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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Birth of James Cardinal Gibbons, Archbishop of Baltimore

james-cardinal-gibbonsJames Cardinal Gibbons, American prelate of the Catholic Church, is born in Baltimore, Maryland on July 23, 1834 to parents Thomas and Bridget (née Walsh) Gibbons who had emigrated from Toormakeady, County Mayo. In his role as Archbishop of Baltimore from 1877 to 1921, he serves as a bridge between Roman Catholicism and American Catholic values.

Gibbons is taken by his parents from Baltimore to Ireland in 1837. Following his father’s death in 1847, at the height of The Great Hunger, his mother moves the family back to the United States. He spends the next eight years as a grocer in New Orleans. In 1855 he enters a seminary in Baltimore, becoming a priest in 1861. He rises through the ranks of the Roman Catholic Church quickly, and by 1868 he is the youngest bishop in the United States. During a short stay in North Carolina, he writes The Faith of Our Fathers (1876), a defense of Catholicism that proves exceptionally popular, selling more than two million copies. He is elevated to Archbishop of Baltimore in 1877. He assumes a leadership role as the presiding prelate at the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore in 1884, and in 1886 he is made a cardinal by Pope Leo XIII.

As a leader of the Catholic Church hierarchy in the United States, Gibbons is outspoken in his praise for American democratic institutions and he advocates Americanization — the rapid assimilation of Catholic immigrants into American culture and institutions — both as a means to counter Protestant Americans’ suspicions toward Catholics and to avoid the fragmentation of the Catholic Church in the United States along ethnic lines. He is also sympathetic to the cause of organized labour and works to overcome suspicions within the Catholic Church toward the Knights of Labor, which has been considered a secret society by many clergymen.

On education, as on other social issues, Gibbons seeks ways of harmonizing the tenets of the Catholic faith with the principles of American democracy. He enters the controversy over control of parochial and public schools in 1891 when he defends Archbishop John Ireland’s experimental plan for cooperation between Catholic and public schools in the Minnesota towns of Faribault and Stillwater. To the dismay of conservative bishops, he refuses to condemn public education and encourages efforts to find common ground between the two systems. The Faribault-Stillwater plan remains controversial despite Gibbons’s support, and acrimony between the plan’s supporters and conservative opponents lingers until 1893.

During World War I, Gibbons is instrumental in the establishment of the National Catholic War Council, and afterwards supports the League of Nations. Although initially opposed to women’s suffrage, when the Nineteenth Amendment passes Gibbons urges women to exercise their right to vote “…not only as a right but as a strict social duty.”

James Cardinal Gibbons dies at the age of 86 in Baltimore on March 24, 1921. Throughout his career he is a respected and influential public figure. Although nonpartisan, he takes positions on a variety of foreign and domestic policy issues and is personally acquainted with every U.S. president from Andrew Johnson to Woodrow Wilson.


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Birth of John Ireland, First Archbishop of St. Paul

John Ireland, the third Roman Catholic bishop and first Roman Catholic archbishop of Saint Paul, Minnesota, is born in Burnchurch, County Kilkenny, on September 11, 1838. He becomes both a religious as well as civic leader in Saint Paul during the turn of the 20th century.

Ireland is known for his progressive stance on education, immigration and relations between church and state, as well as his opposition to saloons and political corruption. He promotes the Americanization of Catholicism, especially in the furtherance of progressive social ideals. He is a leader of the modernizing element in the Roman Catholic Church during the Progressive Era. He creates or helps to create many religious and educational institutions in Minnesota. He is also remembered for his acrimonious relations with Eastern Catholics.

Ireland’s family immigrates to the United States in 1848 and eventually moves to Saint Paul, Minnesota, in 1852. One year later Joseph Crétin, first bishop of Saint Paul, sends Ireland to the preparatory seminary of Meximieux in France. Ireland is consequently ordained in 1861 in Saint Paul. He serves as a chaplain of the Fifth Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Regiment in the American Civil War until 1863 when ill health leads to his resignation. Later, he is famous nationwide in the Grand Army of the Republic.

Ireland is appointed pastor at Saint Paul’s cathedral in 1867, a position which he holds until 1875. In 1875, he is made coadjutor bishop of St. Paul and in 1884 he becomes bishop ordinary. In 1888 he becomes archbishop with the elevation of his diocese and the erection of the ecclesiastical province of Saint Paul. Ireland retains this title for thirty years until his death in 1918. Before Ireland dies he burns all of his personal papers.

Ireland is awarded an honorary doctorate (LL.D.) by Yale University in October 1901, during celebrations for the bicentenary of the university.

Ireland is personal friends with Presidents William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt. At a time when most Irish Catholics are staunch Democrats, Ireland is known for being close to the Republican party. He opposes racial inequality and calls for “equal rights and equal privileges, political, civil, and social.” Ireland’s funeral is attended by eight archbishops, thirty bishops, twelve monsignors, seven hundred priests and two hundred seminarians.

A friend of James J. Hill, Archbishop Ireland has his portrait painted in 1895 by the Swiss-born American portrait painter Adolfo Müller-Ury almost certainly on Hill’s behalf, which is exhibited at M. Knoedler & Co., New York, January 1895 and again in 1897.