Father Edward McGlynn (September 27, 1837 – January 7, 1900), American Roman Catholic priest and social reformer, was born in New York City of Irish parents. He was highly controversial in Catholic circles for his acceptance of public schools. He actively promoted the political goals of Henry George and the "Single Tax" movement; he campaigned for George who ran for mayor in 1886. He was censured and excommunicated between 1887 and 1892 on the charges of disobedience and suspicion of socialist leanings, due to his support of Henry George. Conservative Catholic leaders were outraged by his liberalism. Robert Emmett Curran, in Shaping American Catholicism: Maryland and New York, 1805-1915, argues that they went to Rome for help in suppressing him, giving the Vatican an opening to crack down on the growing independence of the American Church.
Family and early life
His parents had immigrated in 1824, and his father became a contractor, acquiring a small fortune before dying in 1847, leaving a widow and ten children. McGlynn was first educated at the Thirteenth Street Grammar School. Archbishop Hughes, a family friend, was attracted by the boy's bright and studious nature, and sent him to the Free Academy, now the City College of New York. It was determined that he would become a priest, so he was then sent to the Urban College of the Propaganda, Rome. In 1859, after eight years in Rome, he transferred to the newly opened Pontifical North American College. He had received his doctorate in theology and philosophy after public examination, and was ordained a priest on March 24, 1860 and became assistant to Rev. Thomas Farrell at St. Joseph's Church, New York.
As Father Farrell had been an ardent opponent of slavery and left $5,000 in his will for a Catholic church for blacks. McGlynn absorbed Farrell's charitable and humanitarian views and practices.
From the beginning McGlynn was known as an extremely hard worker; his health broke down in 1862 from overexertion and he was sent to Europe to recuperate. This was a short time after he had been appointed pastor of St. Ann's Church, Eighth Street. Returning to the United States, he was appointed chaplain of the Central Park Military Hospital, and retained this position until after the end of the Civil War in 1865.
In 1866, Rev. Jeremiah Williams Cummings, who had built St. Stephen's Church on East Twenty-eighth Street and had organized it into one of the most populous parishes in New York City, was on his deathbed. He asked Archbishop Hughes to appoint McGlynn as his assistant, which he did, and McGlynn succeeded Cummings as pastor when he died. There he worked with great energy and zeal, not only in the various fields of parochial activity, but on behalf of many worthy public causes. In a short time he had acquired a reputation as one of the most prominent Roman Catholic priests in the city, and as a man of decided, and in that era almost revolutionary, views. He led the enlargement and beautification of the church, and the introduction of elaborate musical services, while his eloquence in the pulpit attracted immense congregations. He remained always ready to help the poor and afflicted, making great efforts on behalf of his parishioners. He received an annual salary of $800, and possessed some private wealth, but he devoted all his money (except what was needed to support his own frugal existence) to the poor. The opening of St. Patrick's Cathedral in 1879 took away many of McGlynn's wealthier parishioners, but the church remained crowded at almost every service.
Controversy over parochial schools
McGlynn first drew national attention and came into conflict with his ecclesiastical superiors over his opposition to parish schools, as he claimed that public schools were good enough for all American children. He also drew criticism for his open friendship with Protestant clergymen, even giving an address once in Henry Ward Beecher's church, even though Beecher was outspoken against Catholicism.
Advocacy of Single Tax
Additionally, after a time he began to feel that life was made a burden "by the never-ending procession of men, women and little children coming to my door begging, not so much for alms as employment." He wrote, "I began to ask myself, 'Is there no remedy?'.... I began to study a little political economy, to ask, 'what is God’s law as to the maintenance of His family down here below?'"
He thought that he had found the answer in the teachings of Henry George, being deeply impressed by Progress and Poverty, and it was with his enthusiastic support of George that he first actually defied his superiors. With his accustomed fervor, energy and eloquence he expounded the Single Tax doctrine as the universal and fundamental remedy for poverty. In the year 1886 he took an active part in the failed campaign of Henry George for the office of Mayor of New York City. This brought him into open conflict with the conservative Archbishop Corrigan.
Suspensions over political activity
About four years previously, Cardinal Simeoni, prefect of the Congregation of the Propaganda, had directed the authorities of the Archdiocese to compel McGlynn to retract his views on the land question. Cardinal McCloskey, at that time head of the Archdiocese, merely required McGlynn to refrain from defending these views in public. After the death of Cardinal McCloskey, McGlynn considered himself free again to advocate the Single Tax doctrine. On September 29, 1886, Archbishop Corrigan forbade him to speak on behalf of Henry George’s candidacy at a public meeting scheduled to take place on October 1 in Chickering Hall. McGlynn replied that to break this engagement would be imprudent, but promised to refrain from addressing any later meeting during the political campaign. The Archbishop immediately suspended him from the exercise of his priestly functions for a period of two weeks. McGlynn went ahead with the address, declaring that George was worthy to be not only Mayor of New York City but also President of the United States. Toward the end of November, a second temporary suspension was imposed. The protests of conservative Catholic priests and laymen were futile, and a large number of workmen from McGlynn's parish were solidly behind him.
Removal from pastorate and excommunication
On January 14, 1887, Archbishop Corrigan, who had complained to the Vatican, removed McGlynn from the pastorate of St. Stephen's and notified the other American Bishops and Archbishops of his decision, effectively removing him from the priesthood. Two days later a cablegram arrived from Cardinal Simeoni commanding McGlynn to retract publicly his land theory and come immediately to Rome. On February 18 Cardinal Gibbons, who was then in Rome, sent word that McGlynn ought to go to Rome as soon as possible. On March 11, the Rev. Dr. Richard Lalor Burtsell, as McGlynn's canonical advocate, cabled a reply that his defiant client would do so on certain conditions. At the same time he wrote a long letter to Cardinal Gibbons explaining fully the canonical situation from McGlynn's viewpoint. However, Cardinal Gibbons did not present either the cablegram or the letter to the Roman authorities, contenting himself with an oral statement of their contents. Failing to receive any written reply from McGlynn, Pope Leo XIII ordered him to come to Rome within forty days under penalty of excommunication.
Holding that he had been guilty of no stubborn resistance and unaware that the reply made on his behalf by Burtsell had never reached the Pope, McGlynn, claiming ill health, refused to obey the order, and the excommunication became effective on July 4, 1887. For more than five years following this censure he defended the Single Tax doctrine at the Sunday afternoon meetings of the Anti-Poverty Society, which he had founded with George in March 1887 and of which he was the first president; he also made a tour of the West and virtually declared himself an unbeliever in the supremacy of the Pope. He lived at the home of his widowed sister in Brooklyn.
Lifting of excommunication
In 1892, Msgr. Satolli came to the United States as papal legate with instructions from the Pope to examine the McGlynn case. A church trial was held behind closed doors at the Catholic University; McGlynn had authorized Burtsell to promise that he would no longer promulgate doctrines unauthorized by the Church. This, combined with the assurance of four professors at the university that McGlynn's Single Tax views were not contrary to Catholic teaching, led Satolli to lift the excommunication on December 23 and reinstate him in the ministry the next day. In 1892, on Christmas morning, McGlynn said mass for the first time since his excommunication in 1887, celebrating three liturgies in Brooklyn. That evening he spoke at Cooper Union before an immense and enthusiastic gathering, not uttering a word of regret for his actions, instead declaring that he intended to continue advocating Single Tax doctrines; he then delivered a traditional Christmas sermon.
The following June, he visited Rome and was cordially received in private audience by the Pope. In his description of this event shortly afterwards, McGlynn reported that the Pope had said to him, "But surely you admit the right of property" and that he had answered in the affirmative as regards "the products of individual industry." Apparently, the Pope was satisfied with this answer. In the years following his restoration to his priestly functions he frequently spoke at Single Tax meetings and made it quite clear that he had not been required by the Pope to retract his view on the land question.
A passage in the Pope's 1891 encyclical, Rerum Novarum, reads: "The right to possess private property is derived from nature, not from man; and the State has the right to control its use in the interests of the public good alone, but by no means to absorb it altogether. The State would therefore be unjust and cruel if under the name of taxation it were to deprive the private owner of more than is fair." The implication of McGlynn's reinstatement is that if the Single Tax could be shown to be fair, it would not be a contravention of the Church's ethical teachings. McGlynn remained a friend of Henry George, delivering his eulogy in 1897.
In 1894, McGlynn, to his parishioners' regret, was assigned as pastor of St. Mary’s in Newburgh, NY. He celebrated his first mass there on January 1, 1895. After a six-week illness that reduced his robust physique to an emaciated appearance, he died primarily of Bright's disease in the church rectory on January 7, 1900. His last audible words were, "Jesus, have mercy on me." Prayers had been offered in Catholic and Protestant churches for his recovery; his funeral, which occasioned widespread expressions of sorrow and appreciation by members of both communities, was held at Newburgh on January 10 and was attended by a packed crowd, about a hundred Catholic priests, and all the city's Protestant clergymen, there by special invitation. His close friend of half a century, Dr. Burtsell, delivered the eulogy. That night, some 30,000 people filed by his coffin in his old parish of St. Stephen's. A second, similarly packed funeral was held there the next day, after which he was buried in Calvary Cemetery. A review of his personal affairs found that he was at least $10,000 in debt due to his charitable activities.
Burial and memorial
Though McGlynn is actually buried in Calvary Cemetery, Queens (then the Archdiocese of New York's principal cemetery), a life-sized bronze statue of him stands in the non-denominational Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx – supporters had paid for the creation of the monument, but the archdiocese had refused to allow it to be placed on his grave, so they instead bought land in Woodlawn just to erect it.
- "Rev. Edward McGlynn, 1837-1900", by Charles E. Fillebrown
- "Funeral Services at Newburgh", The New York Times, January 11, 1900, p. 2.
- "To Dr. M'Glynn's Memory", The New York Times, January 11, 1900, p. 2.
- "Funeral of Dr. M'Glynn", The New York Times, January 12, 1900, p. 7.
- "Dr. McGlynn's Private Affairs", The New York Times, January 14, 1900, p. 14.
- * Curran, Robert Emmett. The McGlynn Affair and the Shaping of the New Conservatism in American Catholicism, 1886-1894," Catholic Historical Review (1980) 66#2 pp 184-204.
- Curran, Robert Emmett. “The McGlynn Affair and the Shaping of the New Conservatism in American Catholicism, 1886-99,” in Curran, Shaping American Catholicism: Maryland and New York, 1805-1915 (2012) ch 8.
- Scibilia, Dominic P. "Edward McGlynn: American Social Catholic," Records of the American Catholic Historical Society of Philadelphia (1990), Vol. 101 Issue 3/4, pp 1-16.
- Dictionary of American Biography, vol. 12, pp. 53–4. New York, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1933.
- "Father M'Glynn Is Dead", The New York Times, January 8, 1900, p. 1.