Our Tradition: American and Catholic

The value of America to the cause of religion cannot be overestimated. This is a providential nation. How youthful and yet how great! How rich in glorious promise! A hundred years ago the States hardly exceeded the third million in population; today they approach the sixty-fifth million. Streams of immigration from the lands of the earth are turned towards us. There is manifestly much in our soil and air, in our social and political institutions, for the world’s throngs are drawn to us. The country must grow and prosper. In the solution of social and political problems, no less than in the development of industry and commerce, the influence of America will be dominant among nations. There is not a country on the globe that does not borrow from us ideas and aspirations. The spirit of American liberty wafts its spell across seas and oceans, and prepares distant continents for the implanting of American ideas and institutions. This influence will grow with the growth of the nation. Estimates have been made as to our population a century hence, placing it at 400,000,000, due allowance being had in this computation for diminution in the numbers of immigrants.

The center of human action and influence is rapidly shifting, and at a no distant day America will lead the world. The native character of the American people fits them to be leaders. They are earnest, deliberate, aggressive. Whatever they believe, they act out; whatever they aim for, they attain. They are utterly incapable of the indifference to living interests and of the apathy which, under the specious name of conservatism, characterize European populations. The most daring elements of other lands have come hither to form a new people—new in energy, new in spirit, new in action—in complete adaptation to a new epoch in the world’s history. We cannot but believe that a singular mission is assigned to America, glorious for itself and beneficent to the whole race, the mission of bringing about a new social and political order, based more than any other upon the common brotherhood of man, and more than any other securing to the multitude of the people social happiness and equality of rights. With our hopes are bound up the hopes of the millions of the earth….

We are advancing towards one of those great epochs of history, in which mighty changes will be wrought. The world is in throes; a new age is to be born—”Magnus ab integro saeclorum nascitur ordo.” The traditions of the past are vanishing; new social forms and new political institutions are arising; astounding discoveries are being made of the secrets and the powers of nature; unwonted forces are at work in every sphere over which man’s control reaches. There is a revolution in the ideas and the feelings of men. All things which may be changed will be changed, and nothing will be tomorrow as it was yesterday, save that which emanates directly from God, or which the Eternal Power decrees to be permanent….

Despite its defects and its mistakes, I love my age. I love its aspirations and its resolves. I revel in its feats of valor, its industries, and its discoveries. I thank it for its many benefactions to my fellow-men, for its warm affections proffered to the people rather than to prince and ruler. I seek no backward voyage across the sea of time; I will ever press forward. I believe that God intends the present to be better than the past, and the future to be better than the present. . Why have but anathemas for the age, seeing only its aberrations, irritating it by continuous denunciations of its mistakes, never acknowledging the good in it, never striving to win its love to Holy Church….

We should live in our age, know it, be in touch with it. There are Catholics, more numerous, however, in Europe than in America, to whom the present will not be known until long after it will have become the past. Our work is in the present, and not in the past. It will not do to understand the thirteenth century better than the nineteenth; to be more conversant with the errors of Anus or Eutyches than those of contemporary infidels or agnostics; to study more deeply the causes of Albigensian or Lutheran heresies, or of the French Revolution, than the causes of the social upheavals of our own times. The world has entered upon an entirely new phase; the past will not return; reaction is the dream of men who see not, and hear not; who, in utter oblivion of the living world behind them, sit at the gates of cemeteries weeping over tombs that shall not be reopened. We should speak to our age of things which it feels and in language that it understands. We should be in it, and of it, we would have it listen to us….

America treats us well; her flag is our protection. Patriotism is a Catholic virtue. I would have Catholics be the first patriots in the land. There are fitting occasions when the Church should officially show forth her love of America, blessing the country, offering thanks in its name, invoking favors upon it. There are occasions without number when Catholics, as citizens, can prove their patriotism; and of such occasions they should be eager to avail themselves. The men most devoted to the institutions of the country, the most ardent lovers of its flag, should be they who believe in Catholic truth, who breathe the air of Catholic sanctuaries. Catholics should be models of civic virtue, taking an abiding interest in public affairs, bearing cheerfully their part of the public burdens, always free from selfishness and venality in the exercise of their privileges of citizenship.


  • Archbishop John Ireland

    John Ireland (September 11, 1838 – September 25, 1918) was the third Roman Catholic bishop and first Roman Catholic archbishop of Saint Paul, Minnesota (1888–1918). He became both a religious as well as civic leader in Saint Paul during the turn of the 20th century. He created or helped to create many religious and educational institutions in Minnesota.

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