Chapter VII: Aiding Catholic emigrants
In his speech at the Ozanam Centenary at Manchester, Cardinal Bourne urged upon the Society the necessity of assisting Catholic male emigrants in choosing where to settle, and, if possible, to select particular centres, and in places where Catholics were numerous. Emigrants going out in twos or threes were liable to be absorbed into non-Catholic communities. He added: “No greater work of charity could be committed to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul than this of looking after Catholic emigrants.”
In this matter the Conferences both in Great Britain and the Dominions can render useful assistance. The Dominions are calling out for emigrants and offering great inducements to settlers. But they do not think much of the religious requirements of Catholics.
To show that the importance of this work has been appreciated by our Colonial Conferences, I give here an extract from a circular which has been addressed by the Superior Council of Australasia to the Superior Councils in Great Britain and Ireland:
“Society of St. Vincent de Paul,
“Superior Council of Australasia,
“176, Phillip Street, Sydney,
“21 st February, 1913.
“Sir and Dear Brother,
“I am instructed by the Superior Council of Australasia to ask you to’ kindly inform the Presidents of Conferences under your Council that letters of introduction to us from Presidents of our Society given to Catholic immigrants to Australia or New Zealand will receive special attention from us. We shall do our best to help them in every way, temporally and spiritually.
“The addressee of the letter of introduction had better be, of course, the President at the port at which the immigrant is to land. I can answer for it that everywhere his reception will be cordial. I send you a copy of our latest Annual Report, containing the names and addresses of our Presidents, though a letter simply to the President without any name would easily be delivered. Any priest, and almost any Catholic, could direct the bearer.
“We, here, know that there is no very great need for aid to our co-religionists on landing. They can obtain employment in a few days as a rule, and religion is diffused here as in the Old World. Any sensible Catholic man landing in one of our cities need be no more at a loss or in danger as to his religion than he would be on landing in Liverpool. But it is always much better to have an introduction to a Catholic friend; and some classes of labour do not find employment as rapidly as others, and so a local helper may be useful.
“And in the case of lads, we would do our best to see that they were placed with Catholics, and to look after their faith and be their friends afterwards as long as they wished.
“L. F. Heyden.”
At one of the sectional meetings of the National Catholic Congress held at Plymouth, Brother P. E. Smyth, of Melbourne, stated that in Victoria the Conferences were taking up the work practically. They were surprised to see so many Catholic emigrants arriving in the colony, and they were doing their best to meet their requirements. He said they had 300 Conferences of the Society who were all anxious to get in touch with Catholics arriving. He suggested that the names of proposing emigrants, with the dates of their sailing, and the ports at which they would arrive, should be communicated to the Conferences at those ports.
There can be no doubt that the Conferences of the Society in all other parts of the British Empire will be equally desirous of receiving and helping Catholic emigrants. Statistics show that the majority who leave Great Britain go to the provinces of Canada, in consequence of the great advantages offered to settlers. Now, the Catholic Church is very strong in some of the provinces of Canada, and relatively weak in others. The distances between Catholic missions are so great in some districts that it is practically impossible for Catholics to secure the blessings of their faith except at great sacrifices of time and money.
I have no doubt that the numerous Conferences in the United States will gladly co-operate in so practical a work of Catholic charity.
I feel sure that if Ozanam were alive he would encourage to the utmost an apostolic work of this nature. But I think also that he would advise its extension to other parts of the world beyond those of the British Empire and the United States. He would point to the fact that so many thousands of emigrants leave Italy, Spain, and Central Europe every year to settle in the United States, Brazil, etc. Would not the same organization render priceless services to those emigrants also ? No doubt that also will come to pass in due course.
The fruitful soil of the Society of St. Vincent is constantly bringing forth abundant crops of good works, suited to the needs of the different countries in which the Conferences are settled. These works are always indigenous to their native soil. But this work of assisting Catholic emigrants is one of international importance, for we are living in an age of national unrest, similar to that which flooded Europe in the first centuries of the Christian Era and overturned the mighty Roman Empire. The descendants of those barbarian tribes of Goths, Huns, and Vandals are as restless as ever, and they are bent upon peopling the New World. It is fitting, therefore, that the Conferences of St. Vincent de Paul, as the friends and brothers of the poor, should be privileged to render the emigrants fraternal advice and assistance, both when leaving and when arriving.
The Report of the Board of Trade shows that the number of passengers from the United Kingdom to places outside of Europe in 1912 was 656,835. Of these 28*8 per cent, were foreigners, and of these probably about half were Catholics, and no doubt poor, as they travelled in the steerage. Of the British emigrants 74*5 per cent, were about to settle in other parts of the Empire, and 23*4 per cent, went to the United States. The Canadian Agency states that in one week there arrived at Winnipeg 3,868 emigrants, of whom 2,610 were British. It will be noticed therefore how vast a field is opened for Catholic charity by this great emigration movement. The great need is to group Catholic emigrants in such districts as where Catholic families are already settled, and where Catholic churches and schools are to be found. If Catholic fervour is to be maintained it can only be by the emigrant associating with Catholic neighbours. There is no surer way of extinguishing a fire than by scattering the embers of it. There is no reason why Catholic villages should not be formed in some of the colonies, a certain number of families undertaking to settle in one district and to unite to provide for the maintenance of a priest and church. This has been practically carried out in several of our distant and smaller colonies with good effect.
In the United States there are many colonies of Germans, Italians, Spaniards, Poles, Greeks, etc., all of which support their own schools, native priests, and churches, and all with success. It is a great international movement of historic importance, and one in which the great International Society of St. Vincent de Paul should take a leading part.
Ozanam, in one of his letters to Wigley, alluding to the collapse of one of the communist settlements in the United States, wrote: “Nevertheless, I believe that the principles upon which the community was founded were correct. It failed because it was lacking in the spiritual cement which is composed of the feelings of self-sacrifice, brotherly love, and justice. Perhaps we shall see established some day a truly Catholic settlement upon one of those vast prairies of the West, under the guidance of one of the great Orders like the Benedictines or the Chartreux, in which all benefits shall be equitably shared among the members under the stewardship of the monks. That such a system of community of goods existed among the Apostles and Disciples in Jerusalem in the first century is proved by the words in the Acts of the Apostles. Not otherwise can the stern judgment of St. Peter upon Ananias and Sapphira be explained.”
In another letter he wrote:
“The experience of the Franciscans in Mexico, and of the Jesuits in Paraguay, prove the possibility of insuring the happiness of the people here and hereafter where justice is guided by religion. But when selfishness and cupidity are allowed to rule, unhappiness and failure must result. . . .
“In your own country, as in Gaul, the monks were always the instructors in agriculture. We find that the farmers who cultivated the Abbey lands were always more successful than they who worked for the nobles. And so I hope that some day the English or the Americans, with their well-known practical spirit of initiative in which we Frenchmen are wanting, will find districts in your vast and fertile colonies upon which will be founded truly Catholic communities and cities under the aegis of the Church, as of old. This would be the fulfilment of my old dream of a Christian Democracy. . . .
“The Christian family is the unit, the State is the multiple; this is a truth which should be impressed by the Conferences upon the cases whom they visit; it will help them to realize the true meaning of the words * Equality ’ and ‘ Fraternity.’”
Wigley was at the time a member of a small group of young men who sympathized with the new school of the pre-Raphaelites in Art, and followed the dicta of Ruskin, William Morris, and Rossetti, as Gospel utterances. Ozanam denounced the spirit of these as pure paganism, and hoped that the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in England would produce from its colleges, as in France, young writers who would uphold in the Press and in lectures the ancient claims of the Catholic Church as Mother of Arts, Letters, and Civilization.
So many of Ozanam’s prophecies and aspirations have been fulfilled that we may hope that some day defenders of Catholic interests may arise from the ranks of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. But it must be remembered that the Society takes no glory in this world for the works of her children. She gives the inspiration for the good work, the brothers carry it out as best they can.
I think it only just in this place to put upon record some of the works which have been carried on in England by the brothers of the Society outside of those of the Conferences. The first, which was introduced by Brother Wigley, was the Society of St. Francis Regis, whose work it is to obtain from parents, etc., the certificates of consent to the marriages of their children, etc., as required by foreign law. The next was the establishment of the S.V.P. Shoeblack Brigade, to provide employment for Catholic poor boys. This was founded at the express request of Cardinal Wiseman. In connection with this class was established a Home for Working Boys in Soho.
The next work was the establishment of St. .Vincent’s Home for Destitute Boys in Hammersmith, which is now carried on by the “Crusade of Rescue for Destitute Catholic Children.” Finally, the George Blount Home for Working Boys at Streatham, erected as a memcrial to the late President of the Superior Council of England.
In addition to these, all the particular Councils in the provinces have started Football and Cricket Clubs, Boys’ Brigades, Boy Scouts, Penny Banks, Sunday-schools, Evening Classes, etc.
The Society will ever remain an inexhaustible source of good works, both of the spiritual and corporal order, in all countries where it is established, and is therefore deserving of support by all philanthropists.