Memorial Day Speech

May 30, 1890


In the History of Saint Mark’s we have referred to the flag-raising held at St. Mark’s on May 30, 1890, and to the speech Father Vandergrift made on that day.  Because of the excellence of the speech itself, and because the sentiments expressed are just as timely today (1943) as they were then, we are reprinting it here.  It sums up admirably the ideals which have motivated St. Mark’s in her 100 years in Bristol.


Mr. Chairman, Gentlemen of the Council, and Fellow Citizens:


It is with pleasurable emotions, and a deep sense of gratitude that I accept from you in behalf of the Roman Catholic congregation of St. Mark’s, Bristol, this flag, the National Banner.  We will raise it on high and unfurl it to the four winds of Heaven, and let it float gracefully over our school building, that our little ones as they raise heir innocent, youthful eyes and gaze upon it, may learn even in their tenderest years to love it, to be proud of it, to honor it, so that if ever again a day of national gloom and death shall dawn on our country, they may be prepared to make sacrifices for it, yes, to fight for it, and if needs to be to die for it.


In the child of today we must recognize the future citizen of our Republic, and it is our bounded duty to instill into the hearts and very souls of our children that love of country, the spirit of patriotism which prompted so many noble, heroic Catholic hearts to leave home and friends, wife and children, to break asunder the strongest bonds of love and affection, to advance to the front ranks and there to brave bullet, shell and canister, to even lay bare the breast before the cold steel of the bayonet, to die a painful death on the battlefield, or drag out a wearied existence in a Southern prison.  On every battlefield of the Republic thousands and thousands of noble, self-sacrificing Catholic hearts bled, and poured out the last drop of life’s blood that the integrity of the Nation might be maintained; and when the conflict was most deadly, in the thickest of the fight, the gentle, kind, angelic Sister of Charity, could ever be seen silently picking her way amongst the dead and dying, on her mission of mercy, now staunching the blood as it flowed from some ugly gaping wound, or whispering kind words to hope, cheer, or comfort in the ear of some dying soldier.


Our country is doubly dear to us.  We are her children, she is our mother, and I would have you members of St. Mark’s congregation be convinced of the fact, viz., that if you be true and loyal to your Catholic Faith, you will never be false to your country.


The early history of America is the history of its Catholicity.  Catholicity is indelibly stamped on this Western Hemisphere.  The saintly names in the four corners of this continent declare that Catholics were its founders. Colonization within the confines of our Republic was planted at St. Augustine and Sante Fe fifty years before the Puritans saw the rock of Plymouth.  Catholic missionaries, Franciscans and Jesuits, for the conversion of the savage and the glory of God, did not loiter on the shores of the Atlantic, but traversed the lands lying along the Northern Lakes, followed the streams and rivers, explored the great valley, and discovering the Mississippi, tracked its source from the Falls of St. Anthony and were the first to see the Father of Waters empty into the Southern gulf.  Not a cape was discovered or a river entered but a Catholic priest led the way.  The Jesuits penetrated into primeval forests and carried the cross to the shores of the Pacific.  The exploits of Cartier, Balboa, DeSota, Ponce de Leon, Marquette, LaSalle, Champlain and others can never be obliterated.  They are moulded in enduring bronze on the massive gates of our capitol.


Should we not be proud of our country and Republic?  The whole world knows that it was a Catholic monk who inspired Columbus with hope; Catholic sovereigns sent the first ships across the trackless main; Catholic Columbus with his Catholic crew discovered the continent.  The new-found land was dedicated to the patronage of the Blessed Mother, and the first strains of song ever heard along the Western wave was the hymn to the Holy Virgin; the earliest worship of the true God was the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and the first standard planted was the standard of the Cross.  The first institutions of learning and the first charitable institutions were Catholic.  Catholic Maryland was the first to establish religious freedom; Catholic France aided with an army our Revolutionary struggle, and Catholic Powers were the first to acknowledge the independence of the United States.


These are the sentiments, the proofs, and the pledges of loyalty of the Catholic citizen, and to these he may exultingly give expression on this National holiday; when we extend the hand of fellowship to good men of all creeds and meet as one man on a common platform to commemorate the memory of the honored dead---the boys in blue, who fought so heroically side by side in defense of a Nation’s life.


Impress these sentiments deep down in the hearts and very souls of your children; teach them that to be good citizens they must first be good Catholics; that if they be true and loyal to their God, they can never be degenerate sons, false and traitorous to their country.