A traveler who has seen the natural beauties of Bohemia, its vast resources, and the thrift of its people, will, no doubt, be surprised at the comparatively great number of persons who have emigrated to the United States of America. The causes for this are political, religious, and economical.
Religious dissensions at the beginning of the seventeenth century induced many to leave their native country and even to cross the ocean. The religious revolution stirred up by the preachings and teachings of John Hus gave birth to several religious sects in Bohemia, the suppression of which, after the battle of White Mountain near Prague (1620), caused many to emigrate to other countries and several even as far as America. Of the latter Augustyn Herman (d. 1692) and Frederick Filip (d. 1702) are the most important from an historical standpoint. Herman must have been a man of good education, for Governor Stuyvesant, of New Amsterdam, entrusted him with many important missions. He made the first map of the State of Maryland, of which one copy is still preserved in the British Museum and another at Richmond, in the archives of the State of Virginia. Herman always publicly professed his nationality. The second of these Bohemian emigrants, Filip, or Philipps as he is commonly known, was likewise a man of prominence and his descendants played no small part in the development of New Amsterdam. He was buried in the cemetery of Sleepy Hollow, near Tarrytown, New York. Though historical proof is lacking, without doubt many other Bohemians of similar religious convictions, emigrated to this country at the same time. Their families either died out, or, as more probable, were entirely assimilated by the American people so that they have left no trace.
Of late years emigration from Bohemia has been chiefly caused by political conditions. Many Bohemian patriots, especially during the stormy year of 1848, sought refuge beyond the sea to evade the consequences of patriotic zeal, as the courts showed little mercy to those accused of political crimes. A similar state of affairs existed later on when the reins of the Austrian Government passed into the hands of the enemies of Bohemia, who punished every patriotic act as high treason to Austria. These political conditions, coupled with the Austro-Prussian war of 1866, in which Bohemia suffered great loss of life and property, forced many to seek their fortunes in the land of freedom. The greater number of emigrants, however, came to this country on account of poverty, brought on, for the most part, by the failure of the Government to interest itself in the welfare of certain parts of Bohemia, especially the southern and eastern parts, where, for lack of industry, the people were forced to depend for their livelihood almost exclusively, on the fruits of the fields. This poverty was increased by overtaxation and frequent failures of crops. It was precisely these parts of Bohemia that sent thousands of their best citizens to America about 1870, and are sending a still greater number at the present time.
It will be impossible to give the exact number of Bohemian immigrants to the United States, as the Immigration Bureau up to the year 1881 enrolled all immigrants that came from any province of Austria as Austrians, and even after 1881, many Bohemians were listed as Austrians. As later immigration reports in which Bohemians were entered separately show that one-third of all immigrants from Austria come from Bohemia, the total number of Bohemians who came to this country before 1881 may be estimated approximately. It must be stated, however, that after 1881 many immigrants from Moravia and Silesia, Austrian provinces in which the Bohemian language is spoken, were enrolled as Bohemians. Taking all these facts into consideration, it is safe to give the number of foreign born Bohemians in the United States as 222,000. The number of American-born Bohemians is about 310,000, making the total Bohemian population of, the United States about 522,000. It is worthy of note that these figures are almost equally divided between males and females, which shows that the Bohemian immigrants have come to this country to stay. Statistics prove that only a very small number of Bohemians return to their native country to live. In 1906, 12,958 Bohemian immigrants were received, eclipsing the record of all previous years. The latest report of the Commissioner of Immigration shows only two percent of Bohemian immigrants illiterate, as compared with four per cent of Germans and still higher proportions for other nations.
Of the larger cities Chicago has a Bohemian population of about 100,000; New York, 40,000; Cleveland, 40,000; Baltimore, 8,500; Omaha, 8,000; Milwaukee, 5,500; St. Paul, 6,000; and St. Louis, 8,000.
It is in the farming districts that the Bohemian immigrants have attained the greatest degree of success. It is here that we can best see the great share they had in building up the United States. Coming for the most part from rural districts, accustomed to hard labor, and ever willing to undergo the hardships of pioneer life, the Bohemians have attained an honorable place amongst the Western farmers. There is a saying amongst the Western farmers that if anyone can wrest crops from the soil, it is the Bohemian farmer. About half of the Bohemian immigrants have cast their lot with farming communities.
Amongst the great number of Bohemians in this country, there is no one organization uniting them into one national body. This may be explained by the fact that they are divided into two strongly antagonistic camps: Catholics and atheists or free-thinkers. The latter are chiefly those who have apostatized from the faith of their fathers. Only an insignificant percentage of Bohemians are adherents of Protestant sects, though Protestants have expended great labor and large sums in proselytizing amongst the Bohemians.
The two camps are entirely separate, each with its own fraternal organizations. The Catholics have the following fraternal or benevolent organizations: The First Bohemian Roman Catholic Central Union ( Prvni Rimsko-Katolicka Ustredni Jednota ), founded in 1877 at St. Louis, has a membership of 11,505; the Catholic Workman ( Katolicky Delnik ), founded in 1891, 3,225; the Bohemian Roman Catholic Central Union of the State of Wisconsin ( Ceskd Rimsko-Katolicka Ustredni Jednota ve Statu Wisconsin ) founded in 1888, 1,380; the Bohemian Catholic Union of the State of Texas ( Katolicka Jednota Texaska ), founded in 1889, 1,900; the Western Bohemian Catholic Union ( Zapadni Cesko-Katolicka Jednota ), founded in 1898, 3,000; the Bohemian Catholic Union of Cleveland ( Cesko-Rimsko-Katolicka Jednota ve Cleveland, O. ), founded in 1899, 1,800; the Bohemian Catholic Central Union of American Women ( Ustredni Jednota Zen Americkych ) established in 1880, 14,100; the Bohemian Catholic Union of Women of the State of Texas ( Ceska Rimsko-Katolicka Jednota Zen ve Statu Texas ) likewise a large membership. All these organizations are thoroughly Catholic in spirit, and not only practice benevolence and charity towards their members, but have been the right hand of the clergy in building Catholic churches and schools and in fostering the spirit of religion amongst their countrymen.
Opposed to these Catholic organizations are the fraternal organizations of the freethinking Bohemians. The strongest of these is the Bohemian Slavic Benevolent Society ( Cesko-Slovanska Podporujici Spolecnost ), established at St. Louis in 1854, which has a membership, of about 15,000. This organization is chiefly responsible for the loss of faith amongst many Bohemians of this country, having enticed thousands of well-meaning people to join its ranks under the pretext of strict neutrality in religious matters. By association with free-thinkers and under other evil influences, thousands grew lukewarm in the performance of their religious duties and finally lost their faith entirely. This organization is atheistic in spirit and propagates atheism amongst its members. A similar tendency is exercised by the gymnastic or athletic societies commonly called the Sokol (turners); by the Western Benevolent Society ( Zapdni Ceska Bratrska Jednota ), which has a membership of about 7,000; by the Society of Bohemian Ladies ( Jednota Ceskych Dam ), with a membership of about 15,000, as well as several minor organizations of the same type.
Wherever it is possible Bohemian Catholics endeavor to build a school. Love of their faith as well as love of their native tongue impels them to send their children to these schools, it being the desire of Bohemian parents that their children learn at least to read and write the language of their parents. Experience shows that without such schools children are soon estranged to the language and lose many of the good characteristics of their parents. The number of Bohemian Catholic parochial schools in this country is seventy-five, with a total attendance of about 14,000. There is also an institution of higher education, St. Procopius College at Lisle, Illinois, founded and conducted by the Bohemian Benedictine Order. The object of this institution is not only to train candidates for the priesthood, but to give young men in general such an education as to enable them to become leaders of their people in the various walks of life.
The first, and for a long time the only, Bohemian Catholic newspaper published in the United States was the "Hlas" (Voice) of St. Louis, published semi-weekly. After its establishment in 1873 it was edited and managed for many years by its venerable founder, Monsignor Joseph Hessoun, pastor of St. John's Church, St. Louis, who gave it a special prestige among the Bohemian Catholics of the United States. In the year 1890 the "Pritel Ditek" (Friend of Children) was established in Chicago, a weekly periodical, and, as its name implies, intended chiefly for children. In the year 1892 the "Katolík" (The Catholic ) was founded, published twice a week, and by far the best periodical in the Bohemian Language in this country. The "Katolík" was followed by the daily "Národ" (Nation) and the "Hospodárské Listy (Agricultural News), established in 1898, appears twice a month. All of these papers are published by the Bohemian Benedictine Order of Chicago. In addition, there are the following Bohemian papers: "Nový Domov" (The New Home), a weekly publication of Hallettsville, Texas ; the "Vlastenec" (Patriot) published weekly at La Crosse, Wisconsin ; the "Mesicni Vestnik," published by the Redemptorist Fathers of New York once a month. All of these publications are doing inestimable service in the cause of religion.
The freethinking press is no less powerful. Four Bohemian dailies are ex professo hostile to religion, while two others, though posing as neutral and independent papers, are in reality anti-religious in their sympathies and tendencies. Three Bohemian dailies are published in Chicago, two in New York, and two in Cleveland. There are in addition four biweeklies, ten weeklies, and several smaller publications.
There are three Bohemian religious communities in the United States. The first and oldest, the Bohemian Benedictine Order of Chicago was founded in 1887 by the Right Rev. Boniface Wimmer, O.S.B., first Abbot of St. Vincent's, Beatty, Pennsylvania. This apostolic man, perceiving the great dearth of priests among the Bohemians in the United States invited Bohemian young men to his abbey, educated them free of charge, and fitted them for exercising the ministry amongst their own countrymen. At his request the pope granted permission for the establishment of an independent or canonical Bohemian priory, in St. Procopius Priory of Chicago, which in 1894 was raised by His Holiness Leo XIII to the dignity of an abbey ; the Right Rev. John Nepomuk Jaeger, O.S.B., was elected the first abbot. The Bohemian Benedictine Fathers have charge of three Bohemian and two Slovak congregations, in the city of Chicago, amongst them the congregation of St. Procopius, the largest Bohemian parish in the United States with a membership of about 10,000. They have likewise a large modern printing plant in which four leading Bohemian Catholic newspapers are printed. The order has 13 priests, 3 clerics, 3 novices, and 10 lay-brothers. The second purely Bohemian religious community is that of the Bohemian Benedictine Sisters of the Sacred Heart at Chicago, established in 1894. These sisters are also in charge of St. Joseph's Orphanage at Lisle, Illinois. A second Bohemian orphanage is to be established at St. Louis, in connection with St. John's church, the oldest Bohemian parish in the United States. The Bohemian Benedictine Sisters have at present 27 sisters, 7 novices, and 1 candidate, and teach in several Bohemian schools. Besides these two exclusively Bohemian religious communities we have the Bohemian Redemptorist Fathers of New York and Baltimore, who do not, however, form independent communities, but are directly under the provincial who is at the head of all Redemptorist communities belonging to the Eastern province. They are in charge of the church of Mary Help, New York City, which has four Bohemian priests, and of St. Wenceslaus Church, Baltimore which has three.
There are in the United States 138 Bohemian Catholic churches with resident pastors and about 129 missions; many of the missions, however, are attended from churches of different nationalities. The number of Bohemian priests in the United States is 208; 35 minister to non-Bohemian parishes, 30 of them to Slovak congregations.
The name of the Very Rev. Monsignor Joseph Hessoun (b. 1830; d. 4 July, 1906), late pastor of the church of St. John Nepomuk, St. Louis, is held in grateful remembrance by the Bohemian Catholic people of the United States. Born at Vrcovic, Bohemia, he came to the United States in 1865, eleven years after his ordination, and up to his death worked with untiring zeal among his people. The fruits of his labors were felt by Bohemians throughout the country. He not only encouraged them to perseverance by his editorials in the "Hlas," but he often sacrificed his last cent to assist in the building of Catholic churches. Furthermore, he did everything that lay in his power to procure priests for his people. Whenever necessity demanded he visited the Bohemian parishes without Bohemian priests. In his old age he was universally called nas taticek (our little father). Among other Bohemian priests who have labored with untiring zeal for the salvation of the Bohemians in this country must be mentioned the Very Rev. William Coka, Vicar-General of Omaha, b. at Cernovir, Moravia ; d. 1902; the Rev. Father Sulák, S.J., of Chicago, the oldest Bohemian missionary; the Right Rev. John Nepomuk Jaeger, Abbot of the Bohemian Benedictine Order of Chicago ; the Rev. Wenceslaus Kocarnik, O.S.B., of Chicago ; the Rev. John Vranek of Omaha, a Bohemian poet of great ability and merit. Above all there is the noble pioneer of Bohemian priests on the soil of the new world, the saintly John Nepomuk Neuman, fourth Bishop of Philadelphia, b. at Prachatitz, Bohemia, 1811; d. 1860.
The Bohemians all over the world are renowned for their musical gifts. In Bohemian churches of this country church music has attained a high degree of excellence, especially noticeable by the congregational singing in the larger churches. Not a few Bohemia priests are finished musicians. The feasts of the national patrons, those of St. John Nepomuk and of St. Wenceslaus, the first Christian Prince of Bohemia, are celebrated with special pomp, according to the usages of Bohemia. Good Friday is likewise observed with a solemnity unusual in this country. The Resurrection of Our Lord is celebrated with great pomp in the evening of Holy Saturday, wherever possible in the open air.
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