Thursday, November 29, 2012

Lowell's "Holy War" of 1837-1838

For the past few years much new material regarding Lowell'd early Irish past has been uncovered.  Through the work of UMass Lowell, Queen's University and contributors to LowellIrish the story of the deeds and trials of our Irish pioneers are being recorded for the next generation.  This entry is one of the most important as to its future repercussions as its results could be seen for decades.  Many thanks to Walter for gathering this material and authoring the work.
The history of St. Patrick's parish, and the Irish community in Lowell, ca. 1830-ca. 1868, was not always calm and peaceful.  Disagreement and argument were rampant.  There were conflicts among the Irish laity: “Corkonians versus Far Downers”.  Something favoured by one group was automatically opposed by the other.  There were  also 'differences of opinion' between priests and laity, between priests and Bishop Fenwick, and between priests.  One result was that there was a fairly frequent turnover of priests.  Indeed, it seems that one or two could not wait to ”get out of Dodge”. Histories of the church sometimes hint at disagreement, but that's as far as it goes.  As a result of research in newspapers, court records, and the Journals of Bishop Fenwick, we are beginning to gain new insights into those sometimes turbulent years.  Indeed, it might not be too extreme to call the period 1830-ca. 1868, the “Holy Wars”.  This is the tale of one episode.

Some months ago, while examining Record Books of the Middlesex Court of Common Pleas,  I noticed the notation: “McCool vs. McDermott”.  I was immediately intrigued and turned to the cited page.  WOW !!!  The case indeed was [Reverend] Edward J. McCool versus [Reverend] James T. McDermott.  What could this possibly involve?  

The Reverend Edward J. McCool was assigned to St. Patrick's Church by Bishop Fenwick in 1836.   Sixteen carpet weavers (Lowell Manufacturing Company) took up a collection and presented him a carpet and rug for his residence.  Fr. McCool, however, had 'problems' including an apparent over-fondness for alcohol, to the point that the Mayor advised Fenwick that he would do well to remove McCool from Lowell and assign him elsewhere. McCool was recalled in the summer of 1837 and Rev. James T. McDermott was assigned as the new pastor of St. Patrick's Church.

  Our story begins with the gift of a carpet and rug in 1836.
 “To the Revd. Mr. McCool      We the carpet weavers of Lowell Make you a present of this Carpet & rug for your Exclusive Right (?) While you Stop in Lowell.”            Note accompanying the carpet and rug gifts to McCool from the carpet weavers, presented as evidence by McCool.

In November 1837, McCool demanded that McDermott give him the carpet, which McDermott  refused to do. McCool then sought the assistance of Joseph Parker, Constable, whose deposition reads:

“I Joseph Parker of Lowell in the County of Middlesex, of lawful age depose and say, that on or about the twenty-eighth day of November 1837, I was requested to go to the house of the Reverend Edward J. McCool, the Catholic minister of Lowell, the house was then or soon afterward, occupied by the Rev. Mr. McDermott.  I went in company with an Irishman who name was Gallson or Gholson [most likely Thomas Galston] he shewed me the carpet which belonged to Mr. McCool, as he said.  I was ordered to take away the carpet by Edward Short or Gholson [Galston], and to deliver the same to Mr. McCool.

Mr. McDermott came in shortly after & I told him I came to get Mr. McCool's carpet.  He forbid my taking it and said it belonged to the house.  I came away without it.  Soon after I went to the same house with Mr. McCool and saw Mr. McDermott there.  McCool told him he had come to get his carpet.  This was in the house.  He refused to let McCool have it & then after demanding of it we came away.  I was then requested to go to Mr. Fuller's by Mr. McCool.  Mr. Fuller [Elisha Fuller, Justice of the Peace] gave me a writ and I served it the same day on Mr. McDermott.”

Inter. By A. Locke, Esq., Counsel for Deft.

Did Mr. McDermott occupy that house at that time?
            Ans.  That I don't know.
2nd Int.  Was the carpet on the floor?
            Ans.  It was.
3 Int.   Did McDermott appear to be at home in the house?
            Ans. I think he did.
4th Int.            Did McCool live in that house at that time?
            Ans. I dont know.
5th Int.            Did he appear to live there?
            Ans. He did not.
6th Int.            Did you find him elsewhere and leave him elsewhere?
            Ans. I did.
7th Int.            Where is McCool now?
            Ans. I don't know except by hearsay.
8th Int.  Was he at that time the officiating Catholic priest in Lowell?
            Ans. I can't say.
9th Int.            Did you ever see Mr. McCool drunk in the streets about that time?
            (Objected to by Ptff as improper and irrelevant to the case.)
            Ans. I never did.
10th Int.  Who was present at the time the demand was made before specified?
            Ans. There were two or three Irish men Caskin, Gholm, Short  whose names I do not know.
11th Int.  Did Mr. McDermott demand of Mr. McCool to shew his right to have or take the carpet?
            Ans. I cant recollect.  They had sharp words but I dont remember the [word not clear].

Middlesex Ss. Dec 21, 1838

Subscribed and sworn to & agreed to be admitted in evidence in case of McCool vs McDermott.

In rebuttal, Rev. McDermott presented the deposition of Alexander Wright, Superintendent of the Lowell Manufacturing Company (the Carpet Mill).

“I, Alex Wright of Lowell in the county of Middlesex on oath I depose and say as follows.  I was a subscriber to the carpet procured by certain carpet weavers in the carpet factory in 1836.  It was procured for the purpose of fitting up the house occupied by the Catholic priest Edward McCool in Lowell.  I subscribed on that ground I should not have subscribed for the purpose of giving to an individual.  There had been difficulty with the incumbent priest just before that time about a rug, and it was talked of when I subscribed.  I never was notified of any meeting of the subscribers in the cloth room of the carpet factory to determine about the destination of the carpet and rug.  If I had been, should have noted against giving it to any individual.  What I gave, I gave with a view to having the house furnished and not to the individual that occupied it, for I knew that he might be removed at any moment by the order of their Bishop.

I am superintendent of the Lowell Manufr. Co. Mills”

1.      Int by  Ptff.   What do you mean by saying you were a subscriber?  Did you subscribe your name to any paper on this occasion?
Answer- There was a paper with names penciled on it shown me.  I told them they might put me down two or three dollars I forget which.

2.        Who requested you to give any thing towards a carpet?
Answer- Stephen Lanigan and Patrick Sherridan.

                                                                        Alex Wright (signature)

3rd.  Do you know of any person, who gave anything toward the carpet except yourself who was not a carpet weaver?  If so who was it?

Middlesex Ss Dec 20, 1838

                                                                                    Sworn to before me
                                                                                    Elisha Fuller { Justice of the Peace

McCool's argument was based on the note signed by the carpet weavers which accompanied the carpet as well as the deposition of Constable Parker.  McDermott's defence rested solely on the deposition of Wright who clearly intended the carpet for the residence, not the individual.

The Jury found “that the Deft. is guilty in manner & form as the Ptff has alleged and assess damages at Seven dollars and eighty cents.”  McDermott lost.  In his financial report of St. Patrick's Church for 1838-1839, there is charge of $87.50 for “expenses on Carpet Law-Suit.”

This case was first filed in the March Term, 1838 of the Middlesex Court of Common Pleas and after continuances decided in the December Term of 1838.

Rev. McCool was involved in another incident early in 1838 in which others were criminally charged in the Police Court and the Criminal session of the Court of Common Pleas, but that is a tale for another day.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Cardinal O'Connell Parkway

Postcard of O'Connell Parkway
It was as if the fates were against the idea from the beginning.  William O’Connell, a favored son of Lowell, was given the red hat of Cardinal in 1911.  It took years before the city that witnessed his birth could decide how to appropriately mark O’Connell’s being made a prince of the Church.  There were financial reasons, then the Great War took precedence, and the Spanish influenza epidemic that ravished the US in 1918.  After much negotiation, the Committee decided that naming a parkway along with a fountain and bust of the prelate would be the most fitting. 
The big day was set- Sunday, November 17, 1918.  Humphrey O’Sullivan, the rubber heel king, and others from the Committee traveled to New York City to pick up the bronze bust which would surmount the granite shaft and fountain.  A grand parade would top off the day.  Weeks ahead of the event, organizations posted their “marching orders” in preparation.  Every parish, Holy Name Society, Knights of Columbus Council, temperance society, drum & bugle corps, cadet band, fraternal group, parochial school and whatever other group you could think of was invited to the parade.  And those were just the Catholic groups!  Since the Cardinal was quite proud of his Irish heritage and his American patriotism, many of those ethnic and civil groups were invited as well.  The Grand Marshall of the parade invited over 100 men to march with him, all wearing frock coats with gloves and cardinal red sashes. Badges with the Cardinal’s likeness and a red, white, and blue ribbon were distributed to the crowds.  There was discussion about allowing the women of the Catholic League to march.  Some were not opened to the idea, but in the spirit of the event, they were allowed. 
The Cardinal has gone down into history as someone who got his way.  He personified the rise of Irish-American Catholicism.  He never forgot how Boston treated his Irish ancestors.  He was quoted as saying, “The Puritan has passed, the Catholic remains.”  But even the good Cardinal could not control the New England weather.  Even days before the event, the weather was miserable.  A large tent was erected by the canvas-covered bust and fountain.  It rained so hard that there was serious consideration of cancelling the entire parade.  The parade marshal made the decision that the weather was not appropriate for women to march in.  But the crowds could not be disappointed and the parade stepped off.  The Cardinal’s niece from Boston pulled the cord that unveiled the bust.  Speeches were made and then more speeches were made.  His Eminence spoke of home, industry, faith, and peace.  The ceremony closed with the thousands joining in the singing of America.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Fratri (Brothers)

The only known portrait of
Fr. Timothy O'Brien
The validity of the story is questionable, but it’s worth the telling.  When Father John O’Brien was assigned to Lowell, he found the fields quite barren.  He arrived at the height of the Irish famine immigration and the community was split quite literally between social and economic groups.  A lesser man would have fled.  When Father John left Ireland, he knew he had an older sibling already working in the US, but the difference in age and distance probably left gaps between the two brothers.  It is told that on a steamer trip to Boston, Father John spent part of the trip with another cleric.  It wasn’t until Father John was at home at St Patrick’s in Lowell and there was a knock upon the door he realized who his traveling companion was- his own older brother, Father Timothy. 
When he arrived in Lowell in 1852, Father Timothy O’Brien probably knew his days were drawing to a close.  He was aged and tired.  He never even was entered in the Diocesan records as a priest serving for Boston.  His brother needed help.  Father John was known for his outgoing personality and strong will.  Father Timothy was the antithesis.  He was often ill, but still carried out his duties and then some.  Father Timothy took it upon himself to travel along the Merrimack River and say Mass for those who could not travel into Lowell on Sundays.  He would take the carriage all the way to Nashua to say Mass in the homes of Catholics and then return to Lowell.  It was Fathers John, Timothy, and Michael who quietly, in the early morning of July 4, 1853, laid the cornerstone for the present St Patrick Church.
The O’Briens knew that education was needed to improve the state of the Irish.  Father Timothy engaged the Sisters of Notre Dame to open a school for the girls of the Acre in 1852.  He promised them a school house and convent.  When they arrived, they had neither.  Being a man of his word, eventually, he gave the money from his own personal account to build the schoolhouse.  Unfortunately, he died before it was completed.
He did more than provide material goods for the Sisters.  He was also their spiritual director.  It was Father Timothy who personally protected the Sisters during the anti-Catholic visits of certain committees who attempted to force their way into the convent and school in 1854 and 1855.  He put himself between the Sisters and the men who were forcing their way into the convent.  The Sisters’ diaries say it was after this event he began his final illness.  In October of 1855 he went to the Sisters chapel for Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament and exhorted them to remain close to the Blessed Virgin.  A few days later, he was hearing confessions and kept excusing himself.  Finally, he could not return and took to his bed.  Two of the Sisters went to see him to ask his final blessing.
O'Brien monument in 1890
His body lay in state in the church that was only a year old.  Priests from near and far donned their black vestments and took their turns at the altars saying Masses for the deceased while the body lay in repose.  Both the Sisters diaries and local papers spoke of his goodness and how those who attended the funeral openly wept.
His body was carried down the front steps and entombed in the front yard of the church.  Within a year the parish erected a granite monument to his memory.  It would also be the resting place of his bother and nephew, Father John and Father Michael O’Brien.
Note- The present O’Brien monument in front of the church was placed there in the 1950s.  The pastor at that time decided it was not acceptable and had it dismantled.  Parishioners begged him not to do so, but he did not comply.  People begged to bring a piece home; the pastor had it ground into rubble and hauled away.