The Story of the
Mary's College and Seminary
Mary E. Meline & Edward F.X. McSween
Published by the Emmitsburg Chronicle, 1911
| Chapter Index
Chapter 40: 1850
While George Miles was editing the
new Catholic paper, the Mirror of
Baltimore, he wrote a charming idyl of
the Mountain, entitled "Loretto."
Thousands of college boys and convent
girls have enjoyed this exquisite
Catholic tale, and every new pupil at
Mount St. Mary's and at St. Joseph's
still finds in it a delicious literary
treat. To all of us, then, the
following letter from the author to
Dr. McCaffrey is of interest:
Dear Godfather: . . . I have
written to many letters today that
my epistolary strength is ebbing
out. Hart has declined publishing
Mohammed [Mohammed, a tragedy, won
the prize of $1000 given by Mr.
Ford, of Baltimore] so I have
written to Putnam, Harper and
Appleton. (My) Mohammed must be
published! Then for immortality!
Eternity! Comfort mother, never mind
me and write for the Mirror.
The mistakes you noticed in the
third chapter of Loretto were errors
of the printer, save "unvarnished,"
to which I stick hang it! varnish is
a polish, and you rub to polish, to
Suppose I send Lei to the convent
and marry Agnes to Melville? I am
hinting that, now, to mislead.
Continue your criticisms and keep me
up to the sticking-point. The fifth
chapter, to be published on Friday,
is some pumpkins. Shall I make Agnes
a nun or a Sister of Charity?
Considering all things, I am a happy
man and begin to relish trials: if
ever a poor fellow was suddenly
thrown from complete dependence to
complete independence it is your
honorable and gifted godson. The
poetic element in all the Mileses is
wonderfully strong, as every day
confirms. However, there is a heaven
after this farce of life, a home
after this exile, etc., as will more
fully and at large appear in the
fifth chapter of the aforesaid
Loretto, recorded among the weekly
proceedings of the Catholic Mirror,
No. 5, folio 31, 1850. Ever yours,
George H. Miles.
Bishop Purcell writes to Dr.
April, 1850. Rev. Dear friend: . , .
Glad am I that Mr. Miles is
acquiring so much celebrity as an
author. With such an inexorable
avenger of Catholic orthodoxy and
philosophy and courage and honor as
Mr. Brownson, the race of young
Catholic cowards will soon be
extinct and one of heroes formed,
and N, N, N , and all who are
afraid of hurting Protestant
prejudices, will then dare be
Catholics. By the way, I think the
different bishops should raise a
fund to buy "Chelsea Cottage," or
some other comfortable homestead for
Mr. Brownson. I am willing to do my
part if the movement begin in the
[Some priests, in fact, purchased
for this heroic defender of the faith
an annuity which he enjoyed for over
And yet Brownson, as I hope, will
not succeed in making our people
such heartbreaking "reasoners" as
they should become, to the
detriment, I think, of pure, simple,
artless, confiding faith and trust
were they to popularize his Review.
I cannot read his dissertations
unless as a task; and in his
criticisms he is great as the
principle he contends for is, and
great as the provocation which he or
the truth in faith or philosophy or
taste might have received in my
opinion too much on the meat-axe
order. Bryant [another prominent
convert of the time], after all,
would make, has made, as many
converts as Brownson.
Bishop England, too, is harshly
and wrongfully dealt with in his
last no. of the Review, though not
by him. The noble champion of
Catholicity never meant to say that
the Pope was not infallible when
teaching ex cathedra he never did
John Coleman has written his
mother a rather homesick letter, in
which he artfully enough introduces
the argumentum ad matrem,
saying: " "When I am sick it is not
your small, soft, white hand is
placed on my forehead." I told her
the hands of the sisters, if not so
white and small, were soft enough
for sicker heads than John's. But
all this was said as a bit of humor,
nothing more. . . . Tell him not to
mind what his mother says to him
about being slender, but rather
imitate his Uncle Woodward, and
above all to form a true standard of
heart and head, and conform thereto
his conduct. . . . Adieu. Ever truly
and affectionately yours, John B.,
Mention of Dr. Orestes Agamemnon
Brownson, the Plato of America and
redoubtable champion of revealed
truth, offers an opportunity for
inserting some extracts from letters
of Dr. McCaffrey to the great polemic,
whose character so much resembled his
own. They are taken from the "Life of
Brownson" by the latter's son Henry,
and throw some light on the writer who
ruled the College for thirty-four of
the threescore years he spent within
Dr. McCaffrey to Dr. Brownson, Dec.
"I found all our clergy from
Boston to Emmitsburg wrong in their
politics except Father McElroy (S.
J.). He was wrong four years ago,
but I'm never wrong. ..."
Same to same:
"I have already agreed with you
that constitutions grow, are not
made. ... I have taught it in direct
contradiction to the Declaration of
Independence, that governments
derive their power ' from God,' not
' from the consent of the governed.'
... I have just read Bishop Hughes'
pronunciamento. I thank you for his
declaration that the cry of Liberty
' is a nuisance.' . . .
"I read in the 'People' newspaper
the words: 'Republican institutions
are the ultimate destiny of man,'
and threw the paper into the fire."
"The church is neither democratic
nor anti-democratic. . ."
"McSherry (the historian,
doubtless) graduated here with high
honor and has lent his talents
freely to the service of religion."
July 6, 1849: " On the last Sunday
of the scholastic year, in conformity
with custom, I addressed the students
chiefly, and took for my subject '
Obedience.' In illustrating the
obstacles to the practice of this
all-important virtue, I remarked that
' Now every traitor is a patriot,
every rebel a hero.' If Lucifer's
revolt were to occur in our day, and
we could be informed of the outbreak
of the insurrection and progress of
the war, the public sympathy would be
with the rebellious archangel; the
approving voice of our people would be
in favor of the revolt and ' against
the almighty power and tyranny of
God.' As a good symptom of the state
of feeling among those who heard me, I
must say that all concurred with me in
the truth of my remark. . . . Why did
the French and Spaniards lose all
their colonies in the West ? Were they
not at home and abroad so jealous of
the influence of Rome as virtually to
nullify the authority of St. Peter's
Were not court minions raised to
all the high places in the church? Was
not Canada, were not South America and
Mexico thus surrendered to a
corruption beginning with the clergy
and spreading rottenness through all
the people? As to education, I do not
see that the Jesuits or any body of
men could counteract the pernicious,
all-pervading influence and active
control of the infidel or semi-infidel
governments of Europe during the past
century. . . . We are all of us at
times, when things go wrong, strongly
tempted to blame what is least
blamable, and knowing what Catholics
ought to be and ought to do, and what
divine grace offered them most
abundantly would lead them to be and
to do, we are amazed and scandalized
at the inefficiency and worthlessness
of vast numbers of them.
"Engaged in the task of educating
American boys, I find that very few
have been taught by their parents to
obey and sacrifice self-will to duty.
Parents generally tell me that their
boys are honorable and will not lie :
I find that one in a hundred never
lies. I find that in three cases out
of four the children rule the parents,
and ultimately study what they please,
and at home do what they please. Boys,
I find, have two distinct and often
contradictory consciences. I use the
word for want of a better. A lad
resists his teacher and defies
authority he is sure of the sympathy
and applause of the majority of his
companions. He most solemnly
asseverates before me, before his
parents, that he has done nothing but
what he believed it to be right to do.
I know7 that if he goes to confession
the next hour he will accuse himself
of the same act of disobedience, make
acts of contrition for it, and resolve
never to repeat it, and that without
any other promptings than those of his
true Catholic conscience.
In all the evils, then, which
prevail everywhere in society, in all
the contradictions which shock us in
the behavior of Christians, I behold
but two causes at work, nature and
grace. Any institution in which a
large number of young persons are
crowded together will become a sink of
iniquity, a perfect hot-bed of vice
for most of them, unless they be
watched over with incessant care,
unless authority be inflexibly
maintained, and unless religion
restrain and guide the young minds and
hearts. None but priests or nuns will
or can well discharge all the duties
of Catholic preceptors. Secular
priests are with difficulty brought
and held together for the purpose of
carrying on educational institutions.
Monastic societies alone can supply
the want. Mount St. Mary's is the only
institution which now remains under
the control of secular priests. I see
clearly the advantages which the
religious orders have over us, and
look upon it as a special providence
that has sustained our institution
under all difficulties. Many persons
are now disposed to blame the Jesuits
as having failed totally in forming
the minds of European youth to
Catholic principles and conduct: I
blame the world, the flesh and the
devil. I argued my side of the case
against a brace of bishops at a social
meeting in Baltimore during the
National Council. I do not know
whether I convinced them ; they
certainly did not convince me.
" I am convinced the children of
this world will always be found wiser
in their generation than the children
of light, and I bear in mind the awful
question of our Savior, ' When the Son
of Man comes, think you will he find
faith on earth? . . ."
Rt. Rev. James E. Duffy, '63, of
Albany, N. Y., who was a prefect for
several years under McCaffrey, says
that these letters give the " man."
Father Duffy's own estimate of him
was shown in the lofty panegyric
which he uttered at the Alumni banquet
We were amused lately (1907) at
reading the following in Dr. Lambert's
paper, the New York " Freeman's
"THE TIMES OUT OF JOINT.
"All over the land, from the
President down, the wail of the
tearful Jeremiah is heard over the
decadence of the times from the high
standards set by the wiser and more
virtuous generation that went before
us. In this connection it is curious
to read the following extract from a
letter written by the Rev. John
McCaffrey, President of Mt. St. Mary's
College, Emmitsburg, Md., on Dec. 15,
1848, to the famous reviewer, Dr.
Orestes Brownson. The former was one
of the great men of the Catholic
Church in the United States during the
middle period of the last century, and
many well-known and successful priests
and bishops were trained under his
administration at the old ' Mountain.'
This is what he said:
"'Our whole system of mercantile
business is one of fraud all candid
merchants will acknowledge it.
Custom-house oaths are proverbial.
Doctors murder the unborn infant.
Lawyers plead any case and use any
plea. All things are fair in politics.
Governments must sustain themselves by
falsehood and crime. Jurors swear to
try a man according to law and the
facts and yet decide against both from
conscientious scruples. The world is
flooded with demoralizing books.
Parental authority is almost extinct.
Opinions govern all.'
"This was written nearly sixty
years ago, and yet it reads as if it
were not six years ago. Human nature
really does not seem to vary much at
any time and carries out that
century-old remark of Solomon, that '
there is nothing new under the sun. "
So far the Freeman.
When we recall other expressions of
opinion by the renowned President of
the Mountain, and remember Cardinal
McCloskey's humorous reference to Dr.
McCaffrey's perpetual refrain : "What
is the world coming to?" we have
subject for amusement perhaps, but for
meditation and consolation too. If the
world has managed to get through so
many crises, with God's help*we shall
still be able to run the machine and
"the end is not yet."
The commencement of 1850 was held
June 26th and saw two graduates.
George H. Miles delivered an address
before the Philomathian, which, as
usual with such papers, they published
in pamphlet form. Marshall Mcllhenny
spoke on " Perversion of Genius,"
Hopewell Hebb on the "Decline of
British Oratory," Luke Tiernan Chatard
on " Men of the 30 Middle Ages;" Jacob
Smith delivered a Latin oration, "De
Father Obermeyer writes to the
President from Cumberland, Md., Aug.
. . . You judge rightly of my
affection for the old Mount the only
spot on earth for which I feel any
affection at all. In leaving it I
sacrificed my strongest feelings,
and ten years of absence have not
weaned my heart from it. Happy would
I feel were it my lot once more to
be numbered among her chosen
inmates. Still since duty calls me
elsewhere, I must cheerfully submit
to my fate in the hope that it is
all for the best.
In reply to which Dr. McCaffrey
sets forth the difficulties of the
day, difficulties to which an
association of priests bound by no
vows is always liable, and from which
the Mountain has had many a time and
oft to suffer. One of the priests was
sick; the best teacher among the
seminarians was giving up the pursuit
of the ministry; there were other
losses, and now Father John Byrne is
undecided whether to stay or go, "
darkening our prospects and almost
extinguishing our hopes for the coming
Among the relics in the College
cabinet is a well-worn silk hat (a
"stovepipe") of uncommon size, which
belonged to Daniel Webster. The
following is the correspondence
relating to it:
Mr. George Poe, Jr., to Rev. J.
My dear Sir: When I had the
pleasure to see you here I spoke of
the hat of Mr. Webster. I sent it by
my son. I now send you the
correspondence about the hat. I pray
you to do me the favor of an answer.
Georgetown, D. C., Sept. 6th,
P. S. Please be informed that
this is the hat that he laid aside
at the commencement of his great
speech and that he resumed after
that effort was made.
Mr. George Poe to Hon. Daniel
Georgetown, May 10th,
Sir: I beg to bring to your
notice the request that I had the
honor to make, that you would have
the goodness to give me a hat of
yours that you had worn, so that I
might have it by the 10th of May.
It was, as I beg you to remember,
stated that the hat, if it was
obtained, was to be hung up in a
Roman Catholic Library, where are
placed many much valued relicks, and
it, among them, was intended to be
regarded, as they are, not indeed as
an object of adoration in itself,
but as a great help on intellectual
occasions and as a precious relick
of a man who can never be forgotten.
I have the honor to be, with the
greatest respect, Sir, Your most
obed. Sr., George Poe, Jr.
Hon. Daniel Webster to George Poe,
Washington, D. C., May 13, 1850.
Dear Sir: I have rec'd yours of
the 10th inst. If you will be kind
enough to send for the article on
the first day of June, it shall be
at your service. Yours respectfully,
Father Tom O'Neill's friends used
to say that the hat was taken by him
in mistake when he and the great
defender of "Liberty and Union" were
together on some public occasion.
Another version has it that Dr.
McCaffrey himself had tried on the hat
and, being struck with the
circumstance, had spoken of it to
George Poe, who got it for the
cabinet. If the Doctor mistook it for
his own, his head must have been
twenty-three and a half inches around,
that being, we think, the girth of the
renowned statesman's cranium.
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