Hickey, James Aloysius

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Hickey, James Aloysius

(b. 11 October 1920 in Midland, Michigan; d. 24 October 2004 in Washington, D.C.), archbishop of Washington and developer of a comprehensive network of social services.

Hickey was the son of James P. Hickey, a dentist, and Agnes (Ryan) Hickey. He had one sister. Hickey attended Saint Brigid Catholic School in Midland and, at age thirteen, entered Saint Joseph Minor Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan. After graduating in 1938, Hickey studied philosophy at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, completing a BA in 1942. After further studies at the Catholic University of America in Washington, Hickey earned a license in theology at the age of twenty-five.

Hickey was ordained a priest on 15 June 1946. His first assignment was in the Diocese of Saginaw, Michigan, working to obtain better housing and labor conditions for poor Mexican immigrants in the sugar-beet fields of the Saginaw Valley. Hickey briefly served as the associate pastor of Saint Joseph Parish in Saginaw before attending Pontifical Lateran University in Rome, where he earned a doctorate in canon law in 1950. The next year Hickey earned a second doctorate, this one in moral theology, from the Pontifical Angelicum University, also in Rome. Also in 1951 Hickey was appointed secretary to Bishop Stephen Woznicki, of his home diocese of Saginaw. In 1957 Hickey became one of the founding rectors of Saint Paul Seminary, Saginaw.

Between 1962 and 1965 Hickey attended the Second Vatican Council as a theological expert and representative of Bishop Woznicki. For the Holy See, Hickey served on the Pontifical Council for the Family. He returned to the United States when he was named auxiliary bishop of Saginaw, a position he held from 1967 to 1969. Hickey chaired several committees of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, including priestly formation from 1968 to 1969, before departing again for Rome. From 1969 to 1974 in Rome, Hickey served as the rector of the Pontifical North American College, the most prestigious training school for American Catholic priests. In 1974 Hickey returned to the United States after being appointed bishop of the Diocese of Cleveland, Ohio. As a bishop, Hickey was a leading advocate for social justice and racial unity. He headed a community march at the center of the Superior-Detroit Bridge in 1979.

On 5 August 1980 Hickey was installed as archbishop of Washington. A few months later, in a vacant convent of Saint Mary Mother of God Parish, Hickey opened Mount Carmel House, a home for women that was the first homeless shelter in the archdiocese. Hickey also played a significant role in working with the U.S. government to help Spanish-speaking immigrants flee war-torn and poverty-stricken Central America. In the mid-1980s, in another uninhabited convent, Hickey opened a home for the elderly named Mary’s House. He also worked with Mother Teresa to create the Gift of Peace convent in Washington. At Gift of Peace, the Missionaries of Charity provided care for persons with AIDS and launched one of the first and most comprehensive child-protection programs in the United States. From 1984 until 1987 Hickey chaired the committee on human values of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Under Hickey’s leadership, the Archdiocese of Washington underwent the largest building boom since World War II, and Catholic Charities of that archdiocese became the largest private social service agency in the area. Hickey supported an increase in the expenditure of aid for the poor, encouraged bishops to stand firmly against an increase in military spending, tried to persuade members of Congress to end their aid to Nicaraguan Contras, and supported nuclear disarmament. He also established a review board to cope with abusive priests and developed a policy barring these priests from returning to ministry. In 1989 Hickey developed the theme Mosaic of Faith for celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the Archdiocese of Washington and to highlight diversity.

What has long been considered Hickey’s most significant legacy is his institution of an extensive nongovernmental network of social services, including the Archdiocesan Health Care Network, the Archdiocesan Legal Network, the Birthing and Care Program, the Faith in the City project, and the Spanish Catholic Center Victory Housing project. By the time Hickey retired in 2000, he had overseen the institution of twelve parishes, four pastoral missions, and two schools.

In 1988 Pope John Paul II requested that Hickey lead the annual Lenten retreat of the papal household. Hickey was the first American churchman ever asked to do so and was elevated to the College of Cardinals on 28 June 1988. The twenty-two talks that Hickey presented during the retreat were later published as the book Mary at the Foot of the Cross: A Retreat to John Paul II and the Papal Household (1989). In 1999, on the fortieth anniversary of the Great Upper Church of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Hickey dedicated a new marble sculpture titled The Universal Call to Holiness.

Never losing track of his earlier life, Hickey remained in contact with one of his elementary school teachers, Sister Mary Ignatius Denay, and with his friend for more than forty years and successor as archbishop, Theodore E. Cardinal McCarrick, who was with Hickey when he died. Hickey also kept pictures of his martyred friends, sisters Dorothy Kazel and Jean Donovan.

Many accolades were bestowed on Hickey during his life, including the Karski Award (2000), the Gaudium et Spes Award (2000), and the Spalding Medal, as well as nine honorary degrees from U.S. colleges and universities. Hickey retired after twenty years of service as archbishop of Washington on 21 November 2000. In 2001 the new headquarters of Catholic Charities was named the James Cardinal Hickey Center in his honor. In 2003, after suffering a period of declining health, Hickey moved into the Jeanne Jugan Residence, a Catholic assisted-living nursing home run by the Little Sisters of the Poor in Washington.

Hickey died in his sleep in Washington on 24 October 2004 at the age of eighty-four after contracting pneumonia about a week earlier. Funeral services were held on 30 October 2004 at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Hickey’s body had lain in state on 28 October 2004 at the Cathedral of Saint Matthew the Apostle, where Hickey was originally installed as an archbishop. Hickey is buried in Saint Francis Chapel in the cathedral.

Hickey was a tall, soft-spoken man of integrity and honor who believed wholly in truth in charity. He fought tirelessly for the Roman Catholic Church, for those who could not defend themselves, for racial unity, for the expansion of education, and for those he held dear. In his own words, Hickey wished to be remembered “for serving the poor.”

For information about Hickey’s life and work, see Mark Zimmermann, “Cardinal Hickey Lived for, and Died with, the Poor,” Catholic Standard (28 Oct. 2004) and Richard Szczepanowski, “Cardinal Hickey’s Love for Poor Highlighted at Funeral Mass,” Catholic Herald (1 Nov. 2004). Obituaries are in the Boston Globe, New York Times, Washington Post (all 25 Oct. 2004), and Catholic Herald (28 Oct. 2004).

Adriana C. Tomasino

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