Category Archives: Religion

Photo feature: Old St. Patrick’s, Pittsburgh

By coincidence, my travels this month have allowed me to revisit two historic St. Patrick’s churches. Here’s my earlier photo feature on St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City.

My August essay, “An Irish … American … Catholic … tragedy“, mentioned that the Ancient Order of Hibernians would dedicate a new outdoor statute of Ireland’s patron saint at Old St. Patrick’s Church in Pittsburgh, the oldest parish in my home city. The dedication happened 13 October 2018.

For years, AOH Division 9 of Allegheny County has collected and spent tens of thousands of dollars and many volunteer hours to repair the 1936 church and maintain the beautiful landscaping of the front Monastery Garden, a green oasis in the city’s gritty warehouse district. The new statue replaced one that was badly aged, moved inside for now.

More work remains to done at Old St. Patrick’s, and Division 9 has a new mission: prepare the church for the 2022 opening of the AOH’s national convention in Pittsburgh. If you can help, contact the group.

The new St. Patrick statue was dedicated Oct. 13, 2018.

About 50 people extended their hands in blessing.

The old statue of St. Patrick has been moved inside the church.

The new statue.

Photo feature: St. Patrick’s Cathedral, NYC

This week I returned to St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City for the first time since before the church’s massive exterior and interior restoration from 2012 to 2016. This year is the 160th anniversary of the laying of the church’s cornerstone on 15 August 1858.

Great Catholic Ceremony,” The New York Times headlined its front page coverage the next day. “Intense Assemblage of 100,000 Persons”  … “Magnificent Ceremony — Unlimited Enthusiasm“. The story suggested that the proposed “ecclesiastical structure … if completed … will have no parallel on this continent.”

The church opened 20 years later, and the twin spires were added in 1888, then the tallest structures in New York. Here are a few images of this stunningly beautiful and popular worship space.:

Himself, thinner, more humble-looking than most statues of the saint.

The main sanctuary.

Shamrock detail on front doors. 

The twin spires at night.

See the St. Patrick’s Churches section of the blog for more photos and links to other worship spaces dedicated to Ireland’s patron saint.

Catching up with modern Ireland: August

Pope Francis’ visit dominated the news from and about Ireland in August, but there were other developments. Here’s my regular monthly roundup:

  • Northern Ireland set a new world record on 29 August for the longest peacetime period without a government, 590 days and counting, the Associated Press reported. The Catholic-Protestant power-sharing administration at Stormont collapsed in January 2017. People gathered across the North to protest that “Stormont is Dormant.”

  • The number of Irish people returning to live in the Republic of Ireland has overtaken those leaving the country for the first time since 2009. See full details from the Central Statistics Office.
  • The Drinks Industry Group of Ireland reported there are nearly 1,500 fewer pubs in the country than in 2005, a 17.1 percent decrease. Off licenses increased by 11.6 percent, and wine-only establishments increased by 3.1 percent.
  • A statue of former U.S. President Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama was unveiled at Barack Obama Plaza, a fast-food and petrol station on the outskirts of Moneygall, County Offaly.
  • Kirsten Mate Maher of Waterford was crowned the 2018 Rose of Tralee. She is the first African-Irish “Rose,” and the third mixed-race woman to win the title, according to The Irish Times.
  • Wild fires revealed a giant EIRE sign carved into the ground at Bray Head, County Wicklow. The World War II relic was created to warn Allied and Axis pilots of Ireland’s neutral status. In July, a previously undiscovered henge, or circular enclosure, close to the neolithic passage tomb Newgrange, emerged as the result of exceptionally dry weather.
  • A major fire gutted the 233-year-old Primark building in Belfast city centre. It was not immediately clear whether the remaining sandstone facade of the historic five-story building could be saved.

Flames billow from the Primark store in the Bank Buildings on Castle Street, in Belfast city centre. Image from BBC.

An Irish … American … Catholic … tragedy

It seemed fitting that the latest scandals buffeting the Catholic Church arrived during Pope Francis’ visit to Ireland. The stormy conditions surrounding the church are far worse than the rain that tamped down the expected number of Mass-goers at Dublin’s Phoenix Park.

Turnout for Francis was never going to match Pope John Paul II in 1979, much less the enthusiasm of the 1932 Eucharistic Congress in Dublin, which firmly established Ireland as the most-Catholic of nations. Now, Ireland has angrily turned its back on the church due to clergy and other institutional abuses, and the rise of secularism. We all know the litany: child rape, Magdalene laundries, and Tuam graves; plus popular referendums approving divorce, same-sex marriage and abortion.

But it’s the explosion of negative headlines from the church in America–a report on decades of abuse by priests in Pennsylvania, and similar behavior by former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick–that have amplified the Holy See’s troubles in Ireland and around the world.

Irish and American Catholicism are deeply intertwined. Waves of Irish Catholic immigrants arrived in the United States from the mid-19th century famine into the 21st century. Until recent decades, Ireland provided hundreds (probably thousands) of priests to U.S. parishes. As members of their flock climbed the social-economic ladder, some of these immigrant, or first-generation Irish-American, clerics also became powerful bishops and cardinals. No U.S. or Irish prelate has become pope.

In 1990, the American-born McCarrick was selected as a representative of Irish immigrant families at Ellis Island. In 2006, he was succeeded as archbishop of Washington, D.C., by Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who arrived from the dioceses of Pittsburgh. Within weeks of this summer’s revelations about McCarrick, Wuerl was accused in the Pennsylvania report of failing to protect children from abusive priests, many of whom … hate to say it … have Irish surnames.

Writing in National Review, Dublin-based Ciaran Burke has this slant on the U.S. and Irish churches:

To an Irish person who grew up amid the fallout of Catholic abuse scandals, the only surprising element of the Pittsburgh [sic.] (He means Pennsylvania.) grand-jury report is that it could happen in the United States. In Ireland, so great was the esteem in which the Church was held that it’s easy — though no less painful — to understand how clerical abuse could run unchecked by state authorities.

This description has never been true of the United States, though, where the Constitution and individual rights are supreme. … (The) abuses detailed in the Pittsburgh [sic.] report make a mockery of a society built on God-given rights. That any citizen could suffer such abuse in silence should outrage every American.

In the wake of the Pennsylvania report, Wuerl cancelled his scheduled appearance with Pope Francis in Ireland. He asked for his name to be removed from a Catholic high school in Pittsburgh, his native city. Now, as calls grow for his resignation, the Cardinal Donald Wuerl Division 9 of the Ancient Order of Hibernians in Pittsburgh must decide whether it too will drop his name.

Later this fall, the group plans to dedicate a new outdoor statue of Ireland’s patron saint at Old St. Patrick’s Church, the oldest parish in Pittsburgh, which once ranked with New York and Boston as a hub of Irish immigrants. The ceremony is now likely to be more subdued, even secular, than it would have been just a few years ago.

I will make a donation for the new statue once the date is set. I dearly love Old St. Pat’s in my native city, and have dedicated a section of this website to other similarly named churches, which are symbols of the once unabashed, if romanticized, Irish-American-Catholic identity. Like other Catholics in America, Ireland, and around the world, I am deeply angered and hurt by the church’s sins and crimes. But not as deeply as those who personally suffered the abuse.

Statue of Ireland’s patron saint outside Old St. Patrick’s Church in Pittsburgh, 2013.

Pope Francis in Ireland, Day 2

UPDATES: 

Pope Francis has ended his historic visit to Ireland after celebrating Mass at the Phoenix Park in Dublin. “In 1979, the Pope told Ireland he loves her. In 2018, he asks her for forgiveness. The theme of forgiveness has touched every one of his events: the quiet arrival, the sombre speeches and the modesty of it all,” The Irish Times reported.

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“A host of power alliances and socio-moral attitudes built up over two centuries operated to protect the lie that Ireland was a beacon of Catholic and sexual purity in an otherwise pagan world. The tragic historical irony is that the obsession with avoidance of scandal facilitated ever-greater scandal.”

ORIGINAL POST:

On his second day in Ireland, Pope Francis has again addressed clergy sex abuse, this time in a rainy talk at Knock, the Marian shrine in County Mayo.

This open wound challenges us to be firm and decisive in the pursuit of truth and justice. I beg the Lord’s forgiveness for these sins and for the scandal and betrayal felt by so many others in God’s family. I ask our Blessed Mother to intercede for the healing of the survivors and to confirm every member of our Christian family in the resolve never again to permit these situations to occur.

Francis also extended “a warm greeting to the beloved people of Northern Ireland,” according to The Irish TImes.


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A former top-ranking Vatican official released a lengthily letter asserting that Pope Francis had known about the abuses of a now-disgraced American prelate, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, years before they became public, and has called on pontiff to resign, The New York Times reports.

The archbishop’s startling accusation will not come as a complete surprise to Vatican watchers, since he is part of a conservative camp that blames liberals, like the pope, for allowing homosexuality in the church. But it further complicates Francis’ efforts to convince Irish Catholics that the church is ready to confront its legacy of concealing sexual abuse.

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The Irish Times has a roundup of coverage from around the world. “Interestingly, much of the media coverage in the US has focused on Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s personal life, taking his (gay) sexuality as an indication of the changes in Ireland.”

A giant mosaic unveiled in 2016 at the Basilica of Our Lady of Knock (Mayo) depicts the 1879 apparition. Photo from my February 2018 visit. My June 2017 story about the shrine.

Pope Francis in Ireland, Day 1

I’ll updated the blog throughout Pope Francis’ visit to Ireland. The most recent posts appear at the top. See full coverage from:

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Here’s a round up of first-day coverage:

Beginning one of the most fraught trips in his five years as pope, Francis described the “repellent crimes” and the church’s inability to deal with them as “a source of pain and shame for the Catholic community” — remarks some Irish criticized as familiar and lacking any mention of concrete steps for reform.

From the outside, it’s easy to conclude that the entire World Meeting of Families unfolding in Dublin this week is a sideshow, since the major question of the moment concerns what Pope Francis is going to say or do on the exploding clerical sexual abuse scandals in the Church. The thing is, however, it’s not a sideshow for the real flesh-and-blood families who are here, and who need the support. … Whatever may be exploding in the media at the moment, Catholic families still have deeply personal challenges for which they look to the Church for help, whether it’s raising a special needs child or coping with the fallout of a divorce.

On Saturday, as small clusters of supporters cheered the pope on sparsely populated streets, Francis sought to build a new church with his trademark pastoral style. He joked about marital spats and shared homespun wisdom with newlyweds, encouraged homeless people at a Capuchin monastery and rallied thousands at a World Meeting of Families event in a Dublin stadium. … The pope’s own advisers have warned that the church’s future depends on its success in addressing the existential threat of the abuse crisis.

If his visit were not so bafflingly short and he had taken the time to do what he does best – spend time with people who are marginalised and suffering – he might really have made a difference. He might have revivified the sense of Christianity as a radical option for the poor as opposed to a form of institutional power. But this visit feels too much like a ceremonial procession with a pastoral purpose added in as an afterthought for that to be possible.

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Pope Francis has arrived in Ireland, giving his first remarks about the clerical abuse scandal in the country.

The failure of ecclesiastical authorities – bishops, religious superiors, priests and others – adequately to address these repugnant crimes has rightly given rise to outrage and remains a source of pain and shame for the Catholic community. I myself share these sentiments.

But the speech is drawing criticism for lack of an apology.

Ireland preps for historic visit by pope

UPDATE: I’ll publish a new post as the visit of Pope Francis unfolds over the weekend. MH

A day before his arrival, the New York Times and Washington Post feature prominent stories about the clergy abuse problem in Ireland. In the Times‘ story, a Donegal police detective says the problem is “worse than the I.R.A.”

ORIGINAL POST:

“No God for Ireland! We have had too much God in Ireland. Away with God!”

The quote is from James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. As Ireland prepares for the 25-26 August visit of Pope Francis, the question is whether “Catholic Church” should replace “God” in the quote, which was more or less Joyce’s intention when he published the novel in 1916.

Ireland is a very different place today than 102 years ago, and also from 1979, when Pope John Paul II became the first pontiff to visit the island. As The Guardian notes in When faith fades: can the pope still connect with a changed Ireland:

In the past four decades Ireland has embraced divorce, contraception, same-sex marriage and abortion, all once unimaginable in a country where the church and the state were in an intimate partnership. In 1979, 93 percent of the population still identified as Catholic and went to mass every week. Since then, there has been a marked downward trajectory of the proportion of the population identifying as Catholic to 78 percent at the 2016 census, while the second largest – and growing – category is people who say they have no religion, at around 10 percent.

In his The Papal Visit of 1979: Context and Legacy piece in The Irish Story, Barry Sheppard writes “the evangelical zeal of the Catholic Action movement which exploded in the 1930s still loomed-large in public life, and was in fact reinvigorated in the aftermath of the (John Paul II) visit, targeting the familiar old foes of popular entertainment and cinema as agents of the decline of Irish morals. … It is highly doubtful that next week’s visit can generate the same input.”

Crux Editor John L. Allen Jr. provides FAQs on Pope Francis in Ireland, including protests and counter-events.  A word of caution, however, to anyone who plans to follow the pontiff by car. The Marian shrine at Knock, County Mayo, is about three hours west of Dublin, not four hours to the “north,” as Allen writes. Trust me, I just made the drive in February.

Pope John Paul II during his 1979 visit to Ireland.

Catching up with modern Ireland: July

I’m publishing this month’s roundup a little early due to travel. Upcoming posts will remain minimal through early September as I work on other projects. Thanks for supporting the blog. MH

  • Northern Ireland would be better off financially as part of a united Ireland, according to the “Northern Ireland’s Income and Expenditure in a Reunification Scenario” report by Gunther Thurmann, who worked on the German desk at the International Monteary Fund during German reunification, and Fianna Fail Senator Mark Daly. The new report includes the December 2016 analysis by the U.S. House of Representatives Congressional Research Office, requested by Congressman Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.), in the wake of the Brexit vote.
  • “There’s no such thing as Irish science; there’s only global science.” — Mark Ferguson, director general of Science Foundation Ireland, at a 25 July, Irish Network-DC event at the Embassy of Ireland, Washington, D.C. SFI was created by a 1998 government initiative and has put Ireland at the forefront of scientific research and development. Ferguson said he sees new opportunities for Ireland resulting from Brexit.
  • In a reflection of the diversity of modern Ireland, a new graveyard for all denominations – and for none – opened in Killarney, County Kerry, The Irish Times reported.
  • A previously undiscovered henge, or circular enclosure, close to the neolithic passage tomb Newgrange, was spotted by an historian flying a drone over the Boyne Valley, County Meath. Unusually dry weather caused the outlines of the site to emerge like subterranean shadows.
  • Friday, 27 July, offered a night of stargazing in Ireland, with a total lunar eclipse, a “blood moon,” and rare looks at Mars, Jupiter and the International Space Station.
  • “We used to blame everything on the British. Now we blame the church.” — Archbishop Eamon Martin, leader of the Catholic Church in Ireland, in America magazine story, “What is Ireland’s future after repealing its ban on abortion?
  • The touring “Coming Home: Art & The Great Hunger” exhibit from Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Conn., opened this month in Skibbereen, County Cork, where it will remain through 13 October. The exhibit opened in Dublin earlier this year. It will show in Derry, Northern Ireland, the first quarter of 2019.

“Derrynane,” a 1927 oil on canvas by Jack B. Yeats, is part of the “Coming Home” exhibit.

12 July 1958: The wedding beyond the marching

On 12 July 1958, the BBC for the first time “live” broadcast a massive Orange parade in Northern Ireland. About 25,000 men from 300 lodges participated in the five-mile march from Belfast to “The Field” at Finaghy, according to news reports.

That day, 60 summers ago, was “dull and wet” across the Six Counties as Orangemen marked the 268th anniversary of the Battle of Boyne. I didn’t see any reports of violence at these soggy, pre-Troubles marches in my quick search of the Irish Newspaper Archives.

But the date is important to me for something that happened in America. That Saturday morning, 3,400 miles from Belfast, Richard Holan and Lenore Diggin were married at St. Stephen Catholic Church in Pittsburgh.

The bride recalled that her mother, an emigrant of Ballylongford, Kerry, had raised an eyebrow about scheduling the wedding on the Orangemen’s day. Her father, also from Kerry, had died 17 years earlier.

The religious and political baggage of an historic date, however, seldom stop the nuptials of two people in love. And I’m glad of it. Happy 60th wedding anniversary, Mom & Dad.

Lenore & Rich, June 2018, just before their 60th anniversary.

Blogiversary: Six years, and a summer break

July marks the blog’s sixth anniversary.

Before publishing my next post, which will be my 600th, I want to thank my readers for their support. I appreciate those who subscribe to the blog via email, share the posts on social media, or just drop by from time-to-time. Special thanks to Angie Drobnic Holan, my lovely wife, who contributes to the effort as volunteer editor and webmaster.

The Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited project, which dominated my work the first half of this year with over 40 posts, was well received. January through June traffic on the site was 70 percent of the 2017 full-year total.

Over the next two months, I’ll be posting less frequently in order to enjoy the summer and work on several long-term projects. The latter includes:

  • Preparing for a 15 September presentation at the Irish Railroad Workers Museum, in Baltimore, based on my Prologue magazine story, Ireland’s Famine Children ‘Born at Sea’.
  • Additional research and editing of the Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited, project for an e-book version.
  • Planning for the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I in November, and the following Irish War of Independence centenaries. I will attend the Newspaper & Periodical History Forum of Ireland‘s 10th Anniversary Conference, 9-10 November, in Galway. It will explore the 1918 British elections under the theme “The Press and the Vote”.

I will post a few history stories on the blog over the summer, including a new serialized version of my “Nora’s Sorrow” project, and keep up with contemporary events, such as Brexit and Pope Francis’ August visit to Ireland.

For now, however, thanks again for all of your support since 2012. Keep coming back!

Vintage presses displayed at the National Print Museum in Dublin, February 2018.