John Ireland (bishop)

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John Ireland
Archbishop of Saint Paul
John Ireland
ArchdioceseSaint Paul
DioceseSaint Paul
AppointedJuly 28, 1875
InstalledJuly 31, 1884
Term endedSeptember 25, 1918
PredecessorThomas Grace
SuccessorAustin Dowling
OrdinationDecember 21, 1861
by Joseph Crétin
ConsecrationDec 21, 1875
by Thomas Grace, Michael Heiss, and Rupert Seidenbusch
Personal details
Born(1838-09-11)September 11, 1838
DiedSeptember 25, 1918(1918-09-25) (aged 80)
Saint Paul, Minnesota

John Ireland (September 11, 1838 – September 25, 1918) was the third Roman Catholic bishop and first Roman Catholic archbishop of Saint Paul, Minnesota (1888–1918). He became both a religious as well as civic leader in Saint Paul during the turn of the 20th century. Ireland was known for his progressive stance on education, immigration and relations between church and state, as well as his opposition to saloons and political corruption. He promoted the Americanization of Catholicism, especially in the furtherance of progressive social ideals. He was a leader of the modernizing element in the Roman Catholic Church during the Progressive Era. He created or helped to create many religious and educational institutions in Minnesota. He is also remembered for his acrimonious relations with Eastern Catholics.


Styles of
John Ireland
Mitre (plain).svg
Reference styleThe Most Reverend
Spoken styleYour Excellency
Religious styleMonsignor
Posthumous stylenot applicable

John Ireland was born in Burnchurch, County Kilkenny, Ireland, and was baptized on September 11, 1838.[1] His family immigrated to the United States in 1848 and eventually moved to Saint Paul, Minnesota, in 1852. One year later Joseph Crétin, first bishop of Saint Paul, sent Ireland to the preparatory seminary of Meximieux in France. Ireland was consequently ordained in 1861 in Saint Paul.[2] He served as a chaplain of the Fifth Minnesota Regiment in the Civil War until 1863 when ill health[3] caused his resignation.[1] Later, he was famous nationwide in the Grand Army of the Republic.[4]

He was appointed pastor at Saint Paul's cathedral in 1867, a position which he held until 1875.[5] In 1875, he was made coadjutor bishop of St. Paul and in 1884 he became bishop ordinary.[2] In 1888 he became archbishop with the elevation of his diocese and the erection of the ecclesiastical province of Saint Paul.[6] Ireland retained this title for 30 years until his death in 1918. Before Ireland died he burned all of his personal papers.[7]

John Ireland was personal friends with Presidents William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt. At a time when most Irish Catholics were staunch Democrats, Ireland was known for being close to the Republican party.[5] He opposed racial inequality and called for "equal rights and equal privileges, political, civil, and social."[8] Ireland's funeral was attended by eight archbishops, thirty bishops, twelve monsignors, seven hundred priests and two hundred seminarians.[9]

He was awarded an honorary doctorate (LL.D.) by Yale University in October 1901, during celebrations for the bicentenary of the university.[10]

A friend of James J. Hill, whose wife Mary was Catholic (even though Hill was not), Archbishop Ireland had his portrait painted in 1895 by the Swiss-born American portrait painter Adolfo Müller-Ury almost certainly on Hill's behalf, which was exhibited at M. KNOEDLER & CO., New York, January 1895 (lost)[11] and again in 1897 (Archdiocesan Archives, Archdiocese of Saint Paul & Minneapolis).


The influence of his personality made Archbishop Ireland a commanding figure in many important movements, especially those for total abstinence, for colonization in the Northwest, and modern education. Ireland became a leading civic and religious leader during the late 19th and early 20th centuries in Saint Paul.[12] He worked closely with non-Catholics and was recognized by them as a leader of the modernizing Catholics.[13]

St. Augustine's Church in Washington, DC, c. 1899. Here John Ireland gave his 1890 sermon on racial equality.

Ireland called for racial equality at a time in the U.S. when the concept was considered extreme. On 5 May 1890 he gave a sermon at St. Augustine's Church in Washington, DC, the center of an African-American parish, to a congregation that included several public officials, Congressmen including the full Minnesota delegation, U.S. Treasury Secretary William Windom, and Blanche Bruce, the second black U.S. Senator. Ireland's sermon on racial justice concluded with the statement, "The color line must go; the line will be drawn at personal merit." It was reported that "the bold and outspoken stand of the Archbishop on this occasion created somewhat of a sensation throughout America."[14][15]


Ireland as a young man

Disturbed by reports that Catholic immigrants in eastern cities were suffering from social and economic handicaps, Ireland and Bishop John Lancaster Spalding of the Diocese of Peoria, Illinois, founded the Irish Catholic Colonization Association. This organization bought land in rural areas to the west and south and helped resettle Irish Catholics from the urban slums.[16] Ireland helped establish many Irish Catholic colonies in Minnesota.[17] The land had been cleared of its native Sioux following the Dakota War of 1862. He served as director of the National Colonization Association. From 1876 to 1881 Ireland organized and directed the most successful rural colonization program ever sponsored by the Catholic Church in the U.S.[1] Working with the western railroads and with the Minnesota state government, he brought more than 4,000 Catholic families from the slums of eastern urban areas and settled them on more than 400,000 acres (1,600 km2) of farmland in rural Minnesota.[1]

His partner in Ireland was John Sweetman, a wealthy brewer who helped set up the Irish-American Colonisation Company there.[18]

In 1880 he also assisted several hundred people from Connemara in Ireland to emigrate to Minnesota. Unfortunately they arrived at the wrong time of the year and had to be assisted by local Freemasons, an organisation that the Catholic Church condemns on many points. In the public debate that followed, the immigrants, being Gaelic speakers, could not voice their opinions of Bishop Ireland's criticism of their acceptance of the Masons' support during a harsh winter.[19][20] De Graff and Clontarf in Swift County, Adrian in Nobles County, Avoca, Iona and Fulda in Murray County, Graceville in Big Stone County and Ghent in Lyon County were all colonies established by Ireland.[21]

Charlotte Grace O'Brien, philanthropist and activist for the protection of female emigrants, found that often the illiterate young women were being tricked into prostitution through spurious offers of employment. She proposed an information bureau at Castle Garden, the disembarkation point for immigrants arriving in New York; a temporary shelter to provide accommodation for immigrants, and a chapel, all to Archbishop Ireland,[22] who she believed of all the American hierarchy, would be most sympathetic. Archbishop Ireland agreed to raise the matter at the May 1883 meeting of the Irish Catholic Association which endorsed the plan and voted to establish an information bureau at Castle Garden. The Irish Catholic Colonization Association was also instrumental in the establishment of the Mission of Our Lady of the Rosary for the Protection of Irish Immigrant Girls.


A bust of Archbishop John Ireland in the Ireland Memorial Library at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota

Ireland advocated state support and inspection of Catholic schools. After several parochial schools were in danger of closing, Ireland sold them to the respective city's board of education. The schools continued to operate with nuns and priests teaching, but no religious teaching was allowed.[23] This plan, the Faribault-Stillwater Plan, or Poughkeepsie plan, created enough controversy that Ireland was forced to travel to Vatican City to defend it, and he succeeded in doing so.[24] He also opposed the use of foreign languages in American Catholic churches and parochial schools. The use of foreign languages was not uncommon at the time because of the recent large influx of immigrants to the U.S. from European countries. Ireland influenced American society by actively promoting the use of the English language by large numbers of German immigrants. He is the author of The Church and Modern Society (1897).

Relations with Eastern Catholics[edit]

Saint Paul Seminary's Metropolitan Cross

In 1891, Ireland refused to accept the clerical credentials of Byzantine Rite, Ruthenian Catholic priest Alexis Toth,[25] despite Toth being a widower. Ireland then forbade Toth to minister to his own parishioners,[26] despite the fact that Toth had jurisdiction from his own bishop and did not answer to Ireland. Ireland was also involved in efforts to expel all non-Latin Church Catholic clergy from the United States.[27] Forced into an impasse, Toth went on to lead thousands of Ruthenian Catholics out of the Roman Communion and into what would eventually become the Orthodox Church in America.[28] Because of this, Archbishop Ireland is sometimes referred to, ironically, as "The Father of the Orthodox Church in America." Marvin R. O'Connell, author of a biography on Ireland, summarizes the situation by stating that "if Ireland's advocacy of the blacks displayed him at his best, his belligerence toward the Uniates showed him at his bull-headed worst."[29]


Cathedral of Saint Paul, of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis

At the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore the establishment of a Catholic university was decided.[30] In 1885 Ireland was appointed to a committee, along with, Bishop John Lancaster Spalding, Cardinal James Gibbons and then bishop John Joseph Keane dedicated to developing and establishing The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.[30] Ireland retained an active interest in the University for the rest of his life.[1]

He founded Saint Thomas Aquinas Seminary, progenitor of four institutions: University of Saint Thomas (Minnesota), the Saint Paul Seminary School of Divinity, Nazareth Hall Preparatory Seminary, and Saint Thomas Academy. The Saint Paul Seminary was established with the help of Methodist James J. Hill, whose wife, Mary Mehegan, was a devout Catholic.[31] Both institutions are located on the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River. DeLaSalle High School located on Nicollet Island in Minneapolis was opened in October 1900 through a gift of $25,000 from Ireland. Fourteen years later Ireland purchased an adjacent property for the expanding Christian Brothers school.[32]

In 1904 Ireland secured the land for the building of the current Cathedral of Saint Paul located atop Summit Hill, the highest point in downtown Saint Paul.[33] At the same time, on Christmas Day 1903 he also commissioned the construction of the almost equally large Church of Saint Mary, for the Immaculate Conception parish in the neighboring city of Minneapolis. It became the Pro-Cathedral of Minneapolis and later became the Basilica of Saint Mary, the first basilica in the United States in 1926. Both were designed and built under the direction of the French architect Emmanuel Louis Masqueray.[34]

John Ireland Boulevard, a Saint Paul street that runs from the Cathedral of Saint Paul northeast to the Minnesota State Capitol, is named in his honor. It was so named in 1961 at the encouragement of the Ancient Order of Hibernians.[31]


  1. ^ a b c d e Shannon, J. P. "Ireland, John" New Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 7. 2nd ed. Detroit: Gale, 2003
  2. ^ a b M. Cheney, David (2006-10-26). "Archbishop John Ireland". Retrieved 2007-08-17.
  3. ^ "Ireland, John" in Webster's American Biographies (1979), Springfield, MA: Merriam.
  4. ^ "Ireland, John", in Webster's American Biographies (1979), Springfield. MA: Merriam.
  5. ^ a b "Ireland, John, American Roman Catholic prelate". Bartleby. Archived from the original on 2005-03-14. Retrieved 2007-08-17.
  6. ^ "Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis (Mn.). Collection". University of Notre Dame Archives. Retrieved 2007-08-23.
  7. ^ Empson, The Streets Where You Live, 144
  8. ^ "Ireland, John", in Webster's American Biographies (1979), Springfield, MA: Merriam.
  9. ^ Johnston, Minnesota's Irish, 80
  10. ^ "United States". The Times (36594). London. 24 October 1901. p. 3.
  11. ^ Mail and Express, New York, Friday evening, January 11, 1895; Hill was charged by Knoedler's $92 for the frame in March 1895 (Receipt 560) (James J. Hill Library, St. Paul)
  12. ^ Hagg, Harold T. "Saint Paul". In Whitney, David C. (ed.). The World Book Encyclopedia. S (1963 ed.). Chicago: Field Enterprises Educational Corporation. pp. 47–48. Library of Congress Catalog Number 63-7006. Archbishop John Ireland was a leading civic and religious leader in this largely Roman Catholic community in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He established settlers on thousands of acres in the archdiocese. The land was acquired by purchase and federal grant.
  13. ^ JoEllen McNergney Vinyard (1998). For Faith and Fortune: The Education of Catholic Immigrants in Detroit, 1805-1925. University of Illinois Press. p. 93. ISBN 9780252067075.
  14. ^ Butsch, Joseph (October 1917). "Catholics and the Negro". The Journal of Negro History. Lancaster, PA; Washington, DC: The Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. 2 (4): 393–410. doi:10.2307/2713397. JSTOR 2713397. S2CID 150180941. Retrieved 2018-01-29.
  15. ^ Hogan, Liam (2015-06-04). "Bishop John Ireland on Racism (1890)". Retrieved 2018-01-29 – via (Sermon full text.)
  16. ^ Storck, Thomas (Spring 1993). "Catholic Colony-Making in 19th Century America". Caelum Et Terra. Retrieved 2007-08-27.
  17. ^ "The Irish (in countries other than Ireland)". The Catholic Encyclopedia. Volume VIII. Robert Appleton Company. 1910. |volume= has extra text (help)
  18. ^ List of Sweetman family papers at the National Library of Ireland, compiled 2010
  19. ^ Shannon, JP "Bishop Ireland's Connemara Experiment"; Minnesota Historical Society Press, Vol.35, 1957
  20. ^ Note on the site, 2011
  21. ^ Regan, Irish in Minnesota, 19-20.
  22. ^ Miller, Chandra. "‘Tumbling Into the Fight’ Charlotte Grace O’Brien (1845-1909); The Emigrant’s Advocate", History Ireland, Vol. 4, Issue 4 (Winter 1996)
  23. ^ (May 16, 1892), The "Faribault" System", The New York Times
  24. ^ (May 11, 1892), Archbishop Ireland's Plans upheld by the Vatican, The New York Times
  25. ^ Grigassy, Daniel P. (April 2004). "The Eastern Catholic Churches in America". Contemporary Review. pp. 5 and 6. Archived from the original on 2012-07-08.
  26. ^ "Greek Catholic Union". Epiphany Byzantine Catholic Church. Archived from the original on 2007-09-11. Retrieved 2007-08-22.
  27. ^ Faulk, Edward (2007). 101 Questions & Answers on Eastern Catholic Churches. New York: Paulist Press, p.87. ISBN 978-0-8091-4441-9.
  28. ^ "Orthodox Christians in North America 1794 - 1994". Orthodox Christian Publications Center. Retrieved 2007-08-22.
  29. ^ O'Connell (1988), p. 271
  30. ^ a b Broe, Emily (2002-11-15). "The Heritage of CUA". The Catholic University of America. p. 1. Archived from the original on 2007-07-19. Retrieved 2007-08-19.
  31. ^ a b Empson, The Streets Where You Live, 143
  32. ^ "DeLaSalle ~ A Brief History". DeLaSalle High School. Archived from the original on 2007-10-15. Retrieved 2007-09-12.
  33. ^ "History". Cathedral of Saint Paul. 2012. Retrieved 2018-01-31.
  34. ^ "The decision makers". Parish History. The Basilica of Saint Mary. 2018. Retrieved 2018-01-31.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Thomas Grace
Bishop of St. Paul
Succeeded by
See below
Preceded by
New archiepiscopate
Archbishop of St. Paul
Succeeded by
Austin Dowling