THE late Cardinal Wiseman’s admirable story, “Fabiola,” has been read for the last thirty years in many lands and many tongues. At this late day, to say that it has been everywhere productive of inestimable good to Christian souls, would be the utterance of the merest truism. But while its salutary influence has been felt far and wide, it seems to have been fraught with special blessings most peculiarly adapted to the religious circumstances of our own land; where, thirty years ago, when the work made its first appearance among us, the condition of the Church was not altogether dissimilar from that of the early Church in pagan Rome at the date of the story.
Although the sun of divine faith had long before begun to warm with its vivifying and sanctifying rays the virgin soil of this western land of ours, yet it had hardly risen above the horizon when dark and threatening clouds of persecution seemed about to obscure its light, promising, instead of a bright and cheerful day for the Church, a night of disappointment and suffering. The good already accomplished by the early missionaries seemed imperilled by the coming storm, and the work at that time in progress was meeting with fierce and even cruel opposition. Then it was that men asked themselves, was it necessary that the founding of Christ’s Church in America should undergo a process similar to that which it had undergone in pagan Rome. Although the Catholics of America thirty years ago had little cause to fear the torch or the axe of the executioner, though they could hardly hope for the blood-stained crown of martyrdom in the public arena, though they heard not the cry, “to the wild beasts with the Christians,” yet they dwelt amid much religious privation, underwent keen mental persecution, and were made the victims of rampant bigotry, furious political partisanship, and humiliating social ostracism. Like the heroic characters so graphically portrayed by the Cardinal’s graceful pen in the history of Fabiola, the Catholics in America professed a faith imperfectly known in the land, or known only to be despised and hated by the great majority of the American people, just as that self-same faith had been misrepresented, detested and persecuted in the early ages, by the misguided citizens of pagan Rome.
In such times, Catholics sorely needed the help of bright examples of courage, zeal and perseverance, to beckon them on in the steady pursuit of their arduous and sometimes perilous task of preserving, practising, and declaring their faith. Such examples they found in Cardinal Wiseman’s beautiful work, models of fidelity to faith, heroes and heroines who in their patient lives and cruel deaths gave testimony unto Christ Jesus, producing such fruits of virtue, and showing forth so beautifully and so powerfully the effects of the true faith, that that faith itself finally triumphed over all opposition; and verifying the words of the Apostle, became a victory that conquered the world: “Haec est victoria, quæ vincit mundum, fides nostra.” “This is the victory which overcometh the world, our faith.”
By the study of these models, as presented in the story of Fabiola, the struggling Catholics of this country learned how to possess their souls in patience. While admiring the heroic fortitude of those martyrs, though not presuming always to imitate their extraordinary ways, our predecessors in the faith felt themselves encouraged to follow in their footsteps, bearing patiently all religious privations and adhering to their faith amid hatred and contempt, and giving bold testimony of it before unbelieving men.