My $.02 — On Thomas Jefferson and Illinois

letter to the UrsulinesSpeaking of the French Revolution, not that anyone was, but … we’re about to.

We all know about the Illinois / Catholic Charities Debacle which came to pass recently, and which violates the right of the Catholic Church to operate within its core of belief while it’s placing orphans into homes.

If the Church’s agencies do not permit placing orphans into homes of homosexual couples, then, the Church cannot operate said agency.

It’s a sad development in the life of a great nation.

Also, and I realize I am just one of a chorus pointing out the obvious, this flies in the face of promises made to the Church ages ago. And, it violates the precedent started by then President Thomas Jefferson.

To whit, the The Jefferson Letter to the Ursulines.

Jefferson was responding of course to the letter of Sr. Marie Therese Farjon of St. Xavier, a copy of which can be seen here.

One has to admire her writing, which reads:

Dear Sir,

The Ursuline Religious of New Orleans, encouraged by the honorable mention which you so kindly made of their order, take the liberty of having recourse to you in regard to some business which is of great concern to their Institute.

Our Lady of Prompt Succor

Although no express mention has been made of it, they think that the Treaty of Cession and still more the spirit of justice which characterizes the United States of America, will certainly guarantee to those seeking your help the continued enjoyment of their present property. But, keeping in mind that this same property is a sacred trust which has been confided to them, they believe that they would certainly fail in one of their principal obligations were they to neglect to see to it that this right to their property be put officially in writing, confirming their rights to this property not only for themselves but also for those of their Sisters who will succeed them; and, for this reason, to beg you, dear Sir, to present our petition to the Congress in the manner and form which you will judge the most suitable.

This request of the Ursulines of New Orleans is not dictated by personal interest nor ambitious aims. Separated from the world and its pomps and vanities, and, in a word, from all that is called its advantages, they have scarcely any ambition for earthly goods; but, bound by a solemn vow to use their time in the formation of youth, they cannot help but be anxious to know if they will be able with certainty to count on the continued enjoyment of their revenues which will enable them to fulfill their obligations. It is, then, less their own interests which they plead than it is that of the public good. In reality, it is the cause of the orphan and the abandoned child, of unfortunates brought up in the midst of horrors of vice and infamy who come to be reared by us in the ways of Religion and virtue, and be given a formation which will enable them one day to become happy and useful citizens. Finally, it is in the interest of this country which can but reap for itself honor and glory in encouraging and protecting an establishment as useful, and, we might even say, as necessary as ours. Dear Sir, we who seek your help dare to belive that these considerations will make an impression on you. Even more, we dare to count in advance on your protection.
Ursuline Convent
We end by begging Heaven most fervently for your personal prosperity and for the happiness of the country whose great interests have been confided to you.

With the most profound respect, “Monsieur le President”, we have the honor of being

Your very humble and very obedient servants
The Ursulines of New Orleans
Sr. Marie Therese Farjon of St. Xavier
March 21, 1804

Indulging my penchant for blockquoting huge swaths of text once again, voici the reply of Jefferson:

“To the Souer Therese de Ste. Xavier Farjon Superior, and the Nuns of the order of St. Ursula at New Orleans.

I have recieved, holy sisters, the letter you have written me wherein you express anxiety for the property vested in your institution by the former governments of Louisiana. The principles of the constitution and the government of the United States are a sure gaurantee to you that it will be preserved to you sacred and inviolate, and that your institution will be permitted to govern itself according to your own voluntary rules, without interference from the civil authority. Whatever diversity of shade may appear in the religious opinions of our fellow citizens, the charitable objects of your instituion cannot be indifferent to any; and it’s furtherance of the wholesome purposes of society, by training up it’s [sic] younger members in the way they should go, cannot fail to ensure it the patronage of the government it is under. Be assured it will meet all the protection which my office can give it.

I salute you, holy sisters, with friendship and respect.

Th. Jefferson

Note that the good Sister asks about the continued ownership of their property so that they can continue the necessary work they do, which includes working with orphans.

And the good President ensures her that they will continue to enjoy their property and, that it may continue to be committed to governing itself according to its own voluntary rules. And it ensures them of the right to continue their work regardless of what religious differences may arise amongst others. Atheists, agnostics and protestants existed then. And the good Sisters certainly remembered the atheistic disembowelment of the Church in France which followed the French Revolution scarcely more than a decade prior to her writing.
Th. Jefferson

While the letter of Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury Baptists is used by atheists and secularists to continually bash over the heads of Christians a separation of Church and State, the letter to the Ursulines ensures that the separation of Church and State is not to the detriment of religious life. Particularly not to a Catholic institute engaged in taking care of orphans.

The case of Illinois vs the Catholic Charities orphanage agencies in Illinois is a sad development for Catholic liberty if allowed to stand. And a it’s a rueful day for the USA.

Fr. Kenneth Allen