James J. Davis (bishop)

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Right Reverend
James J. Davis
Bishop of Davenport
Bishop James Davis.jpg
Church Catholic Church
Appointed October 7, 1904 (coadjutor)
In office December 22, 1906 – December 2, 1926
Predecessor Henry Cosgrove
Successor Henry Patrick Rohlman
Ordination June 17, 1878
by James Walshe
Consecration November 30, 1904
by John Joseph Keane
Personal details
Born (1852-11-07)November 7, 1852
Tinvaum, County Kilkenny, UK
Died December 2, 1926(1926-12-02) (aged 74)
Davenport, Iowa, US
Previous post Titular Bishop of Milopotamus
Coadjutor Bishop of Davenport

James J. Davis (November 7, 1852 – December 2, 1926) was a 20th-century bishop of the Catholic Church in the United States. He served as the third bishop of the Diocese of Davenport in the state of Iowa from 1906 to 1926.


Early life and ministry[edit]

James Davis was born in Tinvaum, County Kilkenny, UK[1] to James and Margaret Davis.[2] All of his siblings either entered a religious order or the priesthood.[2] His eldest brother, Thomas, entered the Carmelites and became provincial in Ireland. Richard became a priest of the Diocese of Louisville, Kentucky. His three sisters also entered religious life. One of his sisters became the superior of Sacred Heart Convent at Sag Harbor, New York and another, Sr. Sebastian, was a member of the same order in France. A third sister, Sr. Constance, became the superior of the Immaculate Conception Academy at Newport, Kentucky.[2]

Davis studied with the Carmelites at St. Carmel at Knocktopher, and studied for the priesthood at St. Patrick's Ecclesiastical College in Carlow.[3] While he was in school he was recruited to serve in the Diocese of Dubuque by Bishop John Hennessy. He was ordained a priest on June 21, 1878 by Bishop James Walshe of the Diocese of Kildare and Leighlin.[2]

Shortly after his ordination he left Ireland and came to Dubuque, Iowa. He was assigned for a short time to St. Raphael's Cathedral, and was then assigned to St. Peter's in Windham, which he had trouble finding because it wasn't on any map of Iowa. When the Diocese of Davenport was established on May 8, 1881, Davis was the pastor of St. Mary's Church in Oxford, and he became a priest of the new diocese. In 1885 he was transferred to St. Michael's in Holbrook and its mission in Parnell where Davis built a church and a school. At the time of his pastorate St. Michael's was the largest parish in the diocese.[4] In 1889 he became rector of St. Margaret's Cathedral. He supervised the construction of the new Sacred Heart Cathedral as well as the parish's new rectory. He became the vicar general of the diocese in 1895.

Bishop of Davenport[edit]

On October 7, 1904, Pope Saint Pius X appointed Davis Titular Bishop of Milopotamus and Coadjutor Bishop of Davenport. He was consecrated bishop in Sacred Heart Cathedral on November 30, 1904 by Archbishop John J. Keane of Dubuque. The principal co-consecrators were Bishops Henry Cosgrove of Davenport and Mathias Clement Lenihan of Great Falls. He succeeded to the See of Davenport on December 22, 1906 upon the death of Bishop Cosgrove.[5] Bishop Davis was the second bishop of Davenport in a row to be named from the clergy of the diocese.

Regina Coeli Monastery in Bettendorf, Iowa. Bishop Davis brought the Discalced Carmelites to the Midwest.

Bishop Davis would serve the diocese as its bishop for 20 years. In 1908 the Redemptorists established a mission house and St. Alphonsus parish in Davenport, and in 1911 the Discalced Carmelites from Baltimore established a monastery in the diocese. Two other religious communities that were already established in the diocese, built new motherhouses. The Congregation of the Humility of Mary built their new headquarters in 1911 in Ottumwa with the financial assistance of the clergy. The Sisters of St. Francis built their new motherhouse, Mt St. Claire Convent, in Clinton.[6]

It was during this time that Bishop Davis started to standardize parish administration. He required pastors to file annual reports that were audited and signed by two laymen. The parishes themselves were incorporated according to the laws of the State of Iowa.[7]

The Diocese of Des Moines was established on August 12, 1911 from the western half of the Davenport Diocese.[8] Davis was named administrator of the new diocese until a bishop was named.[9] At the time the Holy See was petitioned to establish the new diocese, Bishop Davis requested that all the diocesan boundaries in Iowa be redrawn for a more equitable distributions of population. If the Davenport Diocese was simply divided in half, it would be reduced to 35,000 Catholics and the new diocese would have only 25,000. The Archdiocese of Dubuque had 109,000 Catholics and the Diocese of Sioux City had 50,000 Catholics within its boundaries. While the request was not fulfilled, the Davenport Diocese received Clinton County from the archdiocese to compensate it for its loss, and it gave the diocese its current borders. The diocese at this time had 50,000 Catholics in a total population of 589,000.[10]

During World War I Bishop Davis joined other members of the Catholic hierarchy in the United States in pledging their support to President Wilson for the war effort. He encouraged men to sign up for the military, women to be supportive of the cause and vowed religious to offer their services to the war effort.[11] Bishop Davis preached a sermon at St. Anthony's Church in Davenport on patriotism. He was quoted in the Catholic Messenger, "It is not the flamboyant generalization of patriotism or Fourth of July oratory, but it is the patriotism that acts and responds to the call of the President. The Catholic Church teaches loyalty to the state authority, which is of God…the Catholic is the first to respond to the call of the country—the first to pay, even with his life, for what his government has given him."[12]

Davis Hall at St. Ambrose University

St. Ambrose College started enrolling women on a limited basis by admitting members of religious orders of teaching sisters in 1924. The next year the Congregation of the Humility of Mary opened St. Joseph Junior College in Ottumwa. It was the first institution of higher education for women in the diocese. The Diocesan Council of Catholic Women was also organized in 1925.

Later life and Death[edit]

As his health declined Davis requested an auxiliary bishop, and on December 13, 1923 the Rev. Edward D. Howard of the Archdiocese of Dubuque was appointed by Pope Pius XI.[13] Bishop Howard, however, was appointed the Archbishop of Oregon City eight months prior to Davis' death. His death occurred on December 2, 1926, and he was laid to rest with his predecessors in the crypt of Sacred Heart Cathedral. Their bodies were later moved to the Bishop's Circle in Mt. Calvary Cemetery in Davenport.


Davis Hall, a residence hall at St. Ambrose University in Davenport, is named in his honor.


  1. ^ Delaney, John J, Tobin, James Edward (1961). Dictionary of Catholic Biography. Garden City, New York: Doubleday. 
  2. ^ a b c d Downer, Harry E. "History of Davenport and Scott County, Iowa". The Internet Archive. Retrieved 2010-11-30. 
  3. ^ "Chapter XX: Churches and Parishes". Scott County Iowa USGenWeb Project. Retrieved 2010-05-18. 
  4. ^ Schmidt, Madeleine M. (1981). Seasons of Growth: History of the Diocese of Davenport. Davenport, Iowa: Diocese of Davenport. p. 159. 
  5. ^ "Bishop James Joseph Davis". Catholic-Hierarchy.org. David M. Cheney. Retrieved 21 January 2015. 
  6. ^ Schmidt, 168-69
  7. ^ Schmidt, 166
  8. ^ "Diocese of Des Moines". Catholic-Hierarchy.org. David M. Cheney. Retrieved 21 January 2015. 
  9. ^ Schmidt, 169
  10. ^ Schmidt, 170
  11. ^ Schmidt, 173
  12. ^ Schmidt, 172
  13. ^ "Archbishop Edward Daniel Howard". Catholic-Hierarchy.org. David M. Cheney. Retrieved 21 January 2015. 

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