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John Joseph Hughes

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John Joseph Hughes

The Most Reverend Dr.
John Joseph Hughes,
Archbishop of New York
See New York
Installed December 20, 1842
Term ended January 3, 1864
Predecessor John Dubois, S.S.
Successor John McCloskey
Other posts Coadjutor Bishop of the Diocese of New York and Titular Bishop of Basileopolis (1838–1842); Priest of the Diocese of Philadelphia (1826-1838)
Ordination October 15, 1826
by Henry Conwell
Consecration January 7, 1838
by John Dubois, S.S.
Personal details
Born (1797-06-24)June 24, 1797
Annaloghan, County Tyrone, Kingdom of Ireland
Died January 3, 1864(1864-01-03) (aged 66)
New York, New York, United States
Nationality Irish
Denomination Roman Catholic Church
Parents Patrick Hughes & Margaret McKenna
Alma mater Mount St. Mary's Seminary

John Joseph Hughes (June 24, 1797–January 3, 1864) was an Irish-born prelate of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States. He was the fourth Bishop and first Archbishop of the Archdiocese of New York, serving between 1842 and his death in 1864.[1]

A native of Ireland, Hughes was born and raised in the south of County Tyrone. He emigrated to the United States in 1817, and became a priest in 1826 and a bishop in 1838. A figure of national prominence, he exercised great moral and social influence, and presided over a period of explosive growth for Catholicism in New York. He was regarded as "the best known, if not exactly the best loved, Catholic bishop in the country."[2] He became known as "Dagger John", both for his following the Catholic practice wherein a bishop precedes his signature with a cross, as well as for his aggressive personality.[3]


Early life

Hughes was born in the hamlet of Annaloghan, near Aughnacloy, in County Tyrone, part of the Province of Ulster in the north of Ireland. He was the third of seven children of Patrick and Margaret (née McKenna) Hughes.[4] In reference to the anti-Catholic penal laws of Ireland, he later observed that, prior to his baptism, he had lived the first five days of his life on terms of "social and civil equality with the most favored subjects of the British Empire."[2] He and his family suffered religious persecution in their native land; his late sister was denied a Catholic burial conducted by a priest, and Hughes himself was nearly attacked by a group of Orangemen when he was about fifteen.[4] He was sent with his elder brothers to a day school in the nearby village of Augher, and afterwards attended a grammar school in Aughnacloy.[5]

Patrick Hughes, a poor but respectable tenant farmer, was forced to withdraw John from school and sent him to work one of his farms.[5] However, being disinclined to farm life, he was placed as an apprentice to Roger Toland, the gardener at Favour Royal Manor, to study horticulture. His family emigrated to the United States in 1816 and settled in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. Hughes joined them there the following year.[6] He made several unsuccessful applications to Mount St. Mary's College in Emmitsburg, Maryland, where he was eventually hired by its Rector, the Abbé John Dubois, S.S., as a gardener.[4] During this time he befriended Mother Elizabeth Ann Seton, who was favorably impressed by Hughes and persuaded Dubois to reconsider his admission.[3] Hughes was subsequently admitted as a regular student of Mount St. Mary's in September 1820.[2] In addition to his studies, he continued to supervise the garden, and served as a tutor in Latin and mathematics, as well as prefect over the other students.[5]


As a

Hughes' first assignment was as a curate at St. Augustine's Church in Philadelphia, where he assisted its pastor, the Rev. Father Michael Hurley, O.E.S.A., in hearing confessions, preaching sermons, and other duties in the parish.[5] Later that year he was sent to serve as a missionary in Bedford, where he secured the conversions of several Protestants.[4] In January 1827, he was recalled to Philadelphia and named pastor of St. Joseph's Church.[5] He laboured afterwards at St. Mary's Church, whose trustees were in open revolt against the bishop, and were subdued by Hughes only when he built St. John the Evangelist Church in 1832, then considered one of the finest in the country. Previous to this, in 1829, he founded St. John's Orphan Asylum.

About this time Hughes became engaged in a public controversy over Catholic beliefs with the Rev. John A. Brekenridge, a distinguished Presbyterian clergyman, with the result that Hughes's abilities attracted attention. His name was mentioned for the vacant see of Cincinnati and as a coadjutor for Philadelphia.


Coadjutor bishop

Hughes was chosen by Pope Gregory XVI as the coadjutor bishop of the Diocese of New York on August 7, 1837. He was consecrated bishop at St. Patrick's Old Cathedral on January 7, 1838 with the title of the titular see of Basileopolis, by the Bishop of New York, John Dubois, S.S., his former Rector.[1]


One challenge Hughes took on upon arriving in New York was the dispute between the trustees of various parishes in the city, who held the control of these institutions. Known as trusteeism, the bishop challenged both the practicality and the legitimacy of this practice. Hughes drew upon his experience with this situation in Philadelphia and was able to get a referendum passed by the Catholics of the city in 1841 supporting the authority of the bishop.[6]


Hughes also campaigned actively on behalf of Irish immigrants, and attempted to secure state support for parochial schools. He protested against the standard use of the King James Bible in public schools by the Public School Society, a private organization which operated the schools of New York City. He claimed that it was an attack on Catholic constitutional rights of double taxation, because Catholics would need to pay taxes for public school and also pay for the private school to send their children, to avoid having their children indoctrinated with the Protestant translation of the Bible. When he failed to secure state support, he founded an independent Catholic school system which became an integral part of the Catholic Church's structure at the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore (1884), which mandated that all parishes have a school and that all Catholic children be sent to those schools.

Bishop of New York

Hughes was appointed as the Apostolic Administrator of the diocese the following year, due to Dubois' failing health, and succeeded him upon his death on December 20, 1842. He took over a diocese which covered the entire State of New York and northern New Jersey, having about 40 clergy to serve a Catholic population estimated to be about 200,000 at the time.[6]

Influenced by the reactionary stance of that pope, Hughes was a staunch opponent of Abolitionism and the Free Soil movement, whose proponents often expressed anti-Catholic attitudes. Hughes founded the Ultramontane newspaper the New York Freeman to express his ideas.[6] In 1850 he delivered an address entitled "The Decline of Protestantism and Its Causes," in which he announced as the ambition of Roman Catholicism "to convert all Pagan nations, and all Protestant nations . . . Our mission [is] to convert the world—including the inhabitants of the United States—the people of the cities, and the people of the country . . . the Legislatures, the Senate, the Cabinet, the President, and all!"[7]


Hughes became an archbishop on July 19, 1850, when the diocese was elevated to the status of archdiocese by Pope Pius IX.[1] As archbishop, Hughes led the Catholic bishops who served the entire Northeastern United States. He convened the first meeting of the Ecclesiastical Province of New York in September 1854. After this he traveled to Rome, where he was present at the proclamation of the Immaculate Conception as a dogma of the Catholic Church by Pope Pius.[6]


Hughes served as archbishop until his death. He was originally buried in old St. Patrick's Cathedral, but his remains were exhumed in 1882 and reinterred in the crypt under the altar of the new cathedral he had begun.[6]


In New York, Hughes founded St. John's College (now Fordham University) and, under his administration, invited in various religious congregations, among them the Society of Jesus, to whom he entrusted the care of his college, and which established Fordham Prep, the Brothers of the Christian Schools who founded Manhattan College and established as an autonomous congregation the Sisters of Charity of New York, who founded the Academy of Mount St. Vincent (now College of Mount Saint Vincent).

To the dismay of the people of the city, Hughes foresaw the expansion of the city and began construction of the current St. Patrick's Cathedral, laying its cornerstone on August 15, 1858. It was not completed until after his death. At the time, due to its remote location in a still-rural location, the new cathedral was initially dubbed "Hughes' Folly" for many years.[4] Ultimately, Hughes' foresight proved providential, as the rapid urban growth uptown would soon place the new cathedral in the emerging urban center of midtown Manhattan.


Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
John Dubois, S.S.
Archbishop of New York
December 20, 1842–January 3, 1864
Succeeded by
John McCloskey

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