Tuesday, June 29, 2010

two champions

Reading about Archbishop John Hughes, I noticed a few similarities between his life and that of my great-great-grandfather, Rabbi Abraham Sutro. They both were born in the last decades of the eighteenth century and both died in the seventh decade of the nineteenth. They were both religious leaders who attained a level of political influence.

Both were fierce enemies of second-class citizenship for people of a religious minority, both worked to overcome barriers to those peoples' social and political advancement, and both sought and achieved educational reforms to ensure that an alien "established" religion would not be forced upon the community's children.

Although they were each in their own way reformers, neither would be called a liberal. They both upheld traditional religious values, advocated traditional hierarchies of authority, and resisted ecumenism. They opposed assimilation, seeing it more of less as a form of capitulation to the entrenched power-structure.

They were somewhat similar in the education they received and in their rise to positions of authority. Hughes emigrated from Ireland to the U.S. at the age of 19, worked as a gardener and then advanced from student in a Catholic college, to priest, to bishop, to archbishop. Sutro was born in a town in Westphalia, Germany, and studied at the yeshibot of Fürth (Germany) and of Prague. Having completed his studies, he taught in Prague. After returning to Westphalia, he continued to teach and, while doing so, was named rabbi of the district of Warburg. Later, he was appointed "Landesrabbiner," or spiritual leader, for the districts of Münster and Dortmund (Westphalia), and finally chief rabbi of the district of Paderborn (also Westphalia).

Both engaged in power struggles with members of their own confessions. Hughes battled trustees for priestly control of Church administration while Sutro battled leaders of the Reform movement.

They also shared a failure: both were unsuccessful in efforts to obtain public funding for religious education.

Some of the differences between them were trivial and obvious: the one Irish Catholic, the other Westphalian Jew; the one a man of action and the public forum; the other a man of contemplation and the schoolroom. Their greatest difference lay in the cohesion of their followers and their respective constituency's force of numbers. Established authorities both feared and respected Hughes, while Sutro could only use moral suasion and his skill in administration to win himself political favor.

Hughes left behind enduring monuments that attest to the power of his influence: He built an orphan asylum and numerous churches. He began construction of St. Patrick's Cathedral. He started the independent Catholic school system in the U.S. He founded Fordham University and three Catholic colleges in New York. His legacy was described by the historian Richard Henry Clarke: "His varied and gigantic services to religion, and his bold, able, and successful championship of the faith in the United States, at a time when such services were most needed, seem to mark him out as a man raised by Providence for great purposes, as the man for the times and country in which his lot was cast, and as one whose influence is destined long to survive him."[1]

Sutro's legacy was three-fold: establishment of religious education for Jews in Westphalia, emancipation of the Jews throughout Prussia, and the mentoring of a man who would become one of the most famous of American rabbis. Thus he created and administered as system of instruction for Westphalian Jews and he stubbornly petitioned the Prussian Diet to repeal the ordinances declaring the Jews ineligible for public office and only a few months before his death saw passage of a law removing all the disabilities that had been placed on the Jews. The American rabbi was Isaac Leeser, who, both as publisher and preacher, helped mold the scattered Jews of America into a community of faith.

Sutro's leanings were not entirely conservative. He was the first rabbi to preach in the German language. If Hughes had a progressive side, it lay in his actions in defense of a persecuted people. He was fearless in confronting bigots and he battled the Protestant School Association for abusing the pubic trust by using tax money to teach anti-Catholic and anti-Irish doctrine in supposedly non-denominational schools.

There are relatively few biographic essays on Sutro and none of them gives a succinct appreciation of his accomplishments. I'll let this small tribute stand for more than it says. Of Sutro's accomplishments as an educational administrator, the historian, Jacob Raphael, wrote this of Sutro's influence within the town of Beckum in Westphalia:
The turn of the century became an epoch of historic development, with an abundance of new ideas, hopes and ambitions. Moses Mendelsohn, the Descartes of the Jews, opened new avenues for German Jewry, that finally also penetrated into the remoter regions. It is evident that the influence of this philosopher from Berlin, also reached Beckum. The desire for spiritual learning and cultural activity within the community prompted the appointment of religious leaders, rabbis, and skilled religious officials. The first groping attempts were made at educating the young generation in Jewish subjects according to pedagogic principles. Those were first attempts, because Jewish schooling was still in its early stages, and there was not yet any systematic training of teachers and educators. It was thanks to the energetic efforts of Rabbi Sutro of the Münster region that the religious affairs of the Beckum community became supervised, and compulsory religious education was initiated. He made sure that the Jewish youngsters of Beckum would have competent teachers.
There is an abundance of eulogistic summaries of Hughes' life and works, but, among them all, one stands out as not coming from a source that anyone could consider to be biased in his favor. It appeared in the issue of Harper's Weekly for Saturday, January 16, 1864. You expect obituaries to celebrate the positive influence given the world by the deceased person, but it's nonetheless a surprise to find this paper praising the man. During his life it published a large number of vicious — bigoted and unprincipled — attacks in Thomas Nast's cartoons and accompanying text. I showed some of these in my last blog post. Here is what the obit writer for Harper's Weekly had to say about Hughes:
The Catholic Archbishop of New York, the Rev. JOHN HUGHES, died on Sunday evening, January 3, aged about 65 years. Few men of his day exercised so wide an influence, social, moral, and political, and few men have exercised it, upon the whole, so honestly and wisely. He was born in Ireland in 1798, the son of a respectable farmer. He came to America in 1817, and soon after became a student at the Catholic College at Emmetsburg, Maryland. In 1825 he received ordination, and was appointed to the charge of a church in Philadelphia, and became recognized as a man of mark in his Church. In 1838 he was appointed coadjutor to the venerable Bishop Dubois of New York, who was fast sinking under age and infirmity. A fortnight had hardly passed before Bishop Dubois was struck down by paralysis, and the oversight of the Diocese fell upon Mr. Hughes, who four years later, upon the death of his superior, became Bishop of New York. In this position he had full scope for the exercise of his great administrative powers. To the general public he was best known by the various controversies in which he was at several times engaged, prominent among which were those with Dr. John Breckenridge, that upon the Public School Question, that with his fellow-countryman, Dr. Nicholas Murray (Kirwan), and one with the Hon. Erastus Brooks. But his true work was in the organization of the affairs of his diocese, and the establishment of its educational and religious concerns upon a firm basis. It would require a volume to detail his labors. It is sufficient to say that he gradually gathered into his own strong hands the entire control of the Catholic schools and churches of his Diocese. The amount of church property nominally vested in him has been stated at fully five millions of dollars. He found his Diocese weak and disjointed; he left it strong and consolidated. His position gave him great political influence; this he rarely used except when he thought the interests of the Church were in question, and then always with telling effect. In 1850 the Diocese of New York was divided by the erection of the Sees of Albany and Buffalo, while that of New York was raised to the dignity of an Archbishopric. After the breaking out of the insurrection, Archbishop Hughes, at the desire of our Government, went to Europe on a mission to aid the Union cause; for his exertions in this mission he received the official thanks of the authorities of the City of New York. Within a few months his health began to give way, and his public appearances became more rare. His last notable effort was his speech to the Catholics of New York, at the time of the riots of last July. This speech was sharply and, we think, justly criticised. Its intent was good; but we thought at the time, and must think still, that it contained some highly objectionable features. We apprehend that the mental, as well as the physical, strength of the Archbishop was impaired when he made this speech, which we are confident was heard or read with regret by the best and wisest of his friends. Apart from this speech, conceived and delivered when the venerable prelate was not his old self, we think it would be difficult to point to a single important act in his long administration that was not wise and politic, and which, viewed from his own standpoint, was not right and honorable. He died as he had lived, a true man, and a sincere Christian. There will probably be a sharp contest, open or concealed, as to who shall succeed to the post left vacant by his death. It will be well for the Church and the country if the second Archbishop of New York be, all in all, a worthy successor of John Hughes.
-- Harper's Weekly, Saturday, January 16, 1864

{John Hughes with his "dagger John" signature; source: virtualogy.com}

{Abraham Sutro; source: wikipedia.de}


This blog post is one of a series on the Five Points district of Manhattan. Here are others in the series. The Five Points series began with a set on Mulberry Street. Here are the posts in that series. This post is also in a series giving stories from my family history. Here are others in that series. Unlike the two preceding lists, these are given in newest-to-oldest order: ---------

Some sources on John Hughes and Abraham Sutro:

A History of Public Education in the United States by Deeptha Thattai


Anti-Catholicism and the History of Catholic School Funding

Elementary Education: History

The cyclopædia of education edited by Henry Kiddle and Alexander Jacob Schem (E. Steiger & co., 1883)

Archbishop John Hughes The Irish Catholic Who Helped Shape American Catholicism by Kyle Sanders

John Hughes article in the New Advent Encyclopedia

"Bishop Hughes versus the Public School Society of New York," by Joseph J. McCadden, The Catholic Historical Review, Vol. 50, No. 2 (Jul., 1964), pp. 188-207, retrieved from jstor: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25017420

SUTRO, ABRAHAM article in the Jewish Encyclopedia

Isaac Leeser and the Making of American Judaism by Lance J. Sussman (Wayne State University Press, 1996)

Revolution and evolution, 1848 in German-Jewish history edited by Werner Eugen Mosse, Arnold Paucker, and Reinhard Rürup (Mohr Siebeck, 1981)

The greatest rabbis hall of fame by Alex J. Goldman (SP Books, 1987)

History of the Jewish Community of Beckum by Zeev Raphael

Lives of the deceased bishops of the Catholic Church in the United States, Volume 2, by Richard Henry Clarke (R. H. Clarke, 1888)

Abraham Sutro in wikipedia.de



[1] Quoted in: John Hughes (archbishop): Episcopacy

[2] Paraphrased from Jacob Raphael: Die Synagogengemeindein (1924) in History of the Jewish Community of Beckum.


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