Growing Up In New York
John Cardinal McCloskey, Archbishop of New York, 1864-1885
Sculpture by Robert Cushing, 1882, which was included in a Retrospective of the
artist's work at the Smithsonian Institute in 1993.
John McCloskey was born March 10, 1810 in Brooklyn, NY. His parents were Patrick McCloskey and Elizabeth Harron (some records say Hassan), both of County Derry, Ireland. Patrick was from Dungiven and Elizabeth from the adjacent parish of Banagher. Patrick and Elizabeth were married in the Cathedral of Derry in the spring of 1808, shortly before leaving for America. John was baptized on May 6 in St. Peter's Church in Manhattan. At that time Brooklyn was a small community and did not yet have a church so the McCloskey family rowed from Brooklyn to Manhattan to attend Mass.
John was enrolled as a weekly boarder at a boys' school in Brooklyn at age 5. At age 7, the family moved to Murray Street in Manhattan and John was enrolled in Thomas Brady's Latin School. Three years later, in 1820, John's father died at age 45. The following year, John finished his elementary studies at age 11 and Mrs. McCloskey and the children moved to a farm in Bedford, Westchester County, NY. John was enrolled at Mount St. Mary's College in September 1821 and graduated in 1826. John was undecided about his future career and passed the following year working on the family farm.
In the spring of 1827, John suffered a serious accident that changed the course of his life and decided his vocation. A wagon of logs being pulled by a team of ox upset and he was buried under the logs for several hours. After he was rescued John remained unconscious for several days. Even after he regained consciousness, John was very ill and he had lost his sight. Slowly his sight returned. His recovery had convinced John to become a priest. In September 1827, he joined the seminary at Mount St. Mary's. Though his illness left no external mark, it aggravated a congenital weakness that lasted throughout his life. He tired easily and was generally in poor health. Because of this he lived an exceptionally disciplined life designed to conserve his strength and ensure he did not over exert himself.
John was ordained a priest on January 12, 1834 at age 23 and assigned as a professor of philosophy at the seminary in Nyack, NY. Despite his desire to assist those in need during the 1834 NYC cholera epidemic, he was denied permission because his health was very poor and it was feared he was likely to contract cholera or tuberculosis. At that time it was thought that anyone at risk of TB would benefit from a sea voyage so Father McCloskey was sent to Rome where he studied for two years.
Upon his return, he was appointed pastor of St. Joseph's parish in Greenwich Village where he served for seven years. Father McCloskey was especially concerned with the needs of the many abandoned and neglected children living in Greenwich Village and asked his parishioners to help. In 1843, a few days before his consecration as Bishop on his 34th birthday, Father McCloskey was appointed coadjutor of NY with Archbishop Hughes. In this role, he was jointly responsible for the NY Archdiocese and continued his apostolate for the less fortunate and encouraged caring for the homeless children.
Bishop McCloskey - Albany Diocese
By April 1847, the New York Archdiocese had grown so large that it was divided, creating dioceses in Albany and Buffalo. Bishop McCloskey was appointed to head the Albany diocese but stayed in close contact with the NY diocese and his friend Archbishop Hughes. Archbishop Hughes died in January 1864 and it was expected that Bishop McCloskey would be elevated and re-appointed to the NY diocese. Bishop McCloskey however did not want the position and wrote to Rome to request he not be considered due to his poor health. He recommended two other Bishops as possible candidates. Bishop McCloskey's request was not granted however, and in May 1864, Bishop McCloskey received official notice from the Pope of his appointment as Archbishop of New York, the second American Archbishop.
During his seventeen years in Albany, Bishop McCloskey had worked tirelessly to promote Catholic values and responsibility. He was particularly interested in ensuring children were cared for and provided with educational opportunities. Under his leadership the number of Catholic schools increased from five to 27. He also added several religious communities and several charitable institutions to care for children.
Archbishop McCloskey - NY Archdiocese
When he arrived in New York, Archbishop McCloskey faced a multitude of social and economic problems: NY had the highest death rate of any large city in the world; nearly 70% of the residents lived in tenements and cellars and tens of thousands of children were orphaned or abandoned to live on the streets. Infanticide was common and those that were abandoned were often sent to women's prisons to be cared for. There were very few orphanages and those that did exist cared for boys only until they were age 12 and girls till age 14. Children in the orphanages received no education and frequently went without food. One report estimated that nearly 40,000 children between ages 5 an 12 were living in poverty with no education and little or no adult care. Archbishop McCloskey believed that most of the children were from Catholic families and worked tirelessly to provide for them. He had developed a keen ability to fund raise and relied on community fairs to help him achieve his goals. After several fairs, he organized and established several charitable societies to care for the children.
In addition to the children's needs, the number of Catholics had increased dramatically as more and more immigrants had arrived. By 1865, Catholics numbered over 1,200,000 and were the largest religious group in America. To meet the continually growing need, Archbishop McCloskey opened a seminary and began increasing the number of churches. During his administration a total of 87 new churches were added including the first church for black Catholics as well as churches for the Poles and Italians. .Archbishop McCloskey was also very concerned about providing a Catholic education for New York's children. During his administration he doubled the number and capacity of schools so that the Archdiocese had 33,000 students enrolled at his death. He was instrumental in bringing 16 religious communities to NYC and increased the number of hospitals including establishing a hospital for mentally ill patients.
First American Cardinal
Rumors of an American Cardinal had begun as early as 1850 and despite President Lincoln's encouragement to the Pope, official notice of an American Cardinal did not come until March 15, 1875 when Pius IX named Archbishop McCloskey as the first cardinal of the Western Hemisphere. The formal conferring of the scarlet biretta took place on August 2, followed by a trip to Rome in October to receive his ring, titular church and Hat. The actual reception of the Red Hat was delayed however due to the poor health of Pius IX. Pius IX died a few months later in February. Cardinal McCloskey traveled to Rome immediately and received the Hat in the first consistory held by Leo XIII in March 1878.
St. Patrick's Cathedral
Even in the midst of all that he was doing to develop Catholic schools and charitable institutions, Cardinal McCloskey was committed to finishing the cathedral that his friend and predecessor, Archbishop Hughes had started. He organized several fundraising fairs and accessed each parish. Finally, on May 25, 1879,
St. Patrick's Cathedral was dedicated. Cardinal McCloskey considered it his greatest achievement, but in deference to Archbishop Hughes who had envisioned and begun the project, Cardinal McCloskey had Archbishop Hughes' coat of arms hung over the main door.
On January 12, 1884, the Cardinal reached his Golden Jubilee - the 50th anniversary of his ordination as a priest. Shortly after his anniversary, the Cardinal's health failed rapidly. A recurrence of malaria aggravated what appeared to be signs of Parkinson's disease and within a few months, the Cardinal was hospitalized. He died on October 10, 1885. Cardinal McCloskey is buried in a crypt under the High Altar of St. Patrick's Cathedral.
Bibliography: A Popular History of the Archdiocese of New York by Rev. Msgr. Florence D. Cohalan; 1983, U.S. Catholic Historical Society, c/o St. Joseph's Seminary, Dunwoodie, Yonkers, NY 10704