Friday, February 22, 2013

The Nunnery Under the Church – 1837

St Patrick Church, 1831
Rumors grow wings.  They take on lives of their own.  The hatred that grew into the Ursuline Convent fire in 1834 was not the end of anti-Catholic feelings as people had hoped. Bishop Fenwick walked a fine line between protecting his flock and maintaining a relationship with the Boston Brahmins.  The Boston papers of the 1830s claimed that 600 priests were being sent over from Europe to spread Catholicism.  That may have seemed unlikely to some people, but the stories of Maria Monk and Samuel Smith, well they had to be true.  Didn’t they?  Everyone knew of the atrocities that Maria recounted of her life in a Quebec convent.  Her book was a best seller of the day.  Samuel Smith, a rogue priest, wrote a number of books revealing the truths of popery and how the Vatican was planning its takeover of the Americas; the most famous was entitled The Downfall of Babylon.  The American Revolution had only been over for 50 years and the fears of being taken over by a foreign power were still very much alive.  Bookstores took out ads publicizing the myriad of novels and pamphlets that described scenes of the Inquisition and plots to overthrow the government by Catholics.   Others questioned why the government would allow Europe’s poor and uneducated to be part of the political process.  Elections took on some questionable campaigning where candidates would accuse their opponents of aligning themselves with the Popish Irish.  A hint of such could cost a candidate the election.

Lowell Advertiser, 1837
The Lowell newspapers were ripe with such controversies.  The Lowell Patriot said, “The Pope sends foreign paupers here to out vote us, foreign chains to bind us, and foreign gold to rear the hideous walls of Convents and Monasteries in the midst of us.  The Inquisition is not far off.”  One of the most heated was an accusation that the Lowell Catholics had built a secret nunnery under the Catholic Church (St. Patrick’s).  The truth of the story was that the basement of St. Patrick’s had been outfitted as a classroom for Irish children funded by the Lowell school committee.  The rumors flew all the way to New York and Philadelphia.  Some thought that Lowell was becoming “too “Popish.”  Papers accused each other of “fanning the flames of discord.”  The voice of reason could be heard for those who listened.  “We are ready to vindicate for them as fellow citizens,” quoted one paper.   Another thought such remarks “an insult to our Constitution and laws.”  But the hatred grew.

Addendum: Super Sleuth, Walter, had this to add to our story-

More on that “nunnery” of 1836

The New York postmaster, and other anti-Catholic bigots, could not have been more wrong!

The Lowell School Committee had appointed a committee of one, the Rev. Lemuel Porter*, to investigate the possibility of establishing a classroom under the Catholic Church.
His Report to the Committee on 25 July, 1836 read:
The Committee chosen to engage a room under the Catholic Church as a school room – to take a lease of the same for five years – and to furnish the same for a primary school at an expense not exceeding with the rent $300, begs leave to report that he has agreed with Rev. Mr. McCool the Catholic Priest and agent for the House, to give him the sum of $150 and a suitable stove on condition that he cause a room under he Catholic Church to be fitted up for a primary school and furnished with seats to the satisfaction of the School Committee and provided he guarantee the use of said room to the City of Lowell for five years free of rent.
s/Lemuel Porter
Voted: that this board ratify the contract made by Rev. Mr. Porter for a room under the Catholic Church as reported by him July 25, 1836 and that he be instructed to carry its provisions into effect.
Source: Lowell School Minutes, 1836

* Lemuel Porter was the minister of the Second Baptist Church, Corner of Lowell and Suffolk Streets.

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