful subjects of our free Government.” American Catholics have honored him and preserved the Catholic patriotic record, especially historian John Gilmary Shea (1822-1892), whose tireless research resulted in a multi-volume history of Catholics in the United States.  In 1932, as part of the bicentennial of Washington’s birth, the National Catholic celebration on Memorial Day at The Catholic University of America (CUA) welcomed nearly 60,000 at a military field mass and was broadcast nationally on radio. The celebrant, Michael J. Curley, Archbishop of Baltimore and CUA Chancellor, wore the pectoral cross of Bishop Carroll.  Finally, the American Bishops’ Committee on the Bicentennial in 1976 promoted ‘Liberty and Justice for all,’ an approach neither too adulatory nor too critical of American History.

On a personal note, I would like to pay tribute to one of my Patriot Catholic ancestors, the English born Thomas Ignatius Adams (1735-1776), an early settler at the Jesuit mission of Conewago in Pennsylvania and a soldier of the French and Indian War as well as the American Revolution.

The Archivist’s Nook: Meticulous Mittmen – CUA Boxing and the Undefeated 1938 Season

Boxing Team Drills
Boxing Team Drills. CUA Athletics Department, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

This week’s post was written by Dallas Grubbs, a graduate student in History.

More than four thousand people pack into the gym in what is now the Crough Center Architecture building. The gentleman are dressed in black tuxedos, the women in fine silk dresses. Murmurs of excitement fill the hall. These spectators have arrived more than two hours early to ensure their place at this most recent performance of “Eddie’s boys.” “Eddie’s boys,” by the way, are not an all-male a cappella group. They are, in fact, the fiercest boxers on the east coast.

The year is 1938. The decade has witnessed the rise of CUA’s “mittmen” to dominance under the tutelage of coach Edmund “Eddie” LaFond, who has guided his teams to almost forty wins in their last fifty bouts. These bouts, composed of three two-minute rounds, were undoubtedly the longest and most punishing six minutes in the lives of those lads who had to compete against “Eddie’s boys” in the packed arenas. Yet despite their successes, two goals continue to elude LaFond and his punishing pugilists. The first is an undefeated season. The second, an NCAA boxing championship. The year is 1938. And this year LaFond and his boys have decided that they’re going to have both. Continue reading “The Archivist’s Nook: Meticulous Mittmen – CUA Boxing and the Undefeated 1938 Season”

New Online Exhibit on the Construction of Mullen Library

Construction of Additions to Mullen Library, 1957
Construction of rear additions to Mullen Library, 1957

The American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives has created a new online exhibit on the history of the construction of the John K. Mullen of Denver Memorial Library at CUA. Special thanks to GLP Katherine Santa Ana for her work on this project.

To view the exhibit, go to cuexhibits.wrlc.org/exhibits/show/mullenhistory.

The Archivist’s Nook: The World is My Parish – James Magner

MagnerAd_1958
Advertisement for tour through Mexico and Guatemala, 1958.

One particular character looms large at the American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives: the Rev. Msgr. James Magner (1901-1995). Born in Illinois, he attended Saint Mary of the Lake Seminary, was ordained in 1926 and completed his higher education in Rome at the Urban College of the Propaganda Fidei and the Academy of Saint Thomas Aquinas. Magner joined The Catholic University of America community in 1940, where he held many roles over the years including Assistant Secretary Treasurer, Director of the University Press, and Vice Rector for Business and Finance, as well as occasionally lectured. Retiring in 1968, he gave 28 years of service to the University.

That short biography fails to encompass the wide-ranging interests and hobbies of this unique – dare I say quirky – priest. An avid traveler and collector, the Archives received his estate in 1995, including many museum objects brought back from abroad. As Magner explained in his memoirs, “Travel has been among the most rewarding experiences of my life. I have regarded it, not merely as a holiday or change from my regular occupations, but really an opportunity to broaden and deepen my knowledge of the world and its people.” His lifelong love of travel began in the 1930s, as he explored Mexico. In the 1940s, Magner began organizing and leading seminar group tours of Mexico for Catholic University students. Today, the Archive’s Magner Museum Collection includes over one hundred Pre-Columbian objects brought back from Mexico and several other Central and South American countries, a selection of which are currently on display in the Archive’s reading room.

A page from James Magner’s collection of Soviet stamps.
A page from James Magner’s collection of Soviet stamps.

In the 1950s, Magner expanded his travels and tours to all over the world. In July of 1951, he conducted a world tour utilizing the latest exciting development in commercial travel: the airplane. As he explains in his memoir My Faces & Places Volume II, 1929-1953:

“I undertook this tour around the world by air, as something of a stunt, but it turned out to be one of the most exciting and educational experiences in my life. It was like a review of the history of the great cultures of the world compressed into a page. I truly felt that I have gone Jules Verne one better.”

Upon his return, Magner gave a lecture, “Around the World in Forty Days”, on his experience. This lecture gives a tantalizing glimpse into the politics and headlines of the time, including the rising tensions in Palestine and between Pakistan and India.

Riding an elephant in India, 1978.
Riding an elephant in India, 1978.

By the 1960s, Magner had added quite the roster of countries to his summer tours, including many under the sway of the Soviet Union. Magner had personally been traveling within the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc since 1956. When asked why he made these daring trips, he explained he wanted to see for himself what was going on behind the Iron Curtain. These excursions occurred largely without incident, with one exception. Prior to his 1965 tour of Czechoslovakia, Poland, Russia, Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria and Yugoslavia, the Polish consular office initially declined to give Magner a visa. According to Magner, “apparently they feared that I might be on a secret mission or wondered why a Catholic priest had to go with the group.”

James Magner, priest, scholar, collector, traveler, and university administrator, retired to West Palm Beach, Florida in 1968. Not one to sit ideally by even if retired, he served two parishes in the area as a visiting priest, wrote his memoirs, and continued to amass a collection of books, art and artifacts. December 30, 1994, Rev. Msgr Magner passed away at the ripe old age of 93. He shared his experiences abroad not only with those he brought on his tours, but also the many attendees of his lectures where he often shared films of his travels. His legacy lives on at the Archives through his personal papers and museum objects as well as his donation of the historically significant Iturbide-Kearney Family Collection. On The Catholic University of America campus, a building bears his name in the Centennial Village residential community.

The Archivist’s Nook: The First Catholic Action Hero

Photo-Young Burke-Paulists
Fr. John Burke, the young, vigorous, visionary priest ready to face the challenges of the twentieth century, ca. 1899. Paulist Archives.

June 6, 1875, is the birthday of the widely influential New York City born John Burke, a Catholic University of America (CUA) educated priest (.S.T.B. 1899; S.T.L., 1901) of the Missionary Society of St. Paul the Apostle, a religious community known as the Paulists. Burke saw a convergence of both American and Catholic values that inspired his visions of a national church. He was editor of The Catholic World, 1904-1922, where he promoted social reform via articles by CUA professors William J. Kerby and John A. Ryan. Burke also supported national organizations, helping establish the Catholic Press Association in 1911 and, in 1917, founding both the Chaplain’s Aid Association to supply priests for the military and the National Catholic War Council (NCWC), subject of an earlier blog post, to coordinate Catholic efforts with the government during the First World War. It’s not difficult to imagine why I call Burke, honored by church and state, The First Catholic Action Hero!

Fr. John Burke with board members of the National Council of Catholic Women, a group founded under his leadership as part of the NCWC, though now an independent entity in the twenty first century, 1920. USCCB Executive Department/Office of the General Secretary Records, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives of The Catholic University of America.
Fr. John Burke with board members of the National Council of Catholic Women, a group founded under his leadership as part of the NCWC, though now an independent entity in the twenty first century, 1920. USCCB Executive Department/Office of the General Secretary Records, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives of The Catholic University of America.

Burke directed operations that mobilized Catholic lay persons, monitored legislation, and undertook postwar reconstruction. He also created an ecumenical advisory group to the government on maintaining morality in military camps. The War Department thereafter recognized Burke with the Distinguished Service Medal. In 1919, and in succession to the War Council, the American hierarchy created the National Catholic Welfare Council (later Conference), also known (confusingly) as the NCWC, to promote Catholic social work, education, and immigration through a secretariat in Washington, D.C. headed by Burke as general secretary. The newly reconstituted NCWC immediately faced a major act of organized anti-Catholicism with the Oregon School Bill of 1922 declaring children could only attend public schools. Supported by the Ku Klux Klan, this was an assault against freedom of education in general and parochial schools in particular. Burke mobilized a broad spectrum of opposition, including the ACLU, and the U. S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled against the Oregon School Bill in 1925.

Mural by Polish born artist (who taught at CUA) Jan Henryk de Rosen of James, Cardinal Gibbons blessing Fr. John Burke at the USCCB Building, 4th Street, Washington, D.C., 2016, courtesy of Katherine Nuss, USCCB Information and Archive Services.

Having interacted with President Woodrow Wilson as head of the War Council, Burke engaged his successors in matters of import to American Catholics, ranging from congratulating Warren G. Harding for a 1922 speech on religious toleration to providing advice to Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover, respectively, over troubles in Mexico in 1927 and Haiti in 1929. Burke was an enthusiastic supporters of Franklin D. Roosevelt and his New Deal economic reforms. Burke actually wrote the drafts of several FDR letters to American prelates as well as the speech he gave at Notre Dame University in 1935. Most notably, Burke conferred with the President at the White House in August 1936 on how to deal with the stinging attacks that another Catholic priest, Charles Coughlin, was making against Roosevelt during the 1936 presidential campaign.

The Vatican recognized Burke’s work with an honorary Sacred Theology doctorate in 1927 and appointment as a domestic prelate (monsignor) in 1936, shortly before his death.  His sudden passing on October 30, 1936, shocked both the Catholic community and the nation and he was widely mourned. A collection of his personal papers is part of the Paulist Order’s archives, though research access is currently problematic at best. Fortunately, the records of both the National Catholic War Council and National Catholic Welfare Conference (now known as the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops) Office of the General Secretary), are housed and readily accessible at the CUA Archives.

The Archivist’s Nook: CUA + .EDU

A rendering of Francis Howard, the fifth Bishop of Covington, Kentucky
A rendering of Francis Howard, the fifth Bishop of Covington, Kentucky

When those familiar with The Catholic University of America think of this school, they may think of a national Catholic University, which it is. It also served as the center of Catholic education in the United States throughout the first half of the twentieth century. 

Back in the late-nineteenth century, a man named Thomas J. Conaty served as the Rector of CUA. Conaty established what would become the framework of the American Catholic school system during his years as rector, 1896-1903. He convened the first meeting of the Conference of Seminary Faculties and became the founding president of both the Association of Catholic Colleges and the Parish School Conference. It was Conaty’s vision to create a national organization that would embrace all levels of Catholic education. As fate would have it, he was promoted to Bishop of Monterey-Los Angeles before he could complete his plan.

At that point, Ohio-born Francis Howard grabbed the reigns of the fledgling organization from Bishop Conaty and ran with them. Howard forged it into the Catholic Education Association (“National” was added to the title in 1927), and became its first secretary, serving for 25 years. He managed the organization out of offices in Columbus Ohio until he became Bishop of Covington, Kentucky in 1923. Howard was also drafted to run the new National Catholic Welfare Conference’s Department of Education in 1919; he declined, but agreed to serve on the executive committee. If you are wondering why both a National Catholic Education Association and an NCWC Education Department were necessary, consider the following:  the early twentieth century saw several attempts to eliminate Catholic parochial schools through legal means by anti-Catholic forces in the U.S. Catholics in education needed someone to advocate for them. The Education Department, which was a bishop-run organization and therefore had the backing of the church’s highest authorities, was behind much of the effort to prevent the abolition of parochial schools. Though, like the NCEA, the Education Department conducted surveys and promoted Catholic education, its early years in particular were centered on monitoring legislation that affected Catholic schools. 

These Are Our People
“These Are Our People” is one of the many well-used elementary school textbooks created by the Commission on American Citizenship. Notice the image of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in the backdrop. (CUA Press, 1943)

In any case, after 1920 the leaders of the CEA, NCWC Education Department, and Catholic University were intermeshed. Howard did not want the association with the University, preferring to keep its autonomy. Not so with his successor, George Johnson, who also happened to chair the Catholic University Department of Education. Johnson took over the helm of the NCEA in 1929, serving until his death in 1944. Johnson oversaw the movement of the entire educational operation to Washington, D.C. as well as its adaptation to modern administrative and professional standards. 

Democracy was popular topic in the 1930s, as it seemed under siege due to competing ideologies of communism and fascism. Catholic University was asked by Pope Pius XI to oversee a project creating a course of study of democracy through the Catholic educational system. Monsignor Johnson was asked to head the project. The resulting Commission on American Citizenship quite literally transformed American Catholic education, through a series of textbooks that would dominate American Catholic school civic education from the 1940s through the 1970s. 

The consummate educator, Monsignor George Johnson loved his books
The consummate educator, Monsignor George Johnson loved his books

Johnson’s educational activities rippled outside of Catholic circles. He served as a member of the National Advisory Committee on Education appointed by President Hoover in 1929, and later on the Advisory Committee on Education appointed by President Roosevelt. He was a member of the Wartime Commission of the U.S. Office of Education, the Education Advisory Committee under the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs, Secretary of the American Council on Education. This list is not exhaustive–poor Monsignor Johnson must have been though. As he delivered the commencement address to the Trinity College class of 1944, he died at the age of 55. Adding further pathos to his demise while delivering the commencement speech, Johnson actually spoke the following lines: “the best, the truest, the most substantial advice that can be given to a Catholic graduate is this: Go forth and die. Die to yourself; die to the world; die to greed; die to calculating ambition… Die and you shall live, and live abundantly.”¹ 

The NCEA was in good hands with Johnson’s successor, Frederick Hochwalt, a topic for another post. Here is Johnson’s 1944 commencement speech and a short biography.


Sources:

Donald C. Horrigan, The Shaping of NCEA (Washington, D.C., n.d.).

John Augenstein, Christopher Kauffman, Robert Wister, One Hundred Years of Catholic Education: Historical Essays in Honor of the Centennial of the National Catholic Educational Association (Washington, D.C.: NCEA)

1 George Johnson, Apostle of Christian Education (Washington, D.C.: National Catholic Welfare Conference, 1944), 5, ACUA reference file, George Johnson.

The Archivist’s Nook: Teacher, Rector, Soldier, Spy – A Photographic Tour of O’Connor’s Rome

Eisenhower leaving the North American College campus, as students and faculty watch below, 1959.
Eisenhower leaving the North American College campus, as students and faculty watch below, 1959.

“I am sorry that you did not travel from the College to the Ciampino airfield with the President in the helicopter; however, I have found, as I am sure you have, that riding in a helicopter is a questionable undertaking under any circumstances irrespective of who you are with,” wrote John McCone, future CIA Director, to Archbishop Martin J. O’Connor, rector of the North American College (NAC) in Rome. The occasion? The recent visit of President Eisenhower to the seminary in December 1959.

O’Connor escorting Mr. and Mrs. Nixon to an audience with Pope Paul VI, 1963. This was not Nixon’s first or last papal audience nor O’Connor’s first or last visit with Nixon.
O’Connor escorting Mr. and Mrs. Nixon to an audience with Pope Paul VI, 1963. This was not Nixon’s first or last papal audience nor O’Connor’s first or last visit with Nixon.

In the fall of 1959, the North American College in Rome celebrated its 100th anniversary. Founded in 1859 by Pope Pius IX, the Pontifical North American College had much to celebrate that year. Having been devastated during the Second World War, much like the surrounding city, the school had been in a precarious position just a decade prior. Now, it stood rebuilt on the Janiculum Hill, serving as a nexus point not only for seminarians, but also representatives of American power and the Vatican. And at the center of it all was Archbishop O’Connor.

Known as the Oakball, or Oaky, by his students and faculty, O’Connor (1900-1986) became the “second founder” of the NAC. [1] A native of Scranton, Pennsylvania, O’Connor was a World War I veteran, attended CUA and the NAC, served as an official press representative for Vatican II, and even became the first Papal Nuncio to Malta. Wrangling the assorted personalities, factions, and financial resources to rebuild the school and put it on stable footing was no easy task, but O’Connor proved capable of weathering the challenge. Continue reading “The Archivist’s Nook: Teacher, Rector, Soldier, Spy – A Photographic Tour of O’Connor’s Rome”

The Archivist’s Nook: Provoking the Canon – Moog, Meyers, and Experimental Music

Emerson Meyers
Emerson Meyers

In honor of Moogfest, next week’s fantastic electronic music/art festival in North Carolina (that I wish I was going to), this month I wanted to highlight some CUA connections to not only early electronic music, but also to Bob Moog himself, the inventor of the legendary synthesizer, and the person after whom Moogfest is named.

Would you believe that CUA was once a pioneering institution for experimental music? Founded in 1961 by Professor Emerson Meyers, the university’s Electronic Music Laboratory housed the most state-of-the-art recording equipment of the time, including one Moog synthesizer. This particular unit was one of the first manufactured; indeed, the School of Music was so eager to procure one that official manuals were not available at the time of purchase. How, then, did they figure out how to operate what was then a completely new kind of instrument? They wrote directly to Moog, who replied with pages and pages of technical instructions and hand-drawn diagrams that we still have here at the Archives. Faculty then used these documents to create in-house manuals for the equipment in the studio. Continue reading “The Archivist’s Nook: Provoking the Canon – Moog, Meyers, and Experimental Music”

The Archivist’s Nook: John Mitchell – Apostle of Labor

Contemporary newspaper depicting the people and events of the Anthracite Coal Strike, 1902. John Mitchell Papers, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.
Contemporary newspaper depicting the people and events of the Anthracite Coal Strike, 1902. John Mitchell Papers, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

May First is a date full of meaning as ‘May Day’, a traditional European spring festival, the Feast Day of St. Joseph the Worker for Roman Catholics, and International Workers’ Day for leftists. However one marks this day it is certainly an appropriate time to note one of the most important figures in American labor history, John Mitchell, whose archival papers, including an online digital collection of his photographs, are housed at Catholic University. If Terence V. Powderly can be called ‘Labor’s American Idol,’ Mitchell was widely recognized as The Apostle of Labor after he led the fledgling United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) union through one of history’s most significant strikes, the Anthracite Coal Strike of 1902. He also wrote two books, Organized Labor (1903) and The Wage Earner (1913), arguing capital and labor could work together if both were linked in prosperity.

Mitchell was born 4 February 1870 in the coal mining village of Braidwood, Illinois, to poor Irish immigrants. Orphaned at a young age, he had little opportunity for education, and by age 12 was working in the coal mines. He joined the Knights of Labor in 1885 and in 1890 was a founding member of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA). He became an international union organizer in 1897, working alongside the celebrated “Mother” Mary Harris Jones, before being elected UMWA Vice President that same year, and President in 1899. Union activity in this era was a risky business as coal operators controlled the mines, coal towns, and coal miners who were forced to endure horrible conditions and long hours. Miners were often paid with coupons that could only be redeemed at company stores at inflated prices and had to buy tools and supplies such as dynamite for blasting and oil for lamps. As UMWA president, Mitchell, with his priestly mien, worked to incorporate new workers from various immigrant groups, mostly Catholic, who showed their affection by nicknaming him ‘Johnnie da Mitch.’   Continue reading “The Archivist’s Nook: John Mitchell – Apostle of Labor”

The Archivist’s Nook: Stirring the Irish Cauldron

“The Cork Landlords Stirring up a Devil’s Cauldron.” United Ireland, October 3, 1885. From the Irish Home Rule Political Cartoon Collection, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.
“The Cork Landlords Stirring up a Devil’s Cauldron.” United Ireland, October 3, 1885. From the Irish Home Rule Political Cartoon Collection, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

This week’s post is guest authored by Marielle Gage, a CUA graduate student in History.

Saint Patrick’s Day is a beloved holiday, but for many Irish-Americans their heritage intersects with their daily lives more than once a year. Whether you grew up amused or irritated by a certain cereal leprechaun, or found that friend who couldn’t tell the difference between a Mc- and a Mac- adorable or infuriating, life as an American of Irish descent is filled with constant awareness. Or, at least, my own has been. I think I knew about the Potato Famine before the American War of Independence, and I still have an instinctive, furious reaction if anyone ever dare suggest that Oliver Cromwell ever did a good thing in his life.

Interest (as well as pride) in Irish heritage and history is nothing unique or special about me; it has a long and rich tradition in the Irish-American community. Here, at the American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives, we house several historical collections directly dealing with Irish and Irish-American history. A particularly fun collection is the Ancient Order of the Hibernians (founded 1836), but in deference to the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising, a seminal moment in the march towards an autonomous Irish state, I will direct your attention to our various exhibits in honor of Irish Independence.

Prison Pass, April 6, 1869. Thomas C. Luby Papers, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.
Prison Pass, April 6, 1869. From the Thomas C. Luby Papers, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

First, we have our physical exhibit, organized by our wonderful Katherine Santa Ana, “Sworn to Be Free: Irish Nationalism 1860-1921,” currently on display in the May Gallery of Mullen Library (first floor). The exhibit shows a selection of items from our holdings: letters, Gaelic alphabet cards, political cartoons, photographs, medals, and more. “Sworn to Be Free” looks at the cause of Irish Independence from an American Irish viewpoint: some of our records come from Irish immigrants, but most come from first or second-generation descendants who still maintained keen affection and concern for their motherland. When the struggles for independence became fraught, Irish republicans often looked to their American brethren for material, intellectual, and spiritual support, and the exhibit highlights several Americans offering that support. For those unable to visit “Sworn to Be Free” in person (and if you can, you really should), there is an online version of the exhibit available.

United Irish League of America 5th Biennial National Convention Delegate Ribbon, September 7-28, 1910. From the Terence V. Powderly Papers, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.
United Irish League of America 5th Biennial National Convention Delegate Ribbon, September 7-28, 1910. From the Terence V. Powderly Papers, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

To complement the online exhibit,  we are offering a document-based online exhibit, “Exploring Irish Nationalism with ACUA: An Academic Resource”, for use of teachers, students, and the interested public who might wish to explore Irish independence (and CUA’s connection to it) deeper. Offering certain, select examples from the James Aloysius Geary Papers and the Thomas J. Shahan Papers, both housed at ACUA, this second online exhibit is intended to provide background for the Easter Rising and later War of Independence. Included in Geary’s papers, for example, are minutes and publications of The Friends of Irish Freedom, an American group that watched the Rising and subsequent events with great interest. Shahan preserved several issues of the Irish Bulletin, a publication of the Irish State during the war with Great Britain which often dedicated its pages to illustrating the crimes the English had committed against the Irish people. Impartial news it may not be, but they do serve as a reflection of very real opinions and attitudes present both in Ireland and in sympathetic Irish-Americans.

Neither exhibit is — or claims to be — the whole picture of Irish nationalism and Irish-American sympathy with it. But we have tried to highlight interesting individuals, events, and organizations. We hope our exhibits will not be the end of your curiosity, but the beginning.