From Our Agricultural Correspondent
The Church in the United States had a difficult problem to solve when waves of immigration were carrying thousands of settlers, many of them Catholics, to what were then the empty spaces of the Continent. The story of how they dealt with it is told in an
interesting article by Theodore Maynard in a recent issue of The Commonweal.
The newcomers were without either churches or schools, but the task of supplying these was regarded as beyond the resources at the disposal of the small Catholic community. This led to the adoption of what proved to be a disastrous policy. Land-settlement was discouraged, and, particularly in the case of the Irish, the immigrants were herded in the large industrial cities that were springing up.
The results of this conservative policy are instructive. Because it tends to die out under urban conditions, a city population has to be constantly replenished from country districts. " Most cities." Bishop O'Hara of Kansas City has pointed out, " have only abciut three-fourths of the number of children necessary to maintain their present size, not to speak of further growth."
On this statement Mr. Maynard comments: " If this should be alarming to the nation in general, it is especially alarming to the Catholic Church, as it means that in our city Catholics will be replaced by pagans (or if we are lucky, Protestants) from rural communities, with the result that the cities, which are now the strongholds of Catholicism, will be lost."
With the decline of immigration as more and more land was taken up, this position became serious in the extreme.
There was another consideration which, though not touched on in this article, deserves mention. It has been conclusively shown that the break-up of the home and the number of divorces is much greater in the town than in rural areas. The family farm employing in common labour father, mother and the elder children is a preservative against those disintegrating influences characteristic of industrial cities.
It is to these facts that Catholics in the United States are awakening. They are setting out to remedy the state of things, first of all, .by the evangelising of the countryside, and, secondly, by encouraging urban Catholics to " look to the land."
Evangelization in this case means more than the provision of churches. It includes the establishment of Credit Banks and means of education and creation. Rural life is made as attractive as possible, and the agricultural population is taught to organize itself for mutual help, so that it shall not lack social and cultural advantages. In this way, a nucleus is created around which newcomers from the towns may gather.
A rural policy which begins by settling inexperienced people on the land courts disaster. The life of those already engaged in agriculture must be improved so that the townsman-turned-farmer may be able to build on foundations already laid.
The second feature of the policy pursued is that of fostering the return to the soil of those herded in the cities. Concerning this, Mr. Maynard says: "After 1900 mass colonisation was out of the question. By then all suitable land had been taken up. Now there can only be penetration by individuals, though if this penetration is organized, a steady flow of a few families a year to this and that community where there is already a parish in existence is perfectly feasible."
In conclusion, it need only be pointed out that conditions at the present time are specially favourable for the adoption of a similar policy here. The number of evacuees settled in the countryside makes much more practical than previously the establishment and organisation of rural parishes.