John Hughes, an American archbishop, born near Clogher, county Tyrone, Ireland, in 1797, died in New York, Jan. 3, 1864. He was, to use his own words in his well known letter to Mayor Harper, "the son of a farmer of moderate but comfortable means." Being the youngest of three sons, he was allowed to indulge an early passion for books, and was sent for a time to a Latin school. In 1816 his father came to the United States. John followed him in 1817, and in 1818 the whole family settled near Chambersburg, Pa. Toward the end of that year John obtained admission to the college of Mount St. Mary's, at Emmettsburg, Md. " I was to superintend the garden," he afterward wrote, "as a compensation for my expenses, until I might be appointed teacher, prosecuting meanwhile my studies under a private tutor." Toward the close of 1825 he was ordained priest, and placed in charge of a small mission at Bedford, Pa. A few weeks afterward he was appointed pastor of St. Joseph's church, Philadelphia, where he soon gained reputation as a pulpit orator.
On May 31, 1829, he preached a sermon on Catholic emancipation, which was published in pamphlet form and dedicated to O'Connell. In 1830 he accepted a challenge from the Rev. John Breck-enridge, D. D., a distinguished Presbyterian clergyman, to discuss through the press the question, " Is the Protestant religion the religion of Christ ? " In 1831-'2 he built St. John's church, Philadelphia, of which he was the rector as long as he remained in that city. In 1834 he accepted a second challenge from Dr. Breck-enridge to a public oral discussion of the question, "Is the Roman Catholic religion hostile to liberty ?" The debate created much interest, was brought to an unsatisfactory termination, and afterward appeared in book form. Mr. Hughes was appointed coadjutor bishop of New York in 1837, received episcopal consecration Jan. 7, 1838, and in 1839 became administrator of the diocese, which then comprised the entire state of New York and part of New Jersey, with a Catholic population of 200,000, and only 40 clergymen. He forthwith set to work to remedy the evils springing from the " trustee system " of holding church property.
The titles were vested in laymen, who frequently came into conflict with the episcopal authority, and were sometimes supported in their opposition by priests suspended from their office. Several churches had in consequence been closed to divine worship; most of them had become deeply involved in debt, and of the eight churches in New York city, five were on the point of being sold. Bishop Hughes set about consolidating these debts, removing the lay trustees, and securing the titles in his own name. In spite of every obstacle he succeeded, and thus put an end to scandalous contentions. He next purchased a large property at Fordham," Westchester co., with the intention of opening there a college and theological seminary. For the purpose of obtaining money and the aid of religious communities for the institutions which he planned, he went to Europe in 1839. During his absence the Catholics of New York set up an organized opposition to the public school system. To prevent this movement from becoming a purely political one, Bishop Hughes on his return took himself the lead, and drew up a petition to the common council praying, in the name of the Catholic citizens, that seven parochial schools should be designated as "entitled to participate in the common-school fund, upon complying with the requirements of the law." Remonstrances to this petition were sent in by the public school society and the pastors of the Methodist Episcopal church, and on Oct. 29 both parties appeared before the common council.
Bishop Hughes met and answered, for several days in succession, the array of eminent counsel opposed to him, and supported his petition in an elaborate speech; but his demands were rejected by the common council. The matter was then brought before the legislature; but being baffled in his suit there, he recommended Catholics to nominate independent candidates in the ensuing elections; a movement which developed such unexpected strength that a modification of the school system was soon afterward effected. In 1841 he was able to open regular courses of classical and theological instruction in St. John's college, Fordham. In 1842, after the death of Bishop Dubois, Dr. Hughes succeeded him as titular bishop of New York. In August of that year was held the first diocesan synod of New York, whose decrees on secret societies and the tenure of church property were published officially by the bishop in September; and this legislation was further supplemented by the publication in 1845 of " Rules for the Administration of Churches without Trustees." On March 10,1844, he consecrated as his coadjutor the Rev. John McCloskey, D. D. During the spring and summer of this year fears were entertained of anti-Catholic riots in New York, such as had taken place in Philadelphia. Bishop Hughes thereupon addressed a letter to Mayor Harper, which calmed the public excitement, and in a series of letters denounced the editor of the "New York Herald" for attacks on himself.
A second visit to Europe in December, 1845, enabled him to secure the services of the Jesuits, Christian brothers, and sisters of mercy. On his return he was solicited by President Polk to accept a peace mission to Mexico, which he declined. In 1847 he delivered in the hall of representatives at Washington, by request of both houses of congress, a discourse on "Christianity, the only Source of Moral, Social, and Political Regeneration." During this year his diocese was divided by the creation of the sees of Albany and Buffalo. In 1850 the see of New York was raised to metropolitan rank, and Bishop Hughes received the pallium as archbishop in Rome at the hands of the pope. In 1853 the sees of Brooklyn, Burlington, and Newark were erected, and the new bishops were consecrated by the nuncio, Archbishop (afterward Cardinal) Bedini, Oct. 30. Archbishop Hughes presided in 1854 over the first provincial council of New York; was in Rome at the proclamation of the dogma of the immaculate conception, Dec. 8; and on his return was involved in a controversy with Mr. Eras-tus Brooks, the letters on both sides being published in a volume entitled " Brooksiana." On Aug. 5, 1855, he laid the corner stone of a new cathedral on Fifth avenue, New York, the largest yet planned in the United States. In the preceding autumn, while accompanying the nuncio to Canada, he was seized with lung fever, from the effects of which he never wholly recovered.
He persisted nevertheless in the discharge of his daily duties, causing himself toward the end of his life to be carried to the altar when conferring confirmation. At the breaking out of the civil war, and before active operations had begun in Virginia, Archbishop Hughes, though in very feeble health, went to Washington to proffer the aid of his priests, sisters of charity, and sisters of mercy. In November, 1861, at the solicitation of President Lincoln, he went to Europe in company with Mr. Thurlow Weed, in order to secure the friendly neutrality of some governments, particularly of the French court. After visiting France and Italy, he preached at the laying of the corner stone of the Catholic university of Dublin, June, 1862. He appeared at the New York academy of music in April, 1863, to make an appeal in favor of the famishing Irish, and in July made his last public address to quell the draft riots. Thenceforward his strength steadily declined until his death. His works have been published by L. Kehoe (2 vols., New York, 1864-'5); and his life has been written by John R. G. Hassard (8vo, New York, 1866).