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Alexander Joseph McGavick

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Alexander Joseph McGavick
Bishop of La Crosse
titular bishop of Marcopolis
DioceseDiocese of La Crosse
AppointedNovember 21, 1921
Term endedAugust 25, 1948 (his death)
PredecessorJames Schwebach
SuccessorJohn Patrick Treacy
Other post(s)Auxiliary Bishop of Chicago (1899-1921)
OrdinationJune 11, 1887
by Patrick Feehan
ConsecrationMay 1, 1899
by Patrick Feehan
Personal details
Born(1863-08-21)August 21, 1863
DiedAugust 25, 1948(1948-08-25) (aged 85)
La Crosse, Wisconsin, U.S.
EducationSt. Viator College

Alexander Joseph McGavick (August 21, 1863 – August 25, 1948) was an American prelate of the Catholic Church. He served as Bishop of La Crosse from 1921 until his death in 1948.


Early life and ministry[edit]

McGavick was born in Fox Lake, Illinois, to James and Catherine (née Watt) McGavick.[1] His parents were Irish immigrants who came to the United States from County Antrim in 1849. He received his early education in local public schools, and entered St. Viator College at Bourbonnais, Illinois, in 1879, earning his bachelor's (1884) and master's degrees (1887).[1]

McGavick was ordained to the priesthood for the Archdiocese of Chicago on June 11, 1887 by Archbishop Patrick Feehan.[2] His first assignment was as assistant pastor under Rev. Edward Joseph Dunne at All Saints Parish in Chicago.[3] On account of ill health, he went to Colorado in 1889 in the hope that a change of climate would benefit him.[4] He served as an assistant to Bishop Nicholas Matz at the cathedral in Denver for a year and a half before returning to Chicago and resuming his duties at All Saints.[3]

After Reverend Thaddeus J. Butler was appointed Bishop of Concordia in 1897, McGavick succeeded him as pastor of St. John's Parish in the Near South Side of Chicago.[4] He earned a respected reputation during his first year at St. John's after paying off the parish's debts, renovating the church building, and establishing a Sunday school for Italian children.[5]

Auxiliary Bishop of Chicago[edit]

On December 12, 1898, McGavick was appointed auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Chicago and titular bishop of Marcopolis by Pope Leo XIII.[2] He received his episcopal consecration on May 1, 1899 from Archbishop Feehan, with Bishop Dunne (under whom he served at All Saints) and Bishop Maurice Burke serving as co-consecrators, at Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago.[2]

McGavick's mother died a few days after his consecration and the shock from this caused his health to suffer.[6][4] In June 1899, just a month after becoming a bishop, he was given a leave of absence and left for Europe under the advice of his physicians.[7] After a few months abroad, he returned to the United States and stayed at Battle Creek Sanitarium in Battle Creek, Michigan, for a time before finally returning to Chicago in December 1899.[8][9]

McGavick subsequently submitted his resignation as bishop to the Vatican in 1900, but it was not accepted.[4][10] That same year, in addition to his duties as an auxiliary bishop, he was appointed pastor of Holy Angels Parish in Chicago.[1] He became known as the "Father of the Yards" for his charitable work among the poor in the tenement areas around the Union Stock Yards.[11] One of his assistants at Holy Angels was Father William Richard Griffin, who would again serve with McGavick as auxiliary bishop of La Crosse (1935–1944).

In 1915, Archbishop George Mundelein appointed McGavick to be spiritual director of the Holy Name Society in the archdiocese. He organized Holy Name societies in almost every parish over the next six years, growing the number of branches from 33 to 200.[11] As part of this work, he also established many branches of the Big Brother program in the archdiocese to help juvenile delinquents.[11] McGavick was an outspoken supporter of Prohibition and condemned Chicago Alderman Milton J. Foreman for his support of saloons.[12][13]

Bishop of La Crosse[edit]

Pope Pius XI appointed McGavick to succeed the late James Schwebach as the fourth Bishop of La Crosse, Wisconsin, on November 21, 1921.[2] By that time, McGavick was regarded as "the best pulpit orator of the Roman Catholic clergy" in Chicago.[14] He was installed at the Cathedral of Saint Joseph the Workman in La Crosse on March 21, 1922.[15]

During McGavick's tenure as Bishop of La Crosse, the diocese's Catholic population grew from 116,000 to 140,000.[15] When he first arrived, there were 156 parishes, 78 mission churches, 90 parochial schools, and 189 secular priests with 51 religious.[11] By his first 20 years, he had established more than 20 parishes and 41 schools.[15] One of his proudest accomplishments was founding Aquinas High School in La Crosse in 1928, a regional coeducational school to which several parishes sent their students.[14]

In 1937 McGavick celebrated the golden jubilee of his ordination as a priest. That same year, Pius XI named him an assistant to the papal throne.[15] After his auxiliary, Bishop Griffin, died in 1944, McGavick received Bishop John Treacy as his coadjutor bishop with right of succession in 1945.

Death and legacy[edit]

Alexander McGavick died at La Crosse on August 25, 1948, at age 85. At the time of his death, he was the oldest Catholic bishop in the United States.[15] In an editorial following his death, the La Crosse Tribune wrote,

"For 24 years Bishop McGavick ably administered affairs of the diocese, he being unobtrusive, avoiding personal publicity, being ever occupied with diocese affairs. He pressed toward his objectives, adjusting difficulties along the path with success accomplished by tact and discretion."[16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c The Twentieth Century Biographical Dictionary of Notable Americans. Vol. II. Boston: The Biographical Society. 1904.
  2. ^ a b c d "Bishop Alexander Joseph McGavick". Catholic-Hierarchy.org.
  3. ^ a b "Archbishop Feehan has an Assistant". Dixon Evening Telegraph. February 11, 1899.
  4. ^ a b c d Judge, Thomas E. (1902). Lives of American Prelates; Or, Illustrated Biographies of the Catholic Bishops of the United States. Chicago: Wm. J. McAssey.
  5. ^ "FATHER M'GAVICK HONORED: The Pope Appoints a Chicago Pastor Bishop of Marcopolis". Chicago Inter Ocean. February 5, 1899.
  6. ^ "Obituary". Chicago Tribune. May 7, 1899.
  7. ^ "BISHOP A.J. M'GAVICK IS ILL: Assistant to Archbishop Feehan Will Sail Today for Europe Under a Year's Leave of Absence". Chicago Tribune. June 10, 1899.
  8. ^ "BISHOP M'GAVICK IS BACK: Returns to Chicago Much Benefited by His Long Rest". McHenry Plaindealer. January 4, 1900.
  9. ^ "M'GAVICK DENIES ILL HEALTH: Auxiliary Bishop Says He Expects to Begin His Labors on May 1—No Effort at Secrecy". Chicago Tribune. March 8, 1900.
  10. ^ "Reported to Have Resigned". Lake County Independent. September 14, 1900.
  11. ^ a b c d "Bishop McGavick Named Head of La Crosse Diocese". Star Tribune. November 27, 1921.
  12. ^ "CATHOLIC BISHOP CONDEMNS FOREMAN: McGavick Joins Protestants in Fight on Alderman and Voters Are Warned in Statement to Protect Homes". Chicago Inter Ocean. April 2, 1909.
  13. ^ "CATHOLIC DRYS IN CITY FIGHT: Join Chicago Federation and Adopt Resolutions Flaying Saloon". Chicago Tribune. June 7, 1915.
  14. ^ a b "Each of 10 La Crosse Diocese bishops has shouldered particular challenges". La Crosse Tribune. Mar 16, 2018.
  15. ^ a b c d e "Bishop A.J. McGavick, 85, Dies At Residence In City". La Crosse Tribune. August 25, 1948.
  16. ^ "Editorials - Bishop McGavick". La Crosse Tribune. August 26, 1948.

External links[edit]

Catholic Church titles
Preceded by Bishop of La Crosse
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Auxiliary Bishop of Chicago
Succeeded by