Irish Catholic Riot 1840

The Eastern and Western States of America
by James Silk Buckingham

Considerable excitement was occasioned during our stay here, by an expected riot among the Irish Catholics, on behalf of a priest who was a great favourite with them. It apears that this reverend father had in some manner caused the church of which he was pastor, and certain lands, house, and furniture attached to it, to be made, by legal instrument, his own individual and exclusive property; and deeming himself thus in secure and immoveable possession, he defied all his ecclesiastical superiors.

He had been for some time habitually intemperate, and it was alleged that he had also committed extensive frauds. This is certain, that the Catholic Bishop of the Diocese, and the Vicar-General from St. Louis, had come on to Chicago from the south, for the purpose of forcing the priest to surrender the property which he unlawfully held, and then publicly excommunicating him.

The expectation of this ceremony drew crowds of Protestants together on the Sunday morning it was appointed to take place; and the sympathy felt by the Irish labourers on the canal, here pretty numerous, for one of their own priests, who freely drank whisky with them, was such, that they had declared they would clear the church, if any attempt were made to excommunicate their favourite.

The Bishop and Vicar-General hearing this, went among these men, and addressed them on the subject, reminding them of their allegiance to the church, and their duty of obedience to its decrees; told them they knew no distinction of nation or habit among Catholics, but that the only distinction which must be maintained, was between the worthy and the unworthy, the faithful and unfaithful sons of the church; and concluding by warning them that if they offered the slightest resistance to any public ceremony enjoined by the church, they would themselves incur the guilt of sacrilege, and be accordingly subjected to the very pains and penalties of excommunication which they wished to avert from another.

This had the effect of calming them into submission, and the priest learning this, consented to assign over to his superiors the property of the church which he had unlawfully withheld from it, and to leave the town on the following day, so that all further proceedings were stayed against him.


As Others See Chicago, Compiled and Edited by Bessie Louise Pierce
University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1933