Michael Augustine Corrigan

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Michael Augustine Corrigan

American Roman Catholic clergyman Michael Augustine Corrigan (1839-1902) was archbishop of New York during years of rapid change and expansion.

Michael Augustine Corrigan was born in Newark, N.J., the fifth of nine children of Thomas and Mary English Corrigan. His father had emigrated from Ireland in 1828 and was a successful grocer. Michael attended a private school conducted by a relative and spent 2 years at St. Mary's College, Wilmington, Del., graduating from Mount St. Mary's in Emmitsburg, Md., in 1859. Bishop James Roosevelt Bayley sent Corrigan to study for the priest-hood as one of the first group of students to attend the new American College in Rome. In 1863 Corrigan was ordained a priest in Rome, and the next year he received his doctorate at the College of the Propaganda Fide.

Returning to New Jersey, Corrigan was named professor of theology and scripture at Seton Hall Seminary, and in 1868 he became the school's president, a post he held until 1876. He served during the same period as vicar general of the Newark diocese. In 1873 he became bishop of Newark, a diocese which covered the state of New Jersey. During his term he successfully systematized parish records and reports and promoted the building of parish schools. In 1880 he was elevated to the post of coadjutor to John McCloskey, Archbishop of New York, whom he succeeded in 1885.

Energetic, though somewhat colorless, and possessed by a passion for order and system, Corrigan developed clear lines of authority in his archdiocese, shored up church finances, adapted parishes to changing ethnic constituencies, sought out foreign-language priests for the hordes of new immigrants, and worked vigorously for the extension of the Catholic school system. Five diocesan synods clarified episcopal authority and clerical responsibility. Archbishop Corrigan completed the building of St. Patrick's Cathedral and constructed a diocesan seminary at Dunwoodie, which he endowed with a chapel from his personal inheritance.

Corrigan's centralization of diocesan affairs was opposed by some priests, whose protests to Rome exposed some of the canonical irregularities in the American system of diocesan management. Most notable was his highly publicized battle with Edward McGlynn, a brilliant priest who questioned the parochial school policy and supported reformer Henry George. Nationally, the archbishop joined other conservative prelates in opposing the more liberal programs advocated by Archbishop John Ireland of St. Paul. Corrigan defended the parochial school and advocated condemnation of secret societies and avoidance of ecumenical contact. He refused to assist the development of the Catholic University of America and staunchly defended the autonomy of his diocese. In later years, when controversy subsided, Corrigan devoted himself to local problems. He died suddenly in 1902.

Further Reading

Frederick J. Zwierlein, Letters of Archbishop Corrigan to Bishop McQuaid (1946), is the major source for Corrigan's more controversial activities. Diocesan affairs are treated in John Talbot Smith, The Catholic Church in New York, vol. 2 (1908). For general background see Thomas T. McAvoy, A History of the Catholic Church in the United States (1969).

Additional Sources

DiGiovanni, Stephen Michael, Archbishop Corrigan and the Italian immigrants, Huntington, Ind.: Our Sunday Visitor, Inc., 1994.

The Diocesan journal of Michael Augustine Corrigan, Bishop of Newark, 1872-1880, Newark: New Jersey Historical Society; South Orange: New Jersey Catholic Historical Records Commission, 1987. □

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Michael Augustine Corrigan

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