Schmitt Correspondence, 1882
Many members of the Knights of Labor were Catholic. In some locations, entire local assemblies were Catholic and attended church together. In many cases these were communities of immigrants from Catholic Europe that had come to the United States in search of work. Often, priests that spoke the language of a group of a immigrants (or came from the same country as the migrant group) was appointed to minister to their religious needs in a particular area. When this happened, priests often formed strong bonds with their parishioners, based on shared culture and language. Sometimes these priests became community leaders, and they frequently they knew more about their parishioners than anyone else. Occasionally, local priests were accused of encouraging parish members to join the Knights, or of not discouraging them strongly enough from joining. Priests, in fact, had varying degrees of involvement in the Knights at the time.
These letters illustrate one of many ways a priest could find himself involved in local Knights affairs. They involve a coal mining company president named Charles Mayer, a priest named Valentine Schmitt, and a group of Schmitt's parishioners employed as coal miners in western Maryland. Mayer, upset by the demands of his miners, blames Father Schmitt for generating labor unrest among them. An upset Mayer sent a letter with his version of the problem to D.J Foley, a Baltimore merchant and close friend of Archbishop James Gibbons. Mayer hoped that Gibbons would step in and address the problem, since Schmitt was in Gibbons' jurisdiction. Gibbons responded by contacting Schmitt and asking for his side of the story. Both Mayer's letter and Schmitt's response are reproduced here.
As you read the document, reflect on the following questions:
- Mayer describes who the "problem workers" are in the first paragraph of his letter to Foley. Who does he say they are?
- How does the problem relate to the parishioners of Father Schmitt? (Note: Mayer incorrectly spells Schmitt "Schmidt").
- How does Mayer ask Foley to remedy the problem?
- Of what does Mayer accuse the Knights of Labor?
- What does Schmitt think of Mayer's accusations?
- What does Schmitt think of the miners in his parish?
- How does Schmitt characterize the ethnic background of his parishioners?
- How does Schmitt characterize the treatment and attitudes of the Catholic miners?