Friday, March 13, 2009


The Catholic school wallowed in super-patriotism; each morning we sang the
Star Spangled Banner in front of the school while the flag was raised. We knew that Shakespeare was a secret Catholic of course, as was Lincoln. We heard often of the Catholic scientist who lent his name to galvanized iron. But the actual effect of such ‘ethnic history’ was to make us see these Catholic notables as exceptions that proved the rule of Catholic mediocrity.

When Protestant children would remind us during WWII that the Pope was Italian,
We’d feel contempt that they didn’t realize this was a meaningless fluke,
Like Jesus being Jewish.

The British of course were legendary enemies. Many Iowa Irish felt that if Hitler was hated by the Jews, the Communists, and the King of England, well, he couldn’t be all bad.

Quasi-fascist sentiments were common in Cresco. In spite of the anti-Catholc feelings, if you walked down a street at the right time, you’d hear rabid Father Coughlin’s voice blaring from every house, Protestant or Catholic.

The British were hated, but I picked up a strange admiration for them, which showed in our near-worship of British Catholic saints, or convert writers:
St. Thomas More, Cardinal Newman, G.K. Chesterton—even disreputable
Evelyn Waugh and Graham Greene. I felt betrayed when I read Waugh’s life of Blessed Edmund Campion. Waugh quoted with malicious relish a letter showing Champion’s contempt for the savage Irish.

The Irish loved Joe McCarthy when he showed up. Only when he was disgraced did we remember that he was, after all, mostly German.

We were super-patriotic (my brother enlisted at 17); but we referred to ourselves as Irish, not as Americans. And my children, deplorably enough, are almost 100% Irish,
Though my family has been here for nearly 2 centuries.

In Korea I met an Irish American, wounded in combat, who was reproached by a clerk for saying he was Irish, tho born in America. He snorted,
“If a cat has kittens in an oven, do you call ‘em biscuits?”

In 1960, I was teasing an aunt that she voted for Kennedy because he was Catholic.
“I did not; I voted because he was Irish ! You don’t think I’d vote for one of those German Catholics !”

No comments: