PopeWatch: Dagger John

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PopeWatch finds the near universal applause that Pope Francis is currently receiving somewhat disturbing.  If a Catholic cleric is doing his job, he is likely to receive just as many boos as cheers, if not more so.  Case in point, the first Archbishop of New York, John Hughes, known universally to friend and foe alike as “Dagger John”.  Go here, here, here and here to read prior posts about him.  Dagger John was ever a champion of the Faith and his beloved Irish, both held in low esteem by many non-Catholic and non-Irish Americans.  One story about Dagger John gives the essence of the man:  After the anti-Catholic riots in Philadelphia in 1844 he called on the mayor of New York, an anti-Catholic bigot, and informed him that if a single Catholic church were touched in New York, New York would be a second Moscow.  (The reference was to the burning of Moscow in 1812 during Napoleon’s occupation of the city.) Not a Catholic church was touched.   Russell Shaw at Our Sunday Visitor has a story in which he recalls an incident fifteen years after the death of Hughes:

New York’s cathedral was dedicated in a splendid, hours-long ceremony on the morning of Sunday, May 25, 1879. Shortly before, the Atlantic Monthly, a mouthpiece of the Northeast’s non-Catholic establishment, ran an article trashing the building and Archbishop Hughes, whose great project it was. He’d been dead since 1864. The author, architectural critic Clarence Cook, wrote that the fourth bishop of New York was a “politician” as well as a priest — one of the few Catholic priests “able to win, by their own character and energy, a national reputation.”

“We are not saying it was an agreeable reputation,” Cook continued. “The archbishop belonged to the church militant … always in the saddle, never weary, and, what was more never desponding … so convincing that, when he called for money, if a widow had but one penny, yet should he have a farthing ere he went.”

Someone reading that now may wonder what lay behind this bilious outburst against a long-dead prelate. In his history of the Church in America, “American Catholic: The Saints and Sinners Who Built America’s Most Powerful Church” (Vintage, $18.95), Charles R. Morris says Cook grasped the symbolism of St. Patrick’s just as Archbishop Hughes had done. The archbishop cherished it, but Cook, to say the least, did not.

“It enunciated a vision of Catholicism as a new power center, a major moral and political force,” Morris writes. “Cook was shouting, Beware! With a man of John Hughes’s forcefulness at the head of the Catholic Church in the United States, anything could happen.” As for the archbishop, he would probably have replied in kind to Cook’s attack. And much enjoyed the verbal tussle that followed.

Here is the full quotation from Cook’s attack on Hughes:


First of all, he was a politician, and one of the shrewdest and ablest of his class.  And then he was a priest and in this capacity one of the few men in the Catholic Church in this country who have been able to win, by their own character and energy, a national reputation;  so that, in his heyday, his name was as well and as widely known as that of Seward, or O’Connor, or Butler.  We are not saying it was an agreeable reputation.  The archbishop belonged to the church militant, and he was a courageous, adroit general, always in the saddle, never weary, and what was more never desponding.  He did not need, for the work he had to do, to be a finely educated man, a man of elegant tastes, and, if we may use the hateful world so much abused in these shoddy days, a man of culture.  We say he was none of these, but we say it without the least wish to disparage him.  He was a manly man, a gentleman in all his intercourse with gentlemen, and among his people so persuasive, or at least so convincing, that, when he called for money, if a widow had but one penny, yet should he have a farthing ere he went.

Go here to read the rest.  This attack on the memory of Dagger John and on the cathedral elicited responses in The Catholic World, go here to read it, and Donahoe’s Magazine here.  Long after his death Dagger John still elicited hate from those who hated the Church and love from those who loved the Church.  No Catholic can have a finer monument to his memory, and PopeWatch hopes that Pope Francis will have such a monument.

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