Chicagos fourth bishop home after 102 years
||Archdiocesan archivist John Treanor with a portrait of Bishop
James Duggan Catholic New World/David V. Kamba
By John J. Treanor
Bishop James Duggan has come home. On March 29, in a private ceremony,
the mortal remains of Chicagos fourth bishop were solemnly and
ceremoniously moved from Calvary Cemetery in Evanston and placed
in the Bishops 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 Duggans 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 Duggans
mortal remains into the Bishops Mausoleum where rest most of
the bishops who have lead the Church of Chicago? The Bishops
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 towns 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. Vincents 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
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 ORegan, 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
Little is known of Bishop Duggans 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
However, if we carefully examine the times in which he lived and
correspondence from those who knew him it may be possible to make
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
nations 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 Midwests
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 Duggans 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
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 Duggans 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 bishops 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
In todays 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 Duggans 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.
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