Krol, John Joseph

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Krol, John Joseph

(b. 26 October 1910 in Cleveland, Ohio; d. 3 March 1996 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), cardinal, archbishop of Philadelphia for twenty-seven years, and a leading churchman during a period that stretched from the Second Vatican Council to the end of the cold war.

Krol was the fourth of eight children born to a Polish immigrant couple, John Krol, a machinist who worked odd jobs as a carpenter, bricklayer, and plumber, and Anna Pietruszka Krol. The children all worked at an early age, and Krol could point to scars on each hand as proof of his having worked in a meat store at the age of nine and a box factory at the age of fifteen.

After graduating from Catholic elementary and secondary schools in Cleveland, Krol, at the age of seventeen, became a meat-cutter at Kroger, a chain food store, and soon rose to manager of the meat department. When a Lutheran colleague asked him religious questions, Krol began to peruse books of theology and was prompted to consider a vocation to the priesthood. Krol returned to school, St. Mary’s College in Orchard Lake, Michigan, in 1931 and later entered St. Mary’s Seminary. He continued to work as a meat-cutter during the summers to pay for his education and purposely took a job in a factory during his last summer so that he might better understand the labor his future parishioners ordinarily performed.

Krol was ordained to the priesthood on 20 February 1937 and served the next year as a parish priest. He was then sent to Rome, where he earned a licentiate in canon law at the Gregorianum. Krol visited relatives in Poland in the summer of 1939, just weeks before the Nazi invasion. He returned to the United States in 1940 as World War II engulfed Europe. He completed his doctorate in canon law at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., in 1942 and then moved back to Cleveland, where he taught canon law at the local seminary and eventually was appointed to several archdiocesan administrative positions, including chancellor (1951). Krol was consecrated auxiliary bishop of Cleveland on 2 September 1953.

On 11 February 1961, Krol was appointed the tenth archbishop of Philadelphia. He entered a diocese that was several million dollars in debt, and he proved his administrative acumen by clearing away the debt within two years. Over the next fifteen years Krol opened thirty-four new parishes, as well as Newman Centers, designed to serve as gathering places for Catholics, at the major secular universities in his archdiocese. So strong was Krol’s reputation as an administrator that he became the most prominent American churchman at the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965), largely in the capacity of an administrator rather than a theologian. He served first on the preparatory Committee on Bishops and Diocesan Government and then as undersecretary of the council, with responsibility for organizing the debates and votes of the attending prelates.

Krol was elevated to the cardinalate on 26 June 1967, the same year in which Karol Wojtyla, the archbishop of Cracow and future Pope John Paul II, became cardinal. According to Polish custom, a new cardinal makes a ceremonial entry into his hometown, and when Krol was denied a visa to make this journey to Siekierczyna, his father’s village, Cardinal Wojtyla performed the ceremony on his behalf in a horse-drawn sleigh. When Wojtyla made his first trip to the United States in the fall of 1969, Krol was his host in Philadelphia, and the two men met again in 1976, when Wojtyla attended the International Eucharistie Congress in Philadelphia.

Between 1971 and 1974, Krol was president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. He served on the committee that revised the Code of Canon Law (promulgated in 1983). In 1985, he was named one of three co-presidents of the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops, a special council called to review the implementation of the reforms of the Second Vatican Council.

Cardinal Krol was a staunch defender of the Church in matters ranging from sexual ethics to international relations. He opposed state funding of artificial contraception and denounced Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court ruling in 1973 that abrogated state laws against abortion. He argued for the return of prayer in public schools and supported public aid to nonpublic schools. Krol also advocated nuclear disarmament. He testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the matter in 1979 and helped formulate the American bishops’ pastoral letter of 1983, The Challenge of Peace. Krol believed that the arms race had to be halted and nuclear weapons eventually banned, but he accepted the policy of deterrence as an intermediate step.

Despite his criticism of the arms race, Krol became a trusted adviser to President Ronald Reagan and his intelligence officials on the political situation in Poland. Because of his heritage and his position, Krol was well placed to explain Vatican views to the U.S. government and American policies to Pope John Paul II. In 1984 Krol offered prayers at the beginning of the Republican National Convention. Having already done the same in 1972, his public association with the Republican party and conservative politics was not new.

Cardinal Krol’s reputation as a financial manager earned him a place on a select council of fifteen cardinals that was convoked in 1981 to reform the Vatican’s methods of budgeting and accounting. In 1987 he and John Cardinal O’Connor of New York and Archbishop Theodore Mc-Carrick of Newark, New Jersey, founded the Papal Foundation, an independent trust developed to fund projects of particular interest to the pope. This foundation was intended as an American contribution to the effort to extricate the Vatican from financial problems experienced after the Church expanded its government and programs after Vatican Council II.

Krol remained active in the Papal Foundation after his retirement on 11 February 1988. In accordance with canon law, he submitted his resignation in 1985 on his seventy-fifth birthday, but the pope refused it. In the intervening years, however, Krol’s health had deteriorated; he suffered from diabetes, with complications affecting his heart and kidneys.

On 14 February 1996 Krol was hospitalized for fluid in his lungs, the result of his continuing kidney problems. He died at home on 3 March at the age of eighty-five and is buried in Philadelphia in the crypt of the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul.

Cardinal Krol was foremost a legal and financial administrator, but he became an energetic defender of Catholicism at a time of cultural upheaval in the United States and religious change in the Church. He asserted the sanctity of life in discussions of both sexual morality and nuclear disarmament and exercised his influence on American and Vatican relations with communist Poland.

The Philadelphia Archdiocesan Historical Research Center at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary contains an archive of Cardinal Krol’s papers and ancillary materials from his episcopacy. Krol explained the Church’s view of disarmament in “The Catholic Bishops’ Concern with Nuclear Armaments,” Nuclear Armament and Disarmament, Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 469 (Sept. 1983): 38–45. E. Michael Jones makes some use of archival material in John Cardinal Krol and the Cultural Revolution (1995). The archdiocesan newspaper The Philadelphia Catholic Standard and Times published special issues devoted to Krol (16 June 1977; 3 Apr. 1986), and the National Catholic Reporter published a profile (25 Oct. 1985). A memorial was issued after his death, His Eminence John Cardinal Krol (1996). Obituaries are in the New York Times (4 Mar. 1996) and National Catholic Reporter (15 Mar. 1996).

Andrew J. Carriker