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  • An Archbishop for the People: The Life of Edward J. Hanna
  • Douglas J. Slawson
An Archbishop for the People: The Life of Edward J. Hanna. By Richard Gribble, C.S.C. (New York and Mahwah: Paulist Press. 2006. Pp. x, 416. $24.95 paperback.)

Richard Gribble's biography of Archbishop Edward Hanna is both satisfying and tantalizing—satisfying because a biography of Hanna is long overdue. Gribble's theme is the title of his book: An Archbishop for the People. He tells the story of a clergyman devoted to the people of his church, his city, and his country whether within or without the Catholic fold. In turn, he was loved and respected by the citizens of Rochester, New York, the scene of his priestly ministry, and by those of San Francisco, California, the site of his work as archbishop. Hanna was an advocate for the poor, the imprisoned, and immigrants, though this latter advocacy uncharacteristically did not apply to Mexicans—the exception that proved the rule.

Long before ecumenism was fashionable in Catholic circles, Hanna participated in outreach to those of other faiths. In Rochester, he was invited to join the Fortnightly Club, a group of prominent citizens who gathered to discuss social and literary issues. Though not aimed at church unity, the club gave Hanna and Reverend Algernon Crapsey, an Episcopalian Modernist, the opportunity to find common ground about the rights of labor and Christianity's preferential option for the poor. As archbishop of San Francisco, Hanna belonged to a group of religious leaders called Better Understanding that sought to surface themes common to various religions and denominations. He also supported Jewish agencies and causes, winning him the American Hebrew Medal in 1931.

Gribble is at his best in recounting Hanna's efforts on behalf of labor. Hanna supported the living wage, the right to collective bargaining, and to a certain extent the right of labor to participate in the management of production for the public good. He was sought after time and again as an arbitrator in capital-labor disputes in both Rochester and San Francisco. Gribble attributes his success in these endeavors "to his wide appeal to all constituencies of the local community, his strong sense of justice, and his affable and kind disposition."

The book is less successful as biography when discussing Hanna's role as chairman of the administrative committee of the National Catholic Welfare Conference (NCWC), through no fault of the author. Gribble does a creditable [End Page 179] job of recounting the more salient issues both domestic and international managed by the NCWC under Hanna: the organization's formation, suppression, and reinstatement; immigration; the attempt to federalize education; and the church-state conflict in Mexico. This portion of the book reads more like institutional history than biography, principally because Hanna's role in these affairs was at the level of strategy, while the details of working through the issues and the day-to-day decision-making were carried out by subordinates. Hanna himself felt this. After more than a decade in office, he confided to John Burke, his lieutenant at NCWC headquarters, that he thought he should relinquish the chairmanship because he was so far removed from affairs (San Francisco from Washington) and unable to give them the attention they required.

The book is tantalizing in its first and last chapters, where the sources are scarce and sometimes contradictory. Gribble handles Hanna's brush with Modernism with a deft hand, giving careful attention to his theology and the internal politics that kept him from the coadjutorship of San Francisco in 1907–08. Intriguing is Gribble's comment in an endnote that "Modernism in the United States has its roots in the Americanist movement." Gribble never associates Hanna with that movement, though he points out that Hanna studied at the American College under Denis O'Connell, an ardent Americanist promoter, and was a classmate, colleague, and friend of Edward Pace, also an Americanist supporter. Hanna's commitment to labor and the poor were Americanist causes, especially among the New York Academia. Bishop Bernard McQuaid passed over Hanna for the coadjutorship of Rochester because the latter refused to obey his edict to...


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