Cahensly, Peter Paul
CAHENSLY, PETER PAUL
Lay leader; b. Limburg an der Lahn, Rhine province of Nassau, Germany, Oct. 28, 1838; d. Dec. 25, 1923. He was the youngest of four children of a mercantile wholesale grocery family. As preparation to succeed his father in the firm, he traveled throughout Germany, Switzerland, France, England, Belgium, and Holland, studying freight and shipping techniques. In the ports of those countries and on ships, he saw the conditions of the immigrants from Europe to the American countries during the 19th century. As an active member of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, Cahensly became a pioneer and strong advocate of welfare and care for these immigrants. He collected data regarding conditions on ships, as well as in ports of exit and entry; spoke at the annual Katholikentage of German Catholics; initiated social action programs to alleviate conditions; established missions and chapels at ports; and addressed petitions to governments and bishops to control the chicanery of immigration agents, lodging proprietors, local police, ticket agents, ship lines, and money changers. In 1871 the st. rapha el's society for the protection of German Catholic emigrants was established and was later broadened to include Italian, Belgian, French, and other European representation. Cahensly was first secretary and then president (1899) of this pioneer 19th–century lay Catholic organization, which was without clerical membership or direction and was supported by annual dues. Despite opposition from governments and vested interests, as well as from the liberal and antireligious press, the movement gained momentum. Cahensly also served in local, regional, and national political positions, including membership in the Prussian house of delegates (1885–1915) and the Reichstag (1898–1903), where he caucused with the Center party.
A daughter branch of the St. Raphael's Society was established (1883) in the United States; eight years later a turmoil broke out among U.S. Catholics concerning the rights of Catholic immigrants to their native language and customs that was termed "Cahenslyism" by opposition partisans. The controversy stemmed from a petition to Leo XIII in 1890, signed by 51 members of European boards of directors of the St. Raphael's Society from seven nations, requesting separate churches for each nationality, appointment of priests of the same nationality as the faithful, parochial schools where the mother tongue would be taught, and representation in the American hierarchy of the immigrant races. The petition, unacceptable to the Americanizing members of the Catholic Church in the United States, was discredited in an extended journalistic and pamphlet exchange. This Lucerne memorandum was never acted upon by the Holy See, although it continued as a partisan factor in the tension leading to the americanism controversy in the U.S. Church at the end of the 19th century. Cahensly was eventually personally vindicated and recognized internationally, with honors from church and state, under the title of "Father of the Emigrant."
[c. j. barry]