Heiss, Michael

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Archbishop, writer; b. Pfahldorf, Bavaria, April 12, 1818; d. La Crosse, Wis., March 26, 1890. He attended the Latin school at Eichstätt, the gymnasium at Neuburg, and the Georgianum in Munich, and was ordained by Bp. Carl von Reisach of Eichstätt on Oct. 18, 1840. Two years later, Heiss went to the U.S. where he engaged in missionary work for a short time in Kentucky. In 1844 he joined the new Diocese of Milwaukee, Wis., became secretary to Bp. John Henni, and was the first rector of St. Francis Seminary (185668).

Heiss played an important part in preparing for the Second Plenary Council of Baltimore (1866). When it recommended two new dioceses for Wisconsin, one at La Crosse and another at Green Bay, he was nominated for the former. After some delay, the Holy See confirmed the nomination and Bishop Henni consecrated him on Sept. 6, 1868. A year later he went to Rome to serve on the committee of discipline of vatican council i. He consistently favored a definition of papal infallibility even though his friend, Henni, was opposed to such action.

During the last years of the 1870s, spirited opposition along nationalistic lines developed when it became known that Archbishop Henni wanted Heiss as his coadjutor. In the end, the Holy See honored Henni's request and Heiss was named titular archbishop of Hadrianople and coadjutor of Milwaukee. In 1881, he succeeded to that see, but latent hostility disrupted its unity and marred, to some extent, the new archbishop's career. Nationalistic hostilities flared anew in 1883 when John G. Shea published an article in the American Catholic Quarterly Review lamenting the absence of "American" bishops in the West. Eventually with Heiss's approval, a Milwaukee priest, Peter abbelen went to Rome in 1886 to present the case for the Germans. The Abbelen mission was strongly protested by Bps. John ireland and John keane, and the problem was further embittered by an interview that Heiss granted to the Milwaukee Sentinel in 1887. His insistence on the need for more German bishops in the U.S. and the importance of keeping up the German language aggravated the already complicated problem, which was not destined to be solved for a number of years. The bennett law (1889) conflict, which developed just before he died, underscored the cleavage between himself and his recent suffragan, Ireland. Heiss initiated the campaign to repeal the state law that included provisions for the use of English in schools, but he did not live to see it succeed (see katzer, frederick xavier).

Throughout his life, Heiss remained an ardent advocate of parochial schools, but he opposed the founding of a Catholic university, believing rather that the meager resources of the Church should be used to improve seminaries. When he resigned from the university committee established at the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore (1884), he pleaded his many duties in Milwaukee, the great distance he would have to travel to meetings, and the little he could contribute to the university work. Heiss's publications include De Matrimonio and The Four Gospels. He is buried in the chapel of St. Francis Seminary.

Bibliography: c. j. barry, The Catholic Church and German Americans (Milwaukee 1953). b. j. blied, Three Archbishops of Milwaukee (Milwaukee 1955).

[b. j. blied]