To chew on: We were undesirables once.

By Thomas V. Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Dec 12, 2015

Most people in the U.S. have no idea of this country's long history of anti-Catholic bigotry. This reached a peak in the nineteenth century, when we were considered to be untrustworthy, loyal to a foreign power and unassimilatable to American culture and values. (If only!)

Kudos, then, to the L.A. Times, which has illuminated a small part of that ugly history for its readership: "A century ago, a popular Missouri newspaper demonized a religious minority: Catholics." The author surely means to draw a parallel to the demonization of Muslim refugees today, though he does not do so explicitly.

More pointed is an excellent essay in The Paris Review by David Griffith, who shows how relevant Flannery O'Connor's short story "The Displaced Person" is for us in the present moral crisis. The story is about a Protestant farm owner who reluctantly takes in Catholic refugees from Poland (which the O'Connors themselves had done when Flannery was a girl). It is a rare example of O'Connor taking on something topical, but no less timeless for that. The following passage from the story reveals a thought process that is easy enough to find in the modern Christian right:

Watching from her vantage point, Mrs. Shortley had the sudden intuition that the Gobblehooks, like rats with typhoid fleas, could have carried all those murderous ways over the water with them directly to this place. If they had come from where that kind of thing was done to them, who was to say they were not the kind that would also do it to others?

Aside from its continued relevance, "The Displaced Person" is simply one of O'Connor's best stories: go ahead and read it in full.

Thomas V. Mirus is a pianist, composer, and occasional amateur comedian living in New York City. He produces and hosts The Catholic Culture Podcast. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: AgnesDay - Dec. 14, 2015 3:40 PM ET USA

    I grew up on Flannery O'Connor, ate her up with my daily grits and biscuits. I think the lady would not make a one-to-one correspondence with the Syrian situation. Or did I miss the part about the Holy Father issuing a statement that he was sending the Swiss Guard to the US with the mass migration?