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Friends and Enemies

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

When Father Samuel Mazzuchelli arrived in the raw lead mining town of Galena in 1836 to begin building a Catholic church, he immediately encountered problems. Galena suffered from all the vices of a boom town, there were few Catholics among the miners, and even less money for a church. Father Mazzuchelli himself had almost no time to design the church. His parish ranged for several hundred miles along the Mississippi River.

He found few friends in Galena. Fortunately, there were some excellent enemies.

Because of all these difficulties, by the end of 1836, the walls of St. Michael's had only risen four feet, and the good father was forced to build a small, temporary wooden chapel to hold mass.

Then, the enemies took over. There were already six protestant denominations in Galena, all united in considering the Catholic Church the great Anti-Christ. Every Sunday, from every one of the pulpits came invective against the new Catholic church in town, "ridicule, calumny, insult, and hatred," wrote Father Mazzuchelli.

Of all the six churches, the Anglican was the most vitriolic against Catholics. Sunday after Sunday in Galena, the Anglican priest laid out the horrors of the Apocalypse, and the final battle of Armageddon, in which Jesus would be arrayed against his great enemy the Pope.

You can probably guess the result. The lurid descriptions made many in the congregation curious. Who could resist a chance to visit St. Michael's and witness these infernal powers close up right there in Galena? Anglicans and other protestants began attending Catholic mass.

What they heard in Father Mazzuchelli was a humble, dedicated missionary. No fire and brimstone, just reasoned explanations of Catholic doctrines. No diatribes on protestants.

Donations to build St. Michael's began to come in from non-Catholics, and the church building moved forward to completion. Several Anglican parishioners were so impressed by Father Mazzuchelli's explanations that they became Catholic converts.

Sometimes, Father Mazzuchelli mused, the Prodigal Son returns home by very mysterious means.

Rock Island Lines is supported by grants from the Illinois Humanities Council, the Illinois Arts Council—a state agency—and by Augustana College, Rock Island.

Beginning 1995, historian and folklorist Dr. Roald Tweet spun his stories of the Mississippi Valley to a devoted audience on WVIK. Dr. Tweet published three books as well as numerous literary articles and recorded segments of "Rock Island Lines." His inspiration was that "kidney-shaped limestone island plunked down in the middle of the Mississippi River," a logical site for a storyteller like Dr. Tweet.