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Whitfield, James


Fourth archbishop of Baltimore and originator of its provincial councils; b. Liverpool, England, Nov. 3, 1770; d. Baltimore, Md., Oct. 19, 1834. Born into the merchant class, James took over the family business when his father died in 1787; he then moved his mother to Leghorn, Italy, for her health's sake. They were returning to England in 1803 when at Lyons, France, they found further travel impossible because of the Napoleonic wars. Here he met Ambrose (later archbishop) Maréchal, SS, rector of St. Irenaeus Seminary, and the two became lifelong friends. Whitfield entered St. Irenaeus and was ordained July 24, 1809. After his mother's death two years later, he became a Jesuit novice at Stonyhurst, England, but soon left and was given charge of a small community of Catholics at Little Crosby near Liverpool. Maréchal had become coadjutor to Archbishop Neale of Baltimore, and was administering the see after Neale's death in June 1817. Whitfield joined him that year on Sept. 8, and was assigned to St. Peter's procathedral staff. After Maréchal's consecration as archbishop, he was appointed first rector of the Cathedral (now Basilica) of the Assumption at its dedication on May 31, 1821. The doctorate in sacred theology was conferred by St. Mary's Seminary, Baltimore, on him and two other prieststhe first such degrees given to Catholic priests in Americaon Jan. 25, 1824.

Whitfield was named coadjutor to Maréchal and titular bishop of Apollonia on Jan. 8, 1828; Maéchal, whose almost inseparable companion he was, died three weeks later, and on May 25, Whitfield was consecrated archbishop of Baltimore by Bishop Flaget of Bardstown, Ky. After a careful visitation of his see and that of Richmond, he convened the first of the historic provincial councils of Baltimore on Oct. 4, 1829. The same day he received the pallium from Bp. Benedict Fenwick of Boston. He convened a second council in 1833, which like the first was to deal with the problems confronting the growing American church (see baltimore, councils of). Besides being, as Maréchal described him, "distinguished for tender piety, zeal, moving eloquence, exacting discipline," he devoted his considerable fortune to the building of his see. A south tower was added to the cathedral, and the archbishop's house and St. James Church were also erected at this time. On July 31, 1831, he laid the cornerstone of St. Charles College, Ellicott City, Md., on a tract donated by Charles Carroll. He had petitioned for a coadjutor in 1834 and on Sept. 14 he consecrated his successor, Samuel eccleston, then president of St. Mary's College, Baltimore. His brief but eventful episcopate ended a month later.

Bibliography: b. d. cestello, James Whitfield, Fourth Archbishop of Baltimore: The Early Years, 17701828 (Washington 1957).

[c. j. noonan]

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