Some Curiosities in our History...
A new Catholic church in Montpelier - The Catholics have purchased the old Court House and are now, under the superintendence of the Priest they have engaged to officiate in it, fitting it up as a place of worship - the same constitution which protects us in the enjoyment of our chosen religion must protect them in theirs. And whatever the errorism of their creed may embrace, it must be remedied otherwise than by intolerance.
-Burlington Courier August 22, 1850
The Ku Klux Klan
Unfortunately, St. Augustine's has been the subject of occasional prejudice and bad feeling over the years. The most blatant gestures of hatred and ignorance occurred in 1942 and 1925, and were attributed to the Ku Klux Klan.
Central Vermont had an active chapter of the Klan, and cross-burnings were not uncommon in and around the capital city, but such acts generally were not directed at specific individuals or institutions. However, on July 19, 1924 a cross was erected and burned at the parish's cemetery, prompting the following editorial in the Bethel Courier: When one (a cross) is placed in a Roman Catholic cemetery and reduced to embers, as was done in Montpelier Saturday night, whether the act of the Ku Klux or somebody else, it can scarcely be regarded as less than a wanton insult, as well as a desecration."
A year later, on Nov. 21, 1925, a cross was ceremoniously burned on the steps of St. Augustine. After it was lit, according to newspapers of the day, someone made an anonymous and threatening call to the rectory, calling Monsignor Crosby out of bed at about 2 a.m. The oil used to soak the burning cross left a stain on the stone steps of the church that lasted for years.
Two Montpelier men were arrested following the incident and charged with breach of peace. They were defended by lawyers W. W. LaPoint of Barre, and Deane C. Davis - who later was elected governor of Vermont. Recalling the trial years later, Davis said: "It took days to get a jury, because if you found anybody who said the had no opinions one way or the other about the Ku Klux Klan, he had to be a liar or living under a haystack."
"We finally ended up with six Catholics and six Protestants on the jury, and when the case was over we had a hung jury," Davis continued. "The case created an awful lot of angry division in Montpelier."
According to Maudean Neill's 1989 book "Fiery Crosses in the Green Mountains: The Story of the Ku Klux Klan in Vermont," the courtroom for the trial was packed with interested spectators during the trial, and some people had to be cautioned against demonstrations. Neill said that although the two defendants were released without penalty following the hung jury, one of them acknowledged that he had been with a group of about 30 men who burned two crosses across town earlier in the evening.