Catholic Immigrants in US Church History

The 19th century is, in many ways, a century of immigrants in the United States of America.

Beginning in 1820, there was a large influx of Catholic immigrants arriving on American shores, with the first group being primarily Irish.

These Catholic people came to make a better life for themselves and their families. Settling at first primarily on the East Coast of the U.S., especially in cities like New York, Boston, Mass., and Philadelphia, these Irish immigrants faced prejudice and severe anti-Catholicism from many groups, including the Know-Nothing Party, a political platform based on anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic rhetoric.

The Irish immigrants were considered to be lazy, untrustworthy, and even un-American, foreign “agents” of the Pope.

One only needs to recall the famous “NO IRISH NEED APPLY” sign that hung in many a storefront or factory right here in New York.

These Irish Catholic immigrants needed help and the Roman Catholic Church was there to help meet their social, economic, educational and of course, their spiritual needs.

Strong leaders were raised up in the Irish-American community like Archbishop John Hughes of New York, whose held the appellation of “Dagger John” due to his fierce defense of all Catholics, but especially Irish Catholics who were suffering from prejudice in the City.

However, Dagger John was not the only Church leader who was actively helping this recent Irish immigrant group – a prominent aide to New York’s Irish American community was the Servant of God Father Felix Varela, a Cuban immigrant himself.

Each of the immigrant groups arriving in the United States suffered prejudice and struggled for acceptance.

And right there with them was the Roman Catholic Church, at the side of the needy and the oppressed, right where she – as a loving Mother – needs to be and ought to be – just as she does today.