John Ireland (1838-1918), first archbishop of St. Paul, believed that the United States offered a new and tremendously favorable opportunity for Roman Catholics and their church. By vigorously and single-mindedly urging his fellow Catholic immigrants to take their place in the mainstream of American life, he played a major role in the growth of the American Catholic church.
Marvin R. O'Connell's masterful biography brings to life the experiences that shaped Ireland's views and describes the battles that marked his career. In smooth and flowing prose, with rich detail and enlightening analysis, O'Connell traces Ireland's life, from his boyhood to his years as a powerful player in Vatican politics and an advisor to American presidents.
Ireland was one of the important and characteristic figures of the American Gilded Age, a man whose own rags-to-riches story followed classic lines. Born in Ireland in 1838, he saw as a boy the horrors of the Great Famine. In 1852 he and his family emigrated to St. Paul, Minnesota. Sent by pioneer Bishop Joseph Cretin to France for his education, Ireland became a priest in 1861. His work for temperance and Catholic colonization on Minnesota's western frontier gave him national prominence and launched him on a long and impressive career.
Ireland was an Americanist, one of a group of Catholic leaders who promoted the ideal of a truly American church. O'Connell's accounts of Ireland's hard-fought and often acrimonious battles present a lively portrait of a complicated man, with impressive strengths and surprising weaknesses. Ireland struggled to convince the Vatican that the American church was more than a collection of immigrant churches; he argued to his fellow clerics that immigrants could abandon Old World customs and languages without losing their faith; he encouraged Catholics to take advantage of the opportunities offered in America; and he strove to demonstrate to Protestant Americans that Catholics were not hopelessly foreign.
O'Connell also tells little-known stories of the archbishop's personal politics and finances. Ireland became wealthy through land speculation, but nearly lost all in the Panic of 1893. As a prominent and out-spoken Republican, he associated with William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, and William Howard Taft.
Though John Ireland was denied the ultimate accolade of a cardinal's hat, and though his colleagues on the episcopal bench were by no means unanimous in supporting him, his influence upon the development of American Catholicism was enormous. This forthright biography is a fascinating account of an important man.