“Rome and the Public Schools” American Sentinel 3, 10, pp. 74, 75.

October 1888

ONE day in the late Convention of the National Educational Association, Professor Morgan, of Rhode Island, in replying to criticisms upon the public school, said that the opposition to the public schools comes from Roman Catholicism. The next day the following “open letter to the heads of the departments of the National Educational Association,” appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle. The writer is chancellor of the archdiocese of San Francisco:—

GENTLEMEN: When the National Educational Convention, now in session in this city, and over which you preside, began its work, we were told that the great object of the convention was in the assembled wisdom of numbers to compare methods, to interchange ideas, and unify the best methods of promoting the object of the public schools.

We were naturally led to suppress that one other object would be carefully kept in view, namely, to maintain inviolate the boasted characteristic of the public-system of this country, namely, its non-sectarian character.

Now, gentlemen, while these expectations were most reasonable, I beg to express what I believe to be the feeling of the great Catholic body of this community, including, I feel assured, every Catholic teacher in that convention, whether living here or coming hither from elsewhere, namely, our utter amazement at seeing your sessions regularly opened with prayer by Protestant ministers, representing the various Protestant denominations of this city.

This we might have tolerated to gratify those who delight to pray in public places, but we certainly cannot permit to go, without a respectful protest, such remarks as the following. I quote from this evening’s Bulletin. The report given of the gentlemen’s words is substantially the same in the Post and the Report. Prof. Thomas J. Morgan, of Rhode Island, said:—

“This rising opposition to the public schools comes from Roman Catholicism, and this opposition means nothing but their destruction—with them a destruction of our civilization, of our liberties, a return to the horrors of the Middle Ages.”

It is stated that these words were received with cheers and with hisses, but it is not said that these sentiments were repudiated by your presiding officer. Perhaps it was not his duty to do so. But if not, it is due the public to say that these sentiments are an insult to, and an outrage upon, the feelings of half the community in which this convention is sitting; an outrage upon the feelings of a large number of teachers composing that convention; an insult to the largest body of Christians in this great and free country, where, until now, it was supposed that no law, not even a school law, should operate or permit such insult. Since the Catholic body of this [75] country pays more taxes than any other body of Christians to support these schools, shall we then be insulted and outraged and have no means of redress? I ask the fair-minded of every shade of opinion if this is not true.

It is not true that “this rising opposition to the public-school system comes from Roman Catholicism” alone. Some of the best and purest men and the ablest and profoundest thinkers outside of Roman Catholicism are as much opposed to it as Catholicism is.

Gentlemen, is it fair, is it honest, to oblige teachers to attend that convention under pain of incurring the displeasure of the School Board, and thus insult them in this way? I ask the heads of this convention to answer.

Very respectfully,


San Francisco, July 19, 1888.

The following is Professor Morgan’s reply:—

To the Editor of the Chronicle—SIR: Will you kindly allow me space for a very brief reply to Rev. Father Montgomery’s “protest” against my remarks yesterday, which you publish to-day?

I assume all responsibility for my utterances and do not wish “the heads of departments” to be censured for what I have said.

I wish, however, to disclaim any intention of “insulting” my Roman Catholic fellow-citizens. Some of the best friends I have in the world are Roman Catholics. If in the hurry of a three-minute utterance on a great theme I used any words that could be regarded as insulting, I greatly regret it.

The point I wanted to make was this: I was asked, What answer can we give to the criticism made upon the public schools that they fail to cultivate the religious sentiment or to teach morality? My reply was that a part of this criticism from the Roman Catholics, and I asserted that the Catholics who make it would be satisfied with nothing less than the destruction of the public schools and the substitution therefor of parochial schools. In other words, the charge that the public schools are “godless” means that they are not Roman Catholic, and should be destroyed.

Not to multiply authorities, let me cite the words of Rev. F. T. McCarthy, S. J., used in a sermon reported in the Boston Journal, December 23, 1887. He says the public-school system “is a national fraud.” “It must cease to exist, and the day will come when it will cease to exist.” “There are some 8,000,000 Catholics in the United States, and they protest against this institution.” “It is subversive of the rights of the individual, subversive of the rights of the family, subversive of the rights of religion, and subversive of the divine rights of God himself.” The States “have no right to educate.” “God never gave a commission to the State to educate.” He asserts that if Catholics patronize the “godless” public schools, when they have other schools to send to, “they are guilty of mortal sin.”

The priest, whose words I am quoting, declares that he is not “giving his opinion,” but laying down “the teachings of the church.”

I respectfully submit that if Rev. Mr. McCarthy correctly represents the Catholics then they are in favor of the absolute overthrow of the American public-school system, and the criticism on the schools that they are godless is not made with a view of improving them, but is intended to undermine and destroy them.

As a teacher, a member and an officer of the National Educational Association; as a friend of the public-school system; as one who believes that our free Government rests upon the virtue and intelligence of our people—I felt at liberty when called upon to answer the grave criticism made upon our schools, to point out the animus of the criticism, so that we may know for what we are contending.

If Father Montgomery and the Catholics of the Pacific Coast agree with Father McCarthy, of Boston, I do not see that they have anything to complain of in what I have said. If, however, they do not accept his teachings, if they are the friends of the public schools, no one will rejoice over that fact more sincerely than I will.


San Francisco, July 19, 1888.

We shall not attempt to add anything to Professor Morgan’s reply, as to the merits of the case; but there are two expressions used by the priest to which we would call attention for a moment.

The first of these is that in which he speaks repeatedly of Professor Morgan’s words being an “insult and an outrage.” Priest Montgomery knows that the Professor states the fact. Priest Montgomery, and everybody else, knows that Roman Catholicism, everywhere and always, is opposed to our public-school system. Everybody knows that Professor Morgan stated the fact. And it is neither an insult nor an outrage publicly to state what is publicly known. The priest says there are some outside of Roman Catholicism who “are as much opposed to it [the public school] as Catholicism is.” Whoever outside of Roman Catholicism opposes the public-school system is but a Roman Catholic in disguise, for the principle of his opposition is essentially Roman Catholic. More than this, nine-tenths of those who oppose the public-school system, outside of the Catholic Church, do so expressly to please the Catholics and so secure their co-operation in carrying into operation certain religio-political schemes which both have in view, and which will end in that which Roman Catholicism has long desired—the destruction of the American public-school system.

The other expression is that in which the priest says that “to gratify those who love to pray in public places,” the Roman Catholics “might have tolerated” the opening of the sessions of the convention “with prayer by Protestant ministers, representing the various Protestant denominations.” Mr. Montgomery should be told that the American people know no such word as “tolerate.” “What other nations call religious toleration we call religious rights.” That Educational Convention had the right to have its sessions opened with prayer by anybody whom it should choose, or opened without prayer at all, just as it should choose. And when Mr. Montgomery talks of “tolerating” it, he casts a slur upon every man who has any respect for himself. In 1827 Lord Stanhope said: “The time was when toleration was craved by dissenters as a boon; it is now demanded as a right; but a time will come when it will be spurned as an insult.” That time has now come. And every man who is acquainted with the true principle of liberty will consider it an insult when anybody, be he so-called Protestant or straight-out Catholic, proposes any such thing as religious “toleration.” The vocabulary of American ideas knows no such word as “toleration;” it asserts RIGHTS.

A. T. J.

Share this: