75th Anniversary


What Happened to the Pope's Gift?

July 25th, 2011

A classic article from November 1948

Photo from Photos.com


Many Catholics complain today about anti-Catholicism in our media, but as offensive as some of this anti-Catholic expression can be, it seldom rises to the viciousness of past times, such as when cartoonist Thomas Nast turned the miters of bishops into crocodile mouths as the bishops — with the bodies of crocodiles in his cartoons — swarmed ashore to destroy America. 


With some notable exceptions, the American colonies were founded by Protestants who had very negative attitudes and suspicions about the Catholic Church, and these feelings only grew stronger as waves of Catholic immigrants arrived. Catholics were often seen as incapable of democracy and the obedient minions of Rome — whom many saw as the “whore of Babylon”— and of the pope, who in many Protestant eyes was the anti-Christ.


Nativist groups — persons opposed to immigration, especially Catholic immigration — were a powerful force in 19th-century America. In 1840s Philadelphia, a mob of anti-Irish bigots dragged two cannons off a Navy frigate in the harbor and set them up in front of a Catholic church. They fired shot and shell all night until the church was reduced to smoking rubble. Nativist mobs often went on a rampage, burning churches and convents, with the authorities often looking the other way.


Even as late as 1928, when New York Governor Al Smith ran for president, some Protestant groups feared that if Smith were elected, the pope would move to Washington and control the country. There were even groups in the 1920s who warned that the Holland Tunnel, then being dug from New York to New Jersey, was actually going from New York all the way to the Vatican, allowing the pope to enter America unseen. They stubbornly held on to this belief despite common sense, the complete lack of any engineering technology that would make such a project possible, and the incredible cost of such an under-ocean venture (the Holland tunnel, about a mile and a half in length, cost about $50 million [$629 million in today’s currency]).


With all this anti-Catholic, anti-pope feeling, one shouldn’t be surprised that many nativists were unhappy in 1853 when Pope Pius IX sent a beautiful block of marble to be part of the Washington Monument — a gift from the Vatican to the American people. Though little remembered today, the fate of that stone burned itself into Catholic consciousness for generations.


So here, from November 1948: What Happened to the Pope’s Gift?


Click here to read this classic article