Becker, Thomas Andrew
BECKER, THOMAS ANDREW
Theologian, writer, first bishop of wilmington, Del., sixth bishop of savannah, Ga.; b. Pittsburgh, Dec. 20, 1832; d. Washington, Ga., July 29, 1899. The son of John and Susannah Becker, German Protestants, he attended Allegheny Institute and Western University, Pittsburgh, Pa. While studying at the University of Virginia, he became a friend of Joseph H. Plunkett, pastor of St. Joseph's Church, Martinsburg, W. Va., who probably interested him in Catholicism.
He was received into the Church on May 22, 1853, was accepted for the priesthood by Bp. John McGill of Richmond, Va., and in June of 1855 entered the College of the Propaganda in Rome, where he distinguished himself as a student and earned the degree of S.T.D. Following ordination at the basilica of St. John Lateran on June 18, 1859, he was temporarily assigned to St. Peter's Cathedral, Richmond, and in January of 1860, succeeded Father Plunkett as pastor at Martinsburg. There, his secessionist position resulted in his arrest for refusing to recite certain public prayers ordered by the provost-marshal for the Union cause. Archbishop Kenrick of Baltimore obtained his release and appointed him to Mt. St. Mary's College, Emmitsburg, Md., to teach dogma, Scripture, and Church history. A year later he became secretary to Kenrick's successor, M. J. spalding of Baltimore, with whom he collaborated on the Catholic Miscellany, and for whom he worked with other theologians on the agenda for the second Council of Baltimore (1866). At the council's close he returned to the cathedral staff in Richmond, and there he organized and directed a boys' school and prepared a prayerbook, Vade Mecum. When the see of Wilmington was erected on March 3, 1868, Becker was named its bishop and was consecrated (along with the future Cardinal Gibbons) in Baltimore that August 16. Despite the record of his accomplishments as founding bishop, he became discouraged at what he felt was lack of progress, and in September of 1879 submitted his resignation, which was not accepted. Meanwhile he worked with Gibbons on preparations for the Third Plenary Council (1884), produced the important chapter on clerical education, and delivered before the council a sermon on the Church and the promotion of learning. In May of 1886, he was transferred to the older see of Savannah, Ga. Eleven years later, incapacitated by malaria, he told Cardinal Gibbons of his intention to retire. He died at Washington, Ga., while substituting for one of his priests.
Though naturally reticent, Becker was a vigorous and original thinker. He was among the first to advocate the establishment of a national Catholic university, in two articles in American Catholic Quarterly Review in 1876: "Shall We Have a University?" and "A Plan for a Proposed Catholic University." In discussing secret societies in the same review (1878), he confronted the then controversial topic of labor unions, upholding the right of labor to organize and pronouncing clearly upon the morality of labor practices.
Bibliography: j. t. ellis, The Life of James Cardinal Gibbons, 2 v. (Milwaukee 1952). j. g. d. shea, The Hierarchy of the Catholic Church in the United States (New York 1887). Archives of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, of the Diocese of Wilmington, of the Diocese of Richmond, of Mt. St. Mary's College, Emmitsburg, Md.
[e. b. carley]