July 8 – Archbishops of Baltimore and St. Louis

July 7, 2022

Francis Patrick and Peter Richard Kenrick

Archbishops respectively of Baltimore, Maryland, and of St. Louis, Missouri. They were sons of Thomas Kenrick and his wife Jane, and were born in the older part of the city of Dublin, Ireland, the first-named on 3 December, 1797, and the second on 17 August, 1806. An uncle, Father Richard Kenrick was for several years parish priest of St. Nicholas of Myra in the same city, and he cultivated carefully the quality of piety which he observed at an early age in both children.


Cardinal Francis Patrick Kenrick

Francis Patrick was sent by his uncle to a good classical school, and at the age of eighteen was selected as one of those who were to go to Rome to study for the priesthood. Here he became deeply impressed with the gentle bearing of Pius VII, who had just then been restored to his capital after long imprisonment by Napoleon Bonaparte, and the lesson it taught him bore fruit many years afterwards when he was called on to deal with the onslaughts on Catholics and their Church in the United States in the years of the Nativist and Know-nothing uprisings. His progress in his clerical studies was rapid, his sanctity conspicuous — so much so as to mark him out for early distinction. He confined himself to the study of his class-books, lectures, and the study of the Scriptures, and worked out in his own mind not a few weighty problems. He soon acquired a familiarity with the patristic writings and the Sacred Text that enabled him later on to give the Church in the United States valuable treatises on theological and Biblical literature. He consulted no translations, but took the Hebrew text or the Greek, and pondered on its significance in the light of his own reason and erudition. The rector of Propaganda College Cardinal Litta, had no hesitation in selecting him despite his youth, when a call came from Bishop Flaget for priests for the American field. He was chosen for the chair of theology at Bardstown Seminary, Kentucky. This post he held for nine years at the same time teaching Greek and history in the College of St. Joseph in the same state, and giving in addition professorial help in every educational institution in the state. He also did much valuable work in the missionary field, and engaged in controversy in the public press with some aggressive polemists of the Episcopal and Presbyterian communions. He made many converts at that time, and in 1826-7 had fifty to his credit, as well as a record of twelve hundred confirmations and six thousand communicants. His fame as a preacher was widespread, and his manner most winning.

In 1829 he attended the Provincial Council of Baltimore as theologian to Bishop Flaget, and was appointed secretary to the assembly. There, among the other weighty subjects, had to be considered the distracted state of the Diocese of Philadelphia, then labouring under the troubles begotten of the Hogan schism. Hogan was an excommunicated priest, who persisted in celebrating Mass and administering the sacraments despite the interdict, and had a considerable following in the city. Bishop Conwell had by this time become enfeebled and nearly blind, and Rev. William Matthews of Washington had been appointed vicar-general to assist him. Before the council rose it had named Father Kenrick as coadjutor bishop and forwarded the nomination to the Holy See. It was soon confirmed, Doctor Kenrick’s title being Bishop of Arath in partibus. He was consecrated in Bardstown by Bishop Flaget, assisted by Bishops England, Conwell, David, and Fenwick, on 6 June 1830, being then only thirty-four years old. A quarrel with the trustees of St. Mary’s broke out immediately on his arrival, resulting in an interdict being placed upon the church by the new bishop. This brought the trustees to their senses, and they gave up the contest for the control of the funds — the power by means of which they had been to browbeat the preceding ordinaries. Bishop Kenrick soon obtained the passage of a law to prevent the recurrence of such conflicts, by having the bishop’s name substituted for those of the trustees in all bequests for the Church. His first thought, after this trouble was over, was the erection of a seminary for the training of young men for the priesthood, the humble quarters in which he began the experiment eventually being succeeded by the present seminary of St. Charles Borromeo at Overbrook.

A terrible outbreak of cholera took place in Philadelphia soon after the bishop’s arrival, and he gained the gratitude of the authorities and the people at large for his exertions in the mitigation of the pest. He sent the Sisters of Charity to attend the stricken, and gave the parochial residence of St. Augustine’s as a temporary hospital; the local priests, at the same time, went about fearlessly among the stricken, ministering to their spiritual comforts. For these services he was voted public thanks by the mayor and councils of the city. To the Sisters of Charity was tendered a service of plate by the grateful authorities, but this offer was promptly and politely declined by those ladies. Soon after this episode Bishop Kenrick set about the utilization of the press for the spread of Catholic doctrine. He started the “Catholic Herald” placing the paper under the direction of the Reverend John Hughes, afterwards Archbishop of New York. He also began the erection of the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist to replace St. Mary’s, which had been so fruitful a source of trouble to him and his predecessor. Graver trouble soon started up in the form of the anti-Catholic Nativist outbreak of 1844. Furious mobs, maddened by inflammatory harangues about the Bible and the public schools, started out in Philadelphia, as in Boston and other cities, to attack churches and convents. They burned St. Augustine’s in Philadelphia and and attacked St. Michael’s and St. John’s, but were driven off by the military. They burned many houses in Kensington, the Catholic district, and killed many unoffending people, but were dispersed at Iength by the soldiery, leaving several of their number dead.

Engraving of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, Overbrook, Pennsylvania.

Bishop Kenrick, during this reign of terror, did everything he could to stem the rioting. He ordered the doors of all the churches to be closed and cessation of Divine worship as a protest against the supineness of the authorities, the clergy went about in ordinary civil attire, and the sacred vessels and vestments were taken from the churches to places of security with private families. These prudent measures had the effect of restoring a state of peace to the city. The Diocese of Philadelphia had earlier included Pittsburg in a large part of New Jersey, and in 1843 it was divided, the Rev. Michael O’Connor being consecrated Bishop of Pittsburg in August of that year by Cardinal Fransoni at St. Agatha’s in Rome. This step proved a great relief to Bishop Kenrick, upon whom the care of his vast diocese and its arduous visitations at a period of primitive crudeness in travelling and accommodation, were beginning to leave a deep mark. In 1845 he visited Rome for the first time since his consecration and was received most graciously by the pope.

In August, 1851, Bishop Kenrick was transferred to Baltimore as successor to Archbishop Eccleston, who had just died. Moreover he received from the Holy See the dignity of Apostolic delegate, and in this capacity he convened and presided over the First Plenary Council of Baltimore in 1852. One of the results of that important gathering was the establishment of branches of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith. It was Archbishop Kenrick also who in 1853 introduced the Forty Hours’ devotion into the United States. In 1854 he was called upon by the Holy Father to collect and forward to him the respective opinions of the American bishops on the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. The latter part of the same year found him back in Rome as a participant in the ceremonies attendant on the proclamation of that dogma.

A fresh outbreak of anti-Catholic fury took place soon after the archbishop’s return, occasioned by the arrival of Monsignor Bedini as papal nuncio, and the inflammatory and Iying speeches of the ex-priest Alessandro Gavazzi, on the nuncio’s action while in Bologna during the rising against Austria. Many churches and convents were burned as in the previous outbreak, and many lives were lost in New England and Kentucky, in Cincinnati and other cities. But no religious disturbances occurred in Maryland to perturb the archhishop’s closing years. The Civil War, however, soon came to rend his heart, and he died on the morning after the battle of Gettysburg (8 July, 1863), his end being hastened, it was believed, by rumours of the terrible slaughter that went on not far from his residence. When Bishop Kenrick went to Philadelphia in 1830 there were only four churches in the city and one in the suburbs, and ten priests, when he left at in 1857, the diocese contained 94 churches and many religious institutions, and was the home of 101 priests and 46 seminarians, besides numerous religious orders. The chief literary works of Archbishop Kenrick were a new translation of the Bible, with a commentary; a “Moral and Dogmatic Theology”; a “Commentary on the Book of Job”, “The Primacy of Peter”, and letters to the Protestant bishops of the United States on Christian unity.


Peter Richard had to work closely in the scriveners office of his father after the latter’s death in order to help to maintain his mother and himself, as well as carry on the business, but was enabled by his own industry and his uncle’s help to enter Maynooth College at the age of twenty-one. Previous to his entry he had been tolerably well trained in Latin and other essentials by Father Richard, while his taste for secular literature had been acquired through associations with the unfortunate poet and littérateur, James Clarance Mangan, who had for several years worked beside him as a clerk at the scrivener’s desk. After five years’ assiduous study he was ordained to the priesthood by Archbishop Murray of Dublin, and, on the death of his mother, after a few months of local missionary work, left for the United States on the invitation of his brother and took up work with him in Philadelphia. He was given the post of president of the seminary as well as that of rector of the cathedral and vicar-general of the diocese. This was in the latter part of 1833. During his seven years of missionary work with his brother he produced several works which built up his fame as a theologian, as “Validity of Anglican Ordinations examined” (Philadelphia, 1841), “New Month of Mary”, and “History of the Holy House of Loretto” in 1840 he left for Rome, with the idea of entering the Jesuit Order, but was dissuaded from carrying out his intention by the superior in Rome. Bishop Rosati met the young priest there, and requested the Holy See to give him to the See of St. Louis as his coadjutor, so pleased was he with his character and qualities. The Holy See assented, and both returned from Rome to have the ceremony of consecration performed in the United States. This was done in Philadelphia, Bishop Rosati officiating and the new prelate’s brother and Bishop Lefevre of Detroit assisting, while Bishop England delivered the consecration.

Archbishop Peter Richard Kenrick

The new bishop was given the title of Drasa, and had the right of succession in St. Louis. Bishop Rosati died a short time afterwards on a special mission in Haiti, and the care of the diocese devolved upon his young coadjutor at a much earlier period than either could have anticipated. It was no sinecure, for the financial affairs of the Church in St. Louis were in a deplorable condition. There was a very heavy debt on the cathedral, and he found the Catholics of the diocese by no means anxious to remove it. The bishop then saw that he must either resign or get other means of raising funds, and he took the bold course of getting into the real-estate business. He was most successful. A local gentleman named Thornton made a bequest of 300,000 dollars to the Church, others deposited their money with the bishop; he made fortunate investments in real estate; and, when values generally declined on the outbreak of the Civil War, he paid all his depositors in gold. The St. Louis diocese was enormous in extent at that time, as it embraced the whole of the States of Missouri and Arkansas, and half of Illinois, the task of visitation was one of immense toil, but the new bishop did not shrink from it. He had for helper and companion Rev. Thomas Cusack, with whom he had often to ride hundreds of miles on horseback, and sleep at night time in a log cabin or boarded hut. The paucity of churches in the diocese he also found a great drawback, the lack of clergy was another. He soon obtained much help from the Lazarists and Jesuits, as well as from the German population. The Visitation nuns and Sisters of St. Joseph, as well as the Sisters of Charity driven out by fire and flood from other places, came to St. Louis, and soon matters began to look brighter for the bishop. By a brief from Pope Pius IX, the dignity of archhishop was bestowed upon him; and at the Seventh Provincial Council of Baltimore a petition to have five suffragan bishops appointed — namely for St. Paul, Dubuque, Nashville, Chicago, and Milwaukee — was adopted, and was granted by the Holy See. After consecrating many bishops and ordaining many priests, the archbishop went to Baltimore to attend the First Plenary Council, and made a profound impression on the assembly by his logical keenness and his great erudition.

First Vatican Council

The Civil War found him a resolute defender of the Church’s position, when the “Drake Constitution” which proposed a test oath for all ministers of religion, was passed in Missouri. He sent out an order that all his clergy must refuse to take the oath, as its terms were insulting. Some of the clergy were sent to prison for doing so, but the archbishop took their cases from court to court and ultimately succeeded in having the Drake Law declared unconstitutional. At the Vatican Council of December, 1869, he was one of the prelates who were opposed to the definition of the dogma of Papal Infallibility, and voted “non placet” at the preliminary private sitting. He did not attend the session at which the dogma was promulgated, but publicly submitted to the voice of the majority as the authority of the Church, when he learned of the proclamation. For coadjutor bishops he had firstly the Right Reverend P.J. Ryan, and secondly the Right Reverend John J. Kain, who on his death succeeded him. The archbishop’s golden jubilee was celebrated with great distinction in 1891, but he was then in very feeble health. He died on 3 March two years afterwards. His best known work, besides “Anglican Ordinations,” is the “Month of Mary” (Philadelphia, 1843). The growth of the St. Louis province under his rule was described by Archbishop Hennessy at the jubilee celebration in 1891 as “stupendous”. During his episcopate sixteen new Sees were carved out of the original Diocese of St. Louis, viz. Little Rock (1843), Santa Fe and St. Paul (1850); Leavenworth (1851); Alton and Omaha (1857); Green Bay, La Crosse, St. Joseph, and Denver (1868); Kansas City (1880) Davenport (1881) Wichita, Cheyenne, Concordia, and Lincoln (1887).

Kenrick, MS. Diary and Itinerary in Philadelphia Archives and Correspondence in Archives of Baltimore and St. Louis; CLARKE, Lives of Deceased Prelates (New York, 1872); SHEA, Catholic Church in the United States (New York, 1892); O’CONNER, Archbishop Kenrick and His Work (Philadelphia, 1867); SPALDLING, Sketches (Baltimore, 1800); WEBB, Centenary of Catholicism in Kentucky (Louisville, 1884); WALSH, Jubilee Memoir (St. Louis, 1891); VALETTE, Catholicity in Eastern Pennsylvania in Catholic Record (Philadelphia, 1800).

John J. O’Shea (Catholic Encyclopedia)


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