I feel compelled to comment on the article, “Cartoonist still creating controversy,” that appeared recently in the Star Herald (Jan. 6) regarding the anti-Catholic, anti-Irish cartoons of Thomas Nast, his nomination for the New Jersey Hall of Fame and the objections voiced by Lawrence Keeley of the Anti-Irish Defamation Federation and William Donahue of the Catholic League.
While not to excuse the denigrating cartoons of Thomas Nast, the protesting organizations should also be aware of the well-documented bigotry exhibited against Polish immigrants, and in particular, by the predominantly Irish Roman Catholic hierarchy in the United States during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. As historian Dr. Joseph Wytrwal writes in Poles in American History and Tradition:
“The adherence to the Polish language for church services, school instruction, and the press appeared to the Irish bishops as an excessive fondness for old world customs, as well as a lack of appreciation for the language and customs of the country that had given the Poles a haven and a better life. They regarded it as not only un-American but also un-Catholic.”
Contributing also to the prejudice against the Polish immigrants was the fear that these newer immigrants would compete for jobs and political influence with the older, more established Irish and German immigrant groups in America.
My purpose in writing is not to condemn, cast blame or dredge up old ethnic animosity, but to attempt to make the full historical record known. Unfortunately, the history of the immigrant experience in this country has often been one of intolerance, intense bigotry and even violence. And as we all know, this is an issue we still confront as a society up to the present day.
The Catholic Church in the United States represents an amazing multi-cultural tapestry, comprised of many diverse ethnic groups, some arriving on these shores long ago and some more recently, but all united by a common faith tradition. This diversity should be respected, recognized and celebrated. We are so much richer, and blessed, as a church and a nation because of our cultural and ethnic heritage.
(Wilinski is organist and choir director St. Joseph’s (Polish) Church, Camden)