The mid-19th century witnessed an explosion of revolutionary thought and actions, as well as intense social, sectarian, and racial hatred. Liberal intellectual movement sparked the 1848 Revolutions and in the United States, the question over slavery divided political parties, regions, and communities. The Know-Nothings, the virulent anti-immigrant nationalist organization, pushed back against Roman Catholics, especially the Irish, and violent outbursts became commonplace over religious issues. Following the end of the Civil War, Reconstruction brought additional perils in integrating a multiracial society, while still including the pressures faced by the Catholic Church.
Despite this sectarian turmoil, one Jesuit missionary saw his purpose in evangelizing former slaves in the Midwestern United States. Reverend Father Francis Xavier Weninger S.J., committed his time and energy to the evangelization and communal fulfillment in fostering black parishes in Northern states. From 1848 to 1888, Father Weninger conducted missions and recorded the country’s racial ideology. Weninger tailored his sermons by regional audiences and offered methods on effective assistance for blacks. During this time, he became a prolific author on theological subjects such as papal infallibility, interdenominational marriages, and the sanctity of sacraments. Weninger saw that while the Catholic Church swayed in adhering to a set pattern for evangelizing former slaves, he spearheaded his own goals, one of which was establishing the St. Ann’s Parish in Cincinnati, Ohio. Weninger was not only on a mission serving the liberated slaves, but for building a path to national healing.
The following posts will expand upon Weninger’s origins, missions, sermons, social and political convictions, the role of the Catholic Church in Reconstruction, and how former slaves became indoctrinated into the Church. The posts you’ll read soon is a micro history of one Jesuit priest and his solemn mission to heal a bloodied nation through prayer and the word of God.