Hughes, John Joseph

views updated Jun 11 2018


First archbishop of New York; b. County Tyrone, Ireland, June 24, 1797; d. New York, N.Y., Jan. 3, 1864. John was the third of seven children of Patrick and Margaret (McKenna) Hughes, small farmers who avoided involvement in Ireland's political disturbances. John attended the local schools, and soon showed an interest in the priesthood. In 1816 the father and an older son immigrated to the U. S., sending for John the following year, and for the rest of the family in 1818. They settled in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, where John worked in the quarries, at mending roads, and as a gardener. He made several applications for admission to Mt. St. Mary's Seminary, Emmitsburg, Md., only to learn that there was no room. When, however, Rev. John dubois offered to take him as a gardener until a vacancy occurred, Hughes went to Mt. St. Mary's on Nov. 10, 1819, and a year later was received in the seminary. He was accepted by Bp. Henry conwell for the Diocese of phila delphia, Pa., and ordained in St. Joseph's Church, Philadelphia, on Oct. 15, 1826; arrangements were made for him to continue his studies under Michael Hurley, OSA, who was assigned to St. Augustine's parish in that city.

Career in Philadelphia. When Hughes arrived, the trustees of St. Mary's Cathedral were in open conflict with Conwell as a result of the Hogan schism, which dated from 1821. After about a year at St. Augustine's, where he had a chance to watch developments at St. Mary's, Hughes spent a few weeks as pastor of Bedford, Pa.; he was then recalled to Philadelphia to become, successively, pastor at St. Joseph's (January 1827) and at St. Mary's (April 1827). When the trustees of St. Mary's refused to pay his salary, he returned in July to St. Joseph's, where he remained until St. John's Church was built and dedicated in April 1832. The new church had no lay incorporators and Hughes administered his parish with a firm hand.

Although highly successful in his pastoral activities, he attracted more attention by his controversial writings and speeches. His first published sermon, which enhanced his reputation as a preacher, was on Catholic emancipation, then recently granted in Ireland, and was dedicated to Daniel O'Connell, whom he greatly admired. Anti-Catholicism, then strong in Philadelphia, was expressed freely in sermons, lectures, and the bitterly polemical Protestant weeklies. There was no Catholic paper, since many Catholics, including Bp. Francis Kenrick, who had been appointed coadjutor with full jurisdiction in 1830, thought the best policy was to suffer in silence. Hughes, on the contrary, believed in a vigorous defense. He founded the Catholic Herald, a newspaper that he later turned over to the diocese. Earlier he had established a Catholic Tract Society to distribute free pamphlets. In 1830, using the pseudonym "Cranmer," he wrote letters to the Protestant, a New York weekly specializing in anti-Catholic propaganda. When, however, his wildly improbable accounts of Catholic plots and progress failed to strain the credulity of the editors and readers, he exposed the hoax. His best known controversy in Philadelphia was with Dr. John Breckinridge, a Presbyterian clergyman, with whom he debated in writing (1833) and orally (1835) on the Rule of Faith, and Catholicism as an obstacle to civil and religious liberty.

Hughes did not overestimate the value of controversy, but used it to make the enemies of the Church more cautious and to raise the morale of the sorely tried Catholic masses. His talents and his achievements attracted attention, and his promotion to the episcopate was generally expected. He had been recommended as coadjutor of Philadelphia by Conwell in 1829, and for Cincinnati in 1833. In 1836 the Holy See designated Hughes as coadjutor of Philadelphia and Kenrick as bishop of a new see to be erected at Pittsburgh, but Gregory XVI delayed formal approval. In 1837 when the Third Provincial Council of Baltimore asked that the division of Philadelphia be postponed, Hughes was preconized titular bishop of Basileopolis and coadjutor, with the right of succession, of New York. He was consecrated there on Jan. 7, 1838, in old St. Patrick's Cathedral.

New York. The diocese then consisted of all of New York State and about one-half of New Jersey, an area of about 55,000 square miles. Hughes found 22 churches, 10 of which had been erected in 1837, and 40 priests, to serve the needs of 200,000 Catholics, in a total population of about 2,700,000. The Emmitsburg Sisters of Charity were the only religious community in the diocese. Seven parochial schools, all in New York City, and four orphan asylums, two of which were in the city, made up the total of Catholic charitable and educational institutions. The population of the U.S. was increasing rapidly; in New York City the increase was five times the national rate. Moreover, the churches of the city were burdened with a heavy debt, $300,000. When, in January 1838, Dubois suffered a stroke, responsibilty for the diocese devolved upon Hughes, who was named apostolic administrator in August 1839 and succeeded to the see on Dec. 20, 1842. He became archbishop of New York on July 19, 1850, when it was made an archdiocese.

Hughes's authority was challenged in February 1839, when the cathedral trustees had a catechist appointed by Dubois ejected from the Sunday school by the police. A pastoral, written by Hughes and signed by Dubois, threatened the parishoners with an interdict unless they repudiated the trustees. This was done promptly, at a meeting summoned, addressed, and presided over, by Hughes. Except for the parish of St. Louis in Buffalo, where the trustees held out for years, New York had no further difficulty with trusteeism.

After a preliminary visitation of the diocese, Hughes went to Europe in October 1839, seeking aid in Paris, Rome, Munich, Vienna, and Dublin. On his return in 1840, he engaged in his greatest contest over the question of religion and the public schools. The Public School Society, a private organization, practically monopolized public funds for education in New York City from 1825 to 1840. Professedly nonsectarian, it provided religious training that was offensive to Catholics, who wanted state aid for denominational schools and a proportionate share of public funds. Governor William Seward agreed with the Catholics, but the city aldermen and the state legislature were hostile. The resultant controversy, which destroyed the Public School Society, led to two quite unexpected developmentsthe total secularization of U.S. public education on all levels, and the creation of the parochial school system in the U. S.

The growth of political nativism had led, in 1844, to the burning of Catholic churches and widespread riots in Philadelphia. Hughes's success in arousing his people to defend the churches against mob violence, while exhorting them to give no provocation, prevented similar disorders in New York. His firm stand on this and on the school question made him known throughout the country. Although attacked and misrepresented in the press, he was, nevertheless, highly respected in both Catholic and non-Catholic circles.

His achievements in the diocese included the erection of four new sees; the beginning of the new St. Patrick's Cathedral; the founding of a seminary, and of a college at Fordham, New York City, which he later transferred to the Jesuits; the introduction of many religions communities; and the development of charitable and educational works. He was instrumental in separating a group of Sisters of Charity from Emmitsburg, Md., thus founding the independent Mt. St. Vincent community in New York City.

National and International Affairs. Hughes was a vigorous defender of the temporal power of the pope, and sponsored more than one special collection to help Pius IX. He took a leading part in the founding of the North American College at Rome in 1859. Thoroughly unsym-pathetic to the abolitionist movement in the U. S., he believed that sudden emancipation would injure the slaves. He opposed plans to settle Irish immigrants on farm lands in the West, fearing they would be lost to the Church because of the shortage of priests. Although he endorsed Irish nationalism, he disapproved of risings that he thought could not succeed, and condemned Irish antislavery sentiment as an intrusion into U. S. politics. Because he was convinced of the basic harmony between American political institutions and Catholicism, he urged Catholic support of the U. S. Constitution and was friendly with officials of the national government. When President James Polk tried to send him to Mexico in 1847, he refused the mission because of its unofficial character. A visit to Europe in support of the Union, 186162, was undertaken at the request of President Lincoln and Secretary Seward. He was recommended to Rome for the red hat by Lincoln's government; when no action was taken, some believed the time was not ripe for an American cardinal, while others thought Hughes was not the best choice. His last public appearance was made in July 1863, at the request of New York Gov. Horatio Seymour, who was attempting to stop the draft riots that were then occurring in the City of New York.

Character and Personality. Archbishop Hughes was a born leader and fighter. Prompt and vigorous in action, and unyielding in conflict, he believed he had the duty and the ability to lead and defend his people, and to prove that American Catholics were not second-class citizens. If he was autocratic and at times fought harder than was necessary, he merely displayed the defects of his virtues.

Although Hughes became increasingly intolerant of disagreement, he nevertheless rendered valuable service to both Church and country. As his successor, Abp. John McCloskey, said: " if ever there was a man who in the whole history and character of his life impressed upon us the sense and conviction that he had been raised up by God, was chosen as His instrument to do an appointed work that man was Archbishop Hughes." Hughes died of Bright's disease, after a long illness, and was buried in the old cathedral. His remains were translated to the new St. Patrick's Cathedral in 1883.

Bibliography: Complete Works, comp. and ed. l. kehoe, 2v. (New York 1865). j. r. hassard, Life of the Most Reverend John Hughes, D.D., First Archbishop of New York (New York 1866). h.a. brann, Most Reverend John Hughes: First Archbishop of New York (2d ed. New York 1912). e. m. connors, Church-State Relationships in Education in the State of New York (Washington 1951). f. d. cohalan, A Popular History of the Archdiocese of New York (Yonkers, N.Y. 1983). r. shaw, Dagger John: The Unquiet Life and Times of Archbishop John Hughes of New York (New York 1977).

[f. d. cohalan]

Hughes, John Joseph (1797-1864)

views updated Jun 27 2018

John Joseph Hughes (1797-1864)


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.


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).

John Joseph Hughes

views updated May 18 2018

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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