William Henry Elder
William Henry Elder
|Archbishop of Cincinnati|
Portrait of Archbishop William Henry Elder by Thomas Eakins, 1903
|See||Archdiocese of Cincinnati|
|Predecessor||John Baptist Purcell|
|Successor||Henry K. Moeller|
|Ordination||March 29, 1846|
|Born||March 22, 1819|
|Died||October 31, 1904 (aged 85)|
|Previous post||Bishop of Natchez (1857–1880)|
Early life and education
William Henry Elder was born in Baltimore, Maryland, on March 22, 1819. His father, Basil Elder, was a descendant of William Elder (1681–1714), a Catholic immigrant from England to Maryland (United States) in colonial times. His grandfather was Thomas Elder, husband of Elizabeth Spalding, thus making William a first cousin once removed of Catherine Spalding, co-founder of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth. His mother was Elisabeth Miles (née Snowden) Elder.
In 1831 Elder entered Mt. St. Mary's College, in Emmitsburg, Maryland, then presided over by the Rev. John Baptist Purcell who afterward became the second bishop, and later the first Archbishop of Cincinnati. Elder graduated in 1837 and entered the seminary. In 1842 he was sent to Urban College in Rome for further studies, where he received the degree of Doctor of Divinity.
Ordination and Bishop of Natchez
Elder was ordained a priest in Rome, March 29, 1846. He became professor at the seminary at Emmitsburg, Maryland, a position he held until appointed to succeed James Oliver Van de Velde as Roman Catholic Bishop of Natchez. He was consecrated in the cathedral of Baltimore by Archbishop Francis Kenrick, on May 3, 1857. The diocese was comprised the entire state of Mississippi. Elder proved to be a talented organizer and administrator
On the eve of the Civil War, Bishop Elder wrote to his father:
“It is hard to tell what is to be the fate of the country. I have not enough of political sagacity to see what will be the course of events, nor what would be the fruit of the remedies proposed. . . . We can all unite in praying to God to guide and protect us.”
Elder celebrated Mass for the wounded and ministered to soldiers and freedmen gathered in Natchez. He sent priests to serve as chaplains in the Confederate Army and Sisters of Mercy to nurse the sick and wounded, and he gave his blessing to a Natchez volunteer company.
During the Union occupation of Natchez, Elder caused some controversy for refusing to obey an order to have prayers for the President of the United States recited publicly in the churches of his diocese. On June 18, 1864, Colonel B.G. Farrar, commander at Natchez, and former schoolmate of Elder's at Mt. St. Mary's, issued an order requiring the clergy to include prayers for the President of the United States in their services, as a "public recognition of allegiance under which they live, and to which they are indebted for protection..." Elder responded with a lengthy letter of protest in which he explained that his declining to submit had no political significance, but the "Liberty of the Church to discharge her divine functions, without interference form other persons."  Brigadier General James Madison Tuttle issued an order for inforcement, which was stayed at Elder's request, pending input from the War Department. Elder wrote to President Abraham Lincoln explaining that his refusal was based on the authority of the church to regulate church services. Senator Francis Kernan responded, saying he had met with Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton and Stanton indicated that he would communicate to Tuttle to remedy the situation so there would be no further interference. Elder subsequently wrote thanking Stanton for the protection extended to religious freedom, and asking that the ruling be made known to other commanders.
Later, Colonel Farrar was placed in command of Natchez; he noted Tuttle's order had neither been rescinded nor was being obeyed. General Mason Brayman, the next commander, took a harder stance, saying "...military orders are to be followed, not discussed..." and issued an order for Elder to be sent to jail in Vidalia, Louisiana. Federal troops took Elder to Vidalia for a few weeks. After Washington officials intervened, Brayman ordered the release of Elder on 12 August 1864.
During his time in Natchez, a yellow fever epidemic broke out in 1878. Ministering to the sick, Elder caught the disease. He survived but lost six diocesan priests. At the time he arrived in Natchez the diocese had eleven missions (churches), nine priests and 10,000 Catholics. When he left, there were forty-one churches, 25 priests, six religious houses for men, five convents, thirteen parish schools and 12,500 Catholics.
Archbishop of Cincinnati
On January 30, 1880, he was transferred to Cincinnati, becoming coadjutor bishop with the right of succession to Archbishop Purcell, whom he succeeded July 4, 1883. Archbishop Elder was third bishop and second archbishop of Cincinnati. He became bishop at a time of great financial difficulty in the archdiocese. Elder systematically organized the administration of the diocese. He reopened Mount Saint Mary Seminary in 1887, which had been closed since 1879.
He instituted the office of chancellor of the diocese and insisted on annual reports from clergy and parishes in order to bring the diocese out of great debt.
Legacy and honors
- Deasy, Timothy. "William Henry Elder." The Catholic Encyclopedia Vol. 5. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909. 23 January 2019
- "Bishop William Henry Elder", Roman Catholic Diocese of Jackson
- Vaughn, William. "William Henry Elder", Mississippi Encyclopedia, Center for Study of Southern Culture, April 14, 2018
- McPherson, Edward. The Political History of the United States of America During the Great Rebellion, Philp & Solomons, 1865, Appendix p. 538
- Character Glimpses of Most Reverend William Henry Elder, D.D., published by Frederick Pustet & Company, New York and Cincinnati, 1911
- Fortin, Roger Antonio. Faith and Action: A History of the Catholic Archdiocese of Cincinnati, 1821-1996, Ohio State University Press, 2002, p. 171ISBN 9780814209042
|Wikisource has original works written by or about:|
William Henry Elder
- Biography of William Henry Elder
- St. Mary Basilica Archives, Natchez, Mississippi
- "William Henry Elder". Find a Grave. Retrieved 2009-05-08.
- Civil War diary (1862-1865) of Bishop William Henry Elder, Bishop of Natchez
|Catholic Church titles|
James Oliver Van de Velde
| Bishop of Natchez
John Baptist Purcell
| Archbishop of Cincinnati
Henry K. Moeller