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Hughes, John Joseph (1797-1864)

John Joseph Hughes (1797-1864)

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Roman catholic archbishop of new york

Immigrant Success Story. When John Joseph Hughes was born in Ireland, his parents were farmers and linen weavers with sufficient income to send their children to school. When the Napoleonic blockades wiped out the linen export trade, Hughess parents apprenticed, him to a gardener. Hughes moved to the United States in 1817 and obtained a job gardening at Mount Saint Marys Seminary. There he made the acquaintance of the head of the institution, John DuBois, and thus got himself into the school. Ordained a priest on 15 October 1826, he served in Philadelphia until 7 January 1838, when he was appointed coadjutor, auxiliary bishop with the right of succession, to DuBois, at that time the bishop of New York. In 1841 he help found Saint Johns College, later Ford-ham University. By then DuBois was elderly and ailing, and Hughes became the main force in New York Catholicism, although he did not become bishop in his own right until 20 December 1842, after DuBoiss death.

Building a Diocese. New York had many Catholics, but most of them were struggling immigrants crowded together in run-down houses in the lower part of the city; even Saint Patricks Cathedral was on a block in a working-class neighborhood, between Mott and Mulberry Streets. To Hughess mind, his flock was putting personal interest ahead of religious loyalty, and spending more money and effort on individual parishes than on diocesan progress. Hughes began by limiting the power of lay trustees, men who served as leaders and financial officers for their parishes. He further improved the dioceses financial standing by undertaking various tours through Europe, soliciting donations from the wealthy Catholics there. He also invited several religious institutes to send priests and nuns to New York, where they taught, tended the sick, ministered to the poor, and helped to build up Catholic charitable institutions in the diocese. (In his search for workers for the young diocese, he was aided by his sister Ellen, later mother general of the Sisters of Charity of Mount Saint Vincent.) The diocese grew, and the Vatican had to reorganize it to accommodate its increasing population and complexity. The Vatican erected new dioceses and redrew New Yorks boundaries to include only Manhattan, Staten Island, the Bronx, and nine counties north of present-day New York City. On 3 April 1850 Hughes became the first archbishop of New York.

Combating Nativism. Hughes defended Catholicism on the debating platform and in the press. In the 1850s nativists attacked Catholic institutions throughout the United States, which led to riots between Catholics and nativists, with deaths on both sides. Hughes informed New Yorks mayor that he could control the Catholics if the mayor could do the same for the non-Catholics in the city. Their efforts worked, and New York did not have the same kind of violent rioting that other cities saw. Another step Hughes took to protect his flock was the creation of a modern school system. When Hughes came to the city, it did not have a school system run by public officials. Property owners paid taxes, but the money was then divided upon among the different city churches and philanthropies, with the idea that they would use the funds to educate poor children. The city changed the system when one of the agencies misused its funds. City officials then began giving all the tax money to one philanthropy, called the Public School Society. The way the society ran its schools was not uncommon at the time. At some point during the day, the children listened to a reading from the King James Bible, that is, the English translation used by most American Protestants. Hughes wanted to use an English version called the Douai translation, approved by the Catholic Church. The Public School Society refused to alter its practices and had the support of city politicians. Hughes campaigned for change. On 29 October 1841, just before city elections, he held a meeting which produced a slate of candidates who would, if elected, change the system for distributing tax money for education by giving some of it to Catholics. Hughess candidates lost, but his effort did lead to reform. Instead of giving money to philanthropists to educate the poor, the city started a public school system. That system, however, had neither King James nor Douai Bibles, and Hughes urged his pastors to build parochial schools.

Creating Unity. When Hughes became a bishop, the Young Ireland movement was attempting to use political means to elevate Ireland from its colonial status. Hughes did not think the political leaders would accomplish much, and he was right; the movement failed. It was replaced by the Fenian movement, which advocated liberating Ireland from England by force of arms. Hughes disapproved of such violent challenges to authority and condemned Fenianism. Just as he distanced himself from Irish issues, he also tried to distance Catholic New Yorkers from the ethnic and national concerns of other countries. Nevertheless, Hughes realized that some Catholics needed clergy who spoke their own language, and he tolerated the German, French, and Italian parishes in his archdiocese. His attempts to unite his flock around a common Catholicism drew sharp criticisms from some contemporaries who charged that he was power hungry.

Fostering Patriotism. Hughes was not an abolitionist because he saw abolition as an unnecessarily radical change in the social structure. When the Civil War started, Hughes focused on the threat states rights posed to federal authority. He flew the American flag from his cathedral, and on 21 October 1861 he met with Abraham Lincoln and his cabinet. Shortly thereafter, he left for Europe as Lincolns unofficial personal representative, defending the Union to heads of state there. On 13 July 1863 a riot broke out in New York in an attempt to halt the process of drafting men into the army. Many of the rioters were working-class Irish Catholics. Asked by city officials to make a calming speech, Hughes made an appearance on the balcony of his Madison Avenue home. He was so sick that he could not be heard as he tried to address the people below. He died of Brights disease on 3 January 1864. In 1883 his remains were buried beneath the main altar of the new Saint Patricks Cathedral on Fifth Avenue and Fiftieth Street, for which he had laid the cornerstone in 1858.

Sources

John R. G. Hassard, Life of the Most Reverend John Hughes, D.D., First Archbishop of New York, with Extracts from His Private Correspondence (New York: Appleton, 1866);

Richard Shaw, Dagger John: The Unquiet Life and Times of Archbishop John Hughes of New York (New York: Paulist Press, 1977).

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John Joseph Hughes

John Joseph Hughes

Irish-born John Joseph Hughes (1797-1864) was the first Catholic archbishop of New York and an out-spoken defender of American Catholicism against Protestant attacks.

John Hughes emigrated from Ireland to the United States in 1817. Denied admission to Mount Saint Mary's Seminary, he served as that institution's gardener. After diligent study he finally matriculated as a regular student and in 1826 received ordination. As a young priest in Philadelphia, he soon was embroiled in a dispute over lay trusteeism. Throughout the history of Catholicism the administration of Church property had been the bishop's responsibility; in America, however, laymen claimed the right to manage the Philadelphia Cathedral, as well as the authority to name their own pastor. The clergy's efforts to establish their traditional prerogatives angered Protestants, who regarded the Catholic hierarchy as somehow subversive and the principle of lay control as more consonant with American democracy. Hughes's newspaper debates with Protestant critics soon made him famous.

In 1838 Hughes became coadjutor bishop of New York and the following year was made administrator in his own right. Once again he was involved in an episode of anti-Catholic sentiment—the struggle over the New York City public schools. Hughes objected to the Protestant religious practices required of Catholic students in the supposedly nonsectarian educational system. The ensuing turmoil resulted in complete reorganization of the school system, although Hughes's demand for tax money for parochial schools went unheeded. Soon the Native American party began attacking Hughes for allegedly having driven the Bible out of the classroom.

In 1850 Rome elevated New York to a province and made Hughes its first archbishop. He opposed a bill pending in the state legislature that would prevent bishops from holding Church property in their own name; although the bill passed, the state never enforced it. He also carried the burden of defending his Church against the attacks of the Know-Nothing party, while reflecting the conservatism of New York City in his stand on slavery. He rejected abolition, fearing that African Americans would not be prepared for freedom. But when the South seceded, he remained a staunch unionist. During the Civil War he undertook a diplomatic mission to France for President Abraham Lincoln and, in July 1863, helped New York's governor put down the draft riots. Hughes died on Jan. 3, 1864.

Further Reading

There is no recent biography of Hughes. Henry A. Brann, Most Reverend John Hughes (1892), is uncritically laudatory but presents a complete account. Contemporary scholars have given attention to selected aspects of his career. Ray Allen Billington, The Protestant Crusade, 1800-1860 (1964), is a comprehensive study of 19th-century nativism, which focused so much of its attention on Hughes. Vincent P. Lannie, Public Money and Parochial Education: Bishop Hughes, Governor Seward, and the New York School Controversy (1968), gives intensive coverage to Hughes's role in the debate over public schools.

Additional Sources

Shaw, Richard, Dagger John: the unquiet life and times of Archbishop John Hughes of New York, New York: Paulist Press, 1977. □

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Hughes, John Joseph

John Joseph Hughes, 1797–1864, American Roman Catholic churchman, b. Co. Tyrone, Ireland. He joined his family in the United States in 1817 and on graduating from Mt. St. Mary's College, Emmitsburg, Md., was ordained (1826). He served mostly in Philadelphia until 1838, when he was consecrated bishop and became coadjutor to Bishop John Dubois in New York. In 1842, Hughes was made bishop, and in 1850 the first archbishop of New York. He obtained for the church complete control of its property by the clergy. A resolute and ardent defender of Catholicism, he engaged in debates, worked actively in behalf of Irish immigrants, and strongly urged the obliteration of European national affiliations in American Catholicism. His vigorous but unsuccessful attempt to secure state support for religious schools carried him into politics and led to the establishment of the independent Catholic school system. In the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln sent him to France to promote a friendly attitude toward the Union cause. He founded (1841) St. John's College (now Fordham Univ.) and laid (1858) the cornerstone of St. Patrick's Cathedral, New York City.

See his works (ed. by L. Kehoe, 1864); biography by J. R. G. Hassard (1866, repr. 1969); study by V. P. Lannie (1968).

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