Corcoran, James Andrew
CORCORAN, JAMES ANDREW
Theologian, editor, educator; b. Charleston, S.C., March 30, 1820; d. Philadelphia, Pa., July 16, 1889. He was the first native of South Carolina to become a priest. Sent to Rome in 1833 with Patrick N. Lynch (later bishop), he was ordained on Dec. 21, 1842, and received his doctorate in theology from the College of Propaganda. After his return to Charleston in 1843 he became a seminary professor, and later editor of the United States Catholic Miscellany (1848–61). Among the students he prepared for the priesthood was the former Episcopalian deacon (and later Paulist), Augustine F. hewit. With Hewit and Lynch, Corcoran edited The Works of the Rt. Rev. John England, published under the name of I. A. Reynolds (5 v. Baltimore 1849). His contributions to the Miscellany were in the polemical style of the era. This was particularly true of the treatment accorded Luther in the course of a long journalistic controversy.
In 1859 he declined the rectorship of the North American College at Rome, and from 1861 until 1868 was pastor at Wilmington, N.C., and vicar-general of Charleston. His work as secretary to the Baltimore Provincial Councils of 1855 and 1858, and to the Plenary Councils of 1866 and 1884, made him the American expert on conciliar legislation; his Latin style, evident in the decrees of the latter councils, won high praise at home and abroad.
In 1868, the U.S. archbishops were asked to send a single representative to assist in the preliminary work for Vatican Council I. Corcoran's learning and sound judgment made him an almost unanimous choice. He participated in the sessions of the commission on dogma for the first time on Dec. 30, 1868. Preparations for the Council had been under way for three years, and the U.S. representative disagreed with many of the decisions already made. He complained of a tendency to multiply definitions and reported to Abp. Martin spalding of Baltimore that some proposed canons would condemn "the fundamental principles of our [American and common-sense] political doctrine." Infallibility he accepted on faith, but he opposed its definition as inopportune. He also felt that too much attention was given to obscure German theories, and refused to draw up a list of contemporary American errors on the grounds that there were none except those that had been imported from Europe. By way of positive contribution, he assisted Klemens Schrader in preparing the draft of the decree on the Roman pontiff, revised the canons on church and state, and submitted two papers on matrimonial legislation. During the council, he aided Spalding in composing a compromise formula that would have defined papal infallibility indirectly.
While at the council, Corcoran accepted an invitation to teach theology at St. Charles Seminary, Philadelphia. He held that chair until his death and was for one year rector of the seminary. He was a founding editor of the American Catholic Quarterly Review (Philadelphia 1876–89), to which he contributed regularly. When the U.S. archbishops went to Rome in 1883 to plan the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore, he accompanied them as secretary. He was designated a domestic prelate in 1884. Advanced age forced him to decline a later invitation to join the first faculty of The Catholic University of America. Corcoran left no substantial published work, but he was for 40 years a valued consultant of the hierarchy on theological and canonical matters.
Bibliography: Archives of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, Corcoran-Spalding Correspondence. Archives of the Archdiocese of New York, Corcoran-McCloskey Correspondence. j. j. keane, "Monsignor Corcoran," American Catholic Quarterly Review 14 (1889) 738–747. g. e. o'donnell, St. Charles Seminary, Over-brook, 2 v. (Philadelphia 1943–53).
[j. j. hennesey]