February 1, 2024 | Archives
Fr. Stephen Van Lal Than

This is said to be the actual photograph depicting little Edward Fitzgerald asleep atop the Eucharist “guarding the Precious Treasure.” COURTESY OF ARCHIVES

Fr. Edward Fitzgerald, protector of the Eucharist


A frantic knocking echoes through the Fitzgerald house one summer morning in 1863. The door swings open to reveal a priest standing on the stoop with his hands earnestly pressing something to his chest. Violence, screams and breaking glass, can be heard from the streets behind him. “Take me to Edward,” the priest commands. Mr. Fitzgerald leads the priest to the sleeping three-year-old Fitzgerald boy. The priest takes the pyx containing the Holy Eucharist that he has been clutching to his chest and places it beneath the shoulder of the sleeping boy.  

That morning, little Edward Fitzgerald lay sleeping in his bed completely unaware of how tumultuous the world outside was. The streets of the little Massachusetts town could not find peace. For decades anti-Catholic riots had plagued the area. Most famously, an Ursuline convent, five miles from where Edward now slept, was burned to the ground by anti-Catholic mobs. This wasn’t an anti-Catholic riot, however; it was a draft riot.

Displeased with the stipulations of the draft, the poor all throughout the Boston area, took to the streets. They were outraged that the rich would be able to pay a substitute to fight in their place, while the poor had to leave their families fatherless to fight a war against fellow Americans.

The priest, knowing what destruction the previous riots had brought, took the most precious thing in the whole church, in the whole city, and placed it beneath the sleeping boy. The boy would keep Christ safe, and Christ would keep the boy safe.

Years later, that little boy was ordained a priest and found his way to Owensboro, Kentucky, as Fr. Edward Fitzgerald. For 35 years he served as one of the most beloved pastors St. Paul Parish in Owensboro has ever had. For 21 years he served the Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph. He passed away in 1927 and is buried in Mount Saint Joseph’s Cemetery. His entire life from infant to man he humbly served Our Eucharistic Lord.

With 2024 here, we have only a handful of months remaining in the National Eucharistic Revival: Year of Parish Revival. After the Eucharistic Congress this summer, the revival will kick off its final year: the Year of Going Out on Mission.

This initiative was called almost two years ago to refocus the faithful on the source and summit of our Catholic faith and our entire existence, the Eucharist. Christ uses whatever he needs to speak to us, even an archived photograph of one of our very own priests. In a time and place when it must have seemed like the country would surely come to an end, when hatred and division was rampant, and a Civil War that had long been looming was now fully underway, Christ was to be found in perhaps the last bit of peace in that world, in a Catholic home, in the company of a sleeping child.

May we make our homes a place of peace where Christ is always welcome, even in the chaos of this world. To do this, we cannot forget that where peace is desired, the Eucharist is necessary. Fr. Edward Fitzgerald, pray for us!

Edward Wilson is the director of the Diocese of Owensboro’s Archives and the Archives of the Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph. Comments and questions may be sent to [email protected].

Originally printed in the February 2024 issue of The Western Kentucky Catholic.

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