Bishop Kenrick's Letter

Publication Year: 1843

"Interference of Romanists with the Public Schools." Christian Observer Vol. XXII No. 4 (January 27, 1843). 
Located in the PHS Periodical Room.

Reading suggestions

This article includes Bishop Kenrick's letter to the Board of Controllers of Public Schools, and a report of the proceedings of the Board of Controllers of Public Schools meeting, January 10, 1843.

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Source note

Bishop Francis Patrick Kenrick (1797-1863) was born in Ireland and was ordained as a Catholic priest in 1821. After arriving in Philadelphia in 1830 and gaining recognition through several publications as a Catholic scholar, Kenrick became the bishop of Philadelphia in 1842. Between 1834 and 1842, Kenrick advocated for Catholic children in public schools, arguing that they should not be forced to read the Protestant King James version of the Bible, and should not be forced to say Protestant prayers in school. Kenrick’s letter, though mild in its recommendations for how to make public schools more equitable for Catholic students, provoked outrage in many nativists who saw Kenrick as part of a Catholic conspiracy to take over the schools and either make them overtly Catholic or more generally godless.

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Reading questions
  1. Who is the author of this source? When was it written? How does the timing of this letter fit into the chronology of the Philadelphia Bible Riots?
  2. What are the three “conscientious objections” to the use of religion in publicschools that are outlined in this document (page 2)?
  3. What is the tone of this letter?
  4. What example does Kenrick provide of another school district allowing Catholic children to read a Catholic version of the Bible (page 2)?
  5. What reason does Kenrick provide for objecting to compulsory Protestant hymn singing in schools (page 2)?
  6. What were the resolutions of the Board of Controllers of Public Schools (page 3)?Were they accepted or rejected? How do you think the board’s decisions were received by the public?
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Source type
History Topics
19th Century Social Reform
American Nativism
American Religious History
Time Period
Slavery, Sectionalism, and Social Reform (1815-1861)