Williams, John Joseph
WILLIAMS, JOHN JOSEPH
Fourth bishop and first archbishop of Boston; b. Boston, Mass., April 27, 1822; d. there Aug. 30, 1907. The son of Michael and Ann (Egan) Williams, Irish immigrants, John attended Boston's cathedral school, then went to the Sulpician college in Montreal and the Sulpician seminary in Paris. After ordination there on May 17, 1845, he was assigned first to the Holy Cross Cathedral in Boston, and returned there as rector in 1856. In 1857 he was appointed pastor of St. James Church, and later that year vicar-general of the diocese under Bp. J. B. Fitzpatrick. When Fitzpatrick's health declined, he selected Williams as auxiliary bishop. The bulls for the bishop-elect arrived from Rome on Feb. 9, 1866, and Fitzpatrick died four days later. Williams was consecrated fourth bishop of Boston on March 11, 1866, by Cardinal John mccloskey of New York. When the rapidly expanding diocese became difficult to administer, the Dioceses of Springfield and Providence were created from it (1870 and 1872, respectively). In February 1875 Boston was raised to a metropolitan see and Williams was appointed its first archbishop, receiving the pallium on May 2. He received John Brady as auxiliary bishop in 1891, but only in 1904, when he was 82, did he submit to the appointment of William Henry (later Cardinal) o'connell as coadjutor.
Williams is assessed as a pastoral bishop rather than a national or international church statesman. His initial tasks were to acquire priests and religious orders, and to erect churches, schools, hospitals, charitable institutions, and a seminary. He considered construction of the new cathedral, which he dedicated Dec. 8, 1875, and St. John's Seminary (opened at nearby Brighton in September 1884) two of his most important projects. He attended the Second Plenary Council of Baltimore (1866) and Vatican Council I three years later, but at both he played a minor role. In the late 1800s the Catholics of New England were severely harassed, but the archbishop made every effort to mitigate these attacks, counseling prudence on the part of the Catholics—no easy task when his flock included rising political leaders and vociferous journalists. When some of his people faced financial ruin following the fire and panic of 1872–73, he embarked on a program, as a coproprietor of the Pilot with John Boyle o'reilly, to help victims of business failure. He founded the first conference of the St. Vincent de Paul Society in New England and established the Catholic Union of Boston, a laymen's organization providing for participation in the spiritual and secular affairs of the diocese. On the national scene he was regarded variously as too conciliatory or too conservative. He aligned himself with socalled liberals among the hierarchy on such issues as the knights of labor and the Abbelen Memorial, while on others, such as the school debate, he took a conservative stand. His closest friend among the hierarchy was conservative Bp. Bernard J. mcquaid of Rochester.
Bibliography: j. t. ellis, The Life of James Cardinal Gibbons, 2 v. (Milwaukee 1952). r. h. lord et al., History of the Archdiocese of Boston…1604 to 1943, 3 v. (New York 1944). f. g. mcmanamin, The American Years of John Boyle O'Reilly, 1870–1890 (Washington 1959).
[f. g. mcmanamin]