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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Birth of James Cardinal Gibbons, Archbishop of Baltimore

james-cardinal-gibbonsJames Cardinal Gibbons, American prelate of the Catholic Church, is born in Baltimore, Maryland on July 23, 1834 to parents Thomas and Bridget (née Walsh) Gibbons who had emigrated from Toormakeady, County Mayo. In his role as Archbishop of Baltimore from 1877 to 1921, he serves as a bridge between Roman Catholicism and American Catholic values.

Gibbons is taken by his parents from Baltimore to Ireland in 1837. Following his father’s death in 1847, at the height of The Great Hunger, his mother moves the family back to the United States. He spends the next eight years as a grocer in New Orleans. In 1855 he enters a seminary in Baltimore, becoming a priest in 1861. He rises through the ranks of the Roman Catholic Church quickly, and by 1868 he is the youngest bishop in the United States. During a short stay in North Carolina, he writes The Faith of Our Fathers (1876), a defense of Catholicism that proves exceptionally popular, selling more than two million copies. He is elevated to Archbishop of Baltimore in 1877. He assumes a leadership role as the presiding prelate at the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore in 1884, and in 1886 he is made a cardinal by Pope Leo XIII.

As a leader of the Catholic Church hierarchy in the United States, Gibbons is outspoken in his praise for American democratic institutions and he advocates Americanization — the rapid assimilation of Catholic immigrants into American culture and institutions — both as a means to counter Protestant Americans’ suspicions toward Catholics and to avoid the fragmentation of the Catholic Church in the United States along ethnic lines. He is also sympathetic to the cause of organized labour and works to overcome suspicions within the Catholic Church toward the Knights of Labor, which has been considered a secret society by many clergymen.

On education, as on other social issues, Gibbons seeks ways of harmonizing the tenets of the Catholic faith with the principles of American democracy. He enters the controversy over control of parochial and public schools in 1891 when he defends Archbishop John Ireland’s experimental plan for cooperation between Catholic and public schools in the Minnesota towns of Faribault and Stillwater. To the dismay of conservative bishops, he refuses to condemn public education and encourages efforts to find common ground between the two systems. The Faribault-Stillwater plan remains controversial despite Gibbons’s support, and acrimony between the plan’s supporters and conservative opponents lingers until 1893.

During World War I, Gibbons is instrumental in the establishment of the National Catholic War Council, and afterwards supports the League of Nations. Although initially opposed to women’s suffrage, when the Nineteenth Amendment passes Gibbons urges women to exercise their right to vote “…not only as a right but as a strict social duty.”

James Cardinal Gibbons dies at the age of 86 in Baltimore on March 24, 1921. Throughout his career he is a respected and influential public figure. Although nonpartisan, he takes positions on a variety of foreign and domestic policy issues and is personally acquainted with every U.S. president from Andrew Johnson to Woodrow Wilson.


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The 31st International Eucharistic Congress Begins in Dublin

eucharistic-congress-closing-ceremony-1932The 31st International Eucharistic Congress begins in Dublin on June 22, 1932 and runs through June 26. The congress is one of the largest eucharistic congresses of the 20th century and the largest public event to happen in the new Irish Free State. It reinforces the Free State’s image of being a devout Catholic nation. The high point is when over a million people gather for Mass in Phoenix Park.

Ireland is then home to 3,171,697 Catholics. It is selected to host the congress as 1932 is the 1500th anniversary of Saint Patrick‘s arrival. The chosen theme is “The Propagation of the Sainted Eucharist by Irish Missionaries.”

The city of Dublin is decorated with banners, bunting, garlands, and replica round towers. Seven ocean liners moor in the port basins and along Sir John Rogerson’s Quay. Five others anchor around Scotsmans Bay. The liners act as floating hotels and can accommodate from 130 to 1,500 people on each. The Blue Hussars, a ceremonial cavalry unit of the Irish Army formed to escort the President of Ireland on state occasions, first appears in public as an honor guard for the visiting Papal Legate representing Pope Pius XI.

John Charles McQuaid, President of Blackrock College, hosts a large garden party on the grounds of the college to welcome the papal legate, where the hundreds of bishops assembled for the Congress have the opportunity to mingle with a huge gathering of distinguished guests and others who have paid a modest subscription fee.

The final public mass of the congress is held at 1:00 PM on Sunday, June 26 in Phoenix Park at an altar designed by the eminent Irish architect John J. Robinson of Robinson & Keefe Architects, and is celebrated by Michael Joseph Curley, Archbishop of Baltimore. A radio station, known as Radio Athlone, is set up in Athlone to coincide with the Congress. In 1938 it becomes Radio Éireann. The ceremonies include a live radio broadcast by Pope Pius XI from the Vatican. John McCormack, the world famous Irish tenor, sings César Franck‘s Panis Angelicus at the mass.

Approximately 25% of the population of Ireland attend the mass and afterwards four processions leave the Park to O’Connell Street where approximately 500,000 people gather on O’Connell Bridge for the concluding Benediction given by the Papal Legate, Cardinal Lorenzo Lauri.

The English Catholic writer G. K. Chesterton is also present, and observes, “I confess I was myself enough of an outsider to feel flash through my mind, as the illimitable multitude began to melt away towards the gates and roads and bridges, the instantaneous thought ‘This is Democracy; and everyone is saying there is no such thing.'”

On the other hand, such an overwhelming display of Catholicity only confirms to Protestants in the North the necessity of the border.

(Pictured: the closing ceremony of the Eucharistic Congress that was held in Dublin in June 1932)


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Founding of the Pontifical Irish College in Rome

pontifical-irish-collegeThe Pontifical Irish College, a Roman Catholic seminary for the training and education of priests, is founded in Rome, Italy, on November 6, 1628.

Towards the close of the sixteenth century, Pope Gregory XIII sanctions the foundation of an Irish college in Rome, and assigns a large sum of money as the nucleus of an endowment. However the pressing needs of the Irish chieftains make him think that, under the circumstances, the money might as well be used for religion by supplying the Irish Catholics with the sinews of war in Ireland as by founding a college for them at Rome.

The project is revived in 1625 by the Irish bishops, in an address to Pope Urban VIII. Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi, who is Cardinal Protector of Ireland, resolves to realize at his own expense the desire expressed to the pope by the Irish bishops. A house is rented opposite Sant’Isodoro a Capo le Case and six students go into residence January 1, 1628. Eugene Callanan, Archdeacon of Cashel, is the first rector, Father Luke Wadding, OFM being a sort of supervisor. Cardinal Ludovisi dies in 1632 and as he is of a princely family with a large patrimony, he makes provision in his will for the college. It is to have an income of one thousand crowns a year, a house is to be purchased for it, and he leaves a vineyard as Castel Gandolfo where the students might pass their villeggiatura. The cardinal’s will directs that the college should be placed under the charge of the Jesuits. Both the heirs and Wadding suspect that provision and disputed it. A protracted lawsuit is finally decided in 1635 in favour of the Jesuits.

On February 8, 1635, the Jesuits take charge of the college and govern it until financial difficulties force them to give up control in September 1772. An Italian priest, Abbate Luigi Cuccagni, is made rector. The rectorate of Cuccagni comes to an end in 1798, when the college is closed by order of Napoleon.

Dr. Michael Blake, Bishop of Dromore, who is the last student to leave the college at its dissolution in 1798, returns a quarter of a century later to arrange for its revival, which is effected by a brief of Pope Leo XII, dated February 18, 1826. He becomes the first rector of the restored college, and among the first students who seek admission is Francis Mahoney of Cork, known to the literary world as Father Prout. Having set the college well to work, Blake returns to Ireland and is succeeded by Dr. Boylan, of Maynooth, who soon resigns and dies in 1830. He is succeeded by a young priest, later Cardinal Paul Cullen.

Dr. Cullen is succeeded by Dr. Tobias Kirby, known for his holiness of life. He governs the college for more than forty years. His successor is Michael Kelly, later coadjutor to the Archbishop of Sydney.

In 2011, under orders from Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, leads a root and branch review of all structures and processes at the college. He is assisted in the visitation report by then Archbishop of Baltimore and now Cardinal Edwin O’Brien and Msgr. Francis Kelly of the Northern American College in Rome. The report is highly critical of the college and, as a result of which, three Irish members of the staff are sent home and a fourth resigns.

In 2012, four Irish archbishops, Cardinal Seán Brady, Archbishop of Armagh, Dr. Diarmuid Martin, Archbishop of Dublin, Dr. Michael Neary, Archbishop of Tuam, and Dr. Dermot Clifford, Archbishop of Cashel, are sent a copy of the visitation report by the Vatican. A response prepared for them says “a deep prejudice appears to have coloured the visitation and from the outset and it led to the hostile tone and content of the report.”

Today the Pontifical Irish College serves as a residence for clerical students from all over the world. Every year over 250 Irish couples choose the college chapel as a means to marry in Rome. It organises events for the Irish and wider international community who are currently residing in Rome and has over the years become an unofficial centre for Irish visitors to Rome seeking advice and information.