John Ireland (1838-1918), Archbishop of St. Paul, Minn., from 1888 until his death, spoke for liberal Catholics who sought to harmonize Catholicism with American institutions.
John Ireland was born on Sept. 11, 1838, in Kilkenny, Ireland. His family migrated to America in 1849, finally settling in St. Paul, Minn. Ireland attracted the attention of Bishop Joseph Cretin and was sent to France, where he studied under liberal Catholic professors. He returned to America in time to be a chaplain in the Civil War.
Ireland's residence was St. Paul, and for 50 years he was the dominating Catholic influence in the upper Mississippi Valley. His fondest dream was to bring Catholic immigrants out of the tenements of the East to the broad prairies of the West, and he worked in cooperation with the railroads in this colonization enterprise. Although immigrants continued to cluster in the cities, enough of them answered Ireland's appeal to make Minnesota the center of Catholic culture in the Northwest.
A man of energy and decision, Ireland participated in all the great battles racking the Church at this time. Although absolutely loyal to the Pope, he was charged by his conservative enemies with the heresy of "Americanism." Ireland sought to accommodate the American public school system with the Catholic program of parochial schools, though his compromise pleased neither militant Catholics nor militant Protestants. He supported the establishment of the Catholic University of America in 1889, believing that this "age will not take kindly to religious knowledge separated from secular knowledge."
Though Ireland was one of the few Catholic leaders to join the attack on the liquor interests and he upheld labor's right to organize, he was no radical. He was on friendly terms with business tycoons and urged Catholics to get about the business of making money. He exhorted them to participate in American political life, but, unlike his associates, he was an intensely partisan Republican, thereby earning the gratitude of presidents William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt. A familiar figure in Europe, Ireland was a part-time international diplomat, sent on special missions by both the Pope and the President of the United States.
In 1899 Pope Leo XIII issued a condemnation of "Americanism" in the letter Testem benevolentiae, addressed to Cardinal James Gibbons of Baltimore but intended for Ireland as well. Although the church's liberals termed the issue a "phantom heresy," the rebuke was unmistakable and Ireland's voice was muffled. He died in St. Paul on Sept. 25, 1918.
James H. Moynihan, The Life of Archbishop John Ireland (1953), is excellent. James P. Shannon, Catholic Colonization on the Western Frontier (1957), is invaluable for one aspect of Ireland's career. John Tracy Ellis, American Catholicism (1956; 2d ed. 1969), is the best brief treatment of the subject. For the crucial era of Ireland's leadership see two splendid, scholarly works: Thomas T. McAvoy, The Great Crisis in American Catholic History, 1895-1900 (1957), reprinted as The Americanist Heresy in Roman Catholicism, 1895-1900 (1963), and Robert D. Cross, The Emergence of Liberal Catholicism in America (1958).
Moynihan, James H., The life of Archbishop John Ireland, New York: Arno Press, 1976, 1953.
O'Connell, Marvin Richard, John Ireland and the American Catholic Church, St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1988. □