In Charge of the Church's Work
in the Island of Cuba
[This text is transcribed from a handwritten document found among the papers of the Rt. Rev. Horatio Potter, Sixth Bishop of New York, in the Archives of the Episcopal Diocese of New York.]
IN the year 1870 the Bishop of Minnesota accidently visited the island of Cuba--he was on his way to Hayti--but finding that he could not go thither without much inconvenience and trouble he abandoned the chief purpose of his travel and determined to look over Cuba.
He found the island in the worst state of Medievalism he had ever seen, and moreover English, German, and American citizens living in its midst, without moral or religious discipline of any kind, and looked upon by the Roman Christians as free-thinkers and Jews. There was no one to care for the sick and no one to bury the dead--in fact our dead had to be buried in the open country outside of the cemeteries or else thrown into the sea. He found a state of things existing amongst all classes of society which finds not a parallel in the whole of Medieval history.
He determined to remedy it if possible so on his return to the United States and at the meeting of the General Convention--during the Autumn of 1871--he laid the subject before the House of Bishops--and suggested that steps should be taken at once to place ourselves in the line of duty in regard to Cuba. The result of his efforts was my being chosen to take charge of our Church Work on the island.
I received my instructions early in the month of November 1871--and on the 23d sailed for Havana. When I reached there I found nothing but excitement and confusion growing out of the trouble occasioned by the volunteers. I was advised to return home and report that nothing [1/2] could be done--but noting the trouble and the many discouragements--we were able by God's help to commence the Church's work which has increased in interest and numbers ever since.
We at first organized Chapel services in the harbor of Havana and Sunday after Sunday our Chapel was crowded with worshippers and at times we had as many as fifty and sixty to partake of the Holy Communion. During May of 1872 I moved our services on shore, first to the rooms of the United States Consul general and afterwards to a large and handsome saloon which we are now using as a chapel. In doing this we have had to encounter and overcome many obstacles, for although the New Constitution of Spain allows freedom of worship and although this law was promulgated in the government's official organ in October 1869--yet it is a noted fact that any laws that may be objectionable to the authorities of the Island are set aside, and no efforts are made to carry them into effect.
I am able only to hint at these obstacles in a brief statement like this--I wish it to be more a statement of work accomplished than of difficulties encountered.--I will now simply say that during the last year we have permanently established the Church's services on shore at Havana in a suitable Chapel. We have an organ and thus far have had good music. The attendance is large during the greater part of the year, composed of Cubans, Spaniards, English, Germans, and Americans. We have had twenty-five (25) baptisms during the past year. We have also secured a hospital to the Church this year, one of the oldest established institutions on the island and [2/3] during the last summer 1300 visits have been made to the sick, and our dead have been decently buried. I have had a Chapel fitted up in the Institution and during the last summer our burial office has been read in it as many as five times a day--heretofore our dead have been buried without coffins in the rudest manner.
In addition to this I have established the Church's services at the city of Matanzas about 62 miles distant from Havana--and during this last year have gone there every Sunday afternoon in order to hold a night service for our people and preach to them.
Hundreds of people on the island are living in a state of concubinage and I am sorry to say many English and Americans. This is caused principally by the high rates charged for performing the marriage office--I have been endeavoring to provide some remedy for it during the past year--and have furthermore offered to marry any and all parties who may be living in such sin--for nothing.
Such in brief is some of our work and these are our needs.
I need in the first place two prudent and godly men to help me--one to act as Chaplain to our Hospital--who will live in the Institution and help me in the Havana Church Work--the other to take charge of our work at Matanzas--and to help me push the work forward to the city of Cardenas during the next year. Furthermore, I need money to pay for such assistance and for my own support. I need money also for the hire of suitable rooms, for music, books, &c. It will require between five and six thousand dollars this year, exclusive of what I am able to secure on the island.--It is a very small amount [3/4] when we take into consideration the great importance and magnitude of the work--and moreover when we consider that we as a Church, and as a Christian people are responsible for this state of things in Cuba.--1. As a Church because we have allowed our people to remain as "sheep without a shepherd." 2. As a Christian people because we support it in a measure by spending our means to the amount of 68,000,000 dollars annually in the purchase of what the island has to offer us in the shape of sugar and tobacco.
I have endeavored to make this a full statement of our work and at the same time a brief one. I trust that in the hands of those whom the bishops have selected to help me, it may not fail to bring us what we want.
[Transcriber's note: a copy of the following extract from an article in the February 17, 1872 New York Times was also found in the same file as the above.]
PROTESTANTISM IN CUBA: Turning aside from politics to civilisation, that is to say, to civilisation in the American but not the Spanish signification of the word, it is worthy of note that the first baptism of an infant, not belonging to the Roman Catholic Church, but a Protestant, performed for the first time on the Island of Cuba, took place on Tuesday last. The father of the child is Mr. DONELLY, engineer of the Toledo plantation, about eight miles from Havana, Rev. EDWARD KENNEY, of the Protestant Episcopal Church, being the officiating clergyman. Mr. KENNEY has been sent here by the American House of Bishops, and since his arrival here has held service to very large congregations on board of different men-of-war or at some hotel. The foreign residents are now taking the necessary steps to build or rent a chapel, and a number of Catalonians and some Cubans are desirous of joining the congregation. Mr. KENNEY is a very young man, and his earnest efforts have been crowded with success. With a Protestant baptism in Cuba, and the circumcision of a Jewish child in the City of Mexico, we may still feel some hope that religion and religious liberty will yet take firm foothold in all Spanish-American countries, although such a thing appears almost impossible.