Third bishop of New York; b. Paris, Aug. 24, 1764;d. New York City, Dec. 20, 1842. After graduating from the Collège Louis-le-Grand, Paris, where he had as fellow students Robespierre and Desmoulins, he entered the Seminary of St. Magloire in Paris and was ordained on Sept. 22, 1787. His work in Paris, as assistant to the curé of St. Sulpice and chaplain to a community of Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, was cut short by the French Revolution, and in May 1791 he made his escape from France. Arriving in Norfolk, Va., in August 1791, with letters of introduction from Lafayette to prominent Virginians, he was for a time the house guest of James Monroe and received English lessons from Patrick Henry. While in Richmond, he celebrated Mass in the state house.
He soon became an American citizen and was assigned by Bp. John Carroll to missionary work at Norfolk
and Richmond, Va. He built the first Catholic church in Frederick, Md., and used it as a base for missionary travels into Virginia and Pennsylvania. In 1807 he established a preparatory seminary at Emmitsburg, Md., and in the following year affiliated himself and his seminary with the Society of St. Sulpice. Before long the institution was expanded into Mt. St. Mary's College and Seminary for the education of theological students and laymen. Financial difficulties marked the early years of the college, during which he served simultaneously as president, treasurer, and professor. A disastrous fire in 1824 destroyed a new building on the point of completion. In addition, there were disagreements with his Sulpician superiors in Baltimore, who desired to reduce the institution to its original function as a minor seminary. Nevertheless, Mt. St. Mary's prospered, numbering among its alumni leading members of the American hierarchy, including Cardinal J. McCloskey and Archbishops J. Hughes and J. Purcell. It was also at Emmitsburg that Mother Elizabeth seton, with the help of Dubois, founded her first convent of Sisters of Charity in May 1809.
In 1826, after severing his connection with the Sulpicians and beginning the reorganization of Mt. St. Mary's, he was appointed to the See of New York to succeed Bp. John Connolly. He was consecrated by Abp. Ambrose Maréchal in the Baltimore cathedral on Oct. 29, 1826.
Many difficulties awaited him in New York. His appointment was not viewed with favor by the predominantly Irish Catholic community there. Charges that he was a Frenchman, far from fluent in the English language, not a member of the New York clergy, and seemingly imposed on New York by Maréchal and the Sulpicians, caused friction for some years after he refuted them in a pastoral letter of July 1827. His vast diocese, which he toured on a 3,000-mile visitation in 1828, included the whole of New York State and half of New Jersey, about 150,000 Catholics, but only 18 priests and 12 churches. One of his most urgent needs was a seminary, and to obtain funds for one he went to Rome and Paris in 1829. Upon his return, with financial aid from the Congregation of Propaganda Fide and the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, he proceeded to erect a seminary at Nyack, N.Y. Two years later (1834), the building was destroyed by fire; it was uninsured and total loss resulted. His subsequent attempts to establish a seminary, in Brooklyn and in Lafargeville, N.Y., also ended in failure.
Another problem, common to American bishops of the day, was that of trusteeism, a system whereby laymen administered church finances. In 1834 the trustees of St. Patrick's Cathedral refused to receive a successor to their pastor, Thomas Levins, whom Dubois had suspended, and they threatened to withhold the bishop's salary. The situation lasted for three years. In the meantime, debilitated by the struggle and by attacks of crippling rheumatism, he asked for a coadjutor. In 1837 he received one with the right of succession in the person of John hughes, a former student of his at Mt. St. Mary's. Three strokes of paralysis early in 1838 so weakened his physical and mental vigor that when the cathedral trustees again defied him in 1839, it was Hughes upon whom he relied to quell the rebellion and to put an end to the abuses of trusteeism in the diocese. In the same year he reluctantly resigned the active government of his see to his coadjutor.
His administration was marked by a triple growth in the number of clergy and a quadrupling of churches. His seminary project, while not duplicating the success of Mt. St. Mary's, was soon to be realized under his successor, at Rose Hill, Fordham, N.Y.C., in 1840. Moreover, despite the initial resentment of his flock and his own imperious temper, Dubois had won the affection of his clergy and people. His body was interred at the entrance to old St. Patrick's Cathedral.
Bibliography: j. t. smith, The Catholic Church in New York, 2 v. (New York 1905) v. 1. c. g. herbermann, "The Rt. Rev. John Dubois, D.D.," Historical Records and Studies of the U.S. Catholic Historical Society of New York 1 (1899) 278–355: The Sulpicians in the United States (New York 1916). m. m. meline and e. f. mcsweeney, The Story of the Mountain, 2 v. (Emmitsburg, Md. 1911) v. 1. j. w. ruane, The Beginnings of the Society of St. Sulpice in the United States, 1791–1829 (Catholic University of America, Studies in American Church History 22; Washington 1935). a. m. melville, Elizabeth Bayley Seton 1774–1821 (New York 1951; reprint 1960). l. r. ryan, Old St. Peter's, the Mother Church of Catholic New York, 1785–1935 (U.S. Catholic Historical Society 15; New York 1935). m. p. carthy, Old St. Patrick's New York's First Cathedral (New York 1947).
[j. a. reynolds]