The new Know-Nothing-ism

Paul Moses of dot.Commonweal notes an interesting parallel between the resistance Catholics faced in building churches in the 19th century, and the opposition Muslims are facing today.

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.”

The Knights of Columbus were organized in the basement of this church three years after this article was written, and the parish community thrives today.

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