- Sons of Saint Patrick: A History of the Archbishops of New York from Dagger John to Timmytown by George Marlin and Brad Miner
By the late nineteenth century the mildly derisive term “hibernarchy” had been coined by some leading German-American Catholics who had grown both tired and frustrated with the almost complete dominance of the hierarchy by clerics who were either Irish by birth or heritage. By the twenty-first century this imbalance has changed substantially with non-Hibernians now leading several of the largest archdioceses such as Atlanta (African American), Los Angeles (Latino), and Philadelphia (Native American and French-Canadian). As far as the Irish-hold on the cathedra in Manhattan, little has changed as every one of the ten archbishops of New York has been (or is) Irish by birth or parentage. Apart from this one detail that has remained constant about the archbishops, almost everything else about the archdiocese they have led has changed dramatically over the last 170 years. This well researched collective biography not only tells their stories with both style, it further provides a solid history of the development of the archdiocese principally through the lens of the lives, leadership, and even failings of these prelates.
Erected in 1808, the see of New York lasted little more than four decades before being raised to an archdiocese. The authors deal with this pre-history quickly but efficiently as there was little episcopal leadership until the appointment of John Hughes as the coadjutor to the physically impaired Bishop John Dubois in 1838. Appointed the first archbishop of New York in 1850, Hughes governed the archdiocese as “lord and master” until his death in 1864.
As with Hughes, the authors tell the story of the next nine archbishops, the local church they led, and their influence on church and state beyond with both honesty and flair using detail to drive the narrative while relying on some of the most recent and finest secondary [End Page 83] sources as well as a limited number of primary sources. (They make far less use of archives for the twentieth century.)
Succeeding Hughes, John McCloskey (1864–1885), a native of Brooklyn, was the first native-born New Yorker ordained a diocesan priest. He was appointed the first U.S. cardinal in 1875 and completed the construction of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in 1879. In their account of the tenure of Michael Augustine Corrigan (1885–1902), who along with Hughes have been the only archbishops of New York not to have also been named a cardinal, the authors rightly praise him for his effective pastoral response to the growing number Italian immigrants who came flooding into New York beginning in the late nineteenth century. They also demonstrate their objectivity in quoting Robert Emmett Curran, one of the most important American Catholic historians of the last half century and the foremost authority on Corrigan, in his blunt evaluation of the third archbishop as someone who “seemed unable to translate private piety into public probity,” though they have reservations with this assessment (117).
Cardinal John Farley (1902–1918) was the last Irish-born archbishop of New York. During his leadership for the first time in its history, the Catholic population of the archdiocese suffered a serious decline in numbers as many middle-class Catholics moved to Brooklyn and New Jersey. Cardinal Patrick Hayes (1919–1938) was often called the “Cardinal of Charity” because he established the Catholic Charities of the archdiocese, one of the largest social service agencies in the country.
The historian of the archdiocese, Monsignor Florence Cohalan, once pointed out that, for one hundred years, every archbishop of New York had served an apprenticeship under his predecessor. That changed abruptly in 1939 with the appointment of Francis J. Spellman, a personal friend of the new pope, Pius XII, and a man who showed ambition from an early age. (Upon his graduation from Fordham University in 1911, he made it known to his parents...