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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Birth of Father Michael Joseph McGivney

michael-joseph-mcgivneyMichael Joseph McGivney, American Catholic priest, is born to Irish immigrants Patrick and Mary (Lynch) McGivney on August 12, 1852 in Waterbury, Connecticut. He founds the Knights of Columbus at a local parish to serve as a mutual aid and fraternal insurance organization, particularly for immigrants and their families. It develops through the 20th century as the world’s largest Catholic fraternal organization.

McGivney attends the local Waterbury district school but leaves at 13 to work in the spoon-making department of one of the area brass mills. In 1868, at the age of 16, he enters the Séminaire de Saint-Hyacinthe in Saint-Hyacinthe, Quebec, Canada. He continues his studies at Our Lady of Angels Seminary, near Niagara Falls, New York (1871–1872) and at the Jesuits‘ St. Mary’s College, in Montreal, Quebec. He has to leave the seminary, returning home, to help finish raising his siblings after the death of his father in June 1873. He later resumes his studies at St. Mary’s Seminary, in Baltimore, Maryland. He is ordained a priest on December 22, 1877, by Archbishop James Gibbons at the Baltimore Cathedral of the Assumption.

From his own experience, McGivney recognizes the devastating effect on immigrant families of the untimely death of the father and wage earner. Many Catholics are still struggling to assimilate into the American economy. On March 29, 1882, while an assistant pastor at Saint Mary’s Church in New Haven, Connecticut, he founds the Knights of Columbus, with a small group of parishioners, as a mutual aid society to provide financial assistance in the event of the men’s death to their widows and orphans. The organization develops as a fraternal society. He is also known for his tireless work among his parishioners.

Father Michael Joseph McGivney dies from pneumonia at the age of 38 on August 14, 1890, the eve of the Assumption, in Thomaston, Connecticut.

The Knights of Columbus is among the first groups to recruit blood donors, with formal efforts dating to 1937 during the Great Depression. As of 2013, the order has more than 1.8 million member families and 15,000 councils. During the 2012 fraternal year, $167 million and 70 million man-hours are donated to charity by the order.

In 1996, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford opens the cause for canonization, an investigation into McGivney’s life with a view towards formal recognition by the Church of his sainthood. Father Gabriel O’Donnell, OP, is the postulator of McGivney’s cause. He is also the director of the Fr. McGivney Guild, which now has 150,000 members supporting his cause.

The diocesan investigation is closed in 2000 and the case is passed to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Vatican City. On March 15, 2008, Pope Benedict XVI approves a decree recognizing McGivney’s heroic virtue, thus declaring him “Venerable.” As of August 6, 2013, a miracle attributed to McGivney’s intercession is under investigation at the Vatican.