Home | Mission & Goals | Meeting Schedule | Search | Contact Us | Submit A Story | Links

The Story of the Mountain
Mount Saint Mary's College and Seminary

Mary E. Meline & Edward F.X. McSween

Published by the Emmitsburg Chronicle, 1911

Chapter 39 | 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 make shine.

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. McCaffrey:

Cincinnati, 16th, 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 proper direction.

[Some priests, in fact, purchased for this heroic defender of the faith an annuity which he enjoyed for over twenty years.]

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 say it.

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., Sp. Cin.

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 its walls.

Dr. McCaffrey to Dr. Brownson, Dec. 15, 1848:

"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 successors?

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 of 1892.

We were amused lately (1907) at reading the following in Dr. Lambert's paper, the New York " Freeman's Journal ":


"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 Lege Naturali."

Father Obermeyer writes to the President from Cumberland, Md., Aug. 15, 1850:

. . . 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 year. ..."

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. McCaffrey.

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, 1850.

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 Webster.

Georgetown, May 10th, 1850.

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, Jr.

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, Daniel Webster.

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.

Chapter Index

Special thanks to John Miller for his efforts in scanning the book's contents and converting it into the web page you are now viewing.