Richard Cushing

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His Eminence
Richard James Cushing
Cardinal, Archbishop emeritus of Boston
See Boston
Installed September 25, 1944
Term ended September 8, 1970
Predecessor William Henry O'Connell
Successor Humberto Sousa Medeiros
Other posts Cardinal-Priest of Santa Susanna
Ordination May 26, 1921
by William Henry O'Connell
Consecration June 29, 1939
by William Henry O'Connell
Created Cardinal December 15, 1958
by John XXIII
Rank Cardinal-Priest
Personal details
Birth name Richard James Cushing
Born (1895-08-24)August 24, 1895
Boston, Massachusetts
Died November 2, 1970(1970-11-02) (aged 75)
Boston, Massachusetts
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Coat of arms {{{coat_of_arms_alt}}}

Richard James Cushing (August 24, 1895 – November 2, 1970) was an American prelate of the Roman Catholic Church. He served as Archbishop of Boston from 1944 to 1970, and was created a cardinal in 1958. Cushing's main role was as fundraiser and builder of new churches, schools, and institutions. He was on good terms with practically the entire Boston elite, as he softened the traditional confrontation between the Catholic Irish and the Brahmin upper-class. Cushing built useful relationships with Jews, Protestants, and institutions outside the usual Catholic community. He helped presidential candidate John F. Kennedy deflect fears of papal interference in American government if a Catholic became president. Cushing's high energy level allowed him to meet with many people all day, often giving lengthy speeches at night. Cushing was not efficient at business affairs, and when expenses built up he counted on his fund-raising skills instead of cost-cutting. Cushing, says Nasaw, was “fun-loving, informal, and outgoing. He looked rather like a tough, handsome, Irish cop and behaved more like a ward politician than a high church cleric.”[1] His major weakness in retrospect was overexpansion, adding new institutions that could not be sustained in the long run and had to be cut back by his successors. [2]

Early life and education[edit]

Cushing was born in South Boston on August 24, 1895.[3] The third of five children, he was the son of Patrick and Mary (née Dahill) Cushing.[4] His parents were both Irish immigrants; his father was originally from Glanworth, County Cork, and his mother from Touraneena, County Waterford.[5] His father, who came to the United States in 1880,[6] worked as a blacksmith and earned $18 per week in the trolley repair pits of the Boston Elevated Railway.[7]

Cushing received his early education at Perry Public Grammar School in the City Point section of South Boston, since there was then no parochial school for boys in Gate of Heaven Parish.[8][dead link] To pay for his education, he worked with his father on the Boston Elevated.[8] He also worked at the parish church, serving as a janitor and managing the parish-sponsored bowling alley and pool room.[8] After graduating from the Perry School in 1909, he enrolled at South Boston High School.[4] However, Cushing dropped out of high school in his freshman year because of his compulsive truancy.[7] He subsequently entered Boston College High School, a Jesuit college preparatory school.[4] His tuition there was paid by his cousin, who was a priest of the Archdiocese of New York.[8] His father later forced him to discontinue his work at the church, which was having a negative impact on his academic work.[8] He graduated from high school in 1913, receiving honors for Latin and Greek.[9] He was also selected to speak at the graduation ceremony.[8]

Cushing was torn for a time between religion and politics.[7] He originally wanted to be a politician, even earning money by speaking for politicians from the back of wagons.[6] One apocryphal story claimed that once when Cushing was campaigning from a wagon on a South Boston street corner for a candidate for the state legislature, his parish priest pulled him aside and told him, "Make up your mind; either you're going to be a priest or a politician!"[4] Cushing, however, denied this incident ever happened.[8] He twice considered joining the Jesuits,[6] but came to the conclusion he "was cut out more for the active life and not the teaching apostolate."[8]

He entered Boston College in 1913, becoming a member of the first freshman class following the college's move to Chestnut Hill.[3] At Boston College, he was active in the Marquette Debating Society and elected vice-president of his sophomore class.[8] Following the sinking of the RMS Lusitania in 1915, Cushing enlisted in the United States Army but was medically discharged for his asthma after a few weeks.[9] After attending Boston College for two years, he began his studies for the priesthood at St. John's Seminary in Brighton in September 1915.[4] He was assigned to continue his studies at the Pontifical North American College in Rome, but the escalation of U-boat activity prevented him from sailing across the Atlantic.[8]


On May 26, 1921, Cushing was ordained a priest by Cardinal William Henry O'Connell at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross.[10] His first assignment was as a curate at St. Patrick's Church in Roxbury, where he remained for two months.[8] He was afterwards transferred to St. Benedict's Church in Somerville.[8] In 1922, Cushing appeared unannounced at the residence of Cardinal O'Connell to request an assignment as a missionary.[4] The young priest declared he wanted to "take heaven by storm."[6] O'Connell denied his request, and instead appointed him assistant director of the Boston office of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, an organization dedicated to raising funds for missions.[3] He later served as director of the Society from 1929 to 1944.[3] He was raised to the rank of Domestic Prelate on May 14, 1939.[3]

Episcopal career[edit]

On June 10, 1939, after Bishop Francis Spellman was named Archbishop of New York, Cushing was appointed auxiliary bishop of Boston and titular bishop of Mela by Pope Pius XII.[10] He received his episcopal consecration on the following June 29 from Cardinal O'Connell, with Bishops John Bertram Peterson and Thomas Addis Emmet, SJ, serving as co-consecrators, at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross.[10] He took as his episcopal motto: Ut Cognoscant Te (Latin: "That they may know thee").

As an auxiliary bishop, Cushing continued to serve as director of the Society for the Propagation of Faith, and was also named pastor of Sacred Heart Church in Newton Centre.[8] Following the death of Cardinal O'Connell in April 1944, he served as apostolic administrator of the archdiocese.[3]

Archbishop of Boston[edit]

Cushing was named the third Archbishop of Boston on September 25, 1944, following Cardinal O'Connell's death. During his tenure, Boston would see the excommunication of Fr. Leonard Feeney for his stringent interpretation of the Catholic doctrine that there is no salvation outside the Church. Feeney refused to back down from his position, although it has been reported that he was ultimately reconciled with the church before his death.[11] After the death of Pius XII, Cushing published a moving tribute to him.[12] In 1959, Cushing published a biography of the late Pope Pius XII (1939–1958), depicting the late pope as "Pope of Peace".

His work contributed to making the Roman Catholic Church acceptable to the general American population at the time of then-Senator John F. Kennedy's run for the White House. Part of this work included reaching out to the non-Catholics of Boston after "the muscular style of involved Catholicism that Cardinal O'Connell brought to bear on issues of his day religious, social, and political in Boston and Massachusetts".[13]

Cushing was created Cardinal-Priest of S. Susanna by Pope John XXIII in the consistory of December 15, 1958. He was also one of the cardinal electors in the 1963 papal conclave, which selected Pope Paul VI.

The Cardinal was a close friend of the Kennedy family. He officiated at the marriage of John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Lee Bouvier in 1953, at which he also read a special prayer from Pope Pius XII, and baptized many of the Kennedy children. Cushing gave the prayer invocation at Kennedy's inauguration in 1961. The Cardinal also celebrated President Kennedy's funeral Mass in 1963 at St. Matthew's Cathedral in Washington, D.C.

The day before the funeral, he gave a televised eulogy for the assassinated President. Cushing later publicly defended Jacqueline Kennedy after her marriage to Aristotle Onassis in 1968. He subsequently received a large amount of hate mail and was contradicted by the Vatican.[14]

Biography of Pope Pius XII[edit]

In 1959, Cardinal Cushing published his only book, a biography of the late Pope Pius XII (1939–1958). It is an almost hagiographic biography, written shortly after the death of the Pontiff. Cushing depicted him as the “Pope of Peace”, who, armed only with the spiritual weapons of his office, triumphed over insidious attacks that seemed about to destroy the center of Christendom.

Second Vatican Council[edit]

At the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965) Cushing played a vital role in drafting Nostra aetate, the document that officially absolved the Jews of deicide charge. His emotional comments during debates over the drafts were echoed in the final version:

1. We must cast the Declaration on the Jews in a much more positive form, one not so timid, but much more loving ... For the sake of our common heritage we, the children of Abraham according to the spirit, must foster a special reverence and love for the children of Abraham according to the flesh. As children of Adam, they are our kin, as children of Abraham they are Christ's blood relatives. 2. So far as the guilt of Jews in the death of our Saviour is concerned, the rejection of the Messiah by His own, is according to Scripture, a mystery—a mystery given us for our instruction, not for our self-exaltation ... We cannot sit in judgement on the onetime leaders of Israel—God alone is their judge. Much less can we burden later generations of Jews with any burden of guilt for the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus, for the death of the Saviour of the world, except that universal guilt in which we all have a part ... In clear and unmistakable language, we must deny, therefore, that the Jews are guilty of our Saviour's death. We must condemn especially those who seek to justify, as Christian deeds, discrimination, hatred and even persecution of Jews ... 3. I ask myself, Venerable Brothers, whether we should not humbly acknowledge before the whole world that, toward their Jewish brethren, Christians have all too often not shown themselves as true Christians, as faithful followers of Christ. How many [Jews] have suffered in our own time? How many died because Christians were indifferent and kept silent? ... If in recent years, not many Christian voices were raised against those injustices, at least let ours now be heard in humility. [15]

He was deeply committed to implementing the Council's reforms and promoting renewal in the Church.[16] In an unprecedented gesture of ecumenism, he even encouraged Catholics to attend Billy Graham's crusades.[17] Cushing strongly condemned Communism, particularly the regime of Josip Broz Tito.[18]

Cushing resigned as Boston's archbishop on September 8, 1970, after 25 years of service. Upon his resignation, Senator Ted Kennedy stated, "For three-quarters of a century [Cushing's] life has been a light in a world that cries out for illumination. He will never have to account for his stewardship, for if his goodness is not known to God, no one's ever will be."[19]


Less than two months later, he died from cancer in Boston at the age of 75 on the feast of All Souls Day, and was buried in Hanover, Massachusetts at the Portiuncula Chapel on the grounds of Cardinal Cushing Centers.



  • In 1947, founded St. Coletta by the Sea with sponsorship from the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi ([1]). The organization, now Cardinal Cushing Centers ([2]) continues to support developmentally disabled individuals ages 6 through the life continuum with campuses in Hanover, Massachusetts and Braintree, Massachusetts and community homes throughout the South Shore of Massachusetts.
  • The now-closed Cardinal Cushing College, a women's college in Brookline, Massachusetts, was named after him. St. Coletta's School in Hanover, where he is buried, was subsequently renamed in his honor.
  • In 1950, Richard Cardinal Cushing founded the Bon Secours Hospital, now Holy Family Hospital and Medical Center, in Methuen, Massachusetts. Through his guidance and leadership, the hospital has become one of the top Catholic hospitals in the state of Massachusetts
  • Emmanuel College's Cardinal Cushing Library Building is named in his honor. The building houses the campus' library, a lecture hall, and various classrooms.
  • Boston College has two buildings named in his honor: Cushing Hall, a freshman dormitory on the Newton Campus as well as another Cushing Hall, the home of the Connell School of Nursing.
  • St. John's Seminary (Massachusetts) has their third theology classroom named after the Cardinal: The Richard Cardinal Cushing Classroom.
  • The main student center of Saint Anselm College in Goffstown, New Hampshire is named the Cardinal. The Cushing houses, among many other significant groups and offices, the Meelia Center for Community Service, a service outreach organization in the greater Manchester area.


  1. ^ David Nasaw, The Patriarch: The Remarkable Life and Turbulent Times of Joseph P. Kennedy’’ (2012) pp 625-27
  2. ^ Robert Muccigrosso, ed., Research Guide to American Historical Biography (1988) 5:2466-9
  3. ^ a b c d e f Miranda, Salvador. "CUSHING, Richard James (1895-1970)". The Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f "Cardinal Cushing Dies in Boston at 75". The New York Times. 1970-11-03. 
  5. ^ "The Catholic Church in Massachusetts (XXI.2)". OBLATVS. 
  6. ^ a b c d "The Unlikely Cardinal". Time Magazine. 1964-08-21. 
  7. ^ a b c "Cushing: Ecumenical Leader, Kennedys' Friend, Communists' Foe". The New York Times. 1970-09-09. 
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Dever, Joseph (1965). Cushing of Boston: A Candid Portrait. Boston: Bruce Humphries. 
  9. ^ a b McMahon, Kelly (2001-01-16). "Boston Irish Reporter Names BC Alumnus Cardinal Cushing "Boston Irish Person of the Century"". South Boston 2004. 
  10. ^ a b c "Richard James Cardinal Cushing". 
  11. ^ Time magazine: "Feeney Forgiven"
  12. ^ Pope Pius XII by Richard Cushing, St. Paul Editions, Boston, 1959
  13. ^ Boston Globe "'What Will Lake Street Think?' No Longer" December 14, 2003
  14. ^ Time magazine "The Cardinal and Jackie", November 1, 1968
  15. ^ Oesterreicher, pp. 197-98
  16. ^ TIME Magazine. The Unlikely Cardinal August 21, 1964
  17. ^ Time magazine. Big Man in a Long Red Robe November 16, 1970
  18. ^ Time magazine How Are Things in Yugoslavia? September 1, 1947
  19. ^ "Change of the Guard". Time magazine. 1970-11-21. 
  20. ^ The Missionary Society of St. James the Apostle. Homepage

Further reading[edit]

  • Cutler, John Henry. Cardinal Cushing of Boston (1970), the major biography.
  • Rabbi James Rudin. Cushing, Spellman, O'Connor: The Surprising Story of How Three American Cardinals Transformed Catholic-Jewish Relations (2011) excerpt and text search

External links[edit]

Episcopal succession[edit]

Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
William Henry O'Connell
Archbishop of Boston
1944 – 1970
Succeeded by
Humberto Sousa Medeiros