Gross, William Hickley
GROSS, WILLIAM HICKLEY
Archbishop; b. Baltimore, Md., June 12, 1837; d. Baltimore, Nov. 14, 1898. Gross was the fourth of seven children born to hardware merchant and customs inspector James Gross and Rachel (Haslett) Gross. After attending St. Vincent de Paul parochial school in Baltimore, Gross studied at St. Charles College, Baltimore. Leaving school, he worked as a clerk in his father's store until 1857, when he became a Redemptorist novice. He made
his profession in 1858 and undertook philosophical and theological studies at the Redemptorist seminary in Annapolis, Md., where he was ordained on March 21, 1863. For a short time, Gross was chaplain at a nearby Civil War prison camp, after which (1863–71) he specialized as a pulpit orator preaching parish "mission-revivals" in the eastern U.S. His sympathy for the Confederate cause made him particularly successful in Georgia.
After two years as rector of the Redemptorist Mission Church in Boston, Mass., Gross was named bishop of Savannah, Ga., and was consecrated in Baltimore on April 27, 1873. His diocese contained only 12 priests, and its 20,000 Catholics constituted less than two per cent of Georgia's postwar population. In his episcopate, the progress of Catholicism was not spectacular. However, a new cathedral was erected in Savannah, a combination college and seminary was established in Macon, and the number of Catholics increased by 25 per cent. Gross was an active participant in the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore in 1884, where he contributed to the discussions on the African American apostolate, seminary curriculum, and irremovable pastors. He later supported Cardinal James Gibbons and the "progressive wing" of the American hierarchy on such topics as parochial schools, the rights of labor, the problems of immigrants, the Native American apostolate, and the Catholic attitude toward nativist groups.
In February 1885, Gross became the first native American prelate in the Far West when he was appointed archbishop of Portland, Ore. Included in his province were Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Alaska, and British Columbia. Oregon's 30,000 Catholics were only eight per cent of the state's population, and Gross continued to be a missionary bishop. Special concern for Catholic education, the care of orphans, and the needs of the Native American missions marked his thirteen-year episcopate in Oregon. His successful appeals to religious orders led to the establishment of new parishes and schools. The Benedictines and the Christian Brothers opened two colleges and a seminary, and Gross himself founded the Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon.
Bibliography: j. j. o'connell, Catholicity in the Carolinas and Georgia 1820–1878 (New York 1879).
[a. h. skeabeck]