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 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.