Although Bishop Gibbons was consecrated on August 16, he was not installed in his protocathedral in North Carolina until November 1. His health was not good that summer, and he was advised to wait for cooler weather before going South. Meanwhile he was not idle. During the late summer and autumn he kept busy performing various episcopal functions in and around Baltimore. A week after his consecration he returned to his old parish of St. Bridget in Canton where he confirmed ninety-four persons. The new bishop preached in different city churches on succeeding Sundays, and in September he paid a visit to his former parish of St. Lawrence at Locust Point. On September 18 Gibbons ordained two Jesuits, the first of 2471 priests to receive holy orders at his hands.
In early September the bishop received his first authentic word on the state of Catholicism in North Carolina. Father Henry P. Northrop reported that only three towns had churches — Raleigh, Edenton, and New Bern — although fifteen other towns and villages were named as stations where the priest visited occasionally. "Besides these," said Northrop, "there are other small points where one or two Catholics reside." Their priests served this vast area.
Before leaving for North Carolina, Bishop Gibbons visited St. Charles College and solicited candidates for the vicariate. Among the students whom he met was one named Denis J. O'Connell to whom the bishop apparently took an immediate liking. Two years later he was greatly cheered by the news that his five students at St. Charles all gave promise of making the type of priest who would serve the missions in North Carolina with credit.
By autumn the new bishop's health improved, and he could make plans for his installation on the feast of All Saints, Sunday, November 1. The little party, consisting of Archbishop Spalding, Gibbons, and Bernard J. McManus, pastor of St. John's Church in Baltimore, p19left the city on October 29 and arrived in Wilmington on Friday evening, October 30. On Sunday morning St. Thomas Church was crowded to capacity despite a heavy rain. After Archbishop Spalding led Bishop Gibbons to his throne and formally installed him, the latter celebrated the pontifical high Mass.
The Vicariate Apostolic of North Carolina covered the entire state, an area of •almost 50,000 square miles. According to the census of 1870, over 96 percent of the 1,071,361 inhabitants were living in rural areas. Of these, only about 700, less than one in a thousand, were Catholic. Moreover, the Church's problem was aggravated by widespread illiteracy, for the school system all over the state had largely broken down during the war. Wages were low and money extremely scarce. At the outset Bishop Gibbons worked closely with his three priests — Mark S. Gross, who was with him in Wilmington, Northrop, who covered the many stations in the northeastern part of the state, and Lawrence P. O'Connell, who had charge of the missions in the southwestern area. There were no Catholic schools, hospitals, or other diocesan institutions. The modest little brick and stucco Church of St. Thomas the Apostle in Wilmington had been dedicated in July, 1847. Since there was no residence for the clergy, the bishop and Father Gross had to accommodate themselves in the four small rooms attached to the rear of the church.
From every human viewpoint it was a discouraging prospect. Archbishop Spalding sensed Gibbons' loneliness. "I was truly affected when I left you on Monday morning; I thought you looked like an orphan & desolate," he wrote back from Baltimore. Nonetheless, "I have not a doubt of your ultimate success. You will reap in joy after sowing in tears. Courage!" Spalding went on to say that he had sent to the Prefect of the Congregation of the Propaganda, a report about Gibbons which "your modesty would scarcely recognize, but which I look to you to make true in the future as I believe it has been in the past."
Meanwhile there was much work to be done; no good could come of spending time lamenting Baltimore. Five days after his installation Gibbons entered his first item in the parish register: "I baptized conditionally Abraham Franklin, aged 53 years, after having received his profession of faith. Bernard Gorman, spr." This was the first in a lengthy series of adult converts received into the Church at James Gibbons' hands in North Carolina.
p20 On November 10 the bishop left Wilmington on a four-week visitation of his jurisdiction. He traveled •925 miles by rail, stage, and steamboat, visited sixteen towns and stations in central and eastern North Carolina, confirmed sixty-four persons of whom sixteen were converts, and baptized sixteen of whom ten were converts. In Raleigh, the state capital, he received every mark of respect. He could report happily to Spalding: "Yesterday I preached twice in the Catholic Church to crowded houses. The legislature now in session, turned out en masse. It is here particularly that the Church gains in public estimation by the conservative cause she pursued during the war." When Edward Conigland, one of the most outstanding lawyers in North Carolina at the time, learned that Gibbons was coming to Halifax, he wrote to offer the hospitality of his home. The lawyer had just lost his wife, and he wondered if her influence in eternity had not turned him back to religion. Conigland was to be the instrument through which the bishop was to accomplish much good for the Church in the succeeding years. December 17 found Gibbons once more in Wilmington with his first visitation tour completed. He himself attested to the cordial reception he had received everywhere, telling Archbishop Spalding that he had been welcomed "by Protestants and Catholics."
Near the end of 1868, Bishop Gibbons received his first benefaction from the Society for the Propagation of the Faith in France — 8,000 francs, or about $420. These donations from the Society, which continued for the next nine years of Gibbons' time in North Carolina, finally amounted in all to 57,280 francs, a little over $3,000. Gibbons later said of this help: "I can scarcely see how the work could have gone without such aid. The certainty of the annuity was a relief to my mind, whilst it gave a stimulus to fresh undertakings."
Early in 1869, the bishop spent a few days in New Orleans with his family. By this time his brother John's grain business was doing so well that John was able to give him "a handsome present in money & horse" for the work in North Carolina.
Gibbons lamented the lack of books of instruction for his flock, and he told Archbishop Spalding after his return from New Orleans that while the danger of losing the faith was not great for the Catholics of Wilmington, he did fear for those in the rural area. "My one remedy," he said, "is the circulation of books. I have exhausted my supply. . . . I wish I had about a dozen copies of the 'Evidences p21[Spalding's book, General Evidences of Catholicity, published in 1847].' " From his experiences with prospective converts and his strong feeling of the need of books on instruction there gradually took shape in Gibbons' mind the idea of writing a book that would give the essentials of Catholic doctrine in a simple way. Thus was slowly adumbrated The Faith of Our Fathers, destined to have such remarkable success.
Bishop Gibbons at first encountered disappointment in recruiting religious women. His appeal to Ireland for Sisters of Mercy, sent a few days after his arrival at Wilmington, met with a refusal. He wrote to the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy in Charleston in August, 1869, and having received a favorable reply and won the permission of Bishop Lynch, Gibbons secured the services of three sisters. On October 11, 1869, these Sisters opened the Academy of the Incarnation for girls, and on January 3, 1871, they began a parochial school under the title of St. Peter. The help that they gave the young bishop and his few priests in the task of instructing the children in the faith was, indeed, very great.
Gibbons' friend, the Archbishop of Baltimore, was a churchman whose wide experience in Church councils had brought a deep conviction of their usefulness. Spalding, therefore, decided to convoke the Tenth Provincial Council of Baltimore in April, 1869, and he turned to his youngest suffragan to prepare the pastoral letter that would be issued at the close of the council. He wanted the document to be fresh, terse, and practical; he said: "I therefore commit it to a fresh hand guided by a fresh heart."
Thomas Foley, chancellor of Baltimore, had the task of making the arrangements for the council, and it must have amused Gibbons to be requested to send "the names of your Theologians & also the names of superior of Seminaries and Heads of religious Orders in your Vicariate, who will accompany you." Foley ended by saying the archbishop had appointed Gibbons to preach the closing sermon of the council. The vicar apostolic replied that he was glad of an opportunity of returning to his native city: "I feel in going back to Baltimore, like a boy returning home to spend the holidays."
The council in Baltimore opened on Sunday, April 25, when Archbishops Spalding, his twelve suffragan bishops, and Abbot Boniface p22Wimmer, O. S. B., of St. Vincent's Abbey, Latrobe, Pennsylvania, in attendance. The main business was to decide upon the best means to carry out the decrees of the Second Plenary Council of 1866, and to consult about the council that would convene at Rome in December. The bishops were in session one week, and on the closing day, Sunday, May 2, Gibbons preached in the cathedral on "The Divine Mission and Unerring Authority of the Catholic Church." The pastoral letter, written by Gibbons and published at the end of the meeting, urged the cause of Catholic education upon parents and pointed out the dangers of a purely secular education. While the number of converts to the Catholic Church in the United States had been gratifying, the pastoral did not fail to mention that Catholics were obliged "to confess with sorrow, that a great number are lost to the Church." The bishops renewed their approval of the Catholic Publication Society of New York and warmly recommended protectories and orphan asylums to the generosity of the people. The bishops condemned birth control as well as obscene theatrical performances, indecent literature, and the "modern fashionable dances, commonly called German or Round dances."
The day after the council closed Gibbons had a special joy. On one of his visits to St. Charles College as a priest, he had met T. Herbert Shriver, a student there. Their friendship had ripened into a deep and abiding affection between Gibbons and the whole Shriver family, one that was to last until the very end of Gibbons' life. Now as Gibbons celebrated Mass in the cathedral, he gave first Communion to old William Shriver for whose conversion Mrs. Shriver and their children had been praying for many years.
Upon Bishop Gibbons' return to Wilmington in the spring of 1869, he made ready for hisr second major visitation tour, this time through the missions served by Father O'Connell in and around Charlotte. He and O'Connell left home in July and traveled through the small towns and settlements for some weeks. Finally, on August 16, he arrived home again, having gone •985 miles by rail and stage, visited eleven towns, counted 376 Catholics in O'Connell's missions, confirmed 106 of whom thirty-three were converts, and baptized six of whom four were converts. Gibbons' friend, the Archbishop of Baltimore, wrote to say that he had heard that the vicar apostolic had returned to Wilmington "like a conquering hero."
p23 That fall the time had arrived for the bishop to leave his vicariate for over a year. Before sailing for Rome, he fulfilled a number of engagements in Baltimore that enabled him to visit his friends as well as make collections for his mission. On October 20 the archbishop and his party, including Gibbons, sailed for Europe on the Baltimore to attend the Vatican Council. In Paris, where they were the guests of the general motherhouse of the Sulpician Fathers, the Vicar Apostolic of North Carolina called at the headquarters of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith. He thanked the directors in person for their financial aid and explained in detail the pressing needs under which his vicariate still labored. From Paris the prelates made their way southward through France, and from Marseilles they crossed the Mediterranean. Of the sixty-some bishops in the United States at the time, forty-eight attended the council, eighteen of them, including Gibbons, resident at the American College, others scattered in various religious houses throughout Rome. During all his time away from home Bishop Gibbons remained close to his episcopal patron, Archbishop Spalding: "For ten months we sat at the same table and slept under the same roof."
It would be difficult to imagine any event in history better calculated to give a young missionary bishop a true concept of the majesty and universality of the Catholic Church than the Vatican Council. The spirit in which the discussions in the Council were conducted, the wealth of erudition unfolding finely delineated theories, impressed Gibbons. He maintained that as he listened attentively to the debates on the issue of papal infallibility, he heard "far more subtle, more plausible, and more searching objections against this prerogative of the Pope than I have ever read or heard from the pen or tongue of the most learned and formidable Protestant assailant."
On the subject of the definition of papal infallibility, the American hierarchy was divided. When in January, 1870, a petition was circulated asking that the doctrine be defined, 380 bishops, including nine Americans, signed it. But contrary petitions appeared at once. One, suggesting that the question not be brought before the council at all, carried the names of twenty American bishops. When a resolution that the debates on papal be closed was passed on June 3, this action gave rise to protest to which nine Americans affixed their signatures.
p24 To all this theological controversy James Gibbons was an interested witness; but he took no active part. When the time came to pass on the question of papal infallibility in the final public session July 18, he voted with the majority as did most of the Americans. A number of bishops from the United States had gone home rather than vote in favor of the decree, and one, Edward Fitzgerald of Little Rock, at the last moment decided to attend and vote against it. Fitzgerald and Bishop Luigi Riccio of Cajazzo in the former kingdom of Naples were the only two among 535 bishops voting who returned a non placet.
During the nearly eight months that Bishop Gibbons spent in Rome he had had many an unforgettable experience. Through his close association with Archbishop Spalding, the vicar apostolic from North Carolina, thirty-five years old, had met personally many of the greatest men in the Church. He was present on January 29, 1870, when Pius IX paid a special compliment to the Americans by coming to the chapel of the American College to pronounce the decree declaring Giovanni Ancina as venerable. Listening week after week to the finest minds in the Church debate doctrinal and moral problems not only refreshed Gibbons' own knowledge but gave to it an enrichment that he never lost. Some of the richness of this experience shone through the series of eight unsigned articles that he and Bishop Lynch wrote in Europe and published in the Catholic World from February to September.
One lesson Gibbons learned on this trip pertained to the relations of Church and State. His observation of the practical working of union of Church and State in some European countries solidified his preference for the American system. At Annecy in Savoy he and Archbishop Spalding were the guests of Bishop Claude M. Magnin who received him in his splendid palace "before which guards marched up and down." The vicar apostolic from North Carolina, contrasting the magnificence of the building with his four small rooms back in Wilmington, congratulated his host, to which the latter replied: "Monsignor Gibbons! All is not gold that glitters. I cannot even build a sacristy without government approval." The incident made a profound impression on James Gibbons' mind, and it reconciled him more than ever to the independent poverty in which he administered his vicariate. With each new view of the Old World system he became a stronger defender of the free and mutually p25amicable relationships between Church and State in the United States.
By October 4, the bishop was again in Wilmington after an absence of over a year, St. Thomas Church had been enlarged and its equipment improved. The enlargement of •24 by 40 feet was in the main intended as living quarters for the clergy, and Gibbons was pleased with the improvement which, as he wrote, "forms my present commodious dwelling." By this time the efforts of the bishop and his four priests on the missions had succeeded in increasing the number of Catholics, either by searching out lapsed ones or by conversions, to a total of 1200, about 500 above the number when Gibbons came in 1868. Yet resources were still so meager that the bishop had to depend on outside aid. With this thought in mind he wrote to the Bishop of Albany and to other friends in that diocese asking if he might go there to beg. He received a hearty welcome from Bishop John Conroy, and his friend, James McDermott, said he thought there was scarcely a priest in the Diocese of Albany "who will not give you a passibly [sic] decent Collection."
Before setting off for the North the bishop completed work on his first pastoral letter, a commentary on the temporal power of the Pope. Gibbons sought to prove the Pope's title to sovereignty on the basis of legitimate acquisition, long possession, and just use of the original grant to the Papacy. The tone of the pastoral was firm and clear, although the language was sufficiently restrained as to offer no opportunity for criticism to fair-minded Americans outside the Church. The document pleased John Murphy, the publisher in Baltimore, so much that he volunteered to make Gibbons no charge for printing it. Before Gibbons left Wilmington he also delivered a public lecture at the invitation of the local temperance society, "the members of which," said Gibbons, "with one exception, are non‑Catholics." The lecture was a sufficient success to prompt the president of the state council of the Friends of Temperance at Raleigh to write Gibbons two days later asking that he repeat it there.
On his way to Albany in late March, 1871, Gibbons stopped off at Baltimore to visit his friends. On March 19 he delivered a lecture on the Papacy and the temporal power in the hall of the Maryland Institute. Gibbons gave the lecture, so he thought, for the benefit of a parochial school fund of one of the Baltimore parishes, but the pastor decided, without Gibbons' prior knowledge, to give over the receipts to the bishop himself for the benefit of his diocese.
p26 His reception by the clergy of the diocese of Albany was very cordial, and Gibbons was able to collect a considerable sum of money from the priests and people to take back to his vicariate. The first week of June found him stopping with Bishop Conroy in Albany with his tour of the diocese about ended. He confessed to his friend, Father Joseph P. Dubreul, S. S., that his labors had "very arduous."
During June and part of July Bishop Gibbons filled engagements to confirm in a number of parishes in the Archdiocese of Baltimore. While on his tour he confirmed and preached at Barnesville, a little village in Montgomery County. Not long afterward a woman wrote him that she was present on that occasion and she was now seeking further information. "Believe me I shall never forget your sermon nor you. I am a Protestant and have been an earnest searcher after truth. Whether I have found it or not remains yet to be tested." This inquiry was one of the first among dozens sent to Gibbons by Protestants after hearing him preach or after reading one of his books.
In the fall of 1871 there occurred one of the most remarkable incidents of James Gibbons' North Carolina career. A country doctor by the name of John C. Monk was living with his family at a rural settlement called Newton Grove between Raleigh and Wilmington. The doctor had for some time been giving serious thought to the subject of religion. He chanced on an old issue of the New York Herald that contained a sermon by Archbishop John McCloskey on the true Church. He was so impressed by what he had read that he sent off a letter addressed to "Any Catholic Priest in Wilmington, N. C." in which he asked for further enlightenment. Mark Gross answered the call by a visit to Newton Grove where he began a series of instructions for the doctor and preached in the open to the people from the neighboring countryside. Dr. Monk's position of influence in the community proved to be a powerful attraction and soon a lively interest in Catholicism sprang up in a region where before it had been the subject of ridicule and reprobation. At length the doctor finished his instructions and came to Wilmington where, on October 27, 1871, Bishop Gibbons baptized him after receiving his profession of faith. He proved to be so ardent a Catholic and set so splendid an example that soon his wife and children, his brother and his family, and a number of their neighbors followed him into the Church.
p27 In March, 1872, Gibbons visited Newton Grove. He had to rise at four o'clock in the morning to catch a very early train out of Wilmington and, there being no carriages about, he was compelled — with the aid of a small boy — to carry his heavy traveling bag filled with mission articles •a mile to the station. Upon arrival at Newton Grove in a very severe storm he was met by a local resident with a carriage. Gibbons later wrote that his host carried an ax "to cut our way through the forests, for the sleet and snow had covered the country, and bowed to the earth, and in many places across our course, the pine saplings that grew in dense bodies up to the margin of the road." For •twenty‑one miles they crossed the country in the teeth of wind, rain, sleet, and snow. "After a short exposure I was all but frozen by the violence of the storm and intense cold." Gibbons recovered quickly after reaching his destination, however, and the next day he celebrated Mass in a private home and preached to a large gathering of people. In a short time many entered the Church, and ultimately a crude little wooden church was constructed to accommodate them when the priest came on his occasional visits. Experiences such as these — and he had several others that were not so striking — gave heart and courage to Gibbons to continue his efforts in spite of all difficulties.
The new year 1872 brought alarming reports from Baltimore concerning the health of Archbishop Spalding. Father Dubreul told Gibbons the archbishop had been anointed. "He may recover yet," said Dubreul, "but is continually in danger of being strangled. . . . His sufferings are great. We are all praying for him." Even before the ordeal of the archbishop ended, death struck in another part of the Province of Baltimore when John McGill, Bishop of Richmond, died on January 14. On his return from the funeral in Richmond Gibbons found awaiting him a telegram appointing him administrator of the vacant diocese; Archbishop Spalding wished Gibbons to make his residence in Richmond. By his nature, James Gibbons disliked radical changes in his customary way of living. When he was appointed to the cathedral in Baltimore, he was reluctant to leave St. Bridget's Parish; now that he had become used to his home in Wilmington, he was again loath to leave it. He did not feel he could refuse the appointment of the archbishop, however, so he wrote off his assent.
Just three weeks later, Martin John Spalding died on February 7. Gibbons confided to his diary: "Archbishop Spalding died. A great p28light is extinguished in Israel. I attended his funeral, having before his death, given him the H. Viaticum & read for him the Profession of Faith." In the death of Spalding, Gibbons lost a powerful friend. On March 20 the month's mind Mass was celebrated for the late archbishop in the cathedral of Baltimore. Gibbons, selected to preach the sermon, traced his relationship to Archbishop Spalding since 1865; he said that their friendship was of a most intimate and affectionate nature. "I reverenced him as a father, and he deigned to honor me as a son."
The responsibility for administering the vacant see of Richmond along with the vicariate was, of course, a heavy one. It necessitated repeated trips between Richmond and Wilmington and a good deal of added travel in visiting the scattered missions in Virginia and North Carolina. But any hope that Gibbons might have entertained of being relieved of one of the two jurisdictions was dashed on August 29, 1872, when Alessandro Cardinal Barnabò, Prefect of the Congregation of the Propaganda, notified Gibbons by letter that he had been named Bishop of Richmond by Pius IX. Barnabò also stated that Gibbons was to administer the Vicariate of North Carolina until the Holy See appointed a successor. The bulls for his promotion to Richmond were dated July 30; on the same day James Roosevelt Bayley, Bishop of Newark, had been named Archbishop of Baltimore to succeed Spalding.
Gibbons soon prepared to leave North Carolina. On September 5, a week after receiving the bulls, he wrote to Pius IX and Cardinal Barnabò accepting the appointment as Bishop of Richmond. On October 6 he preached his farewell sermon in St. Thomas Church. He told his Wilmington Catholics: "Like an absent father who reads with nervous hands the letters of his devoted children far away, I will watch you my spiritual children, for such you still remain." He never lost his high regard for those North Carolinians, and in after years he stated that he found the audiences in North Carolina more receptive to the teachings of the Church than those in Virginia.
In the interval since Gibbons' arrival in 1868 the number of priests in the vicariate had increased to eight; two parochial schools and a number of new churches and mission stations had appeared; and the total number of Catholics in North Carolina had doubled to 1400. One of the missionary priests wrote some years later that "The transfer of Bishop Gibbons was universally regretted, "for the bishop's p29ability to speak and to write attractively, as well as his personal amiability and unaffected manners, had won him friends and admirers. He remarked that Gibbons was capable of accomplishing an incredible amount of work, that his visitation hours, by all modes of conveyance, "new and obsolete," brought an acquaintance with his people so intimate that "He knew all the adult Catholics in North Carolina personally and called them by name." Gibbons' method of apologetics for the Church likewise drew attention, for he could always refute error "without wounding charity or interrupting the amenities of social intercourse."
At thirty-eight years of age, then, with four years of experience as a bishop, James Gibbons set out from Wilmington for Richmond, where the Catholics of the Old Dominion were prepared to welcome in his person the fourth bishop of their episcopal see.
The installation of James Gibbons as Bishop of Richmond took place in St. Peter's Cathedral on October 20, 1872. So great a crowd lined the sidewalks for nearly a block that "the utmost efforts of a squad of police . . . were necessary to prevent accidents." When the doors of the cathedral opened, Archbishop Bayley installed Gibbons and Bishop Thomas A. Becker of Wilmington celebrated the pontifical Mass. At the end of the ceremony Gibbons himself gave the principal address. Commending the faithful, he linked their loyalty to the Church with their loyalty to the nation:
And we have unbounded confidence in your enlightened obedience, beloved children of the laity. It has been tauntingly said by the enemies of the Church that the submission of the Catholic laity to their pastors was forced and servile, and that their loyalty to their Church would melt away amid the free air of America. The Catholics of the United States have triumphantly repelled, by their acts, the insulting insinuation. As there are none more loyal than they to their country, so there are none more devoted to their Church.
The Diocese of Richmond comprised eight counties in West Virginia together with all the state of Virginia except twenty counties. The combined area that now became the spiritual responsibility of Bishop Gibbons covered •34,808 square miles. In the year of Gibbons' arrival in Richmond the diocese had fifteen churches, an equal number of chapels and stations, five schools for girls with about 800 students, eight schools for boys with 600 students, one hospital, two orphan asylums caring for 119 orphans, and an estimated p30Catholic population of around 17,000. To care for the spiritual needs of the diocese there were seventeen priests; nine students were preparing for the ministry in various seminaries.
While the situation of the Church in Virginia was, indeed, better than in North Carolina, the overwhelmingly non‑Catholic character of the population made Virginia missionary territory for Catholicism. In 1870 only a fraction over one in seventy‑two of the total population were Catholics. As in North Carolina, the population was largely scattered, more than 88 percent of the inhabitants living in rural areas. Richmond, the largest city, was showing signs of development as an industrial center with iron works, flour mills, and a large cotton mill doing a fairly thriving business. Railroad communication, opened between Richmond and the West in 1873, contributed to the city's prosperity.
The new year 1873 brought a donation of about $150 for the Diocese of Richmond from the Paris headquarters of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, the first of a series of benefactions that would ultimately total over 34,000 francs or $1,700 for Gibbons' years in the diocese. Needless to say, these sums were speedily put to work, for it was not easy to find money to help support priests on the mission and pay for the expenses of students for the priesthood. The diocese needed priests, but Gibbons, short of money, asked the rector of All Hallows College in Ireland to cancel any adoption of students for Richmond.
A few weeks after the arrival of James Gibbons in Richmond, a Catholic temperance society was organized in the cathedral parish with his approval. All through his life the bishop gave his hearty blessing to the temperance movement, although at no time was he a teetotaler. In the fall of 1873, the cathedral school for boys at Ninth and Marshall Streets was dedicated. A few weeks later the bishop was visited by the assistant Mother of the Little Sisters of the Poor who came to inspect a building on Brooke Avenue that Gibbons had proposed as a home for the aged poor in his diocese. This became one of his favorite projects; through the generosity of William Shakespeare Caldwell, a wealthy layman of New York, he was able to make his dream a reality. In 1874 Caldwell deeded a house on Marshall Street to the bishop for an old people's home and provided an endowment to help support it.
On his repeated missionary journeys through Virginia and North p31Carolina Gibbons encountered some strange experiences. Early in 1874 he had gone south to Halifax, Virginia, where on a dark, rainy night he had preached to about twenty persons in the courthouse. About four-thirty the next morning he was awakened by the barking of dogs. He soon discovered that there was a thief in his room. The bishop called out several times but received no answer; whereupon he jumped out of bed, and the robber ran, leaving behind Gibbons' vest which contained about $150.
One of the severest trials of his life as a bishop was just ahead of him. Father J. V. McNamara, the pastor at Raleigh, North Carolina, forbade his people to hold a ball on St. Patrick's night because he felt that scandal would arise from it. The bishop disagreed with him, and the incident brought on a crisis in their relations. The priest had been gravely disobedient for years, had given scandal, and had abused his people through his ungovernable temper. Finally Gibbons' patience was worn out, and he suspended McNamara. When the bishop went to Raleigh in the spring of 1874 to try to bring order to the parish, McNamara, as the bishop described it, "had the hardihood to sit in the sanctuary on last Sunday during late Mass, & attempted to speak after I had preached, but I forbade him." McNamara appealed to the Holy See, and the bishop was compelled to defend his own course of action to the Prefect of the Congregation of the Propaganda. Ultimately, McNamara was replaced as pastor at Raleigh, but the incident had been a sore trial that the young bishop did not soon forget.
North Carolina gave rise to another disturbing incident of a different character. In May, 1874, Thomas Atkinson, Protestant Episcopal Bishop of North Carolina, delivered an attack on the Catholic touching on the sacrament of penance and on the moral influence of the confessional. Gibbons regarded the attack as serious enough to warrant an answer. He, therefore, prepared a fairly elaborate reply, had it printed in the form of a brochure entitled The Sacrament of Penance and the Moral Influence of Sacramental Confession. In it Gibbons endeavored to answer the two main charges of Atkinson, namely, the alleged human origin and immoral tendency of confession, and the religious superiority of Protestant over Catholic countries.
James Gibbons was again in North Carolina in June, 1875; he spent most of the month on a tour of the missions. On this trip he p32was offered a tract of •500 acres of good land by Father Jeremiah O'Connell. O'Connell felt that the farm would afford an opportunity for the bishop to engage the services of a group of religious who might live off the land and at the same time take care of the Catholics in the surrounding settlements. Gibbons acted promptly, and after about six months of negotiation finally induced Abbot Wimmer of St. Vincent's Abbey to send a colony of monks to cultivate the farm. On March 25, 1876, Gibbons transferred the deed to the Benedictines.
One of the last recorded visits to North Carolina that Gibbons made before his promotion to Baltimore was in the late winter of 1876. He traveled to Greensboro by boat on the Tar River and preached that night in the Methodist church. As he wrote, "The Methodist bell summoned the people to church, & some Protestant ladies sang & played on the occasion. The attendance was large." On Easter Tuesday he reached Raleigh, where he confirmed and preached; as he told Archbishop Bayley, "preaching is almost the alpha & omega of Episcopal life in N. Carolina." It was now over seven years since Gibbons had assumed charge of the Church in North Carolina. While its progress still left much to be desired, his repeated visitation tours and his sermons and ministrations had done much to give spirit to the priests and laity scattered over the vast stretches of the Old North State.
Bishop Gibbons kept in frequent touch with his metropolitan in Baltimore, and it was evident from their correspondence that their ties of friendship were growing closer as time passed. Soon — certainly by 1874 — Bayley gave intimation that he had Gibbons in mind as coadjutor of Baltimore with the right of succession. Through the next three years the steps taken by the archbishop made it a virtual certainty that James Gibbons' residence in Richmond would soon be ended.
Toward the end of 1874 the interest of the English-speaking world was enlivened notably by the public controversy between Henry Edward Cardinal Manning and William Ewart Gladstone over the issue of papal infallibility. A reporter of the New York Herald called on Gibbons in Richmond to ask his views. The bishop recalled that the Vatican Council had created no new doctrine, "but confirmed an old one." He likened the decree of papal infallibility to decisions of the Supreme Court when it decided constitutional questions. p33The decision of the justices embodied no new doctrine but rather a new form of words, since the judgment was based on the letter and spirit of the Constitution. Similarly when the Catholic Church defined a new dogma of faith, the definition was nothing more than a new form of expression given to an old doctrine, "because the decision must be drawn from the revealed word of God, and based upon the constant tradition of the Church." Gibbons stated that he found it singular that Gladstone was frightened by the tyranny of the Pope whereas he was completely silent on the tyranny being practiced just then by Bismarck against the Church in Germany. The Herald of November 29, 1874, carried the Gibbons interview, along with a sympathetic editorial note that closed with a reference to the bishop's surprise at Gladstone's silence regarding Bismarck's policies: "this surprise," said the Herald, "most persons are obliged to share."
The following year President Ulysses S. Grant caused a stir by his message to Congress in December, 1875, when he recommended a constitutional amendment forbidding the teaching of "sectarian" matters in any school supported wholly or in part by public funds and excluding from school funds and taxes any school conducted by a religious denomination. Grant likewise recommended a tax on church properties. Again a reporter from the Herald interviewed Gibbons. The bishop said that if the amendment proposed by Grant were enacted, it "would reduce our American Republic to the condition of things existing in pagan Rome." The bishop commented on the dangers of a more centralized government to individual liberty and to education. He championed the rights of the family and of the states in matters of education and added that if education were handed over to the federal government, it would "give the administration an overwhelming patronage, which would destroy all balance of power and reduce minorities to a mere cipher.' Gibbons said he could not see how both religion and paganism could be excluded from the schools, "for if an education excludes all religion it is necessarily pagan, there being no medium between the two terms." He was equally vigorous in opposing Grant's proposal to tax church property; to him such action would put a premium on infidelity and avarice while making "religion and philanthropy odious by imposing a penalty on those who maintain Christianity and support charitable houses." The bishop closed the interview by saying that he did not p34believe the American people would ever be found advocating or even endorsing "such novel legislation."
When the young bishop went South in 1868 to assume his episcopal duties, he had entered upon a renewal of his previous experiences with poverty, steady toil, and uncertain economic status among those with whom he lived. He knew at close range the lot of those who toiled for a living, and his sympathies were with them. Preaching in Richmond in 1876, Gibbons counseled his flock on the topic: "Man Born to Work: or, Necessity and Dignity of Labor." He paid tribute to the useful and beneficent role of the laborer: "I would rather grasp the soiled hand of the honest artisan, than touch the soft, kid‑gloved hand of the dandy." He stated that he had three admonitions to give to the men who composed his congregation: avoid idleness as they avoid theft; take an active personal interest in the business of their employers; and be content in the state and city where Providence had placed them, not moving from place to place since, as he said, "a strolling family gather very few coins or greenbacks in their perambulating wheel of fortune."
As time passed, the health of Archbishop Bayley showed further deterioration, and this prompted him to reopen the question of the coadjutorship for Bishop Gibbons. Early in 1876 Bayley told John Cardinal McCloskey of New York that his (Bayley's) doctor said he must either resign the See of Baltimore or get a coadjutor. He said that it did not seem necessary to him that three names should be submitted to the Holy See. "Bp. Gibbons of Richmond would be 'the right man in the right place.' " Of Gibbons the archbishop remarked: "He is clear headed — sensible — a good administrator — is very popular in Baltimore, and would be most acceptable to Clergy & People." Bayley asked McCloskey to second his efforts in Rome by writing to the Prefect of Propaganda. Meanwhile James Gibbons maintained silence.
For a long time Bishop Gibbons had been turning over in his mind a book that, by a clear exposition of Catholic truths, would serve both uninstructed Catholics and those outside the Church who were seeking further information on its teachings and practices. Gibbons had felt keenly the need of books of instruction from his earliest days on the missions in North Carolina, where there were so few Catholic schools and such a pitifully small number of priests and Sisters to help with instructions. At the urgent insistence of Father Gross, p35he started to give serious consideration to writing a book. Pursuing this task with the same measured pace that marked most of his understandings, he took a long time. By the early months of 1876, however, the greater part of the manuscript had been completed. John B. Tabb, a teacher in St. Peter's school, Richmond, checked the work for style, and then Gibbons sensibly submitted the manuscript to the trained eye of Father Camillo Mazzella, S. J., professor of theology at Woodstock College, Maryland. Mazzella read the work and then sent it on to John Murphy, the publisher in Baltimore. Toward the end of the year, James Gibbons' first and most famous work appeared under the title The Faith of Our Fathers.
The first literary effort of James Gibbons proved to be an immediate success. Letters poured in upon him from all directions. Many of the American hierarchy sending their congratulations. Bishop Louis de Goesbriand of Burlington, Vermont, for example, said he found it much more readable than other books of its kind. Father Charles J. Croghan, pastor of St. Joseph's Church in Charleston, told the bishop that he had distributed fifty copies of it among his Sunday school children: "You hit upon the right matter; the style is admirable. . . . Everything in the book is as clear as a sunbeam." Since it was especially for groups such as Croghan's that the bishop had intended this volume, this letter doubtless brought him more than ordinary satisfaction. A letter from a Protestant women in Baltimore said that while she had reverence for many Catholic practices, she had viewed others "as the empty, meaningless ceremonies I had been taught to consider them." Recently she had come on the bishop's book. "I was charmed with it, and discovered that my predilection for the Church was because I was a Catholic at heart." She was now under instructions to boat a Catholic and she wanted the author to know of her gratitude for The Faith of Our Fathers. Pope Pius IX expressed his pleasure at learning of the book's success and his special joy that "the bishops were taking up their pens in the defence of Mother Church." He sent the Bishop of Richmond "a special blessing with the hope that he will continue the good fight."
A year and a half after its publication the Swiss house of Benziger Brothers brought out a translation in German, and eventually the book was translated into all the principal European languages including Swedish and Bohemian, and in 1896 it was put into Braille for p36the use of the blind. Late in 1892 word reached Gibbons from a missionary in Japan who proposed to translate it into Japanese; he asked for permission to make certain changes in the text in order to render it more suitable for Japanese readers. In reply Gibbons stated: "I freely consent that you should make slight changes and thus accommodate it to the habits and customs, the genius and temperament of the country." These various transactions over The Faith of Our Fathers took place before the international copyright law of March, 1891, had won general recognition and enforcement. Regardless of the question of copyright, Gibbons was not interested in profits but in the use to which his book might be put for the good of souls.
The Faith of Our Fathers was by all odds most popular work in apologetics ever published by an American Catholic. At the present time, eighty-five years after publication it is an active item in religious bookstores, an estimated two million copies in 110 editions having been distributed. Because of this tremendous circulation and the enlightenment the book has brought to so many readers on the teachings of the Catholic Church, it deserves to rank among the most effective apologetic works in Christian history.
At the time that the details of Gibbons' book were being worked out, the rumor of the Baltimore coadjutorship recurred constantly. In the spring of 1876 the Coadjutor Archbishop of St. Louis, Patrick J. Ryan, said that he would do his best to get a group of Sisters for Gibbons' missions, although he thought Gibbons should not be planning so far as a year in advance. "Suppose," said Ryan, "you should be translated in the interim? Suppose you should be found in the quiet, respectable rank of the Coadjutors of the Country. . . . But I must not joke or hint even." That winter Michael A. Corrigan, Bishop of Newark, wrote Archbishop Bayley from the Eternal City that there would not be "the slightest difficulty" about a coadjutor as soon as the necessary documents were forwarded to the Holy See. As much as James Roosevelt Bayley wished to expedite the appointment he found he must comply with Propaganda's demand that a terna of three names be sent for the coadjutorship. He told Archbishop John J. Williams of Boston that besides the terna of himself and his suffragans Rome wanted letters from the other American metropolitans. Would Williams, then, please write to Rome and, "if you can, urge the appointment of Dr. Gibbons who is the right man."
p37 At length the appointment of James Gibbons as Bishop of Jonopolis and Coadjutor Archbishop of Baltimore with the right of succession was made. The first news of the action of Rome reached him on May 15, 1877, in the form of a telegram from James A. McMaster, editor of the New York Freeman's Journal, which read: "You are preconized coadjutor of Baltimore cum jure successionis. Accept my congratulations." Within twenty-four hours the news was flashed over the country and congratulations began to come in. Bishop Corrigan, with whom Gibbons was destined to have many interesting, if not always tranquil, relations, wrote: "May God be praised for his appointment which has been so earnestly prayed for, and may His Holy Spirit be always with you to guide and direct you for our common good!" Denis J. O'Connell, just after his ordination in Rome, wrote to his superior: "God has great designs upon you, and his finger is most strangely apparent in the course of your life. Whatever else awaits you here, the government of many cities certainly awaits you hereafter." O'Connell said that following dinner that day the new priests were received by Alessandro Cardinal Franchi. O'Connell remarked that Franchi had taken away his bishop. "How so?" Franchi asked. "You have given him to Baltimore." "Oh, si si," he exclaimed laughing, "Monsig. Gibbons, for they all wanted him." Father Edward McGlynn of New York was present, and at this point he entered the conversation:
"And cum jure successionis, too, Eminenza," interposed Dr. McGlynn who stood near. "Yes," replied the cardinal, "all the Bishops were in favor of him, and the people of Baltimore were most eager to obtain him." "And he is young," added the Dr., "not much above thirty." "Thirty-four" his Eminence responded. Then Dr. McGlynn continued: "He is most amiable and learned and has written some very valuable works, especially one on the Faith." "Si, si," said the cardinal, "io so," [I know it] "e molto bravo."
The Prefect of Propaganda and Father McGlynn had missed Gibbons' age by almost ten years!
In April of 1877 Archbishop Bayley had undertaken a trip to Europe in the hope that the waters of Vichy might restore his health. In June Archbishop James F. Wood of Philadelphia brought him the bulls of appointment for Gibbons as coadjutor of Baltimore. Bayley asked Wood to reconvey them to Gibbons with the request that he enter on the administration of the Archdiocese of Baltimore as soon p38as possible. Bayley himself wrote to Gibbons and granted all the faculties he could, instructed him as to where he would find the keys and the important documents he might need, and explained how he might secure money from the cathedraticum fund in the bank. Gibbons's faculties arrived in Richmond on August 1, and the next day Gibbons had a letter from the Vicar-General of Baltimore saying the bulls had been forwarded to him by Archbishop Wood. Gibbons noted in his days: "May God give me light to know my duty & strength to fulfill it."
In August the Archbishop of Baltimore returned from Europe, but his condition grew so critical that late in the month Gibbons hurried to Newark and anointed him. These were trying days for the bishop who was expected to wind up his affairs in Virginia and North Carolina and at the same time attempt to keep the administration of the Archdiocese of Baltimore in some kind of order. On September 5 he wrote his acceptance of the Baltimore assignment to Pius IX. One of the last important public appearances of James Gibbons in Richmond came on September 19 when he preached in St. Peter's Cathedral at the Mass celebrated during the convention of the Irish Catholic Benevolent Union. He told the delegates that he had daily commingled and conversed with peoples of all religious creeds,
and unless I have very much mistaken the character and disposition of those people, I can say to you with confidence, that you will here seek in vain for social ostracism or religious animosity. Prejudices indeed there may be & are among us, but they are relegated to the private family & to the churches. You will find in the public walks of life, a broad religious toleration & a social fraternal spirit. And the friendly smile you will see before you on Richmond's face, will reflect the warm & generous feelings of Richmond's heart. . . .
Ten days after this sermon Bishop Gibbons received a telegram telling him that Archbishop Bayley was reported to be dying. He made another hurried trip to Newark and remained with the archbishop until his death on October 3. The funeral in Baltimore, the burial beside the grave of the late archbishop's aunt, Mother Elizabeth Seton, at Emmitsburg, and the many details attendant on these events took all of Gibbons' time during early October. Three days before the funeral the new archbishop began to exercise one of his functions as metropolitan when he sent telegrams to the suffragan p39bishops of the Province of Baltimore announcing approaching nominations to the vacant See of Richmond and to the Vicariate of North Carolina. Within a few days Gibbons was asked by Archbishop Joseph S. Alemany of San Francisco to fulfill another duty of the metropolitans of the country, namely to express his views to Rome on the proposed names for the coadjutorship of San Francisco.
Following the funeral of Archbishop Bayley and the transaction of the most pressing business in Baltimore, the new archbishop returned to Richmond to take final leave of his people. On Sunday, October 14, he preached his farewell sermon in the cathedral to a large congregation, among whom there were many Protestants. The clergy of the diocese gave a farewell dinner in his honor and gave him a beautiful chalice as a token of esteem and gratitude for his services in the Diocese of Richmond. While Gibbons naturally felt regret at departing from Virginia where he had spent five happy years, he left with the satisfaction that he had done a great deal to advance the cause of religion in the state. In the five years since 1872 the number of churches had been increased by seven to a total of twenty‑two, nine more chapels and stations had been added to the fifteen of 1872, and eight more priests were included in the total of twenty-five scattered over the towns and country stations of Virginia and West Virginia. In 1872 there had been five so‑called "female academies" and eight parochial schools for boys; by the time Gibbons left the diocese, there were fourteen parochial schools each for boys and girls and six academies for the latter. Even the Vicariate of North Carolina was able to boast of four parochial schools in the year Gibbons went to Baltimore; nine years before there had been none.
At length on October 19 James Gibbons took his farewell of Richmond. Three months beyond his forty-third birthday, this man who had now completed nine years in the episcopacy found himself the archbishop of the premier See of Baltimore, his native city. At this early age he was placed in the seat of a Carroll, a Kenrick, and a Spalding, a position that, although not by official act of Rome, carried with it the practical primacy of the Catholic Church of the United States. From all the indications given of his wisdom, virtue, and ability through the years up to 1877 there seemed every reason to believe that the choice for this high post had been a happy one.
Images with borders lead to more information.
The thicker the border, the more information. (Details here.)
A page or image on this site is in the public domain ONLY
if its URL has a total of one *asterisk.
If the URL has two **asterisks,
the item is copyright someone else, and used by permission or fair use.
If the URL has none the item is © Bill Thayer.
See my copyright page for details and contact information.
Page updated: 11 Apr 13