Catholic cardinal and labor sympathizer, 1834-1921

James Gibbons was born to Thomas and Bridget Gibbons, recent Irish immigrants to America, on July 23, 1834. He grew up in a relatively prosperous middle-class family. His father, a merchant, grew ill early in James' life and under doctor recommendation the family returned to Ireland. The future cardinal did well in the old country, excelling both in school and athletics. With the death of his father in 1847 and worsening political turmoil in Ireland, Bridget Gibbons brought the family back to the United States for good. James took a job at a grocery store in his new home of New Orleans, where he quickly showed himself to be a youth of quick mind and good business sense. His career seemed set for him until he heard a sermon during a mission trip with his church in 1854 which convinced him to enter the priesthood.

James Gibbons subsequently attended St. Charles in Maryland for college and went on to St. Mary's Seminary in Baltimore. After ordination in 1861, Gibbons attended to parishes in the Maryland area, surrounded by the conflict of the American Civil War. His skill as preacher and pastor was recognized by his superiors, who named him to be the bishop of a newly created vicary in North Carolina. After some years of experience with this new position of responsibility, he wrote his first apologia for the Roman Catholic Church; Faith of Our Fathers. He ascended the ranks of the Catholic church through continued work until he came in line for the archbishop position of Baltimore.

From this position James Gibbons exerted his skills of diplomacy and charm to help endear himself not only to the Catholics under his care, but also surprisingly Protestants. He became a popular American religious figure, gathering crowds for his sermons on diverse topics that could apply to Christianity as a whole. He acquainted himself with every president from Andrew Johnson to Warren G. Harding. By involving himself in the American political scene and showing himself to be a well-reasoned, articulate Christian, he proved that Catholicism was about more than just blind obediance to the Pope and was not a direct threat to democracy. With his influence he called for the integration and tolerance of Catholic immigrants from Ireland and Southern Europe, who faced great prejudice from Protestant Americans calling themselves 'nativists' (funny how they'd made that exact same trip across the sea only a few generations back). He also advocated for the protection of labor, an issue of particular concern because of the great number of Catholics exploited by the industrial expansion of America's urban East coast at the turn of the century. He was once quoted as saying, "It is the right of laboring classes to protect themselves, and the duty of the whole people to find a remedy against avarice, oppression, and corruption." He had a key role in the granting of Papal permission for Catholics to join labor unions.

James Gibbons was named a cardinal of the Church in 1886 in recognition of the great services he had done Catholics in the United States throughout his service as a priest. He continued to work for labor and the acceptance of pluralism until his death on March 21, 1921.


Bailey, Thomas A., Kennedy, David M., Cohen, Lizabeth. The American Pageant: A History of the Republic. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1998
CIN - James Cardinal Gibbons 1834-1921: http://www.cin.org/kc87-3.html
James Cardinal Gibbons: http://www.lutherproductions.com/historytutor/basic/basic/modern/people/gibbons.htm

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