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John Ireland (archbishop of Saint Paul)

Archbishop John Ireland

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 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 Greek Catholics.


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.[1] One year later Joseph Crétin, first bishop of Saint Paul, sent Ireland to the preparatory seminary of Meximieux in France.[1] 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 he resigned.[1]

He was appointed pastor at Saint Paul's cathedral in 1867, a position which he held until to 1875.[3] 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.[4] Ireland retained this title for 30 years until his death in 1918.[2] Before Ireland died he burned all of his personal papers.[5]

John Ireland was personal friends with both 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.[3] Ireland's funeral was attended by eight archbishops, thirty bishops, twelve monsignors, seven hundred priests and two hundred seminarians.[6]

He was awarded an honorary doctorate (LL.D.) by Yale University in October 1901, during celebrations for the bicentenary of the university.[7]


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.[8] He worked closely with non-Catholics and was recognized by them as a leader of the modernizing Catholics.[9]


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.[10] Ireland helped establish many Irish Catholic colonies in Minnesota.[11] 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] Ireland worked 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.[12]

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 Roman Catholicism disapproves of 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.[13][14]

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.[15]


File:Bishop John Ireland of Minnesota as a young man.jpg
SPSSOD Metro cross

Saint Paul Seminary's Metropolitan Cross

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.[16] This plan, the Faribault-Stillwater Plan, or Poughkeepsie plan, created enough controversy that Ireland was forced to travel to the Vatican City to successfully defend it.[17] 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 was the author of The Church and Modern Society (1897).

Relations with the Greek-CatholicsEdit

In 1891, Ireland refused to accept the credentials of Greek-Catholic priest Alexis Toth, citing the decree that married priests of the Eastern Catholic Churches were not permitted to function in the Catholic Church in the United States,[18] despite Toth being a widower. Ireland then forbade Toth to minister to his own parishioners,[19] despite the fact that Toth had jurisdiction from his own Bishop, and did not depend on Ireland. Ireland was also involved in efforts to expel all Eastern Catholic clergy from the United States of America.[20] Forced into an impasse, Toth went on to lead thousands of Greek-Catholics away from the Catholic Church to join the Russian Orthodox Church.[21] 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 [ Greek Catholics ] showed him at his bull-headed worst."[22]



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.[23] 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..[23] 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.[24] 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.[25]

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.[26] 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 was 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.[27]

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.[24]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 "Ireland, John" New Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 7. 2nd ed. Detroit: Gale, 2003. 549-552. 15 vols. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Thomson Gale.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 M. Cheney, David (2006-10-26). "Archbishop John Ireland". Retrieved 2007-08-17. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 "Ireland, John, American Roman Catholic prelate". Bartleby. Retrieved 2007-08-17. 
  4. "Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis (Mn.). Collection". University of Notre Dame Archives. Retrieved 2007-08-23. 
  5. Empson, The Streets Where You Live, 144
  6. Johnston, Minnesota's Irish, 80
  7. "Error: no |title= specified when using {{Cite web}}". 24 October 1901. 
  8. Hagg, Harold T.. "Saint Paul". In Whitney, David C.. 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." 
  9. JoEllen McNergney Vinyard (1998). For Faith and Fortune: The Education of Catholic Immigrants in Detroit, 1805-1925. University of Illinois Press. p. 93. 
  10. Storck, Thomas (Spring 1993). "Catholic Colony-Making in 19th Century America". Caelum Et Terra. Retrieved 2007-08-27. 
  11. "The Irish (in countries other than Ireland)". The Catholic Encyclopedia. Volume VIII. Robert Appleton Company. 1910. 
  12. List of Sweetman family papers at the National Library of Ireland, compiled 2010
  13. Shannon, JP "Bishop Ireland's Connemara Experiment"; Minnesota Historical Society Press, Vol.35, 1957
  14. Note on the site, 2011
  15. Regan, Irish in Minnesota, 19-20.
  16. (May 16, 1892), The "Faribault" System", The New York Times
  17. (May 11, 1892), Archbishop Ireland's Plans upheld by the Vatican, The New York Times
  18. Grigassy, Daniel P. (April, 2004). "The Eastern Catholic Churches in America". pp. 5 and 6. Archived from the original on 2012-07-08. 
  19. "Greek Catholic Union". Epiphany Byzantine Catholic Church. Retrieved 2007-08-22. 
  20. Faulk, Edward (2007). 101 Questions & Answers on Eastern Catholic Churches. New York: Paulist Press, p.87. ISBN 978-0-8091-4441-9. 
  21. "Orthodox Christians in North America 1794 - 1994". Orthodox Christian Publications Center. Retrieved 2007-08-22. 
  22. O'Connell (1988), p. 271
  23. 23.0 23.1 Broe, Emily (2002-11-15). "A Catholic University". Part of The Heritage of CUA. The Catholic University. Retrieved 2007-08-19. 
  24. 24.0 24.1 Empson, The Streets Where You Live, 143
  25. "DeLaSalle ~ A Brief History". DeLaSalle High School. Archived from the original on 2007-10-15. Retrieved 2007-09-12. 
  26. "History". Cathedral of Saint Paul. Archived from the original on 2007-08-06. Retrieved 2007-09-12. 
  27. "1900s The Vision and Plan are Carried Forth". Part of History of The Basilica America's First Basilica. Basilica of Saint Mary. Retrieved 2007-09-12. 

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit

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

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