Saturday, March 17, 2012

How St. Patrick Cathedral in El Paso, TX received its name

From my first week in El Paso, something about the name of its Catholic Cathedral--St. Patrick--seemed awry to me. In the land of "San Elizario" and "San Lorenzo" and the many Catholic names coming to us from the Spanish roots, it felt odd to me that our Cathedral was named for the Irish.

After some time here, I learned about the St. Patrick's Battalion, a tremendous story that was in no history book I saw in any school I attended. No one tells the story better than David Rovics in his song:


Perhaps, I speculated, St. Patrick's was named for this brave band of immigrants who lived by their consciences and not by peer pressure. But the real answer is, actually, a bit less inspiring, at least at first glance.

St. Patrick Cathedral and Sunset Heights at dusk
The diocese of El Paso, created in 1914 by Pope (and now saint) Pius X, utilized the ingenious fundraising concept of a "naming opportunity" to generate start-up funding. According to the diocesan website:

"...in raising funds for the cathedral's construction, the diocese offered to allow the first group to raise $10,000 for the project to name the new cathedral.
A group of Irish Catholic women, according to the story, met the challenge and chose the name of St. Patrick. El Paso at the time was a major center of the mining industry in the Southwestern United States and Northern Mexico, and, it is said, many of the miners were Irish." [my emphasis]
Now we know that typically miners are the poorest of the poor. Thus, it's not inappropriate to consider our Cathedral St. Patrick here in El Paso as honoring with its name our United States immigrants. They are the people who do the most distasteful work--as did the Irish miners. They are the ones who carry with them into this nation the values we so desperately need--as did the San Patricios, the members of Saint Patrick's Battalion.

So, the cathedral's name, after all, befits El Paso, even though it is a city in which descendants of Northern Europeans comprise less than 15% of the citizens [Wikipedia]. It befits El Paso because this is a city that, by and large, welcomes immigrants. Happy Saint Patrick's Day!

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David Rovics provides free downloads of all his music, including "The Saint Patricks Battalion" at his site on Soundclick. Lyrics are there, too. Give yourself this song for St. Patrick's Day (you might leave David a tip, too).

3 comments:

One Fly said...

Damn good story.

Yenny said...

This is a very interesting story Billie. I will forward it to one of my professors who is doing a study on Irish Americans.

Ketchup Chips said...

I figured out today that ginger ale was probably not invented by red headed, freckled pale people, and is more likely named for the flavoring agent they add to it.

To think that I have avoided a rhizome flavored drink all of these years because of a simple prejudice. Probably serves me right......