(Note: this continues the series of articles by Paul Likoudis which I am publishing each Thursday.)
The Wanderer at 140....
Der Wanderer Debuted At A Time
Of A Sharply Divided U.S. Church
by Paul Likoudis
When Der Wanderer debuted on November 16, 1867, the Church in the United States was sharply divided, not only along ethnic lines, but along ideological ones, and the debate that played out in the Church mirrored a larger cultural debate on whether the United States was to be a “melting pot” where all the various ethnic and immigrant groups were “fired” into a new American, or whether peoples would be allowed to maintain their ethnic traditions.
“The division among American Catholics in the last third of the 19th century was not only a struggle between traditionalists and modernists, but a conflict between the ‘accommodationist’ spirit and an ‘assimilationist’ ethic and the tradition of cultural conformity represented by Irish and Irish-American churchmen,” explains C. Joseph Doyle, executive director of the Massachusetts Catholic Action League, “who inherited that from post-Reformation English Catholicism.
“The mostly German bishops and priests of the American mid-west in the ‘German Triangle’ running from Cincinnati to St. Louis to Milwaukee wanted to maintain their own ethnic nationalism and separatism from the dominant Anglophone culture.
“If one looks at the threads of this Irish-dominated Church,” Doyle added, “represented by such prelates as St. Paul’s ‘Americanist’ Archbishop John Ireland, Baltimore’s James Cardinal Gibbons, Bishop John J. Keane, the first rector of the Catholic University of America (and later Archbishop of Dubuque) and Monsignor Dennis O’Connell (first rector of the North American College in Rome and later Keane’s successor at CUA), one sees the corporate spirit of 18th century English Catholicism, which sought toleration and practiced appeasement toward the Protestant majority and which was careful to affirm its loyalty to the governing elites.”
This was the spirit of America’s first bishop, John Carroll, who had close relations with the founders of the American Republic, and wanted to minimize papal control over the Church and even sought a vernacular liturgy for the United States. Another early “Americanist” was Charleston’s Bishop, Irish-born John England, who famously told a joint session of Congress that the Pope would never tell him, as an American citizen, how to vote.
At the time of Der Wanderer’s founding in 1867 and Vatican I, 1869-1870, the Americanist bishops were largely opposed to the declaration on papal infallibility championed by England’s Henry Edward Cardinal Manning, Archbishop of Westminster, Paul Cardinal Cullen of Dublin and St. Anthony Mary Claret, Archbishop of Santiago in exile.
This opposition was rooted in either theological reservations regarding its expediency or, as it was called at the time, “inopportunism,” or on political grounds that it would force Catholics to choose between allegiance to the Church or loyalty to the state. Among the two prelates at Vatican I who voted against Pastor Aeternus, defining papal infallibility, was the Bishop of Little Rock, Ark., Edward Fitzgerald.
“This was sadly consistent with the previous practices of the American hierarchy who were reluctant to defend the temporal power of the papacy, especially when it came to raising funds, subscribing to bonds or calling for volunteers to support the papal states from rampaging Garibaldian anti-clerical revolutionaries and Freemasons hiding under the guise of Italian nationalism,” Doyle said.
Issues that divided “Americanists” from integralists or papal loyalists have endured: debates over the exclusive use of a vernacular liturgy and popular or sacred music at Mass; aversion versus affection to ultramontane devotions, such as recitation of the Rosary, wearing the scapular, veneration of relics, invocation of the saints, Eucharistic Adoration and Marian piety. Another major issue dividing U.S. Catholics a century ago was the American notion of “manifest destiny”: the Americanists – bishops, priests and laity – applauded the U.S. invasion of Cuba and the Philippines, which President McKinley said was done to civilize and Christianize the Filipinos – a country that was Catholic long before the Puritans landed on Plymouth Rock. Later, Americanists supported American involvement in World War I (which led directly to the demise of the last great Catholic power in Europe, Austria-Hungary, ruled by a saint, the Venerable Karl von Habsburg, Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary, who never lifted a finger against the United States).
NO MORE SAUERKRAUT
Americanist Catholic support for the war against Germany – despite the fact that 25 million Americans had relatives in Germany or Austria – also led to a radical propaganda war against German-Americans, and their customs and traditions were demonized. Sauerkraut became “liberty cabbage” and nativist bigots Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson declaimed against “hyphenated Americans.”
Opposed to the “Americanists” were such German bishops as Michael Heiss, Bishop of LaCrosse and later Archbishop of Milwaukee (1818-1890), who was called to Rome by Pope Leo XIII to discuss the growing problem of “Americanism,” and which resulted in the encyclical Testem Benevolentiae Nostrae which condemned the notion that “the Church should shape her teachings more in accord with the spirit of the age and relax some of her ancient severity and make some concessions to new opinions.”
Another contentious issue when Der Wanderer debuted was German complaints that German priests were not advancing into the hierarchy in proportion to their numbers, and that the Irish dominated hierarchy was practicing secrecy and showing favoritism in advancing the careers of Irish-American clerics, whose personal relations skills helped shape American politics, which the Irish soon came to dominate in the late 19th century.
(As an aside, an assessment of the Irish-dominated American hierarchy is provided by Fr. James Hennessey, SJ, in his book American Catholics. He quotes Bishop George Conroy, an Irish prelate from Ardagh, sent by the Holy See to investigate the American hierarchy:
“Conroy reported to Rome in 1878,” wrote Hennessey, “that hardly ten in 68 American bishops were distinguished for any kind of talent. The rest ‘hardly reach a decent mediocrity, and in theological knowledge they do not even reach mediocrity.’”
(In fairness to the Irish, it must be pointed out there were prominent Irish opponents of Americanism, such as Archbishop Michael Corrigan of New York, Rochester’s Bishop Bernard McQuaid, and, of course, Rafael Merry Cardinal Del Val’s close confident, Boston’s William Cardinal O’Connell, all of whom served a large number of German Catholics.)
In the post-Civil War era, when German migration to the United States was at its peak, the Germans were firmly convinced that the most efficacious way of preserving the Catholic faith of German-American immigrants was to preserve their German language and culture, and to resist the tendency towards assimilation into WASP America.
From its founding, observed Fr. John Kulas, author of an academic study on Der Wanderer’s first ten years, Der Wanderer of St. Paul: The First Decade, 1867-1877) this newspaper played an important national role in building the German-American community. This newspaper not only emphasized Church and political news, but also devoted separate pages to art, music, theater and literature reviews. The Germans understood that a strong Catholic faith needs a support system, and could not merely be a private conviction afloat in a hostile sea of Protestantism and secularism.
THE EARLY YEARS
Der Wanderer was the inspiration of Benedictine Father Clemens Staub and a group of German laymen of his Assumption parish in St. Paul, who offered the initial funding to launch the paper, which debuted on the same day as the Minneapolis Tribune and the Minnesota Newspaper Association, under the editorship of Eugen L. Ehrhardt, who had recently arrived in St. Paul from the Rhineland.
Five months later, Ehrhardt “suddenly disappeared,” Fr. Kulas discovered, and the newspaper named no editor until the following September, when Theodor Mullenmeister, a recent immigrant from Prussia was hired to take the helm. It is likely that in the interim Fr. Staub edited the paper.
Mullenmeister, writes Fr. Kulas, brought “a more intense political orientation and an impassioned editorial style.” He was, moreover, “a complex, restless, driven man with powerful convictions often expressed in vehement, intemperate language, a man who seemed to attract controversy and to delight in it, a man who apparently could not hold any job for long.” He left after a year at the post.
Der Wanderer’s third editor was Franz Fassbind, 45, a Swiss-born doctor who came to the United States in 1864 to assume the editorship of Der Wahrheits-Freund of Cincinnati, the first German Catholic newspaper in the United States. Fr. Kulas described him: “Quite the opposite in temperament and character of his predecessor, with his tenure of fourteen years, he finally brought stability to the newspaper. He was milder, more amicable, less belligerent than the flamboyant and caustic Mullenmeister and possessed a more reflective, more literary style, though he was not lacking in convictions and firmness in expressing them.”
Der Wanderer was incorporated in May 1868 as the Deutsch-Katholische Druckgellschaft, with 50 shareholders, an arrangement which lasted ten years until five of the original members bought the others out. Of these 50, Fr. Kulas informs, about half had arrived from Germany in the 1850s, and were well-established professionals or tradesmen, the other half more recent immigrants. Only two were native born.
“Many of these immigrants were skilled practitioners of various trades, and a number of them were already operating their own small businesses. They included six blacksmiths and wagon makers as well as smaller numbers of shoemakers, printers and one brewer. Others provided merchandise – there were seven engaged in the grocery business – and two were saloon keepers. A few might be described as professional people, and these included six priests, three teachers, a lawyer, a coroner, a druggist and a musician. Two were engaged in agricultural pursuits, and three were listed as laborers....
“These men seemed to have had no particular expertise for an undertaking of this kind. Some of them had received a basic education in their homeland, but none, apart from editor Fassbind and the clerics, had any higher education before emigrating. The centennial edition of The Wanderer includes an article on the beginnings of the paper which emphasizes that it was a group of ‘little men’ who met to organize this enterprise, although in a similar story ten years earlier they are referred to as ‘prominent Catholic laymen.’ Both assessments are undoubtedly accurate, for it was these ordinary men, successful in their own way, who emerged as community leaders, willing to labor and commit their resources to the success of a notable endeavor. They were clearly not men of erudition, but if the priests among them were probably the best educated, it was the lay leaders who provided the means and kept the paper in touch with the community....
“These were all pioneers, and not surprisingly they were a generally young lot. The age of these men when the stock association was formed is known for less than half of them, but of these none exceed 50 and twelve and not yet reached 40. They were thus able to communicate the vitality of the frontier to this undertaking and exhibited the pioneer’s willingness to accept challenges and to reject defeat....
“The Catholic readers of Der Wanderer were undoubtedly not any better educated than these leaders, and they were probably on the whole less well situated. It can be assumed that they were typical of the German-Catholic settlers of the region. Like most of their fellow German immigrants of the period they were most likely members of the lower middle class, poor though not indigent, artisans, laborers, farmers and merchants.”
Der Wanderer, in those early years, always printed the names and residences of its readers when they subscribed or renewed, and from that Fr. Kulas determined that one in seven readers came from St. Paul, 70 percent were from elsewhere in the state, and the remainder came from Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas and Louisiana, “a tribute to the paper’s aspirations of becoming a national journal.”
The inherent conservatism of German Catholics was obvious in the newspaper’s editorials, but the news content was vast. Each issue had news on national and European events, both political and Church-related, and city and state news, and Der Wanderer regularly informed its readers news came via “Cable Dispatches” and “By Telegraph, which “underscored the fact that the telegraph had only lately reached St. Paul,” noted Fr. Kulas.
Der Wanderer had much more, Fr. Kulas revealed: “articles on household and agricultural topics appeared regularly with an abundance of helpful hints ranging from how to can crab apples and how to treat frozen feet to better ways of fertilizing. For their leisure hours readers could turn to the literary page which presented serialized fiction and poetry, and the latter sometimes by local writers. An increasing amount of space was devoted to advertising, and no paper was complete without its column or two of humor....”
THE IMMIGRANT EXPERIENCE
Among the advertisements Der Wanderer carried were City of St. Paul legal notices, and State of Minnesota appeals to its readership in Germany and Austria to immigrate to Minnesota. In its early years, an average of 130,000 Germans annually were crossing the Atlantic to settle in Minnesota, and Der Wanderer played a major role in welcoming these immigrants as well as informing its readers of the often-times desperate plight they were in. One early article, Fr. Kulas reports, told of the hardships of single women who traveled in steerage and had no job prospects upon arriving, and advised single women not to take the risk. In another article, the same writer says that there were two million fewer Catholics practicing their faith in the United States than there should be because “of the unfavorable conditions for the practice of the faith to be found in North America.”
One early initiative Der Wanderer engaged in, with others to support German immigrants, was promoting Der Deutsche Romisch-Katholische Central-Verein von Nord America, or Central Union, founded by German professionals, bankers and insurance agents to greet and assist German immigrants, and one of its leaders, Joseph Kolble in New York, was a regular correspondent for the paper.
The Central-Verein, or Catholic Central Union was founded in Buffalo, N.Y., as a mutual-aid society in 1855, but only had about 62 branches in 1865. By 1875, it had grown to 302, a number which nearly doubled over the next 20 years, no doubt due the efforts of Der Wanderer’s Franz Fassbind.
In fact, writes Fr. Kulas, the “immigrant experience” formed Der Wanderer. “Like its contemporaries, it developed its own personality through the lively interaction of editor, community and community concerns.”
Has much changed at all over the past 140 years, despite appearances?