John Joseph Hughes (1797–1864) religious leader

2011-02-15 11:42:56

As bishop (1838–50) and archbishop of New York (1850–64), John Hughes was among the most influential figures in what Roger Daniels calls the “Hibernization of the American Roman Catholic Church.” As the first Catholic archbishop of New York, he was an outspoken defender of the Catholic Church, eloquently articulating its compatibility with traditional American political principles.
Hughes emigrated from northern Ireland to the United States in 1817. After attending Mount Saint Mary’s Seminary in Philadelphia, he was ordained in 1826. He favored Irish nationalism generally but opposed violent means of promoting it. During the 1830s, he waged a vigorous press debate with Protestant leaders over the question of the validity of lay control of Catholic Church property. After moving from Philadelphia to New York in 1838, Hughes campaigned vigorously against Protestant influence in the nonsectarian public schools. Once he became archbishop of New York in 1850, he was the primary spokesperson for the Catholic Church in defense of nativist attacks from the Know-Nothing Party (see nativism). Increasingly, he served the needs of the Catholic hierarchy rather than the Irish themselves, though he did continue to promote such organizations as the Irish Emigrant Society, the Emigrant Savings Bank, and the Ancient Order of Hibernians. Hughes’s influence grew during the Civil War (1861–65), helping to shift the balance of ethnic influence within the church from French to Irish clergy. Although Hughes was not an abolitionist, he remained a firm unionist. He undertook a mission to France on behalf of President Abraham Lincoln (1863) and helped to quell the New York draft riots (1863).