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John Wright (cardinal)

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John Joseph Wright
Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy
SeePittsburgh (emeritus)
InstalledApril 23, 1969
Term endedAugust 10, 1979
PredecessorJean-Marie Villot
SuccessorSilvio Oddi
Other post(s)Bishop of Pittsburgh
(1959 to 1969)
Bishop of Worcester
(1950 to 1959)
OrdinationDecember 8, 1935
ConsecrationMay 10, 1947
Created cardinalApril 28, 1969
Personal details
Born(1909-07-18)July 18, 1909
DiedAugust 10, 1979(1979-08-10) (aged 70)
Cambridge, Massachusetts, US
MottoResonare Christum
(Echoing Christ)
Styles of
John Joseph Wright
Reference styleHis Eminence
Spoken styleYour Eminence
Informal styleCardinal
SeePittsburgh (emeritus)

John Joseph Wright (July 18, 1909 – August 10, 1979) was an American cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church. He served as Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy from 1969 until his death, and was elevated to the cardinalate in 1969.


Early life and ordination[edit]

John Joseph Wright was born in Dorchester, Massachusetts, to John and Harriet (née Cokely) Wright. While attending Boston Latin School, he worked at the Hyde Park branch of the Boston Public Library as stack boy in the evenings and summers. He also financed his studies by working for The Boston Post.[1]

Wright graduated from Boston College in 1931, and then entered St. John's Seminary in Brighton. At the end of his first year at St. John's, he was sent to Rome to study at the Pontifical North American College and the Pontifical Gregorian University. He was ordained to the priesthood by Francesco Cardinal Marchetti Selvaggiani on December 8, 1935, in the chapel of the North American College.

As a child he listened to World War I soldiers talking about France and became fascinated with the country. He took unpaid parish work in Scotland, England and France, where he took a parish in the Dordogne and learned the folk songs and poetry.[2]


After his ordination he did graduate work at the Gregorian, earning his Licentiate of Sacred Theology in 1936 and his Doctorate of Sacred Theology in 1939. Wright taught philosophy and theology at his alma mater of St. John's Seminary until 1943,[1] when he was appointed private secretary to the Cardinal William Henry O'Connell of Boston. Wright continued in this position under O'Connell's successor, future Cardinal Richard Cushing, and was raised to the rank of Monsignor on December 17, 1944.

Auxiliary bishop of Boston and Bishop of Worcester[edit]

On May 10, 1947, he was appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Boston and Titular Bishop of Aegeae. Wright received his episcopal consecration on the following June 30 from Archbishop Cushing, with Bishops Ralph Hayes and James Connelly serving as co-consecrators, in the Cathedral of the Holy Cross.

During the National Pilgrimage to Lourdes and Rome, Wright was awarded the Legion of Honour by French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman.[3][4]

Wright was later named the first Bishop of Worcester on January 28, 1950. In this position, he criticized both Utopians and doom-sayers, and said that an exemplary Christian "[recognizes] the vast errors of which human nature is capable... but [knows] that grace is stronger than sin".[5] A member of the Mariological Society of America, he hosted at Worcester the group's 1950 convention[6]

Bishop of Pittsburgh[edit]

Wright became the eighth Bishop of Pittsburgh on January 23, 1959, and then attended the Second Vatican Council (1962–65), during which he was a decisive force behind several of its documents.[7] Following the Council's advancements in ecumenism, he believed that an "immediate unity in good works and charity" would arise between Catholics and Protestants.[8] In 1961, Wright opened the Bishop's Latin School as the pre-seminary high school of the diocese. It operated through 1973.[9]

Wright was also known to promote music and culture during his time in Pittsburgh, befriending the African-American Catholic composer Mary Lou Williams, commissioning her to perform a Jazz Mass at a local Catholic school, and helping her to establish the Pittsburgh Jazz Festival.[10]

Congregation for the Clergy[edit]

Pope Paul VI appointed Wright as the Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, and thus the highest-ranking American in the Roman Curia, on April 23, 1969.


He was created Cardinal Priest of Gesù Divin Maestro alla Pineta Sacchetti by Pope Paul in the consistory of April 28, 1969. Wright was one of the four cardinals who travelled to Auschwitz in 1972 for a memorial of Maximilian Kolbe; besides John Krol, he was the only other American cardinal to visit Poland.[11]

Wright did not participate in the August 1978 conclave because he was recovering from surgery,[12] but he was one of the cardinal electors in the conclave of the following October, which selected Pope John Paul II.


Wright died from polymyositis in Cambridge, Massachusetts, at age 70.[13] He is buried in Holyhood Cemetery in Brookline, Massachusetts.


He was an intellectual who was liberal on social issues, but conservative in theology.[13] He espoused civil rights and condemned the Vietnam War, but opposed ordination of women and birth control. He believed that annual Synods of Bishops would be useless and burdenful,[14] and that seven years was the appropriate age for children to receive the Sacrament of Penance, as it might be thus able to correct sinful behavior at an early age.[15] He also believed that Pope John Paul I would be "a witty Pontiff who delights in combining love of literature with love of the words of God."[16]


Pope John Paul II, five days after Wright's death, pointed to his life as "an existence which was spent totally for Christ and his Church," and that Wright was "always faithful to his motto: Resonare Christum corde Romano (Echo Christ with a Roman heart). That really sums up his whole life" as he had a "sensus Ecclesiae which was second nature to him."[17]

Archbishop Alberto Bovone, who worked as the undersecretary of Wright, wrote of the characteristic features of his personality: strong, exuberant joviality, who gave wise and humorous contributions during meetings; saw himself as the Pope's soldier, with a combatant's temperament; an ardent and indefatigable worker, who was reluctant to rest when involved in a project; generous towards his friends and co-workers, giving them gifts as tokens of affection; love for the faith that led him to correct theological errors of the media and to be upset at theologians who superimposed their opinion over sacred doctrine, while being indulgent towards persons who admitted their mistakes.[18]

In 1998, Wright's namesake was given to Cardinal Wright Elementary School, a Catholic elementary school formed through the merger of St. Aloysius School in Reserve Township, Most Holy Name of Jesus School in Troy Hill, and St. Peter School in the central North Side of Pittsburgh. The school was in existence until its closure in 2011, when it was merged with Northside Catholic School. [19]

The John Cardinal Wright Award is given to those in the Pittsburgh Catholic Diocese who have made a significant contribution in fulfilling the mission of the church through working with youth and young adults.


  1. ^ a b Vecsey, George. "John Cardinal Wright Dies at 70; Top‐Ranking American in Vatican", The New York Times, August 12, 1979
  2. ^ O'Grady, Desmond. "Cardinal John Wright, an American with a Roman Connection", National Catholic Reporter, Number 33, 4 August 1972
  3. ^ Callahan, William R. (August 21, 1948). "France to Give Abp. Cushing Legion of Honor Medal". The Boston Globe. p. 1, 3. Retrieved September 3, 2023.
  4. ^ Callahan, William R. (August 21, 1948). "Archbishop Cushing to Give Notre Dame Cathedral Sermon". The Boston Globe. p. 8. Retrieved September 3, 2023.
  5. ^ TIME Magazine. Substitute for Pollyanna September 28, 1953
  6. ^ Carol, Juniper B., "Memorial Tribute to Cardinal John J. Wright", Marian Studies, Vol. 31, Proceedings of the Thirty-First National Convention of the Mariological Society of America held in New York, NY (1980)[permanent dead link]
  7. ^ TIME Magazine. Princely Promotions April 4, 1969
  8. ^ TIME Magazine. How Vatican II Turned the Church Toward the World December 17, 1965
  9. ^ Bishop's Latin School History
  10. ^ Handy, D. Antoinette; Williams, Mary Lou (1980). "First Lady of the Jazz Keyboard". The Black Perspective in Music. 8 (2): 195–214. doi:10.2307/1214051. ISSN 0090-7790. JSTOR 1214051.
  11. ^ TIME Magazine. Pilgrim in Poland October 30, 1972
  12. ^ TIME Magazine. In Search of a Pope August 21, 1978
  13. ^ a b TIME Magazine. Milestones August 20, 1979
  14. ^ TIME Magazine. Reformists in Command October 31, 1969
  15. ^ TIME Magazine. When to Confess September 3, 1973
  16. ^ TIME Magazine. Compassionate Shepherd September 4, 1978
  17. ^ John Paul II (15 August 1979). "ANGELUS — Castel Gandolfo — Festa dell'Assunzione di Maria in cielo, 15 agosto 1979" (in Italian). Dicastero per la Comunicazione. Retrieved 26 May 2024.
  18. ^ Introduction to Words of Pain, a book of Cardinal Wright, Ignatius Press, 1986
  19. ^ "Northside Catholic School, About Us". Retrieved October 13, 2022.


  • Glenn, Francis A. (1993). Shepherds of the Faith 1843-1993: A Brief History of the Bishops of the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh: Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh. ISBN none.

External links[edit]

Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Bishop of Worcester
Succeeded by
Preceded by Bishop of Pittsburgh
Succeeded by
Preceded by Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy
Succeeded by