November 4th, 2011Some Things Never Changeby Joseph Pearce

Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose … A correspondent has just sent me an article from the New York Times from 1879, more than 140 years ago. The article is so rabidly anti-Catholic, in the most knee-jerk racist sense, that it’s almost funny, in a grim sort of way. It’s gratifying to know that the New York Times has remained true to its anti-papist bigotry over all these years. Its ignoble tradition has always favoured the forsaking of objectivity for the objectionable pursuit of its own bigoted agenda. The more things change, the more they remain the same.

Here’s the full text of the article:

An Unprofitable Church
Roman Catholic Troubles in New-Haven
How an Aristocratic Avenue Was Blemished by a Roman Church Edifice
The Parish Badly in Debt – Efforts to Dispose of the Valuable Property.
New-Haven, July 27 [1879]

The most aristocratic street in this city is Hillhouse-avenue; its length is only two blocks, and it extends from Wall-street to Sacham-street. At its northern end lies the old Hillhouse property – a large private park, finely wooded, with the Hillhouse mansion near its centre. The avenue is broad, and it has been made beautiful by the residents on each side. It is paved with asphalt, and there are wide stretches of well-kept lawn between the yard fences and the roadway, shaded by noble elm trees. Among those who live on the avenue are President Porter, of Yale College; Joseph E. Sheffield, the founder of the Yale Scientific School; Prof. Benjamin Silliman; Prof. Dana, the geologist; Prof Fisher, of the Yale Theological School; Mr. Farnam, a millionaire, and other representatives of this City's best society. Several years ago, an inventor who suddenly acquire wealth bought the only vacant lot on the avenue, and intended to build a house for himself there. But his money did not hold out, and he had to sell. He offered the lot to residents of the avenue, but they would not give him his price. Intimations that he might sell to undesirable persons did not cause them to raise their figures. He then offered the lot to the Roman Catholics, and it was bought by St. Mary's Parish, then worshiping in a cheap building on Church-street.

When the residents of this aristocratic avenue discovered that they were in danger of seeing a Roman Catholic church spring up among them, with all that the establishment of such a church implied, they bestirred themselves to oppose the project. The wisest of the Roman Catholics here did not favor it, and St. Mary's Parish was induced to agree to exchange the lot for as good a one in some other locality. A good lot was found, but just before the accomplishment of the transfer the worthy residents of the avenue came to the conclusion that it was too good a lot for the Roman Catholics, and they exchanged it for a poorer one, which they offered to the Pastor of St. Mary's. Knowing what had been done, he would not take it, and arrangements were made for the erection of a stone church on Hillhouse-avenue. This church was finished three or four years ago, except that no spire was placed upon it. It is very large, extending back from the avenue to Temple-street, and is constructed of a kind of stone which gives it a cold and repulsive appearance. It stands directly opposite the mansion of Mr. Sheffield, and near the buildings of the Scientific School, which he founded. It cost over $400,000.

But its parishioners live some distance from the church, and they are mostly servant-girls. Consequently, its financial condition has been steadily growing worse. Not long ago the Pastor died, and recently there have been rumors in circulation that the parish seriously thought of repudiating its debts. There is a mortgage of $100,000 upon the church, held by a local savings bank, and it is said that after the Pastor's death his people discovered that over $20,000 had been deposited with him by the servant-girls of the parish; that this had been used, and was thus added to the debt. It was said that they proposed to repudiate this also. The whole debt amounts to something over $160,000. After a careful investigation, these rumors have been found to rest on a very slight foundation. It has been very hard for the parish to make both ends meet. The pew-rent is not sufficient to pay the interest on the debt, and after the well-to-do members of the parish had put their hands deeply into their pockets, the close of the year 1878 found only 85 cents in the treasury. It is considered almost impossible to continue the church in its present condition, but the prominent members of the parish say that nothing like repudiation has ever been thought of . When the church had been built, the adjoining residence of Gen. W. S. Churnley became somewhat undesirable, and it was sold to the parish for a Pastor's house. This octagonal house and its grounds have been a heavy load, and it is probable that they will be turned over those persons who hold mortgages upon them, but the church building will be retained. If it becames [sic] impossible for the parish to support it, an effort will be made to induce the Jesuits or some other Roman Catholic order to take it into their hands. It is said that the late Bishop Galberry was in New-York for the purpose of effecting such a transfer when he died. If it should be made soon, the Churnley house and grounds will not be given to the mortgagees, for the new owners would need this property. The parish owes a considerable sum to those who preferred their Pastor to the savings banks, but those in authority say that these debts will be paid first of all. The result shows how foolish were those who persisted in building the church on the spot where it stands. How much spite had to do with it cannot now be ascertained, but the complete history of the negotiations would be very interesting. The edifice was erected beyond the boundaries of the parish, and it invaded the most exclusive home of wealth and culture. It is an eye-sore on the avenue, a source of annoyance and injury to neighboring residents, and a complete failure as a business enterprise.

The New York Times

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  • November 4 2011 | by Titus

    St. Mary's is actually quite an attractive edifice. That parish still stands. It would be buttressed in the years following this article's appearance by its status as the "mother church," so to speak, of the Knights of Columbus. I don't have my biography of Fr. McGivney at hand, but I believe he was stationed at St. Mary's already in 1879.

    That's the sort of thing that would tempt one to make taunting remarks at the <i>Times</i>.
  • November 9 2011 | by Christian

    The parish must have done ok. The Knights of Columbus was founded in the basement of St. Mary's church in 1882.