Thursday, February 7, 2013

Growing Pains: the "other" Catholic Church

Detail fr. Acre scene
If the good Lord meant for the Sabbath to be a day of rest, the Irish of the Chapel Hill area may not have agreed.  Being Irish and being Catholic meant only one thing on any given Sunday morning, walking almost two miles and back to attend Mass over at St. Patrick’s Church.    And if you were a really good Catholic you went back in the afternoon for Benediction and Vespers.   When the St. Patrick’s opened in 1831 conditions were already crowded.  Extensions were built onto the church a few years later, but with the growing numbers of Irish entering the city even that was not enough.
In July of 1841 Bishop Fenwick came to St Patrick’s to confirm 60 young men and women.  The church was overcrowded, and before the end of the ceremony he asked the parishioners to consider building a new church.  At the close of the afternoon service he stayed to discuss the proposition with interested parties.  The excessive heat of the day did not deter the crowd.  Forty-two men rose immediately and each promised $100, which would be applied to purchasing their pew once the new church was built.  That night $5,400 was pledged.    Yet, not everything was kosher.
Bishop Fenwick
There’s something odd about the Bishop’s story.  He says the crowds gave him the idea for a new church, but the next day finds him in a carriage scouting out a piece of land he had his eyes on.  He appointed the curate of St. Pat’s, Father Conway, to purchase the plot as soon as possible.  One wonders if something else was going on here.  Did the Bishop know about the land beforehand?  Why was the curate put in charge of the purchase, and not the pastor of St. Patrick’s, Fr. McDermott?  There were rumors, lots of them.  Not everyone liked the good pastor.  There were certain financially, solvent men who wanted a split.  Many of the men who stood that day to support the Bishop had homes in the Acre.  Why would they pay for a new church?  The Bishop’s notes tell of a number of visits of Fr. Conway to the Bishop’s residence.  Why?  Then there was the visit by a number of the St. Pat’s congregation to air their “grievances” about the new church being built, and that they would “retard as much as possible the progress.”  The Bishop “remonstrated” against the unnecessary noise” and dismissed them.
The church would be built.  (More to follow next week.)