Caroline Earle White
Convert Item Type Metadata
Place of death
From the Records of the American Catholic Historical Society of Philadelphia:
The Story of My Conversion
I was born a birth-right member of the Society of Friends or Quakers as they are sometimes called. My Father and Mother were both Hicksite Friends, that is at the time of the separation between the Orthodox branch and the Hicksites who were Unitarians, my parents chose to belong to the latter party, consequently I was brought up a Unitarian. My father was a very liberal man and did not insist upon his children going to Friends' meeting if they did not like it, provided that we always went somewhere for the worship of God on Sundays.
Being children we liked to go to the Catholic Church where we saw lights and flowers and little boys in surplices carrying candles and heard music, but of the doctrines preached there we knew nothing. I never had any prejudice against the Catholic religion, my Father as I said before being very liberal and so far from speaking against the Church, I remember hearing him on several occasions praise what he considered its democratic form of government in making no distinction of color or condition, but welcoming all alike, and all communicants kneeling side by side at the altar when partaking of the Holy Sacrament.
There were two men I was particularly taught to revere, one was Thomas Jefferson, and the other Daniel O'Connell. I have seen my Father much moved when speaking of the latter who at that time had succeeded in his struggles to obtain Catholic Emancipation. So it is evident that I was brought up without any prejudice against Catholicism farther than that which I acquired from my friends who were all Protestants, and from the books and newspapers of the period, nearly all of which united in speaking of that religion as one full of superstition and that was only held by ignorant and unenlightened persons. I naturally acquired the views of those around me, and looked upon the Reformation, so called, as one of the greatest events in history and upon Martin Luther as a blessing to mankind.
At seventeen years of age I met the gentleman who after wards became my husband. He was from Ireland and from a most devout Catholic family, there having, partly before and partly since that time, seven of his brothers and sisters gone into religious orders. About two years afterwards we were engaged to be married. When his Mother heard of our engagement, she sent several Catholic works with a request that I should read them. I did try to read one or two, but they made no impression on me, my mind, I suppose, not being in a fit state to receive them. The day I was twenty-one we were married, but it made no difference in my habit of observing religion. I continued to go to the Unitarian Church as I had done before my marriage.
Only a few months afterward my husband, being very much out of health, and threatened, as it was thought, with consumption, the doctors advised a journey across the ocean in a sailing vessel, and we decided to go to Ireland to visit my husband's family in Londonderry. We arrived safely and received a genuine Irish welcome. My husband had several brothers and sisters near my own age and we had a happy merry party, always harmonious except on the subject of religion.
My father-in-law Mr. White took a house for a month at Moville near the spot where the river Foyle empties into the loch of the same name. My mother-in-law had a friend whose nephew, a young man by the name of O'Brien had left the Jesuit College where he was preparing to enter the Order, for a vacation on account of his delicate health and had come to visit his aunt at her home near Londonderry. It was proposed that Mr. O'Brien be invited to stay with us while we were at the shore and the proposition was joyfully agreed to by my brothers and sisters-in-law. He came and I discovered him to be most intelligent, entertaining and agreeable in every way. Our games and amusements were redoubled after his arrival, but still in the midst of all the gaiety, Mr. O'Brien always conveyed an impression, with- out making any display, of moral goodness and religious devotion.
One day we all made an excursion to Carrickarede Bridge and Dunluce Castle in the north-eastern part of Ireland, and not far from Belfast. The bridge which connected the mainland with a rocky island was made only of ropes with two narrow boards fastened in the middle on which to step. A single rope was stretched across, a little above the bridge to serve as a hand-railing; but it was almost worse than nothing at all for it seemed to throw the frail bridge out into the air away from the person taking hold of it and cause it to shake and vibrate, while underneath the sea foamed and dashed through a rocky chasm. The bridge was used by the peasants who were in the habit of carrying sheep across on their shoulders to be put at pasture on the rocky island, but to any one unaccustomed to the perilous journey the idea of crossing was terrible. We all declared that we could not attempt it, when I turned to Mr. O'Brien and asked him if anything would induce him to cross? He replied, that if there was anyone in danger of death on the other side, who had never been baptized, he should not hesitate but would take the risk at once. So it was evident the idea of his duty to God was ever present in his mind.
He and I soon began to have religious discussions. It was hardly to be expected that I should be in the company of one whose opinions were so different from my own without speaking on the subject, and our debates were a matter of almost every-day occurrence. After leaving Moville we decided to travel over the County of Donegal, in the north- west of Ireland where there is much wild and beautiful scenery. There were at that time no railroads in the County and the only way we could travel was by jaunting cars where the riders sit back to back and usually two on a side. When making our arrangements for starting in the morning my husband generally contrived that Mr. O'Brien, who was with us still, and I should sit on the same side because he knew that whatever was the subject of conversation in the beginning it would be sure to drift into a controversy on religion in the end. We had many a heated discussion walking over the moors of County Donegal, for we were somewhat tired of driving and liked to walk.
At last our trip came to an end and my husband and I returned to Philadelphia. I was by no means converted to Catholicism, but I was interested—which was more than I had ever been before. I felt a desire to examine into the subject and try and find out for myself the truth, or at least what seemed to me to be the truth. During all this time my husband and I never spoke upon the subject. From the time we were married he never made the slightest effort to convert me or even to modify my views. I was left entirely to myself and I began to examine and to study the New Testament merely with a view to find out whether it taught that Christ was God or only a man as is held by the Unitarians. After some time I became convinced that the New Testament sustained many more passages favoring the doctrine of the Deity of Christ than the contrary, but though I was shaken in my Unitarian views, I was by no means a Catholic.
About this lime, something, I cannot remember what, led me to read Milner's " End of Controversy " and that made a great change in me. I then recognized the fact, as Bishop Milner clearly shows, that the Bible, though so stupendous a work and so valuable to us, is not a sufficient rule of faith and practice. As people hold such conflicting views as to what the Bible really taught, it is necessary to have some authority to decide all vexed questions. I perceived that two men, equally learned, intelligent and devout could take the Bible and with regard to certain debated points come to entirely opposite conclusions. As for instance, in the very matter of the Deity of Christ, one would say that the Bible taught the Unitarian view, the other that it clearly sanctions the Orthodox belief that Christ was God, and one of these men must be in the wrong. It could not be possible that both were right. I saw that the same reading could be applied to baptism and I recognized that the Bible alone was not a sufficient guide, that there must be some authority to interpret its contents and declare what it really taught, as in all countries where people are governed by a code of laws, it is necessary to have Judges to interpret those laws and to decide their meaning. It seemed to me that Almighty God would never allow His children in so important a matter as religion to wander in the dark without a clear explanation of His doctrine and the laws by which He intended that we should govern our conduct. There must be some authority to settle the matter, but what was the authority? It did not seem to me that it could be in the Episcopal Church, much as I admired its service, because I knew that in that Church were many who held most conflicting views, some being actually Unitarians though united to an orthodox organization. In a true Church there must be unity of belief. It could not be among the Presbyterians or Methodists or any of the other sects, as they did not even claim to have a visible authoritative Church organization, defining the doctrines of Christianity and giving light to all nations of the world.
I began to think that the Roman Catholic Church came nearest to furnishing what I demanded as attributes of the true Church, viz. authority, unity, universality and holiness, but some of its doctrines I still had great difficulty in believing. I could accept without any trouble the honor paid to the Blessed Virgin and the Saints, and the Supremacy of the Pope after examining the New Testament and noticing how on every occasion St. Peter was selected by our Lord as recipient of authority and as spokesman in affairs of importance. I could believe in the atonement of our Lord, a doctrine I had formally rejected, after seeing how wonderfully the ancient prophecies, which spoke of Him as being " bruised for our iniquities and wounded for our sins " were fulfilled, but the real presence of Christ in the consecrated Host, was the most foreign to all my preconceived ideas and the most of a stumbling in my way. My constant prayer to Almighty God for light and for the guidance of the Holy Spirit overcame however that difficulty, and when I was twenty-three, nearly two years after I first began to consider the subject seriously, I was baptized and entered the Roman Catholic Church where I have found happiness, rest and peace.
Caroline Earle White
Search for related records in these catalogs:
This item has no relations.