Tag Archives: Archbishop John Ireland

Through Blood and Faith

August 19, 2017

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Today marks the one year anniversary of my dear cousin’s death.  Fr. Marvin O’Connell was technically my first cousin once removed and he is the one who taught me how to figure out those confusing family lines.  A priest of this diocese and history professor at the University of St. Thomas for a number of years, he spent most of his years teaching at Notre Dame in South Bend.  Early in my life I remember hearing that I had a cousin who was a priest. I met him on a couple of occasions. A priest in the family gets called in for weddings, funerals and baptisms.  I didn’t pay him much thought until I had a (re)conversion to my Catholic faith and suddenly the thought of a cousin who was a priest gave me someone else (besides my pastor) that I could take my many questions to.  My connection to him was through blood and faith, it was only latter that I learned of his academic notoriety.

When my son was little he kept Fr. Marvin’s ordination picture in his room. It seemed at the time he thought he looked like Fr. Andrew Cozzens (now Bishop Cozzens) and Fr. Andrew was an associate at our parish at the time and my son had idolized him. The physical resemblance of the two was mostly in my  son’s eyes, but a young priest looks like any young priest to a 7 year old. One day we invited our pastor over for dinner and when touring the house he asked who the priest was in the picture.  When I explained it was my cousin Fr. Marvin O’Connell, he responded with excitement, “You mean THE Fr. Marvin O’Connell?!” Prior to that I never knew he was so well known – at least in priest circles.

He authored 10 books and lectured often.  His notoriety at Notre Dame is legendary. He even threw Joe Montana out of his classroom once  for falling asleep. (Check out this beautiful tribute written by one of his students here). Right now, a group of alumni are making the historic walk in the footsteps of the founder of Notre Dame, Fr. Edward Sorin.  The group studied Marv’s biography of Fr. Sorin in preparation for this trip. (Follow them here).

I called him Marv and when I attended his funeral many were surprised by this affectionate nick name I had for him. It seems many of even his close friends called him Fr. O’Connell – at his insistence.

It is not for his academic prowess that I miss and remember his passing today. It is for his love and encouragement to me. On one trip to visit my family in Faribault, he not only anchored me to the history of the town in which I lived by telling me about the Faribault Plan, (A plan which could force the state’s financial support of Catholic schools which he wrote about in his book on Archbishop Ireland) but also anchored me in my family history.  As he left that day, he held my chin lovingly and told me that I reminded him of our shared grandmother (His grandmother and my great-grandmother) Grandma Hannah O’Connell was a formidable woman. She painted, wrote poetry and prose and volunteered as an Army nurse for a time.  Our shared family resemblance didn’t end there.  At one point while I was working for the Archdiocese, I found myself getting into hot water because of my outspoken opinions.  Seeking council from Fr. Marvin he told me he wasn’t surprised. “It seems to run in the family,” he said.  Blood (family) seems to bind us in many ways.

His encouragement of my writing was especially important to me.  As I was just starting to develop this skill, he encouraged me to press on and saw a gift in my work.

To honor his memory, sharpen my writing skills and possibly grow closer to knowing this “old goat” better through his work, I am planning on finally reading his last book: Pilgrims to the Northland – The  History of the Archdiocese of St. Paul, 1840-1962. In addition to reading it – I hope to travel to a few of the places mentioned and write about it here in this blog.

I hope you follow me on these periodic posts as I hope to also grow closer to God on this journey through blood and faith.

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Why a parish just for black Catholics?

February 1, 2012

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St. Peter Claver Church has served black Catholics in Minnesota’s state capital for nearly 125 years, but the archbishop who established the parish wasn’t sure it was the right thing to do.

Archbishop John Ireland

Archbishop John Ireland, the legendary leader of the Archdiocese of St. Paul, was ahead of the curve when it came to racial equality, preaching that blacks were just as much children of God as were whites.

He acted on what he preached as well.

As St. Paul’s first archbishop (1884 to 1918), he was the first American bishop to allow a black man to study at the diocesan seminary — the St. Paul Seminary — and be ordained a diocesan priest in the United States. Father Stephen Theobald was ordained in 1910 and served at the Cathedral of St. Paul before being named pastor of St. Peter Claver Church in St. Paul.

Archbishop Ireland’s vision was that there should be no “race problem,” that the United States should be an integrated society. Daniel Rudd, the editor of a widely read black Catholic newspaper of the time, the American Catholic Tribune (circulation 10,000), saw in the archbishop an ally in his own vision that the Catholic Church was the best hope for racial justice and equality for black people in America.

Rudd was a sought-after lecturer, and in 1890, through a series of benefit speeches, he raised funds to build the first permanent church for St. Paul’s St. Peter Claver Parish. Archbishop Ireland had founded St. Peter Claver as a parish for “Colored Catholics” two years earlier and named it after the Spanish Jesuit who ministered to slaves in New Spain. But it wasn’t until 1892 that St. Peter Claver Church was built.

Historian Gary B. Agee, writing in the just-released biography of Rudd, said the black Catholic newspaperman and the archbishop both heard the demand from black Catholics for their own parishes, just as other ethnic groups had theirs, but they had trouble with that line of thinking.

Here’s an excerpt from “A Cry of Justice: Daniel Rudd and His Life in Black Catholicism, Journalism and Activism, 1854-1933” (University of Arkansas Press):

“Rudd’s position on the existence of separate black parishes seems to have paralleled that of Archbishop Ireland. For example, when Ireland dedicated a new black parish in the city of St. Paul in 1892, the prelate expressed some ambivalence over the matter. He stated the establishment of a separate church for African American Catholics was only a temporary measure designed to benefit blacks. Further, Ireland desired all races to worship together. He also emphasized the fact that blacks were free to attend any of the city’s parishes.”

In his newspaper, Daniel Rudd echoed much the same sentiment, again excerpting from Agee’s book:

“If every so-called Colored Catholic church in the world was done away with instantly the Colored Catholics would be at home in any other Catholic church beneath the Sun.”

Obviously, given the racial history of our country and our church, both Archbishop Ireland and Daniel Rudd were ahead of their time in their vision.

 

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Gutsy black Catholic journalist found hero for racial justice in Minnesota bishop

January 30, 2012

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19th century newspaperman considered Catholicism key to racial justice and saw an advocate in the Archbishop of St. Paul

Daniel Rudd’s is a name you’ve likely never heard, but the one-time slave was a bold Catholic ahead of his time, and one who found a champion in none other than St. Paul’s Archbishop John Ireland.

Back in 1887, Rudd founded a black Catholic newspaper, the American Catholic Tribune, and from its pages he preached the unique message that the Catholic Church would play an essential role in the breaking down of the color line in the United States and in gaining racial equality for black people.

Historian Gary B. Agee’s recently released biography, “A Cry for Justice: Daniel Rudd and His Life in Black Catholicism, Journalism and Activism, 1854-1933” (University of Arkansas Press, 2012) captures that distinctive philosophy.

As a child Rudd was owned by a Catholic master and formed in faith along side white children in his parish in Bardstown, Ky. He became a free man after the Emancipation Proclamation, founded his newspaper in Cincinnati, and was one of the most well-known black Catholics of the late 19th century as he labored for justice and equality for people of color.

Born a century later, he might have been a prophet, too. He wrote this in 1888:

“We think we will live long enough to see a black man president of this Republic.”

 Journalist and evangelizer

Rudd believed in – and took pride in – the Catholic theology that taught “the Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of all people.” That belief convinced Rudd that the Catholic Church was the best hope for blacks to have the same rights as whites.

Agee noted, “In July 1890, Rudd told a reporter of the Cincinnati Times-Star, ‘I have always been a Catholic and, feeling that I knew the teachings of the Catholic Church, I thought there could be no greater factor in solving the race problem than that matchless institution….’”

Rudd’s newspaper had a circulation of 10,000 at its high point, and he used its pages not just to cry out for racial justice but to evangelize his fellow blacks. He wrote that he had started the newspaper to “give the great Catholic Church a hearing and show that it is worthy of at least a fair consideration at the hands of our race, being as it is the only place on this continent where rich and poor, white and black, must drop prejudices at the threshold and go hand in hand to the altar.”

White readers both bought subscriptions and donated money to support the American Catholic Tribune. Agee states that Rudd used his newspaper “both to instruct and encourage African American Catholics as well as to proclaim Catholicism’s merits to prospective black converts. In this manner he served his black readers even as he attempted to shape his white readership’s perception of blacks.”

 Hero in an archbishop

Rudd was a gutsy editor who addressed the issue of women’s rights, demanded the blacks be hired when they can do a job just as well as whites, called for granting home rule for Ireland, and took to task a Catholic newspaper editor who claimed that whites were destined to rule America’s inferior black race.

Rudd sued a delicatessen for refusing to serve him (and won a $100 judgment). He founded the Colored Catholic Congress movement to prod black Catholics to take up collective action to demand racial equality, and he chided the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. to open its Catholic schools to blacks.

Not all Catholics of Rudd’s time bought the idea of the equality of the races. Not all Catholic bishops agreed with him either.

One who did, however, was Archbishop Ireland, who wasn’t shy about his feelings on the matter. The archbishop caused an uproar when in 1890 he preached on the subject to a packed house at St. Augustine Church in Washington, D.C., with members of Congress and other highly place politicians present.

St. Paul’s archbishop said that racial prejudice is a crime that Catholics must lift themselves above. He said whites need “lessons in charity, benevolence, justice and religion” in order to address “the race problem.”

Agee’s work goes into great detail about ArchbishopIreland’s views on racial prejudice, and notes that Rudd made sure the archbishop’s words were spread far and wide, quoting him in the columns he wrote for his own newspaper, urging other black publications to reprint the archbishop’s talk and lecturing on the topic around the United States.

Businessman, journalist, evangelist, and advocate for justice, his biography tells of the trials, the accomplishments, and the disappointments of a black Catholic who more American Catholics – black and white – should learn about.

 

 

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Hunting for Masqueray

July 28, 2010

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Cathedral of St. Paul

Next year we’ll be celebrating Emmanuel Louis Masqueray‘s 150th birthday — at least, we should be.

He’s responsible for some seriously notable midwest ecclesiastical architecture. The man designed the Cathedral of St. Paul; the Basilica of St. Mary; St. Louis King of France; the Thomas Aquinas Chapel at the University of St. Thomas and the university’s Ireland Hall; Keane Hall at Loras College in Dubuque, IA; Holy Redeemer in Marshall, MN; St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Sioux Falls, SD;  and Immaculate Conception in Wichita, Kan., — just to name a few.

Yet, he’s, at best, a footnote in the tomes of American architects.

And I cannot figure out why.

I’m pursuing a master’s degree in Art History from the aforementioned University of St. Thomas, and my thesis focuses on Archbishop John Ireland‘s patronage of the Cathedral and the Basilica. This includes the choice of Masqueray as the architect and his Ecole des Beaux Arts-influenced design.

But digging stuff up on the man is proving frustrating. Apparently, Masqueray and Ireland were in personal contact almost daily, so little written communication between the men existed. And I’ve heard rumors that there once WAS an archive of Masqueray’s papers held by the Catholic Historical Society of St. Paul, but they have mysteriously disappeared.

To  make matters worse, efforts to locate Eric Hansen, the author of The Cathedral of St. Paul: An Architectural Biography, which  the Cathedral published in 1990, have also failed (trust me, the Cathedral’s tried). Hansen may be the only one who can give me  more insight into an intriguing fact he added to the first page in his book: That Archbishop Ireland kept scrapbooks with ideas for a Cathedral long  before he actually commissioned it.

FASCINATING! Now, where the heck are they?

They’re NOT in the Cathedral archives, or the archdiocesan archives — at least not obviously. I spent an hour last week going through five boxes absolutely crammed with Ireland’s scrapbooks. He kept newspaper clippings on every topic of importance to him — the Catholic church in America, the temperance movement, the current pope, the church in the Philippines, the  plight of Irish immigrants — and they’re absolutely incredible. With each box I opened and each book I wedged out, I deeply hoped I would open the pages to a clipped photo of an old French church or the Baltimore Cathedral. And with each turn of the page I grew more and more disappointed.

I know research shouldn’t be easy, but dead-ends are getting a bit old.

Somewhere out there, somebody has seen these scrapbooks, and someone else knows where Masqueray’s letters are. I’m counting on Providence to make our paths cross.

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