By BISHOP ROBERT BAKER
As we enter Thanksgiving and the beginning of our Advent season, it is an ideal time to recall and thank the Lord for the gifts of our brothers and sisters of European descent. We can add to our lists of blessings an array of cultures which have contributed to our lives in countless ways.
Our American Church is infused with European cultures from its past to the present. We have Catholics whose heritage is Italian, German, Swiss, Hungarian, Polish, Czech, Croatian, French, Irish, English, Scottish, Spanish, Portuguese, Swedish, and Dutch, to name just a few. Whether or not they come directly from Europe to the United States or are first, second, or third generation, people from these backgrounds bring a rich cultural heritage with them. It is this variety of backgrounds that invites us to a celebration of our differences that make our lives fuller and more Christ-like and challenges us, when and where necessary, to seek reconciliation with one another in Christ.
In the Diocese of Charleston throughout the year there are both celebrations that highlight European cultural roots as well as programs that encourage an exchange of experience with other countries. One such event is the Irish children summer program. This effort brings Catholic and Protestant children from Northern Ireland to stay with families in South Carolina and spend their summer learning and having fun in an environment of peace and safety.
Parishioners at Jesus, Our Risen Savior Church in Spartanburg also have a transatlantic outreach. After hearing about the plight of a Bosnian family who were driven from their war-torn homeland to search for a safer existence, the parish found them a place to live in their city and made every effort to welcome the family to their new spiritual and geographical home.
Our own Bishop Ernest L. Unterkoefler was proud of his German heritage and Bishop David B. Thompson of his Irish roots. His uncle and God-father, Daniel McLaughlin, was born in Derry, Ireland, and served in the U.S. Army during World War I.
The Irish have always been a cornerstone of our church in South Carolina. Our first bishop, Bishop John England, came from Cork, Ireland. He formally established the first religious order in the diocese with two Irish sisters, who became the Sisters of Charity of Our Lady of Mercy. That Irish legacy is as visible today in the many religious men and women of Irish ancestry who come to our state to work in ministry with us.
On St. Patrick’s Day everybody manages to celebrate what the Irish bring to our American way of life through faith, family, conviviality, and humor.
I was fortunate to have inherited an Irish perspective on life from my father and German cultural roots from my mother. Both cultural influences have been detected in me by people who have gotten to know me well.
France has also played a major role in the historical fabric of faith in South Carolina. We are blessed with several religious orders founded in France, such as the Trappists, the Congregation of Bon Secours, and the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine.
Catholics can thank the Dominicans and Poor Clares for an important legacy, devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. The practice of uninterrupted vigil and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament began in contemplative religious communities in 19th century France, particularly by the Dominican and Poor Clares religious communities.
We also have a litany of European saints to inspire us. St. Therese of Lisieux is the patron saint of the Theresians, a local Catholic women’s group dedicated to good works and devoted to the Little Flower’s “little way” of spirituality. The recently beatified Italian couple Luigi and Maria Beltrame Quattrocchi provide us with a model for Christian marriage. St. Elizabeth of Hungary, who celebrates her feast day this month, gave up wealth and royalty for a life of poverty and service to the poor.
Our faith is critical in defining our culture, and our own unique ethnic cultures bring a distinctive character and humanity to our faith. For many of us our Catholic heritage came to America from Europe and had been nourished in some European country that gave it a distinct quality and expression. That cultural heritage has not disappeared, even though our ancestors may have come to the shores of America over 150 years ago.
As we look around, we see how varied God’s people are and how much we have to be thankful for, also what gifts we have to offer one another. We as a people of many cultures are like a stained-glass window. Alone we are but indistinct pieces of glass, but once joined in a framework of faith, we create a glorious multifaceted image of Christ.
Let us appreciate and give thanks for our various heritages of European origin. As we acknowledge them, we are saying that there is something uniquely ours which we contribute to Catholic life in the United States. When we are at home and reconciled with our roots, we have much more to give back to the Lord, to his church, and to all his people.
In the month of November, in this Year of Reconciliation, we foster an appreciation of the gifts our brothers and sisters of European descent bring to our Catholic faith and American way of life, and we encourage reconciliation of these distinct cultures with one another — that, from the many, we become one — e pluribus unum.