Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Record-setting day for bishops 100 years ago in St. Paul

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Six bishops consecrated by Archbishop John Ireland, far left facing camera, on May 19, 1910 were, seated from left to right, James O’Reilly, John Lawler, Patrick Heffron, Timothy Corbett, Vincent Wehrle and Joseph Busch. Photo courtesy of archdiocesan archives

It was a day to remember in St. Paul and, as it turns out, a day never since repeated.

On Thursday May 19, 1910 at St. Mary’s Chapel on the campus of The St. Paul Seminary, a unique event occurred in the annals of Catholic history in the United States.

In a ceremony lasting more than four hours, six priests were consecrated as bishops for the growing Province of the Archdiocese of St. Paul.

They were:

» Fathers Joseph Busch, 44, Diocese of Lead, S.D.

» Timothy Corbett, 51, new Diocese of Crookston.

» Patrick Heffron, 50, Diocese of Winona.

» John Lawler, 47, auxiliary bishop of St. Paul.

» James O’Reilly, 54, Diocese of Fargo, N.D.

» John Wehrle, OSB, 54, new Diocese of Bismarck, N.D.

The event was occasioned by the deaths of two bishops, the resignation of another, the need for an auxiliary in St. Paul and the creation of two new dioceses in the Province of St. Paul.

This remains a singular event in our country. The closest we can come is May 27, 1979, when Pope John Paul II ordained 29 men to the episcopate at St. Peter’s Basilica, among them five for service in the United States. There have been many double and triple consecrations in the U.S. and even a couple of quadruple consecrations. But never a sextuple! And, it happened right here at our own seminary chapel.

Why there?



A grand affair

Both the Cathedral of St. Paul and the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis were under construction. The seminary chapel is by no means large, yet nearly 1,000 people managed to squeeze in for the ceremony, with Archbishop John Ireland presiding in grand style.

Bishop James Trobec of St. Cloud (former pastor at St. Agnes in St. Paul) was one of the co-consecrating bishops, along with Bishop James McGoldrick of Duluth.

Archbishop Diomede Falconio, papal apostolic delegate, 21 bishops, hundreds of priests and religious, local dignitaries and family members attended. Others circulated outside on the seminary grounds, hoping to catch a glimpse of the proceedings.

The church was growing rapidly in those days, moving westward. Toward the end of the 19th century, Pillsbury Company could claim that it had built the world’s largest flour mill. By 1910, the population of Minneapolis swelled to more than 300,000, only about 70,000 fewer than today.

The legacy of Archbishop Ireland was prepared through these years. During his tenure, no fewer than 14 of his priests were consecrated as bishops for service in the Catholic Church in the Midwest.

A newspaper photo shows Minnesota Gov. Adolph Eberhardt flanked by an impressive military entourage, trimmed in gold uniforms. The governor stood at attention with his entourage outside the chapel while all the ecclesiastical dignitaries filed in. He then took his own seat, it was noted by the newspaper, in the back of the church!

He did, however, sit next to the archbishop at the celebratory dinner afterward, held in a giant outdoor tent. In his after-dinner remarks, the governor recalled the “magnificence” of the occasion, saying that he would “remember it as one of the most auspicious occasions which I ever had the honor to attend.”

Archbishop Falconio stayed until 9 p.m., before being ushered to the train station for his return trip to Washington, D.C.

Front-page news

After the folding of the Northwestern Chronicle, the archdiocese was without an official Catholic newspaper for a decade until the Catholic Bulletin began in 1911.

Much of our information about this event is gleaned from the St. Paul Pioneer Press, which ran an impressive front-page article the following day.

Familiar names even a century later among the event’s steering committee included Pierce Butler, E. M. Lohman, and J. A. Wilwerscheid. For several hours, Archbishop Falconio, Archbishop Ireland and the six new bishops lined up to greet several thousand guests at the reception, who patiently waited their turn to greet the new bishops.

One extra item of note: As an inveterate baseball fan, it was simply impossible to complete this research without at least peeking at the Pioneer Press sports page.

The St. Paul Saints and Minneapolis Millers were tied for first place atop the American Association with a record of 21-9. In the big leagues, a man by the name of Ty Cobb went “two for six” with a stolen base as the Detroit Tigers broke the winning streak of the first place Philadelphia Athletics.

While a mere snapshot in time 100 years ago, the events of that day remind us of the vibrancy of the church in the Midwest and our little place in the ecclesiastical record books.

Try to top that New York!

Father John Ubel is pastor of St. Agnes in St. Paul. The Catholic Spirit


Rocco Palmo of Whispers adds some local color:




Sure, a week from today in the City of Angels will see just the third occurrence of one rite in Catholicism's four-century journey on these shores... today, however, marks the 100th anniversary of another act that remains without equal in the life of the Stateside church: the ordination of six bishops in one fell swoop.

Like today's rapid growth in parts South and West, the sextuple high-hatting was the fruit of a quickly-burgeoning Catholic population in the Upper Midwest, and provided a crowning moment for the region's undisputed ecclesial builder-prince: John Ireland (above left, standing) the hometown product whose 34-reign over the church in Minnesota and the Dakotas saw the first archbishop of St Paul become one of the nation's most outspoken prelates and, at his peak, arguably the most powerful American cleric of his era -- the first non-Easterner to lay claim to the distinction.

With Ireland's twin seats -- the capital's Cathedral of St Paul and Minneapolis' St Mary Pro-Cathedral (made the nation's first minor basilica in 1926) -- then at mid-construction, the four-hour spectacle was held in the local seminary chapel, its capacity easily overflowed.

Thanks to the pastor of one of the archdiocese's most celebrated parishes, a commemoration of the event -- and, indeed, what it signified -- is running in the Twin Cities' Catholic Spirit....

Here's a taste:
The [ordinandi] were:

» Fathers Joseph Busch, 44, Diocese of Lead, S.D. [seat moved to Rapid City in 1930]

» Timothy Corbett, 51, new Diocese of Crookston.

» Patrick Heffron, 50, Diocese of Winona.

» John Lawler, 47, auxiliary bishop of St. Paul.

» James O’Reilly, 54, Diocese of Fargo, N.D.

» John Wehrle, OSB, 54, new Diocese of Bismarck, N.D.

The event was occasioned by the deaths of two bishops, the resignation of another, the need for an auxiliary in St. Paul and the creation of two new dioceses in the Province of St. Paul.

This remains a singular event in our country. The closest we can come is May 27, 1979, when Pope John Paul II ordained 29 men to the episcopate at St. Peter’s Basilica, among them five for service in the United States. There have been many double and triple consecrations in the U.S. and even a couple of quadruple consecrations. But never a sextuple....

Archbishop Diomede Falconio, papal apostolic delegate, 21 bishops, hundreds of priests and religious, local dignitaries and family members attended. Others circulated outside on the seminary grounds, hoping to catch a glimpse of the proceedings.

The church was growing rapidly in those days, moving westward. Toward the end of the 19th century, Pillsbury Company could claim that it had built the world’s largest flour mill. By 1910, the population of Minneapolis swelled to more than 300,000, only about 70,000 fewer than today....

A newspaper photo shows Minnesota Gov. Adolph Eberhardt flanked by an impressive military entourage, trimmed in gold uniforms. The governor stood at attention with his entourage outside the chapel while all the ecclesiastical dignitaries filed in. He then took his own seat, it was noted by the newspaper, in the back of the church!

He did, however, sit next to the archbishop at the celebratory dinner afterward, held in a giant outdoor tent. In his after-dinner remarks, the governor recalled the “magnificence” of the occasion, saying that he would “remember it as one of the most auspicious occasions which I ever had the honor to attend.”
The youngest of the group, Busch was the last survivor of Ireland's "sextuplets" when he died in 1953, aged 87.

All of 44 at the ordination, he spent just shy of half his life as a bishop... and all of it in active ministry; the retirement age of 75 wouldn't come into force for another decade and a half.

Meanwhile, it might not have happened at once, but history does have its ways of repeating itself: in just the last three years, five Twin Cities priests have been elevated -- four to dioceses, one as a local auxiliary.
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