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Death of Cardinal John Joseph Glennon

Cardinal John Joseph Glennon, prelate of the Roman Catholic Church, dies on March 9, 1946 in Dublin. He serves as Archbishop of St. Louis from 1903 until his death. He is elevated to the cardinalate in 1946.

Glennon is born on June 14, 1862 in Kinnegad, County Westmeath, to Matthew and Catherine (née Rafferty) Glennon. After graduating from St. Finian’s College, he enters All Hallows College near Dublin in 1878. He accepts an invitation from Bishop John Joseph Hogan in 1882 to join the newly erected Diocese of Kansas City in the United States. After arriving in Missouri in 1883, he is ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Hogan on December 20, 1884.

Glennon is then assigned to St. Patrick’s Church in Kansas City and, briefly returning to Europe, furthers his studies at the University of Bonn in Germany. Upon his return to Kansas City, he becomes rector of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. He is later made vicar general (1892) and apostolic administrator (1894) for the diocese.

On March 14, 1896, Glennon is appointed Coadjutor Bishop of Kansas City and Titular Bishop of Pinara by Pope Leo XIII. He receives his episcopal consecration on the following June 29 from Archbishop John Joseph Kain, with Bishops Maurice Francis Burke and John Joseph Hennessy serving as co-consecrators. At age 34, he becomes one of the youngest bishops in the world.

Glennon is named Coadjutor Archbishop of St. Louis on April 27, 1903. He succeeds Archbishop Kain as the fourth Archbishop of St. Louis upon the latter’s death on October 13 of that year. Realizing the Cathedral of St. Louis can no longer accommodate its growing congregation, he quickly begins raising funds for a new cathedral, the cornerstone of which is later laid on October 18, 1908.

Glennon opens the new Kenrick Seminary in 1915, followed by the minor seminary in Shrewsbury. He delivers the eulogy at the funeral of Cardinal James Gibbons, and is appointed an Assistant at the Pontifical Throne on June 28, 1921. He opposes British rule in Ireland, and supports the leaders of the Easter Rising. He is an outspoken opponent of divorce, condemns gambling games, and prohibits dancing and drinking at church-sponsored events. He sometimes throws the opening ball for the St. Louis Cardinals, but does not play any sports himself, once saying, “I once tried golf, but I so disfigured the scenery that I never played again, in fear of public indignation and reprisal.”[2]

Despite a rather popular tenure, as Archbishop of St. Louis Glennon opposes racial integration in the city’s Catholic schools, colleges, and universities. During the early 1940s, many local priests, especially Jesuits, challenge the segregationist policies at the city’s Catholic schools. The St. Louis chapter of the Midwest Clergy Conference on Negro Welfare, formed locally in 1938, pushes the all-female Webster College to integrate first. However, in 1943, Glennon blocks the enrollment of a young black woman at the college by speaking privately with the Kentucky-based superior of the Sisters of Loretto, which staffs the college. When approached directly by pro-integration priests, he calls the integration plan a “Jesuit ploy,” and quickly transfers one of the complaining priests away from his mission at an African American parish.

The Pittsburgh Courier, an African-American newspaper with national circulation, discovers Glennon’s intervention and runs a front-page feature on the Webster incident. In response, Father Claude Heithaus, professor of Classical Archaeology at the Catholic Saint Louis University, delivers an angry sermon accusing his own institution of immoral behavior in its segregation policies. Saint Louis University begins admitting African American students that summer when its president, Father Patrick Holloran, manages to secure approval from the reluctant Archbishop Glennon. Nevertheless, St. Louis maintains one of the largest numbers of African-American parishes and schools in the country.

On Christmas Eve 1945, it is announced that the 83-year-old Glennon will be elevated to the College of Cardinals. He originally thinks himself too old to make the journey to Rome, but eventually joins fellow Cardinals-elect Francis Spellman and Thomas Tien Ken-sin on their flight, during which time he contracts a cold from which he does not recover. Pope Pius XII creates him Cardinal Priest of San Clemente al Laterano in the consistory of February 18, 1946.

During the return trip to the United States, Glennon stops in his native Ireland, where he is received by President Seán T. O’Kelly and Taoiseach Éamon de Valera. While in Dublin, he is diagnosed with uremic poisoning and dies on March 9, 1946, ending a 42-year tenure as Archbishop. The Cardinal’s body is returned to St. Louis and then buried at the Cathedral.

Glennon is the namesake of the community of Glennonville, Missouri. The only diocesan hospital for children, Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital, affiliated with Saint Louis University Hospital, is created in his name.

(Pictured: Cardinal John J. Glennon, photo by the St. Louis Dispatch)