Home Page Home Page
Front Page News Digest Cardinal George Observations The Interview Classifieds
Learn more about our publication and our policies
Send us your comments and requests
Subscribe to our print edition
Advertise in our print edition or on this site
Search past online issues
Link to other Catholic Web sites
Site Map
New World Publications
Periódieo oficial en Español de la Arquidióesis de Chicago
Archdiocesan Directory
Order Directory Online
Link to the Archdiocese of Chicago's official Web site.
Chicago’s fourth bishop ‘home’ after 102 years
Archdiocesan archivist John Treanor with a portrait of Bishop James Duggan Catholic New World/David V. Kamba
Chicago’s fourth bishop ‘home’ after 102 years

By John J. Treanor

Bishop James Duggan has come home. On March 29, in a private ceremony, the mortal remains of Chicago’s fourth bishop were solemnly and ceremoniously moved from Calvary Cemetery in Evanston and placed in the Bishop’s Mausoleum at Mount Carmel Cemetery in Hillside.

Bishop Duggan died March 27, 1899, in St. Louis.

While the moving of a body from one burial site to another is not all that uncommon, the circumstances surrounding the episcopacy, death and burial of Bishop Duggan provide an interesting story.

His life and times have all the ingredients of a Greek tragedy: A young life full of promise, grace and opportunity; insidious, progressive psychological problems; intrigue and a steep fall from prominence all add to this effort to restore dignity to the most tragic figure in archdiocesan history.

People often say historians commonly interpret the “historical facts” as they see fit. While it is true that statistical data can be “interpreted,” most historians would argue that facts such as in this case, Bishop Duggan’s birth, death installation and removal are indisputable reference points.

What historians do argue over, however, is why these historical events occurred. As more records become available over time, historians bring new insights as well as their own perceptions, politics and prejudices to influence their interpretation of the event.

So why did it take 102 years after his death to move Bishop Duggan’s mortal remains into the Bishop’s Mausoleum where rest most of the bishops who have lead the Church of Chicago? The Bishop’s Mausoleum was completed in 1912 and the remains of Bishop William Quarter (1844-1848) and Archbishop Patrick A. Feehan (1880-1902) were placed there. Only Bishop Duggan remained elsewhere. Why?

To answer that question we must understand the life and times of Bishop James Duggan, whose episcopacy lasted from 1859-1869. The son of a clothier, he was born in Maynooth, Ireland, and grew up virtually in the shadow of the famous Irish seminary that bears that town’s name. He came to the United States in 1842 at the request of Archbishop Peter Kenrick of St. Louis, to finish his seminary training at St. Vincent’s Seminary in Cape Girardeau, Mo. He was ordained a priest in 1847 at the age of 22.

Contemporary accounts describe him as a handsome man with a gift for languages and great skill in oration. He left a crowded Ireland, then on the brink of the Great Famine, to answer the urgent call for priests in the young U.S. Catholic church. His intellect and eloquence distinguished him and in 1854 he was appointed vicar general. Indeed, that same year while only five years a priest, Archbishop Kenrick appointed him to administer the Chicago Diocese when Bishop James O. Van de Velde (1849-1853), abruptly resigned in 1853.

He was 31 when Archbishop Kenrick consecrated him bishop of the titular see of Gabala and coadjutor bishop of St. Louis. He was again asked to administer the Diocese of Chicago in 1858 when Bishop Anthony O’Regan, the third bishop of Chicago, resigned. On Jan. 21, 1859, Bishop Duggan was appointed the fourth bishop of Chicago. He was only 34.

Ten years later, on April 14, 1869, Bishop Duggan was removed from office and spent the next 29 years living in a sanatorium run by the Sisters of Charity in St. Louis. He died there on March 27, 1899.

Little is known of Bishop Duggan’s treatment in the sanatorium. He was described in one historical account as “hopelessly insane.” The diagnosis and treatment of mental illness has changed dramatically since the mid-19th century.

Indeed, the observation of “hopelessly insane” is not a valid clinical diagnosis. What illness did he suffer from and why was he institutionalized? With the lack of medical records, it is almost impossible to say with any degree of certainty what ailed Bishop Duggan.

However, if we carefully examine the times in which he lived and correspondence from those who knew him it may be possible to make some assumptions.

His tenure as bishop of Chicago was fraught with challenges and turmoil. Two years before his appointment, the financial panic of 1857 caused severe fiscal hardship that clearly impacted the nation’s economy for several years. Unemployment was high and it is a fair assumption that there was less money available for church needs. Keep in mind that during this period Chicago was indeed the “Second City,” in that St. Louis was the Midwest’s larger and more influential metropolis.

In addition, both his predecessors had resigned, so Chicago was not a prime choice for anyone with episcopal ambitions. In reality the juvenile church of Chicago lacked any real leadership in the years following the death of Bishop Quarter.

Tensions between Irish and German Catholics provided a contentious climate upon Duggan’s arrival. German Catholics were greatly disappointed that a German-speaking bishop was not appointed.

Whether it was an attempt to show his anti-Irish detractors his mettle or his dogmatic adherence to papal dictates against secret societies, Bishop Duggan took a harsh stand against the Fenian Brotherhood. He enjoined his priests to deny sacraments to anyone with known ties to this secret society dedicated to freeing Ireland of British rule by physical force. This angered many of his Irish-born priests.

Three years into his tenure, the nation was plunged into the horrors of the Civil War, an event that shredded social fabric.

The University of St. Mary of the Lake, the first chartered university in Illinois, with its attached seminary was a victim of the conflict. The university saw a precipitous decline in enrollment as well as financial support. Some of Bishop Duggan’s clergy felt that he did not do enough to support the university.

Signs of stress and erratic behavior first appeared after his return from the Second Plenary Council of Baltimore (a collegial meeting of American bishops) in 1866. He was described by at least one colleague as having a “delicate disposition” and “spinal” problems. His behavior became erratic and his friends started to notice changes in his mood and temperament.

Citing various ailments, Bishop Duggan traveled abroad for an extended period, to seek relaxation and cure. During his absence several priests, concerned about the bishop’s behavior and stability petitioned Rome to look into the matter. Upon his return, he closed the seminary and dismissed four priests, some of whom had been his closest advisors.

It was now clear to Rome that the situation in Chicago needed to be addressed.

From our vantage point, over 130 years later, we can see Bishop Duggan was placed in a difficult position at a very young age. The stress and pressures of the job were undeniably enormous. They evidently affected his physical and mental health and he was no longer able to distinguish his friends from his enemies. His judgments were erratic and he sought escape from his obligations and responsibilities.

In today’s society we have a greater understanding of the symptoms of job-related stress. We exercise, go on vacation, seek counseling and, if necessary, take medication. Too often we see the unfortunate consequences of stress and breakdowns in chilling headlines. But we tend to understand and sympathize with those who suffer from these conditions. For Bishop Duggan, treatment and understanding were evident in labels and institutionalization.

While there is no clear explanation why Bishop Duggan’s remains were not moved with the other bishops in 1912, the stigma of mental illness may have played a role. Societal attitudes toward the mentally ill have changed since 1912 (many argue, not enough), and it is time to recognize that Bishop Duggan did not do anything wrong, but was the victim of an illness.

In his first eight years in office, he was an effective and diligent shepherd for the church of Chicago.
He should be remembered as the fourth bishop of Chicago.

Treanor is archivist of the Archdiocese of Chicago.


Front Page | Digest | Cardinal | Interview  
Classifieds | About Us | Write Us | Subscribe | Advertise 
Archive | Catholic Sites
 | New World Publications | Católico | Directory  | Site Map