Every December for the past 15 years, an acting coach has honored two children whose notes to Santa Claus he found stuffed in his fireplace in his New York City apartment. The 100-year old notes, written in children’s scrawl, were found during a renovation project. They hint at the poverty and hardships of a former Irish neighborhood in Manhattan 100-years ago. The existence of the letters themselves is not remarkable, it is what they tell us that is.
I found an historical article from 1997 about the tens of thousands of ignorant, impoverished, and unwanted Irish immigrants in 19th century New York. Sure, a century and a half later, the Irish can argue with the Italians and even the Poles over who was most deserving of the degrading label “white niggers”. I’m being deliberately provocative to make a point. For if you substitute the terms “Hispanic” or “Black” for Irish, all the social problems being discussed in this article are still very familiar in any American city today. The poor will always be with us, and poverty and ignorance with all its social ills respects no skin color.
The article inside the link is really a short biography of Roman Catholic Archbishop John Hughes who did much to improve the condition of America’s Irish. Archbishop Hughes was no shrinking violet, and basically shamed the Irish in New York into respectability. In roughly half a century, America’s Irish ceased to be a hopeless and despised underclass, and became respectable and productive citizens.
Christianity is a religion of discipline, and the author describes the role the Catholic Church played in raising up the New York Irish from their extreme poverty to become one of the most successful immigrant groups in America. There are strong messages here that deserve to be heard today.
Oh, the lesson here? Archbishop Hughes did not save the Irish by throwing money and programs at them. He realized their poverty was a moral and spiritual crisis and taught the Irish how to save themselves.
This long, but very interesting article can be read at the City Journal Online (NY). Click the link below.