- The History of the Franciscan Brothers of Brooklyn in Ireland and America
Brother Emmett Corry's book is not so much a history of the Brooklyn Franciscans, as it is a compilation of addresses, rules, letters, and other documents, accompanied with commentary. As one may imagine from the title, the Brooklyn Franciscans had their roots in Ireland from the time they arrived from there in 1858 until the death of their last Irish-born member, Brother Charles Rynne, in 1982 after sixty-seven years of service to his order.
In these 124 years the Brooklyn Franciscans founded numerous shelters, elementary and secondary schools, and other institutions, many of them far afield from Brooklyn. Their work took them to nearby Long Island and beyond to areas once remote, such as Florida and California. They assisted in the founding of St. Bonaventure University and were among its earliest teachers. Perhaps their most cherished educational achievement was St. Francis Academy and College, to which the author devotes an entire chapter.
The formal arrival of the Order in Brooklyn in 1858 was anticipated by a few years when several brothers from the monastery on Achill Island off the coast of Galway arrived to solicit Famine Relief. That calamity was especially severe in the west of Ireland.
The correspondence that the author quotes touching on the appalling conditions of those days makes one realize that the suffering would have been even worse without the hard and courageous work of the monks of Roundstone Monastery. When many of the survivors of the Famine began to arrive in the eastern cities of the United States a few years later some of the brothers followed.
There are two good miniature portraits of their old and new superiors. First, John Mac Hale, Archbishop of Tuam. He grew up in an Irish-speaking area and became an ardent nationalist. Much concerned to foster Catholic education in the face of Protestant evangelical challenges, he almost single-handedly rewrote the rules of the National School System to the benefit of his Church. Brother Emmett tells us that "he was the ecclesiastical superior of most of the Franciscan Brothers of Ireland," which may explain in part his opposition to the independent-minded [End Page 578] Capuchin and temperance reformer, Theobald Mathew. Second, John Hughes, Archbishop of New York, who had much the same concerns at a time when abuse was being hurled at the newly arrived Irish and at their religion.
One could quibble with the book's organization, its lack of an index, and some of its judgments. I do not think that Cardinal Cullen can be called a "Castle" bishop, especially after the revealing work of Emmett Larkin which puts him in a very different light indeed, but all-in-all this is a valuable and interesting work.