William Henry O'Connell (December 8, 1859 - April 22, 1944) was an American cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church. He served as Archbishop of Boston from 1907 until his death, and was elevated to the cardinalate in 1911.
1 Early life,
3 Episcopal career
3.1 Bishop of Portland in Maine,
3.2 Archbishop of Boston, and Cardinal,
4.1 Kennedy family,
4.2 Child labor,
4.3 Albert Einstein's theories,
4.7 Relationship with Cardinal Spellman,
4.9 Influence of the Church,
5 Other affairs
5.1 Scandal over nephew,
5.2 Fabricated autobiographical material,
8 In popular culture,
9 Published works
11 External links,
12 Further reading,
William O'Connell was born in Lowell, Massachusetts, to John and Bridget (née Farrelly) O'Connell, who were Irish immigrants. The youngest of eleven children, he had six brothers and four sisters. His father worked at a textile mill and died when William was four-years-old. During his high school career, he excelled at music, particularly the piano and organ.
O'Connell entered St. Charles College in Ellicott City, Maryland, in 1876. At St. Charles, he was a pupil of the noted poet John Banister Tabb. He returned to Massachusetts two years later and entered Boston College, from where he graduated in 1881 with gold medals in philosophy, physics, and chemistry. He then furthered his studies at the Pontifical North American College in Rome.
O'Connell was ordained to the priesthood by Lucido Cardinal Parocchi on June 8, 1884. A pneumonia and bronchial congestion cut short his pursuit of a doctorate in divinity at the Pontifical Urban Athenaeum, forcing him to return to the United States in 1885 without his degree.
He then served as curate of St. Joseph Church in Medford until 1886, whence he became curate of St. Joseph Church in the West End of Boston. Returning to Rome, O'Connell was named rector of the North American College in 1895. He was raised to the rank of Domestic Prelate of His Holiness in 1897.
Bishop of Portland in Maine:
On February 8, 1901, O'Connell was appointed the third Bishop of Portland, Maine, by Pope Leo XIII. He received his episcopal consecration on the following May 19 from Francesco Cardinal Satolli, with Archbishops Edmund Stonor and Rafael Merry del Val, at the Lateran Basilica. Upon his arrival in Maine, he was given an official reception by Governor John F. Hill. He was presented with a reliquary of the True Cross by Pope Pius X after the latter's election in 1903.
In 1905, in addition to his duties as a diocesan bishop, O'Connell was named papal envoy to Emperor Meiji of Japan; he was also decorated with the Grand Cordon of the Order of the Sacred Treasure. He was made an Assistant at the Pontifical Throne in 1905 as well. He was also viewed as having actively campaigned to become Archbishop of Boston, donating to numerous Vatican causes and publicly expressing his loyalty to the pope.
Archbishop of Boston, and Cardinal:
O'Connell was named Coadjutor Archbishop, with right of succession, of Boston, and Titular Archbishop of Constantina on February 21, 1906. As coadjutor, he served as the designated successor of Archbishop John Williams, who was then in declining health. He later succeeded Williams as the second Archbishop of Boston upon the latter's death on August 30, 1907.
On November 27, 1911, O'Connell became Boston's first Archbishop to become Cardinal, and was given the title of Cardinal-Priest of S. Clemente. O'Connell was late to two papal conclaves in a row, in 1914 and 1922, due to having to cross the Atlantic Ocean in the slower transportation of the day. He made a protest to Pope Pius XI, who in response lengthened the time between the death of the Pope and the start of the conclave. O'Connell was able to participate in the subsequent 1939 conclave, although by that time air travel was now available.
O'Connell favored a highly centralized diocesan organization, encompassing schools, hospitals, and asylums in addition to parishes. O'Connell wielded immense political and social power in Massachusetts, earning him the nickname, "Number One." For instance, he was responsible for defeating a bill to establish a state lottery in 1935, and for defeating a referendum liberalizing state birth control laws in 1942. The only politician who had anywhere near O'Connell's political clout was Governor (and future U.S. President) Calvin Coolidge, but even Coolidge picked his battles carefully, preferring to ignore the Archbishop whenever possible. In the years leading up to the Second World War O'Connell became a powerful force for the neutralists in trying to keep the United States out of World War II, in the pre-Pearl Harbor era.
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He presided over the marriage of Joseph P. Kennedy and Rose Fitzgerald in 1914, and later asked actress Gloria Swanson to end her affair with Mr. Kennedy.
He was opposed to the Child Labor Amendment, and denounced Hollywood as "the scandal of the nation".
Albert Einstein's theories:
He denounced the theories of Albert Einstein as "authentic atheism, even if camouflaged as cosmic pantheism."
He opposed euthanasia, calling suffering "the discipline of humanity".
He told his priests that they might refuse communion to women wearing lipstick.
He also condemned crooning, saying, "No true American man would practice this base art. Of course, they aren't men...If you will listen closely to crooners' songs you will discern the basest appeal to sex emotion in the young."
Relationship with Cardinal Spellman:
He did not have an especially warm relationship with Francis Spellman, who served as O'Connell's auxiliary bishop before being promoted to Archbishop of New York; he once said, "Francis epitomizes what happens to a bookkeeper when you teach him how to read."
He was also decidedly non-ecumenical. "In 1908 during ceremonies commemorating the 100th anniversary of the establishment of a Roman Catholic diocese in the Puritans' Boston, Archbishop William Henry O'Connell ... set the tone for the fast-growing church's next phase by stating "the Puritan has passed. The Catholic remains." (1). See the below partial excerpt from Militant and Triumphant: William Henry O'Connell and the Catholic Church in Boston, 1895-1944:
Influence of the Church:
From 1907 to 1944, William Henry O'Connell was Archbishop of Boston. This was the period when the American Catholic Church, so to speak, came of age. Churches, schools, convents, and hospitals were being built, quite literally, by the dozen. Thousands of children were enrolled in parochial schools, where they were taught by nuns and brothers. Priests were ordained each year by the dozen, and seminaries were built to accommodate the growing number of vocations. Some have called this the golden age of American Catholicism.
Nowhere was this more seemingly true than in Boston under O'Connell's leadership. Political leaders referred to him as "Number One", and sought his approval before taking action on a particular issue. And O'Connell loved every minute of it. One contemporary described him as a "battleship in full array."
Scandal over nephew:
O'Connell's young nephew, Msgr. James P. O'Connell, who served as chancellor of the archdiocese, had secretly married in 1913 and was leading a double life. The marriage was discovered and brought to the attention of the Vatican by certain of O'Connell's clerical enemies who deeply resented his rise to power. The relationship between uncle and nephew appears to have been permanently severed when Msgr. O'Connell was removed from office and from his priestly duties in 1920. The results may have been beneficial for all concerned, as the marriage of James O'Connell endured until his death in 1948, survived only by his widow, who died in 1969. The historical record as to what the Cardinal knew and when he knew it is unclear.
Fabricated autobiographical material:
In 1915, O'Connell fabricated autobiographical material, an attempt which was successful until 1987. James M. O'Toole discovered that O'Connell's volume of published letters, which O'Connell claimed to have written in the time period indicated by the volume's title, were, in fact, written over a short period and expressly for the purpose of publication. O'Toole has also acknowledged that others who had researched and written on the subject of the letters in 1975 had found the dates on the letters to be "suspect".
O'Connell died from pneumonia in Brighton, aged 84. He was buried in a small chapel he had built on the grounds of St. John's Seminary. In 2007, the Archdiocese sold the property to Boston College and announced plans to relocate his remains to Saint Sebastian's School.
On July 20, 2011 workers for the Catholic Cemetery Association of the Archdiocese of Boston began removing the Cardinal's remains from Boston College's campus and placed them in a temporarily unmarked grave at St. John's Seminary instead of Saint Sebastian's School. This was in accord with a deal struck between the descendants of the late Cardinal and the Archdiocese of Boston. A spokesman stated that "a proper marker" will be placed, with a full memorial ceremony, in the fall.
His 36-year-long tenure was the longest in the history of the Archdiocese of Boston. He was the second-to-last surviving cardinal of Pope St. Pius X behind Gennaro Granito Pignatelli di Belmonte, and remains at present the third-longest serving American cardinal behind James Gibbons and William Wakefield Baum. In his book, Boston Catholics - A History of the Church and Its People, Thomas O'Connor, university historian at Boston College, O'Connell's alma mater, notes that during O'Connell's tenure as head of the Archdiocese of Boston, the number of women in religious life increased from 1567 to 5459; the number of parishes increased from 194 to 322; the number of churches increased from 248 to 375; the number of diocesan priests increased from 488 to 947; the archdiocese was operating 3 Catholic hospitals. At page 208 of Boston Catholics, O'Connor writes: "It was under O'Connell's influence too, that the Catholic Church in the Archdiocese of Boston assumed a conceptual solidarity and impressive visibility that it had never seen before and would never see again."
One of O'Connell's grandnephews, Paul G. Kirk, served briefly as U.S. Senator in 2009.
In popular culture:
In Henry Morton Robinson's best-selling 1950 historical novel, The Cardinal, the Archbishop of Boston in the exact time frame as O'Connell's term in office is named "Lawrence Cardinal Glennon". Robinson's physical descriptions of Glennon, his massive Diocesan building program, his arriving late for two Papal conclaves in Rome, while eventually making it in time for a third, his popular description as "Number One" and many other details of the Glennon character exactly correspond with O'Connell's career and personality. The "Cardinal" of the title, however, is a young priest who serves as Glennon's secretary, only to eventually rise to the rank of Cardinal himself.
In addition to his published volumes of letters, sermons and addresses, O'Connell's legacy includes a number of hymns, including:
Hymn to the Holy Cross,
Hymn to the Holy Name,
Prayer for a Perfect Life,
Preceded by, John Joseph Williams
Archbishop of Boston,
Succeeded by, Richard Cushing
Text from this biography licensed under creative commons license