seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of James Augustine Healy, Bishop of Portland, Maine

james-augustine-healyJames Augustine Healy, American Roman Catholic priest and the second bishop of Portland, Maine, is born on April 6, 1830 in Macon, Georgia to a multiracial slave mother and Irish immigrant father. He is the first bishop in the United States of any known African descent. When he is ordained in 1854, his multiracial ancestry is not widely known outside his mentors in the Catholic Church.

Healy is the eldest of ten siblings of Michael Morris Healy, an Irish immigrant planter from County Roscommon, and his common law wife Eliza Smith (sometimes recorded as Clark), a multiracial enslaved African American. He achieves many “firsts” in United States history. He is credited with greatly expanding the Catholic church in Maine at a time of increased Irish immigration. He also serves Abenaki people and many parishioners of French Canadian descent who were traditionally Catholic. He speaks both English and French.

Beginning in 1837, like many other wealthy planters with mixed-race children, Michael Healy starts sending his sons to school in the North. James, along with brothers Hugh and Patrick, goes to Quaker schools in Flushing, New York, and Burlington, New Jersey. Later they each attend the newly opened College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts. He graduates as valedictorian of the college’s first graduating class in 1849.

Following graduation, Healy wishes to enter the priesthood. He cannot study at the Jesuit novitiate in Maryland, as it is a slave state. With the help of John Bernard Fitzpatrick, he enters a Sulpician seminary in Montreal. In 1852, he transfers to study at Saint-Sulpice Seminary in Paris, working toward a doctorate and a career as a seminary professor. After a change of heart, he decides to become a pastor. On June 10, 1854, he is ordained at Notre-Dame de Paris as a priest to serve in Boston, Massachusetts. He is the first African American to be ordained a Roman Catholic priest although at the time he identifies as and is accepted as white Irish Catholic.

When Healy returns to the United States, he becomes an assistant pastor in Boston. He serves the Archbishop, who helps establish his standing in the church. In 1866 he becomes the pastor of St. James Church, the largest Catholic congregation in Boston. In 1874 when the Boston legislature is considering taxation of churches, he defends Catholic institutions as vital organizations that help the state both socially and financially. He also condemns certain laws that are generally enforced only on Catholic institutions. He founds several Catholic charitable institutions to care for the many poor Irish immigrants who had arrived during the Great Famine years.

Healy’s success in the public sphere leads to his appointment by Pope Pius IX to the position of second bishop of Portland, Maine. He is consecrated as Bishop of Portland on June 2, 1875, becoming the first African American to be consecrated a Catholic bishop. For 25 years he governs his large diocese, supervising also the founding of the Diocese of Manchester, New Hampshire, when it is split from Portland in 1885. During his time in Maine, which is a period of extensive immigration from Catholic countries, he oversees the establishment of 60 new churches, 68 missions, 18 convents, and 18 schools. During that period, he also serves his Abenaki and French Canadian parishioners.

Healy is the only member of the American Catholic hierarchy to excommunicate men who joined the Knights of Labor, a national union, which reaches its peak of power in 1886.

Two months before his death on August 5, 1900, Healy is called as assistant to the Papal throne by Pope Leo XIII, a position in the Catholic hierarchy just below that of cardinal.


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Death of John McElroy, Founder of Boston College

Death of Jesuit John McElroy, the founder of Boston College, at age of 95 in Frederick, Maryland, on September 12, 1877.

McElroy is born on May 14, 1782 in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh, the younger of two sons. In the hopes of providing a better life for John and his brother Anthony, their father, a farmer, finances their travel to the United States. In 1803 the two young men board a ship leaving the port of Londonderry and arrive in Baltimore, Maryland, on August 26. McElroy eventually settles in Georgetown, Washington, D.C., and becomes a merchant.

In 1806, McElroy enters Georgetown College in Washington, D.C., the same year he enters the novitiate of the Society of Jesus as a lay brother. He eventually manages the finances of Georgetown College and in 1808 erects the tower building. He managed the school’s finances so well that through the period of economic hardship following the War of 1812, he is able to send several Jesuits to Rome to study.

McElroy is ordained in May 1817, after less than two years of preparation. As a new priest, he is assigned to Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Georgetown as an assistant pastor. In his short time at Trinity, he contributes to the growth of the congregation and enlarging of the church building. This is achieved by increasing the monthly subscription for congregation members from 12½ cents to $12.50 on July 3, 1819. The following day he travels to most of the congregation members’ homes and collects $2,000 in pledges. He immediately sets to work having the Church modified to include two lateral-wing chapels, which are first used on October 3, 1819.

On January 11, 1819, McElroy is granted United States citizenship. Also in 1819, McElroy starts a Sunday School for black children who are taught prayers and catechism simultaneously with spelling and reading, by volunteer members of the congregation. McElroy spends his remaining years in Georgetown teaching the lower grades.

In 1823, McElroy begins negotiations with the Sisters of Charity in Emmitsburg, Maryland, for the establishment of a school for girls in Frederick. In 1824, the St. John’s Benevolent Female Free School is founded by the Sisters of Charity of Saint Joseph at 200 East Second Street in Frederick. In 1825, McElroy sets to work replacing the pre-American Revolution log cabin that houses the school with a modern building large enough to also house an orphanage.

McElroy’s next task is to found an educational institution for boys. On August 7, 1828, the construction of St. John’s Literary Institute begins. The following year the construction is completed and the school is opened, a school which is currently operating under the name of Saint John’s Catholic Prep.

In October 1847, McElroy is welcomed in Boston, Massachusetts, by the Bishop of Boston, John Bernard Fitzpatrick, to serve as pastor of St. Mary’s parish in the North End. Bishop Fitzpatrick sets McElroy to work on bringing a college to Boston.

In 1853, McElroy finds a property in the South End where the city jail once stood. After two years of negotiations the project falls through due to zoning issues. A new site is identified and city officials endorse the sale. In 1858, Bishop Fitzpatrick and Father McElroy break ground for Boston College, and for the Church of the Immaculate Conception. Classes began in the fall of 1864, and continue at this location until 1913 when the college moves to its current location at Chestnut Hill. Initially Boston College offers a 7-year program including both high school and college. This joint program continues until 1927 when the high school is separately incorporated.

In 1868, McElroy retires to the Jesuit novitiate in Frederick, Maryland. He visits Georgetown for the final time in 1872 to celebrate his golden jubilee. His eyesight is failing and while moving through his home he falls, fracturing his femur, which eventually leads to his death. Father John McElroy dies September 12, 1877 at the Jesuit novitiate in Frederick, Maryland. For some years leading up to his death, he is regarded as the oldest priest in the United States and the oldest Jesuit in the world. He is buried in the Novitiate Cemetery. In 1903, the Jesuits withdraw from Frederick and the graves are moved from the Frederick Jesuit Novitiate Cemetery to St. John’s Cemetery.