Shahan, Thomas Joseph
SHAHAN, THOMAS JOSEPH
Bishop, historian, educator; b. Manchester, N.H., Sept. 11, 1857; d. Washington, D.C., March 9, 1932. His parents, Maurice Peter and Mary Anne (Carmody) Shahan, were Irish immigrants. He attended the public schools of Millbury, Mass., and the Sulpician College, Montreal, Canada (1872–78). From 1878 to 1882 he studied at the North American College, Rome, where he was ordained on June 3, 1882, having earlier earned a doctorate in theology. After beginning his priestly work at St. John's, New Haven, Conn., he was appointed in 1883 chancellor of the Diocese of Hartford and secretary to Bishop Lawrence McMahon. Serving in this capacity until 1888, he gained experience in organizing the chancery and building the cathedral.
Scholarship and Writing. Monsignor John J. Keane invited him to teach at The catholic university of america, Washington, D.C.; Shahan prepared for his assignment by graduate study at the University of Berlin (1889–91), under Adolph Harnack, and at the Sorbonne and Institut Catholique, Paris (1891), under Louis Duchesne. In 1891 he joined the faculty of The Catholic University as professor of church history and patrology; he kept this post until 1909. He was an effective teacher of ecclesiastical history and, after 1895, of Roman law, but his primary interest was in research and publication. As a productive scholar, he contributed for more than 40 years to Catholic periodicals on both sides of the Atlantic. His influence on American Catholic thought was perhaps exerted chiefly through the Catholic University Bulletin, a journal noted for its scholarly standards during his editorship (1895–1909). Among other achievements was his work as associate editor of the old Catholic Encyclopedia, for which he wrote over 200 articles, and rewrote or translated more than 100 others. The prestige of The Catholic University of America was further advanced by Shahan's books: The Blessed Virgin in the Catacombs (1892), Giovanni Baptista de Rossi (1900), The Beginnings of Christianity (1903), The Middle Ages, Sketches and Fragments (1904), St. Patrick in History (1904), The House of God (1905), and a translation of Bardenhewer's Patrologie (1908). Shahan's scholarship brought him rare honors. In 1923 the University of Louvain, Belgium, by the unanimous vote of its Faculty of Theology, conferred on him its infrequently bestowed doctorate of theology, while in 1926 he was elected a fellow of the Medieval Academy of America, an honor reserved for the outstanding mediaevalists of America and Europe. Other awards, in 1928, included a doctorate in canon and civil law from Georgetown University, Washington, D.C., and appointment as assistant at the pontifical throne.
Rectorship. In 1909 Shahan was appointed a domestic prelate and rector of The Catholic University of America. Five years later, he was named titular bishop of Germanicopolis and consecrated by Cardinal Gibbons on Nov. 15, 1914, in the Baltimore Cathedral. Shahan's administration as head of The Catholic University was inspired by his conception of the university's mission in the United States. He envisioned a national university that would be the source of leadership for the American Church. Such preeminence, of which critics both within and without the Church were skeptical, could, he believed, be attained only by developing at the highest level, the graduate schools, an institution comparable in learning, faculty, plant, and academic atmosphere to the best American universities. He enlarged the size of the faculty fourfold, gathering eminent scholars and protecting their academic freedom, even in controversial fields. Tenure became secure, the endowment was tripled, and the departments of theology, canon law, and oriental studies were improved. A number of religious communities were induced to establish houses of study near the university, while an earlier recommendation for extensive affiliation of Catholic educational institutions with the university was put into operation (see shields, thom as edward). Shahan also inaugurated the first university summer session under Catholic auspices, the beginning of a significant movement in American Catholic education.
Shahan's concern for the intellectual advancement of the university was matched by his appreciation of the need for adequate buildings. Known as the "rector scholar," he may also be called the "rector builder." The John K. Mullen Memorial Library attested his desire to give his faculty all the library facilities needed, and the Martin Maloney Chemical Laboratory reflected his stress on modern methods and sciences. Additional housing and the central power and heating plant were also his achievements. He built Cardinal Gibbons Memorial Hall to house lay students and Graduate Hall, with its university dining hall, to provide for the increasing number of graduate students. To these he added St. Thomas Hall, occupied by the Paulist Fathers before the erection of St. Paul's College, and St. John's Hall, erected by the Catholic War Council for rehabilitation work after World War I. No structure was more central to his thought, however, than the university church, which he conceived as a national shrine to the Mother of God (see national shrine of the immaculate conception). He was unusually devoted to the Blessed Mother, and he hoped that the Catholic people of the United States would visit Mary's church and become acquainted with the university supported by their annual collection. Shahan had even more ambitious building plans, but the lack of funds, which was a chronic problem during his rectorship, always stood in the way.
Shahan's activities extended beyond the university campus to affect the cultural life of American Catholicism. Archbishop John T. McNicholas called him "the Apostle of Enlightenment." In this role he shared his bibliographical knowledge with fellow scholars and inspired many educational organizations. He was one of the founders of the Catholic Education Association, which he served as president from 1909 to 1928; the National Conference of Charities, of which he was a member from 1910 to 1928; the Catholic Sisters College (1911); the American Catholic Historical Association (1917); the International Federation of Catholic Historical Associations (1917); and the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, in whose crypt he is buried. In 1928 he retired from the rectorship and spent his remaining years at Holy Cross Academy, Washington.
Bibliography: p. j. mccormick, "Bishop Shahan: American Catholic Educator," The Catholic Educational Review 30 (1932): 257–265.
[r. j. deferrari]