Catholic Archbishop John Hughes: A Leader in Hostile Times
“For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions.” 2 Timothy 4:3
Archbishop John Hughes was the fourth Archbishop of New York City from 1838 – 1864. They called him “dagger John”; as one author writes, he was a man who “wanted to be a cardinal and not a saint”.
Why write about Archbishop John Hughes?
After young John Hughes arrived in Baltimore, he was destitute and alone. In Ireland, there was a “Great Famine”. One million Irish people died, and there are still mixed feelings regarding how that happened. By 1849, approximately 100,000 Irish were stepping off ships onto America and:
Into the arms of an recruiter (as the old song goes, “When we got to Yankee land, they put guns into our hands ‘Paddy, you must go and fight for Lincoln’); or
Into a slum; (such as “Hell’s Kitchen” or the “Five Points”); or
Just lost lost lost…Predated upon by those who were already here…discriminated against in all manners, newspaper cartoons and even textbooks!
John Hughes watched all this for years. He arrived in America illiterate. His first day at a seminary wasn’t as a student: he was working as the grounds keeper! So, we know that he had to earn his way, just like we do in America — right? Maybe so. Maybe in some ways: not so.
“The emigrants who land at New York, whether they remain in that city or come on in the interior, are not merely ignorant and poor—which might be their misfortune rather than their fault—but they are drunken, dirty, indolent, and riotous, so as to be the objects of dislike and fear to all in whose neighbourhood they congregate in large numbers.” – James Silk Buckingham on Irish immigrants
In 1848 it was a different day for Irish Catholics. In fact, most Catholic priests didn’t wear the collar on the streets for fear of assault. Irish people were squarely the object of discrimination. Irish Catholic bishops took an approach to these calamities that called for putting heads in the sand and hoping for the best. Archbishop John Hughes refused this strategy. He refused to roll over.
He wrote his superiors in Rome. He said that Americans only respected strength, clarity and confidence, and he intended to provide that. A people under siege were more likely to feel a sense of community; in this way, hostility could serve a purpose. John Hughes put hostility to work. He underscored it. He pointed to it. He stared at it.
John Hughes was the right man for his time. He could have skated, like the others. He could have chilled – collected a paycheck. He took the hard route and look what happened:
From the pulpit, he spoke at hostility. He spoke against the city’s public school system, which belittled Irish and used textbooks that derided the Pope. He consecrated more than 100 churches in New York and New Jersey. He was tireless. He’s remembered to this day for standing up in the face of hostility.
Are you eating that cotton candy at church? Perhaps being “blessed” for certain prayers or “good works” with the prosperity crystal ball Jesus-party crowd? Is this the right time for Christians in America to be doing that in the face of HOSTILITY?
TODAYS TRAINING: In what areas of your life are you experiencing hostility to your faith as a Christian? What to do about that? For now, recognize where it exists, and if it does exist — stare at it and know it for what it is. Don’t lie to yourself regarding the places and people in your life that are hostile to your Christian beliefs.