American Passionists in Argentina (continued)
The year 1877 marks the first coming of the Passionists to Argentina, and indeed, to South America. That year saw in Argentina an Irish population of some 28,000 scattered over 7,400 leagues. They led, a pastoral life, and families lived at a considerable distance from one another and it was difficult to attend to their spiritual wants. "While indeed the Irish people were the most conservative portion of the population and had grown very wealthy by their industry, the Archbishop saw the dangers to which they were exposed in new surroundings, customs, and ideas, and especially so in the case of the young people," writes Rev. Felix Ward, C.P. in his book entitled "The Passionists." This was the prime reason for the Passionists coming to Argentina, to minister to the Irish population scattered over the length and breadth of the land. Since that time the good work and influence of the Passionists has grown and spread till it now embraces every branch of missionary work conformable to their Holy Rule.
From their first beginning in the "Old Tin Chapel", as it was called, in Calle Estados Unidos, the present site of the grand structure of Holy Cross Church, "the handsomest Gothic structure in South America" (says Fr. Ward, C.P.), the work grew and spread till it can now boast of Monasteries, Churches, Schools, and hospices, in Buenos Aires, Capitán Sarmiento, Jesús-María (Córdoba), Salto, Montevideo (Urug.), Santa Lucia, Vicente Lopez (Prov. Buenos Aires), as well as its two grown-up sons, the missions in Chile, and the Independent Province of Brazil, each having three Monasteries, Churches and Schools.
"The official status of the Passionists in Argentina," writes Fr. Ward, C.P. in 1923, "is that of chaplains of the English-speaking population, who are almost wholly Irish. Yet they attend to the spiritual needs of others as well. But it is as missionaries that the Fathers are so well and favorably known in the great Southern Republic, in Uruguay, Paraguay, and in the Falkland Islands. Innumerable missions have been given by them in English, Spanish, and Italian, sometimes in all three languages simultaneously, but oftener in English and Spanish on the same mission. But their missions to the Argentine Irish have been their work in this line; and they have not been restricted to cities and towns; they have been conducted in the great plains or camps and amid the picturesque hills of that country. They have collected the Indians in the heart of the Pampas and given missions to them. With no railroads and few roads of any kind, hardships were so great and living accommodations so primitive, that the Fathers might well be put in the category of 'Foreign missionaries' in the ecclesiastical sense. They have given missions, retreats, novenas, lectures, and conferences to religious communities and to the laity Another interesting line of work is the instruction and reception of converts. The Fathers have candidates for instruction all the time In spite of the inroads made by rationalism, imperialism, and anti-clericalism, the charms of this old Catholic country, amid innumerable monuments of the colonial period, are most attractive. It is redolent of the spirit, traditions, customs and manners of old Castile, and its Catholic atmosphere leads men to the Church. From this it is readily seen that while attending to their special work as chaplains for the Argentine Irish, they identify themselves with the country, advance its interests and win the confidence of all classes and greater regard for their own devoted people."
The testimony of a non-Catholic will be interesting here, that of Mr. F. E. Guernsey, writing of the Passionists in Argentina. He writes "I have known priests who had gone into the most savage parts of the country as full of zeal as the early Franciscans, and others who live among the poorest populations of cities sharing the same humble fare as their flocks. No nobler body of men can anywhere be found than the Passionist Fathers now laboring in one of the suburban cities amongst the most object poor."
When one seeks to write in so brief an article as the present, the part played by the American Passionist in this grand work, he is necessarily confined to the more salient undertakings and accomplishments of their lives. Then too, in that a merely chronological relation would tend to become insipid and boresome, one is confronted by more or less of a problem as to how to write about men, who, speaking in a very broad and general sense, have led more or less the same life, dealing with the same problems, and doing practically the same work. So, if the reader will be good enough to try to bear these things in mind, we shall strive to treat of the matter in a way that seems to us best adapted to our purpose. We leave decided to treat of these men under the aspects of their more outstanding characteristics, grouping and classifying them, not so much as to the time they lived and worked, but rather according to the type and importance of the work they have done.
The writer is deeply indebted to the good Fathers of Holy Cross Monastery, who have furnished him much information from personal recollections of those of whom he is about to treat; also to the private chronicles of the Argentine Passionist Province, to the volumes "The Passionists", by Rev. Nicholas [sic] [correction: Felix] Ward, C.P.; "An Awakening and What Followed", by James Kent Stone; numerous temporary clippings from The "Southern Cross" and "The Standard". To all who have helped us in the compilation of this relation, we wish to express our deepest gratitude and most sincere thanks.