ORIGIN OF THE ORDER
In those dark and dreary days of 1565, when to be a Catholic in Ireland meant political as well as social ostracism, when to be a priest of the Catholic Church meant to be hunted like a wolf, with the same price upon the head of each, when to impart education to youth or instill the truths of religion into the minds of the people was dealt the same pains and penalties as were prescribed for the commission of the most heinous crimes, when every effort was being made by the English government to stamp intelligence, patriotism and civilization from the minds of the native Irish, the Ancient Order of Hibernians was born.
From traditions in the Order it would seem that its aims and objects were mainly the protection of the priesthood while in the performance of their sacred duties, and the execution of those rites and ceremonies, instituted by the Catholic Church for observance by the faithful throughout the world. Certain it is that to this organization is due in a large measure the preservation of the Catholic religion in Ireland. By their zeal, energy, watchfulness and assiduity, it became possible for the good "soggartharoon" to offer up the holy sacrifice of the Mass, carry the consolations of religion to the sick and dying, and administer the Sacraments to his benighted and scattered flock.
Many are the heroic and chivalrous deeds performed by the members of this Order in executing its work, and undoubtedly many of them suffered severely for their faithfulness whenever the minions of the English crown could establish a fitting case to vent their spleen, malignity or revenge.
This then was the origin of our grand and noble Order. "Friendship, Unity and Christian Charity" was and is now the motto under which we march. In the minds and lives of these men, this legend is not merely a euphonious and attractive phrase intended to catch the popular ear, but is the expression of a principle in accordance with which they endeavor to regulate their lives, not only in theory but in practice, having its roots entwined around the heart of the very organization from which it draws its nourishment and strength.
When in 1798, Wolfe Tone declared for an independent self-governing people in Ireland, consolidating the religious as well as the political questions, under a free government of the Irish people, the members of the Ancient Order of Hibernians supported him and those that followed in their efforts to achieve independence.
Irishmen, by birth and descent, in the United States supported these efforts by giving personal services and money to the cause.
Since I836, when the Ancient Order of Hibernians in America was founded, it has supported all efforts for an independent and free Ireland of 32 counties.
We continue to support the efforts to create a unified Ireland, by the return of the six northeastern counties to the Republic of Ireland.
THE ORDER IN AMERICA
The Ancient Order of Hibernians was organized in America in St. James Church, 23 Oliver Street, New York City on May 4, 1836. Despite the many difficulties it had to contend with during its early existence in this country, it has continued to grow and prosper until it had become the largest and most influential body of men of Irish lineage in the world. It is an American fraternal organization and assists by every honorable means to promote the interests and welfare of those with Irish heritage.
The primary purposes of the Organization are briefly set forth in the preamble to its National Constitution:
"1st. To promote friendship, unity and Christian Charity among its members.
"2nd. To uphold and sustain loyalty to the government of the United States of America by the members of this organization living here in America, or whatever government under which its members may be citizens.
"3rd. To aid and advance by all legitimate means, the aspirations and endeavors of the Irish people to complete and absolute independence.
"4. To foster the ideals and cultivate the history and traditions of the Irish race throughout the world."
To be admitted to membership, a man must be of Irish birth or Irish descent through either parent, a practical Catholic, and at least sixteen years of age.
Persons over forty-five years of age are admitted to Social membership, without right to benefits in case of sickness or death, but with power to vote and hold office.
The local units of the Organization are styled Divisions. Subject to the control of each Division over its local affairs, the government of the Order is vested in County, State, District, Provincial and National officers.
Initiation fees, monthly dues, sick and death benefits are fixed by the local Division with the approval of the County Board.
As an organization, the Ancient Order of Hibernians in America has a mission far more important than that of the ordinary fraternal society. The fact that its membership is limited to those of the Catholic Faith and of Irish descent stamps it as different in its scope. It fosters the teaching of Irish history, so that the Irish American youth may go out into the world armed with facts and proud of the achievements of the men of his blood. Its intense spirit of Catholicity has been shown in every crisis of the Church in America.
Since much of the history of the Irish race has been written by alien hands, it would be lamentable if our people sat supinely by and permitted the true record of what we are, whence we came and what we did for humanity to sink into oblivion and be forgotten, when a little united effort on the part of many would accomplish wonders for our faith and nationality.
If you believe that the history of our race should be taught to and preserved for future generations, if you believe that the heroism and accomplishments of the men of the Irish race in America should be written into the history of this country, if you believe that the free institutions of this country should be continued as handed down to us by Washington and Lincoln - institutions for which so many of our race made most generous sacrifices to establish, to enrich and to preserve - if you believe that you should have equal rights with every other man and that you should not be discriminated against on account of creed, if you think that those things are important enough to merit your attention, then it is a self-evident fact that we can do most effective work when united under the banner of a society that has grown old in the service, that has stood the test of time and that today, from its long and honorable career, is recognized and relied upon to worthily represent the Irish people.
Some may feel they cannot spare the time to actively engage in this work, yet few there are who could not maintain membership in the one society that is working incessantly for the betterment of all our people. Its members by their conduct and their loyalty to American institutions have convinced all fair-minded people that the Catholic citizen of Irish descent is a valuable asset to America.
The Ancient Order of Hibernians in America, in the over one hundred and sixty-three years of its existence in America, has been a potent factor for good to those within its ranks, and its influence has been manifest in every movement for the betterment of our people here and in the Old Land.
In the early years of its existence, the local Divisions were havens for the men of the race coming to America. It was at the Division's meeting place that the immigrant met men whose interests were in common with his, men who extended the hand of brotherhood, who gave counsel and assistance, who made smooth his way and enabled him to provide a better livelihood for himself and his family.
In those early years when the spirit of discrimination was rampant, it was within our Divisions that measures were taken to combat and nullify those influences that denied our people the rights accorded others. The divisions were centers for keeping alive Irish nationality and Irish ideals; for caring for the sick, the weak and defenseless; and for doing everything possible to correct the false impressions which were being spread, broadcast by the alien government in justification of its savage oppression of our people.
As the years progressed, the organization grew in numbers and influence. Its purpose was not to engender hate or bitterness, not to raise barriers between our people and others, but to destroy those barriers that had too long been raised against us.
The Order, while carrying on its work for the betterment of our people here, has been aiding in every way possible the aspirations of the race in the Motherland. The purpose pervading its every effort has been for unity among the men of the race, regardless of sectional differences or political preferences, and to make the A.O.H. Division a common ground where all may meet as brothers and work in concert for the common good.
The Society, in striving to unite our people in one vigorous Organization, aims to perpetuate in America the spirit of our Catholic ancestors and to guard and defend the principles of civil and religious liberty in our own Heaven-blest land.
Our motto "Friendship, Unity and Christian Charity" implies a Friendship carrying with it a spirit of helpfulness, a Unity of all our people, and a Charity not merely for the assistance of our own members, but a Charity broad as the universe and circumscribed by neither race nor creed.
The myriad activities of the Organization could not be set forth in this small website. Its influence is felt in every community where a Division of the Order exists.
The Order has distributed over (as of 1976) Twenty-Seven million dollars in sick benefits, over Thirteen million in death benefits, and about Ten million for charitable purposes. It contributed forty-four thousand dollars to the San Francisco earthquake sufferers, ten thousand dollars to the Boer Ambulance Corps, fifty thousand dollars to the establishment of a Chair of Celtic Languages at the Catholic University at Washington, forty-four thousand dollars to the Catholic Church Extension Society, and forty thousand dollars to the Irish College at Rome. Thousands of dollars have been contributed to the earthquake sufferers in Italy, to destitute of the Charleston, Johnstown and Galveston disasters and many more thousands to the sufferers in the Ohio and Mississippi floods, and 1955 floods in Connecticut and 1960 earthquake and tidal wave in Chile and elsewhere. Countless appeals for assistance are met daily in the meetings of the Divisions.
The Order and its Auxiliary are at the present time, and have been for many years past, large contributors to the missionary work sponsored in China, India and Burma by the St. Columbian Foreign Mission Society (Menuth Missions) known as Columbian Fathers, founded by the beloved and saintly late Bishop Edward J. Galvin.
At the 1960 National Convention in St. Louis, Mo., we established the Hibernian Charitable and Mission Fund so that our support of the mission effort could be broadened to include the African Missions and the Irish Carmelite Missions.
We subscribed, as individuals and units, to the many War Loans of the United States Government during World War I and Il and the Korean conflict. Our members, Divisions, County and State District or Provincial Boards and the National Board, are all subscribers for the U.S. Savings Bonds
Many of our members served during World War I and II, and Korean conflict. Their names were on the rosters of practically all of the companies in the various theatres of operations. Many were killed and some stayed behind, never to answer the Roll again. As good Hibernians, they gave their lives for God and Country. Those of us who were not privileged to march in the ranks of the fighting forces, did our duty in whatever way required at home.
It has been well said that "Every nation is today the result of all its accumulated yesterdays, that the roots of its mental and moral life lie in the past.' How important then the preservation of the glorious record of our people. The Order has done much to foster the teaching of that record to our youth, that it may thus be preserved for the generations to come.
Let us pause to consider a few of the expressions that have come from the lips of those whose every utterance by reason of their exalted positions, is conservative and devoid of flattery, and carries a significance as to truth and dependability that means much even to the most casual. James Cardinal Gibbons said: "Representing as you do. at least one million Catholics, you are a wonderful influence for good in the land, and thank God you are so regarded by the Catholic hierarchy of the United States, where the Irish people have ever been the mainstay of our church during the trials and difficulties of the past. The members of the Ancient Order of Hibernians are the best friend in America of the Catholic Church. They are the men on whom we must depend in times of emergency, and every one of them would sacrifice their lives, if necessary, in defense of the religion implanted by St. Patrick in the hearts of their ancestors."
Cardinal O'Connell paid this fine tribute: "The Ancient Order is endeavoring to perpetuate in America the spirit of your Catholic ancestors, love of God and love of country - your adopted land and Erin."
John J. Cardinal Glennon: "I look with glowing pride on the work of the Ancient Order of Hibernians. It is as broad as the nationality it represents, and as liberal as its best traditions. It is Catholic to the core and has its face to the future, trained by the experiences of the past."
The Very Rev. John Cavanaugh, C.S.C., former President of the University of Notre Dame, delivered the following panegyric on the Order: "The Ancient Order of Hibernians' was founded to keep alight on the altars of remembrance the sacred lamps of Irish virtue and learning and heroism of the past. It is a noble vocation for your Society. No man can safely cut himself off from the spiritual life of the race. The nation that does not cherish the memory of its saints and the spiritual glories of its martyred heroes is already in decay. Quite apart from the fine Hibernians purpose of doing all that can be honorably done to promote the civil welfare of the Irish nation and the wholesome, human happiness of the Irish people, it is a noble function to preserve the spiritual traditions of that superb race, which among all the families of men has always been distinguished for its constancy to lofty Ideals."
The wise, the learned, the earnest men of the race have allied themselves with the Organization, fully realizing its great mission. As a result, this has made our Society one of great influence and prestige, so that today the voice of the Ancient order is accepted as the voice of the Irish Race in American opposing Communism and advocating the abolition of the boundary that divides Ireland.
What an opportunity and privilege then does membership offer to every man of the Race.
Their Eminences Francis Cardinal Spellman, Richard Cardinal Cushing and James Francis Cardinal Mclntyre were all members of our Order. Both Cardinals Spellman and Cushing served as National Chaplains.
The late John F. Kennedy, 35th President of the United States, was the most distinguished lay member ever to join the Ancient Order of Hibernians in America since it was founded. He joined in 1947 and remained active and interested until the day of his assassination - November 22,1963. From his inaugural address of January 20, 1961, we should always keep in mind: "Ask not what your.country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country."
The John F. Kennedy Memorial Committee and Fund were established at the 1964 National Convention in Albany. The First Annual Award, a 14-Kt. Gold Medal, specially designed and struck, was presented to Hon. James A. Farley, former Postmaster General, and a long time member of our Order, at the Chicago Convention in 1966. Since that time many outstanding honorees have been the recipient of this award.
During the past decade the Order has continued to lend its strength and prestige to the fight against the forces which threaten our Faith, our nation, and our family structure.
The organization has initiated a membership drive and it is encouraging all recruits to participate actively in the pursuit of our objectives. It its striving to make human rights throughout the world, particularly in the northeast of Ireland, a moral issue in the United States and Canada. It has called two national conventions in Ireland in order to become more intimately acquainted with the issues. Hibernians have contributed substantially to the growth of Irish tourism and industry.
Every promising avenue toward peace with justice in all of Ireland is being diligently explored by our leadership in conjunction with the efforts of dedicated members of Congress.
The Order has established national committees in the vital areas of Catholic Action, i.e., Pro-life, restoration of prayer in the classroom, retention of God's name in government, putting Christ back in Christmas, and forcing the removal of profane and demeaning St. Patrick's Day cards from the shelves.
It has undertaken a funding drive to raise 1.3 million dollars to institute a chair of American Catholicism at the University of Notre Dame and has provided scholarships for the young and gifted in order to insure the preservation of Irish culture.
In conclusion, we have affirmed our belief in the precepts set forth in the preamble to our constitution and in the timeless efficacy of our Motto - Friendship, Unity and Christian Charity.
Taken & edited mostly from a pamphlet issued by
The National Board Ancient Order of Hibernians in America, Inc.