by John Gavin Nolan
As their numbers increased, however, these Catholics became a threat, politically and economically, to the Protestants by whom they were employed, and who had preceded them as immigrants. The result was anti–Catholicism, covert at best but not infrequently public and sometimes violent, which found expression not only in the pulpit and in periodicals like The Protestant, but also through organizations like the American Protective Association (A.P.A.) and the Ku Klux Klan (K.K.K.). In retrospect, paradoxically, what these Protestant organizations helped to achieve, the Protestants did not want. Catholics on the defensive became at times nearly servile in their devotion to the bishops and parish priests. They rallied behind them, and by 1912 it is estimated that three million Catholics belonged to lay organizations such as the Knights of Columbus and the American Federation of Catholic Societies.
This is not to say that Catholics, bishops included, did not differ among themselves. The principal conflict arose between the Irish and the Germans, rooted in their differences in temperament, language, customs, liturgical practices and lesser externals, though not in faith and morals. The Germans mainly resented what they perceived as disproportionate Irish control over ecclesiastical appointments. So virulent was this bitterness that later in life, the Irish–born Cardinal Gibbons described a sermon he gave in Milwaukee, a stronghold of German sentiment, as one of the most audacious things he had ever done. We will prove to our countrymen that the ties formed by grace and faith are stronger than flesh and blood, he declared.
While open confrontation between the Germans and the Irish did indeed abate, the old feuds were not forgotten.
The Irish, certainly, were held together by flesh and blood. On Easter Monday 1916 an armed uprising of approximately 2,000 men in Dublin challenged for six days the centuries–old British subjugation of the country. The British made martyrs of the leaders and destroyed much of the city, and for months and even years thereafter the bloody British were excoriated under the crucifix from American pulpits and at Irish bond rallies in American parish halls. The Irish Free State, which was finally achieved in 1922,4 fell short of a united and independent Ireland, and in America the man or woman with an Irish name and British mannerisms was taken to be a social–climber or even worse, a turn–coat and a Protestant.