Saturday, June 2, 2012

History As Obstacle Course

Any avid student of American history can tell you why a course of study begun in the fall of 1860 was doomed to encounter interference before the school year was out. An earnest student pursuing the priesthood would find no exception. And so, as he faces the eve of the American Civil War, we’ll try to piece together the explanation for Father Patrick M. Flannigan’s unorthodox course of study.

Yesterday, we mentioned Patrick Flannigan’s departure on June 27, 1860, from the home of Father Martin Fox in Ontonagon County, Michigan. Patrick had been studying under the priest’s direction until this point. Now, he was headed to Cincinnati to the seminary there. That first year’s study was interrupted by an event that not only intruded upon the young Flannigan’s plans, but tore apart the core of an entire nation.  The April, 1861, attack upon Fort Sumter heralded a change in plans for a good many young men from all walks of life.

Including this interlude in his narrative, author Antoine Ivan Rezek explained in History of the Diocese of Sault Ste. Marie and Marquette the impact of the war on institutions like the seminary in Cincinnati:
The Civil War had robbed most of the institutions of their higher students; those who had not been already drafted into the army, were afraid to return to their benches on account of the enforced conscription, thus many a hall of learning remained closed.
This condition remained in effect, essentially, for the remainder of the war. Rezek noted later, in the same book, the situation in Cincinnati as Bishop Baraga, himself, encountered it during a visit there in 1863:
There things looked very much warlike and desolate, cannons and soldiers being everywhere. He[Bishop Baraga]  did not tarry in Cincinnati longer than necessary, and with a feeling of longing returned to his distant, quiet diocese where war was fought only in the newspapers.
With the closure of the institution which was to provide the Upper Peninsula diocese with much-needed additional assistance for the missions work there, Bishop Baraga had to embark on an unusual alternate course of action. There were no outside sources for the necessary education during these war years, as Rezek explained:
The Seminary of St. Francis was not an exception. The theology course was suspended, and the two students [from the Upper Peninsula region, one of whom was Patrick Flannigan] returned home. The Bishop was much perplexed what to do with them. The conditions were about the same all over the States. He either had to send them to Canada or ordain them. He chose the latter….
And thus tomorrow, picking our way through the narratives recounting the history of each parish within the diocese, we will piece together the path Patrick Flannigan took to become a local parish priest despite the limitations imposed on account of war.

Above right: illustration entitled "The Battle of Shiloh" from Walter F. Beyer, et al, Deeds of valor; how America's heroes won the Medal of Honor, published in 1901; via Wikipedia; in the public domain.


  1. Tales of the civil war and it's effects seem to be swirling around me (J.P.McPH's diary,recent books I have read, "Confederates in the Attic" and "The Devil's Grove" -- and to it I now add the story of Patrick Flannigan. And to paraphrase the A-Team, "Gad, how I love how things come together."

    1. Perhaps, Joan, this is an example of a true "meme"--when everyone seems to stumble upon the same idea at the same time. We must all be on the same wavelength!

  2. So, Patrick was still "unschooled" when he was ordained - as a means of ... avoiding the war? Is this the underlying premise?

    The war did indeed see the entire gamut of responses - from "immediate enlistment" to great efforts in avoidence. At heart of the conflict was the economic value of slaves - where they had value - it was considerable and their owners fought to retain their value (i.e., money).

    The tragic flaw was in the US Constitution - where "persons of color" were not deemed "equal" to those that weren't - and the fact that correcting this flaw lead to the horror of hundreds of thousands of dead ...frights me today when we still have contentious issues of surrounding things that should be "self-evident."

    I can understand why Father Patrick Flannigan would not see the conflict as "his"...


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