Illuminations: The Virtues of the Irish
By: J. Michael Finn
Sylvester Horton Rosecrans was born in Homer, Ohio, to Crandall Rosecrans and Jane Hopkins Rosecrans on February 5, 1827. He was not Irish on either side of his family.
His father was born in the Netherlands. His brother was Civil War Union General William S. Rosecrans. Raised in a Methodist family in Licking County, Ohio, he attended Kenyon College, an Episcopal institution in Mt. Vernon, Ohio.
While attending Kenyon College, he received a letter from his brother William in 1845, who was then a professor at West Point. William announced he had converted to Catholicism and he encouraged Sylvester to do the same. Sylvester followed him into the Catholic Church that same year.
Sylvester enrolled at St. John’s College in Fordham, New York. After graduating from St. John’s in 1846 with high honors, he decided to enter the priesthood, and was sent by Cincinnati Archbishop John Baptist Purcell to study in Rome. There he earned his doctorate in theology and was ordained a priest on June 5, 1852.
Father Rosecrans returned to the Archdiocese of Cincinnati and was appointed pastor of St. Thomas Church in Cincinnati. He was then assigned as a curate at St. Peter in Chains Cathedral and was a professor at Mount St. Mary’s of the West Seminary in Cincinnati.
Catholic Telegraph and Advocate
In October 1852, while he was serving at Mt. St. Mary’s Seminary, he was appointed editor of the Catholic Telegraph and Advocate, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. In that paper on October 15, 1853, Father Rosecrans penned an editorial titled, The Virtues of the Irish. The following is the text of that article for your appreciation:
The Virtues of the Irish
“In considering the virtues of the Irish, we leave out Ireland’s great men. Her long array of canonized Saints, and Martyrs, and Doctors, her incorruptible Statesmen, her devoted and distinguished Bishops and Priests, have a history written, which needs from us no comment. We speak only of virtues of Ireland’s wronged and down-trodden masses, of the Railroaders, the hod-carriers, the draymen, with whom our country swarms.
“In the first place, these common men will not be denied, even by their enemies, the virtue of faith. They have held to that faith in the midst of trials greater than those to which the Anglo-Saxon succumbed. Terror and flattery, proscription, confiscation, and outlawry, have been tried in vain upon them. For their faith they have suffered poverty, insult, contumely (defamation), and exile. Their enemies have made the constancy with which they have adhered to the Faith of St. Patrick a subject of reproach to them. Faith, therefore, with its accompanying virtues of reverence towards holy things, of obedience to their pastors, of deep and abiding desire not to go permanently wrong, belongs, undoubtedly, to the Irish.
“Secondly, we presume no one acquainted with them will refuse to accord to the Irish the virtue of honesty. The scrupulous exactness with which they strive to pay their debts, the fidelity with which they use the money entrusted to their care by their employers, the simplicity with which they make known their real circumstances to those from whom they desire credit, are too well known, to need that we should expose them as virtues of the Irish.
“Thirdly, the Irish are distinguished for the virtue of charity towards their neighbors, both in word and in deed. No true Irishman ever refused his mite to any one in distress. No true Irishman was ever a deliberate calumniator of his neighbor. An Irishman could not, for money, be induced to write and re-write, and publish again and again refuted calumnies – The children of the Irish Orangemen will do that, or any other dirty work, whereby they may turn a penny; but the true Irishman scorns to live by such vile means, as the injury of his neighbor.
“Fourthly, a trait that shines bright in the Irish character is fidelity to kindred. Those who have witnessed the sacrifices of poor servant girls, to get together enough to buy a bank check for the poor old mother or father, or sister or brother, in the old country, need not be told how attached are the Irish to those to whom nature binds them. We have seen men who denied themselves even the necessaries of life in order to relieve the wants of their kindred in Ireland. One man who lived in the country walked forty miles in order not to diminish by the stage fare the sum of fifty dollars, necessary to purchase a ten pound check for his old mother. Another would not join in a pleasant excursion, because he remembered the dear ones awaiting at home the fruit of his labor in America. And so a thousand instances of poverty endured, of inconvenience suffered, and of insult disregarded, might be cited, showing the fondness with which the Celt clings to his kindred and his home. Contrast this with the indifference with which the Yankee wooden-nutmeg vender, or schoolmaster, or book agent speaks of the “old man” and “old woman” at home in Connecticut, and you will appreciate the natural virtue, which in the midst of such untoward associations, preserves undiminished the fire of domestic, or, as St. Paul calls it, ‘natural affection.’
“Finally, (for we should be endless were we to enumerate all the virtues of the Irish) the true Irishman retains, with all his desire for the prosperity of the land of his adoption, and ardent love of the land of his birth. There is not an Irish heart now but leaps at the prospect of England’s coming downfall, and rejoices in the thought that the Green Isle is again to lift up her head and throw off the Anglo-Saxon chains that have so long fettered her – God grant that their desire may be soon, accomplished! But in the meantime, the love of the Celt to the land of his birth will not miss the reward.”
Pope Pius IX Appoints Cincinnati Auxiliary Bishop
On December 23, 1861, Father Sylvester Rosecrans was appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Cincinnati by Pope Pius IX. He was consecrated on March 25, 1862 by Archbishop Purcell at St. Peter’s Cathedral in Cincinnati. On March 3, 1868 he was named the first Bishop for the newly erected Diocese of Columbus, Ohio.
Bishop Sylvester H. Rosecrans maintained his positive view of the Irish throughout his service in Columbus. In April 1876, he was asked for his opinion regarding the recently founded division of the Ancient Order of Hibernians in Columbus. This was during a time when many bishops around the country were unjustly criticizing the Order.
The Bishop replied, “A few weeks ago we noticed the organization in this city of a branch of the Ancient Order of Hibernians. The members composing the division here we found to be honest, upright, intelligent, and good practical Catholics, who regarded their faith more than their own heart’s blood, and would not knowingly be guilty of a breach of the laws of the Church.”
But his greatest achievement was the construction of St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Columbus, which was consecrated on October 20, 1878. The good bishop died the next day, at the age of 51. He is buried in the undercroft of the cathedral he built.
*J. Michael Finn is the Ohio State Historian for the Ancient Order of Hibernians and Division Historian for the Patrick Pearse Division in Columbus, Ohio. He is also Chairman of the Catholic Record Society for the Diocese of Columbus, Ohio. He writes on Irish and Irish-American history; Ohio history and Ohio Catholic history. You may contact him at [email protected].