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Irish Catholic Colonization Association of the U.S.


Originated at a meeting in Chicago, Ill., on Jan. 20, 1879, when William J. Onahan, acting for the principal organizations then promoting Irish colonization, planned a national conference for March 17. Despite earlier colonization projects, conditions among the Irish in crowded eastern cities continued to be distressing from moral, political, and economic viewpoints. Attempts for a national society had proved unproductive in 1856, 1869, and 1873; yet Bp. John Ireland's flourishing Irish Catholic settlements of the late 1870s in Minnesota made him, along with Dillon O'Brien, the greatest colonizing layman in Minnesota, think the time was opportune to try again.

Ireland could count on support from Bps. John Lancaster Spalding, of Peoria, and James O'Connor, of Omaha, who was then negotiating with the Burlington-Missouri Railroad for land for a Catholic colony. At the organization meeting on April 18, 1879, Spalding was elected president of the board of directors (a position he held through 1891), consisting of 13 laymen and six bishops. The association was legally incorporated under Illinois law as a stock company with capital of $100,000 in shares of $100 each. Their aim was to assist people who had saved $250 to $300, which, with association help, would enable a family to become established. They judged it unwise to settle absolute destitutes and discouraged further emigration from Ireland. From June 1879, Ireland and Spalding gave numerous lectures throughout eastern dioceses, including mass meetings in Cooper Union, New York City. Despite outward public approval and assurance that this was a safe business venture, less than $10,000 was subscribed. Even after a second strenuous lecture campaign, only $83,000 was actually paid in.

The association bought 10,000 acres of railroad land in Nobles County, Minn., and 25,000 in Greeley County, Nebr., to sell at $1.25 to $5.00 per acre. The price was advanced 25 percent an acre over purchase in order to erect a church, rectory, school, and immigrant depot for the temporary convenience of settlers. Since Bp. Edward Fitzgerald of Little Rock, Ark., had several flourishing colonies, an association committee in 1881 "reserved" lands along the railroad there for eight years; but few Irish families came. Perhaps this was due to lack of assistance

from association funds or antipathy to Negro labor there. When the lease expired the Arkansas venture was closed. In 1884 the association was able to establish a helpful immigration bureau at Castle Garden, New York City. As soon as prosperity was assured for its colonies in Minnesota and Nebraska, the association began redemption at par of its stock and in 1891 closed all accounts.

Bibliography: m. e. henthorne, The Irish Catholic Colonization Association of the United States (Champaign 1932). j. p. shannon, Catholic Colonization on the Western Frontier (New Haven 1957). j. l. spalding, The Religious Mission of the Irish People and Catholic Colonization (New York 1880).

[m. g. kelly]

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