The Passionist Mission in Argentina

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by Dora Schwartz
June 14, 1924
The American Weekly of Buenos Aires

Most American priests have devoted their lives to continuing in Argentina the pioneer missionary work that commenced in the New World nine hundred years ago and there are still several American priests in the Passionist Mission, which is just as truly the knight-errantry of religion and education in Argentina today as were the early missions with which such men as Marquette, Raymbault, Chaumont, and Lallemand blazed the trail which the pioneers later followed across the plains. Passionist Fathers have carried the cross and the alphabet out across the dry, dusty pampas to the small sons of the gauchos and up winding water courses and through the monte to the indians; and although their mission has become so important that it has become autonomous and thus passed out of its former American administration, the work is one in which American residents of Argentina will always be interested.

But though the Passionist Mission was at one time under American administration, it is to the Irish, rather than to Americans, that credit must be given for the founding of the mission. As early as the nineteenth century, when Argentina was still under Spanish jurisdiction, but struggling for independence, and when the entire southern half of the American Continent was in a raw state of development, Irish pioneers were already in evidence and taking an active part in the interests of the colonies. They had come out in straggling numbers, poor, yet rich in hope and in brawn, brain and character. At first they were unimportant, but they worked hard and earnestly and soon entered into all the affairs of the land. To their influence and cooperation is due much of the enterprise, administration, and industry, and much of the moral and social uplift of the Republic, so that the Colectividad Irlandesa is today one of the best beloved and appreciated of all the colonies.

Work Began in 1879

Wherever the Irish colonists have gone, their priest has accompanied them, and has kept to the very van of the advance and enterprise, frequently being the leader in the progress they have made. The Irish Church kept up a close interest in her little colony in Argentina, and in 1879 the first Passionist Fathers came out from Ireland and instituted churches, schools and missions at intervals, as the funds came in. The Mission of Buenos Aires subsequently passed into the hands of the American Passionists, among whom were priests of Irish birth and descent, but later, in 1902, it became autonomous with the Province, since when no more Americans have been deputed to the Mission here.

In Argentina the Passionist Fathers are recognized officially as chaplains of the English speaking Catholics, but as the majority are exceedingly learned in Spanish they have carried out Missions in Spanish and Italian all over the country, preaching to the settlers in the pampas and towns, and also to the Indians. They also have opened missions in Chile and Brazil, as offshoots of the Mission in this province, which were founded by Father Fidelis Kent Stone during his different Superiorships. Thanks to the generosity of the Irish in Argentina, among whom were many Irish-Americans, the Passionist Fathers have been able to build several churches, monasteries, and schools. Perhaps the most interesting history of all is attached to Holy Cross Church, in Calle Estados Unidos, which is one of the most beautiful churches in the entire republic. Built with the funds of Irish settlers in this country, Holy Cross Church was consecrated very shortly after its completion on account of being entirely free from debt.

Holy Cross Church

Holy Cross Church was built after the English-Gothic style of the Fourteenth Century, under the direction of the architect, Mr. E. A. Merry. The foundation stone was laid on May 4, 1890, and upon completion was blessed and inaugurated on March 11, 1894, by the late Archbishop of Buenos Aires, the Most Rev. Dr. D. Federico Aneiros. An impressive ceremony was held on September 3, 1897, when the Right Rev. D. Uladislao Castellano, who succeeded Dr. Aneiros as Bishop, consecrated the church, assisted by Bishops Cagliero and Espinosa.

The entire city block on which Holy Cross Church was built was donated to the Passionist Mission and on it have been constructed a monastery and several other buildings. In addition to the generous sums which were given for the erection of Holy Cross Church and other buildings, private individuals donated the altars, confessionals, railings, paintings, etc., in memory of loved relations who had passed away.

The interior of the church is very handsome, with Communion rails of Carrara marble, worked in an old Gothic pattern; the main Sanctuary gates of solid marble with reliefs of African onyx; the altars of Joinville, Mexican, Cordoba and other onyx and Irish marble. The marble statues and delicately carved woodwork are very fine. On both sides of the interior are a series of life-like paintings representing the story of the Way of the Cross, and there are other impressive pictures of Saints. One of the most notable objects is the pulpit, the gift of the well-known benefactress, Mrs. Margaret Mooney de Morgan, who died a few months ago. The octagonal, with its mouldings and panels, is of Carrara marble, whilst the pillars and pillarettes are of choice Argentine onyx. Four of the Evangelists occupy each a panel, and the figure of the Christ in the center panel faces the pews. This pulpit was designed by Mr. Merry and the late Father Constantine Colclough, and is the work of Señor Juan Bertini, a talented sculptor. The sacred objects altogether form a unique work of art, and have been executed by well-known sculptors and artists.

Other churches and schools which have been built by the Passionists are St. Paul’s church, retreat, and college at Capitán Sarmiento; Holy Rosary retreat and school at Jesús María; and St. Patrick’s hospice at Salto, F.C.C.B.A. Another Passionist church is being erected at Montevideo, in Calle Rivera 2273.

Many Ways of Doing Good

The Passionist Fathers carry on a very good work in the jails and hospitals, and respond to sick calls to attend on English speaking Catholics at any hour of the night. They think nothing of starting on a long journey of two or three days, through rough and even primitive country, to perform their offices. Often very difficult conditions have to be supported when they set out to visit the sick or dying on the pampas. They attend the English speaking Catholics of every province of Argentina and, regularly conduct services in ten or twelve towns of the Province of Buenos Aires. Every year they give short missions all over the southern and western parts of the interior at the Easter season and their advent is eagerly awaited.

Their school work is executed on the most up to date lines, with splendid results. One of the finest schools in this country, St. Paul’s College, Sarmiento, was opened by the Passionist Fathers in 1900. The present building was established on May 16, 1906. Father William Cushing, C.P., of New York, labored energetically for the advancement of this school, and in 1906, being then Rector of St. Paul’s Retreat, and Director of the School, he caused to be erected a spacious two-storey annexation on the eastern extremity. Since then the following Passionist Fathers have been Directors of the College: Father Constantine Bermingham, Father Ignatius Fagan and Father Anselm Gaynor, the present head. The College is substantially equipped and thoroughly up to date, with additions such as telephonic, electric and radio installations. The students receive a first class education, and many young men holding good positions in Argentina owe their success to St. Paul’s College.

The Passionist Fathers have established in Buenos Aires the Catholic Truth Society and, also, the Holy Cross Society for young men, who proudly assume the title of Knights of the Cross, with the obligations and principles involved.

The Passionist Fathers have also been the pioneers in organizing the observance of Argentine national holidays among the English speaking settlers in the country.

During the first years of the Passionist Mission there was little literature of any kind to be found in this country and, often, what was read was either of poor or low standard. Since then, the Passionist Fathers have published and circulated to numerous libraries important pamphlets and tracts, as also good literature on all subjects of the day, and have opened libraries of their own. In addition, they are indirectly responsible for the promotion of literary, dramatic and musical events, and for the great athletic meets that are held at different points in the pampas.

Among other social work done by the Passionist Fathers has been the establishing of orphanages, clubs and benevolent societies. The handsome Keating Institute, near Holy Cross church, was founded through their inspiration and was built under the superintendence of Father Fidelis Fowler of Pittsburgh.

A vast majority of the members and nearly all the superiors of the Passionist Mission are of Argentine birth, and principally of Irish descent, among whom may be named Father Constantine Bermingham, Provincial; Father Bernard Geraghty, Vice-Provincial, and in charge of the erection of the handsome and commodious Social Center being constructed near Holy Cross; Father Anselm Gaynor, the very able Principal of St. Paul’s College at Sarmiento; and Father Dominic Moore Kelly, Superior at Montevideo. The latter is well known throughout the neighboring Republics and in the Falkland Islands as a missionary and orator in English and Spanish.

One of the best known Passionists who have labored and died here was Father Victor Carolan of Dublin. He lived more than twenty years in the pampa and was called “The Apostle of Arroyo Luna.”

Many American Priests Worked Here

The Irish American cooperation in the Mission has also been great; many American Passionists having devoted their lives to the work, and several are buried here. The following is a brief history of some of the American Fathers:

Father Fidelis Kent Stone, under whose direction Holy Cross Church was built, was a grandson of Chancellor Kent of New York State. He was born in Boston, Mass., and was a Harvard classmate and friend of Justice Holmes of the United States Supreme Court.

Another American member of the Mission, who died several years ago and lies in the Holy Cross Pantheon at Chacarita, was Father Maurice Smith. He came of a well-known Philadelphian family and his brother, Walter George Smith, was Indian Commissioner, being appointed by President Wilson to succeed Governor Smith of New York State in that position. Mr. Walter Smith was also at one time President of the American Law Association and for many years Trustee of the University of Pennsylvania. Their father was General Kilby Smith of Civil War fame, and they belonged to a family of talented poets. Their grandmother was Mrs. Piatt, wife of Judge Donald Piatt, and their mother was Elizabeth McCullough Piatt, who published a large volume of poems. Their sister, Helen Grace Smith, who is still living, is also known in Philadelphia as a poetess.

In the Holy Cross Pantheon rest also the remains of Father Edward Tuohy, a clever and eloquent Passionist. He spoke fluently at least half a dozen languages and was learned in theology, literature, history and other sciences. He was a Shakesperian scholar, and gave many lectures on Shakespeare in the United Stales and to the English Literary Society here.

Father Martin Hogan, of New York, who died ten years ago, after twenty years of good missionary service in English, Spanish and Italian, was a great favorite among the native clergy, and has left a name that will long be remembered.

Another American Passionist, also from New York, was Father Ambrose Halpin, who was particularly interested in school work and in the circulation of American Catholic literature. He was a first cousin of Edward Doyle, the “Blind Poet of Harlem,” editor of “The Up-Town Visitor.”

The present Bishop of Marquette, Michigan, Father Paul Nussbaum, originally of Philadelphia, labored here from 1892 to 1902, and is still interested in the welfare of the Mission.

The first American Passionist to die here (in April 1883) after only two years’ residence, was Father Clement Finnigan of New York.

Father Eugene Ryan also of New York, served two terms as Rector of Holy Cross, and was subsequently the first Provincial of the New Province, dying in 1906.

From Pennsylvania came a zealous Passionist, Father John Joseph Hirtinberger [sic] [correction: Hirtenberger], who laboured from 1883 to 1903.

Another Passionist who came to Argentina, after a long experience in the United States, was Father Constantine Colclough, who passed away in 1894 [sic] [correction: 1896], after having been instrumental in the designing of the interior of Holy Cross Church.

Among the American Passionists still in this country is Father Louis Hochenbauer [sic] [correction: Hochendoner] of Pittsburgh, Penn. He is a zealous missionary, possesses a remarkable gift of languages, and though now more than 68 years old, still retains a resonant voice and is a good singer and musician. There is no corner of the Republic in which he has not labored. His influence over the people among whom he works everywhere has been great by reason of his perfect knowledge of Spanish and his winning and sincere manner. He is also revered and loved by the leading Argentine families.

Father David Knott, who comes from Kansas, has been many years in the Mission, and was Catholic Chaplain to the British Hospital of Buenos Aires. He is particularly well known in the Boca and other districts of the poor, where he has done much good work.

Three other American Passionists are Father Joseph Campion, of California, a brother of the well known stock raisers; Father John Macklin, from Kentucky, who has been Superior many times, and Father William Cushing of New York. As a boy, Father William used to play in Times Square, then known as Long Acre, and he was educated at St. Francis Xavier’s College, of which he is Master of Arts. His father, Thomas Cushing, was a noted lawyer in his day. Father William came out here twenty-five years ago, and has been engaged chiefly in school work. In addition to the Directorship of St. Paul’s College, he has taught Theology to students in this city, and is an ardent Hispanophil.

The Passionist Mission in Argentina has made great headway, though the personnel is as yet too limited to meet all the work it would wish to do. The Fathers feel, however, that one step helps another forward. They are especially grateful to the Irish Catholics who have never failed in their praise of the Superior of the Order and in their generosity toward the upkeep of the Mission. The late Pope Benedict XV amply proved this when he addressed the following to the Archbishops and Bishops of Ireland on July 31, 1918, in connection with the Beatification of Oliver Plunkett: “The generous Irish people… have always been the energetic defenders of the Faith on their native soil and its distinguished propagators in the most distant lands.”

There was no Need

Mamma (to Flossie, who has been lunching with a little friend): “I hope you were very polite, Flossie, at the table, and said. ‘Yes, please,’ and ‘No, thank you.'”

Flossie: “Well, I didn’t say ‘No, thank you.'”

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