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Muldoon, Peter James


Bishop; b. Columbia, CA, Oct. 10, 1862; d. Rockford, IL, Oct. 8, 1927. He was the eldest son of Irish immigrant parents, John and Catherine (Coughlin) Muldoon. After attending the public schools of Stockton, Calif., he continued his studies at St. Mary's College, St. Mary, Kentucky. In 1881, he entered St. Mary's Seminary, Baltimore, Maryland, for his philosophical and theological training. He was ordained for the Archdiocese of Chicago by Bishop John Loughlin of Brooklyn, New York, on Dec. 18, 1886. A favorite of Archbishop P. A. feehan, he acted as his chancellor and secretary from 1888 to 1895, when he was appointed pastor of St. Charles Borromeo Church, Chicago. The recognition accorded the young American-born priest was resented by some of the Irish-born clergy of the archdiocese, and a few vented their hostility on him and flouted the authority of the archbishop.

When Archbishop Patrick A. Feehan and his auxiliary, Alexander J. McGavick, declined in health, Muldoon was consecrated titular bishop of Tamassus and auxiliary of Chicago in Holy Name Cathedral on July 25, 1901, by Cardinal Sebastian Martinelli, apostolic delegate to the United States. Martinelli's presence was construed as Rome's approbation of the young bishop and an admonition to his detractors. Six days after his consecration he was appointed vicar-general of the archdiocese.

Feehan died on July 12, 1902, and Muldoon, the administrator, was one of the candidates for the vacant see. However, in January of 1903, Rome transferred Bishop James E. Quigley of Buffalo to Chicago. Five years later, the Diocese of Rockford was erected from territory of the Archdiocese of Chicago, and Muldoon was named bishop of the new see. He was a candidate for the See of chicago when Quigley died in July of 1915, but Rome appointed George W. Mundelein, auxiliary bishop of Brooklyn. In December of 1916, Muldoon was consulted about accepting the vacant See of Monterey-Los Angeles, California, but he expressed his preference for remaining in Rockford. There followed five months of confusion and frustration. The appointment of Muldoon to the West was made, the bulls were issued, and the wire services informed, but the bishop refused to act until an answer was received from Rome on his recent petition to remain in Rockford. In May of 1917, Rome finally acquiesced, and Muldoon remained in his diocese.

During his years as a bishop in Chicago and Rockford, Muldoon played a prominent role in the movement for social reform, gaining a reputation as a friend of labor and a defender of labor unions. When the American Federation of Catholic Societies, under the inspiration of Peter E. Dietz, a prominent labor priest, established a social service commission in 1911, Muldoon was appointed chairman. As chairman of the National Catholic War Council (191718), he became a nationally known figure. This organization, designed to coordinate all Catholic activities in furthering the war effort, brought Muldoon into close association with members of other religious groups and governmental agencies. His forcefulness and diplomacy ensured the success of the council and prompted Cardinal James Gibbons to propose a peacetime organization comparable to it. Muldoon, as one of the new committee members, submitted a program to the hierarchy at their meeting in September of 1919. It was approved, though not unanimously.

Rome at first viewed the new organization favorably, but when dissatisfied American bishops complained to the pope, the original approbation was qualified and then revoked. On his ad limina visit in 1920. Muldoon pleaded the case of the National Catholic Welfare Council; later Bishop Joseph Schrembs of Cleveland, Ohio, was dispatched to Rome to defend the new organization. The Holy See finally gave unqualified approbation, and the new agency was continued under the title of National Catholic Welfare Conference (NCWC).

During the formative years of the NCWC Muldoon was chairman of its Social Action Department and commanded attention locally and nationally in the social reform movement. Muldoon's death in 1927 came after an illness of several months.

Bibliography: a. i. abell, American Catholicism and Social Action: A Search for Social Justice, 18691950 (New York 1960). m. williams, American Catholics in the War (New York 1921). f. g. mcmanamin, "Peter J. Muldoon, First Bishop of Rockford, 18621927," American Historical Review 48 (1962): 365378.

[f. g. mc manamin]

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