McCloskey, John

views updated


First United States cardinal, second archbishop of new york archdiocese; b. Brooklyn, New York, March 10, 1810; d. New York City, Oct. 10, 1885. His parents, Patrick and Elizabeth (Harron) McCloskey, emigrated from Dungiven, County Derry, Ireland, in 1808 and settled in Brooklyn, New York, where his father became a clerk in the firm of H. B. Pierrepont and Company. John received his early education in a school for boys conducted by Mrs. Charlotte Milmoth, a retired English actress, and, after his parents moved to New York City (1817), in a Latin school kept by Thomas Brady. As a member of St. Peter's Church he was guided and influenced by the pastor, John power, and his assistant Peter Malou, SJ. Cornelius Heeney, a wealthy and philanthropic merchant, on the death of the boy's father (1820) became his guardian and arranged his entrance into Mt. St. Mary's College, Emmitsburg, Maryland, in September 1821. Here, profiting from direction by and association with John dubois, Simon brutÉ, John hughes, and John purcell, all to become prominent members of the American hierarchy, he completed the college course. In 1827 he returned to Mt. St. Mary's as a seminarian and was ordained by Bishop Dubois of New York in old St. Patrick's Cathedral on Jan. 12, 1834, the first native of New York State to enter the diocesan priesthood. His assignment as professor of philosophy in the new seminary at Nyack, New York, ended as did the school, with the disastrous fire there in the late summer of 1834. In November McCloskey left New York to spend the next three years studying at the Gregorian University in Rome and traveling in Italy, Germany, Belgium, France, England, and Ireland.

Early Career. Upon return to New York in 1837, he was appointed rector of St. Joseph's Church where for nine months he encountered the hostility of pewholders and trustees, to whom Dubois had refused a pastor of their own choosing and who now withheld the pastor's salary. Finally, by mild persistence and gentle forbearance, traits characteristic of his whole career, McCloskey won the affection and loyalty of both congregation and trustees. In 1841 bishop John Hughes added to his responsibilities the post of first president of St. John's College (later Fordham University) which, after he had organized the college, he relinquished in the following year. On March 10, 1844, he was consecrated titular bishop of Axiere and coadjutor, with right of succession, to Hughes.

In a diocese that then comprised the whole of New York State and half of New Jersey, he assisted Hughes by making espiscopal visitations and settling trustee difficulties in numerous parishes. He was instrumental in the conversion of James Roosevelt bayley (1842), later archbishop of Baltimore, and in 1844 he received into the Church Isaac hecker, subsequently founder of the paulists. When the New York diocese was reduced in size by the creation of the Sees of Albany and Buffalo, McCloskey was transferred and formally installed as first bishop of Albany on Sept. 19, 1847. During his 17-year pontificate, the diocese, including over two-thirds of the area of the state, experienced a threefold growth of churches and priests and a rise in the number of Catholic schools from two to 19. He overcame trustee problems, welcomed various religious communities into the diocese, constructed the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, and, in cooperation with Archbishop Hughes, prepared the way for the establishment of St. Joseph's Provincial Seminary in Troy. His attempt to prevent passage in the Albany legislature of Putnam's Bill of 1855, which was aimed at prohibiting Catholic bishops from passing on church property to their successors and thus forcing them to depend on the trustee system, was unsuccessful. The law, however, remained a dead letter and was repealed seven years later. Despite the popular anti-Catholic temper of the times, of which Putnam's Bill was a token, the bishop himself won the respect of such prominent state figures as Governor Horatio Seymour, Erastus Corning, Rufus King, and Thurlow Weed.

Archbishop and Cardinal. The metropolitan see of New York became vacant in January of 1864 with the death of Hughes. Although McCloskey had resigned all right of succession when he went to Albany, his name was first on the list of recommendations submitted by the bishops of the province to Rome. After an unsuccessful attempt to avert the honor, he was named archbishop of New York on May 6, 1864, and formally installed in old St. Patrick's Cathedral on August 21. His administration was singularly free of the controversies of his predecessor and of the problems of his successor Michael A. corrigan. He resumed construction of the new cathedral, begun in 1858 but suspended during the Civil War. He made two trips to Europe to collect funds and furnishings for it and dedicated on May 25, 1879, what was then the largest Gothic structure in the United States. He rebuilt old St. Patrick's Cathedral after its destruction by fire in 1866. News of this disaster reached him just before he ascended the pulpit to preach the opening sermon at the Second Plenary Council of Baltimore, where he was the youngest archbishop.

In a pastoral letter of March 1866, he successfully admonished his people, the majority of whom were of Irish descent, against participation in the Fenian movement, with its schemes of armed intervention in Ireland and in Canada. He welcomed numerous religious communities into the archdiocese, settled the longstanding difficulties Hughes had had with the Jesuits, and gave particular encouragement to the Sisters of Charity, to Hecker's new Paulist community, and to the pioneer Belgian priests and brothers who arrived in 1864 to conduct his provincial seminary in Troy. His patronage likewise enabled Dr. Levi Silliman ives, a noted convert, to establish the New York Protectory and Father John drum-goole to set up his Mission of the Immaculate Virgin. At Vatican Council I (186970) he was a member of the commission on discipline and opposed a definition of papal infallibility as inopportune. However, at the final session on the subject, he voted in the affirmative.

He was named a cardinal by Pope Pius IX in the public consistory of March 15, 1875, and was invested in old St. Patrick's Cathedral the following April 27, receiving the red biretta from Archbishop Bayley of Baltimore. In September of the same year he visited Rome to take possession of his titular church, Santa Maria sopra Minerva. Three years later, although he arrived in Rome too late to attend the conclave that elected Leo XIII, he assisted at the coronation of the new pope and received formally from him the cardinal's hat in the consistory of March 28, 1878. The cardinalitial rank, which he bore in dignity, was acclaimed throughout the country in gratification that an American citizen had gained the highest honor of the Holy See.

In 1880 he welcomed to New York bishop Michael A. Corrigan of Newark, as coadjutor with right of succession. Thereafter age and declining health compelled McCloskey to withdraw gradually from the more taxing phases of the management of his large archdiocese. Although he convoked and presided over the fourth provincial council of New York in September 1883, the preparation of the agenda and the conduct of the business were largely the work of his coadjutor. His last public act was a successful appeal, again through his coadjutor, to President Chester Arthur and Secretary of State Frederick T. Frelinghuysen to protect the American College in Rome, as property of American citizens, from spoliation by the Italian government (1884). He spent the final year of his life in retirement and died at Mt. St. Vincent-on-Hudson. His body lies beneath the high altar in the new St. Patrick's Cathedral.

Bibliography: j. m. farley, The Life of John Cardinal McCloskey (New York 1918). j. t. smith, The Catholic Church in New York, 2 v. (New York 1905) v.2.

[j. a. reynolds]

About this article

McCloskey, John

Updated About content Print Article