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Bill Thayer

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Life of James Cardinal Gibbons
John Tracy Ellis
as abridged by Francis L. Broderick

[image ALT: An oil painting of a man of about 70, wearing a long robe rather sumtuy embroidered, with a pectoral cross hanging from his neck. He is seen more or less in right profile, seated, somewhat stooped, and looks tired. On a dimly seen table to his left, the biretta of a Roman Catholic cardinal. He is James Cardinal Gibbons, the subject of a biography on this site.]

Oil portrait of Cardinal Gibbons, from the jacket, where it is not identified.

James Gibbons is remembered in the American Catholic Church as one of the great bishops of her history, but he also transcended the confines of Catholicism and even of religion more generally to become a well-known public figure in his time, as this biography amply points out: he was in the national public eye for almost fifty years. A biography of him is thus not only important in its own right, but is of interest in the varied topics it has to cover, affording for example a special view of three major wars in American history, but also telling the stories of Protestant America coming to grips with Catholicism; of ethnic rivalries between the Irish and the Germans before they finally melded into a truly American identity; of battles over education and religious freedom still being fought today; and of the labor struggles of the late nineteenth century. Finally, but not least, it throws an interesting light on Vatican politics both internal and on the world stage.

The book as originally penned by one of the foremost Catholic historians of the United States ran to two large volumes; it is here condensed into one, which the jacket blurb epitomizes as follows:

This popular, one-volume edition of John Tracy Ellis' two-volume biography brings into focus the figure of the man who is, after John Carroll, probably the most significant figure in the history of the Catholic Church in the United States. Careful abridgment and skillful editing were carried out to make the work attractive to the many readers who through the means of a popular presentation will become better acquainted with this great man who was both statesman and churchman, a confidant of several United States presidents, and the molder of the Catholic Church policies in this country in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The Education of a Bishop


North Carolina and Richmond


First Years as Archbishop of Baltimore


The Red Hat


In the Midst of Controversies


Citizen and Churchman


The Final Years


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Technical Details

Edition Used and Copyright

The edition transcribed here is that published by The Bruce Publishing Company, Milwaukee, in 1963. It is in the public domain because the copyrights on both the abridgment and the underlying unabridged work (1952) have lapsed by failure to renew in the appropriate years according to the then laws of the United States; 1963 was the very last year such a renewal was required for the maintenance of copyright past the initial term of 28 years: details here on the copyright law involved.

Ecclesiastical Clearances

The edition bears the following permissions:

Nihil Obstat:

John F. Murphy, S. T. D.
Censor librorum


✠ William E. Cousins
Archbishop of Milwaukee
May 15, 1963

The Nihil Obstat and the Imprimatur do not apply to my notes, of course.


As almost always, I retyped the text by hand rather than scanning it — not only to minimize errors prior to proofreading, but as an opportunity for me to become intimately familiar with the work, an exercise which I heartily recommend: Qui scribit, bis legit. (Well-meaning attempts to get me to scan text, if success­ful, would merely turn me into some kind of machine: gambit declined.)

This transcription has been minutely proofread. In the table of contents above, the chapters are shown on blue backgrounds, indicating that I believe the text of them to be completely errorfree. As elsewhere onsite, the header bar at the top of each chapter's webpage will remind you with the same color scheme.

The edition I followed was well proofread, with few typographical errors. I marked my corrections, when important (or unavoidable because inside a link), with a bullet like this;º and when trivial, with a dotted underscore like this: as elsewhere on my site, glide your cursor over the bullet or the underscored words to read the variant. Similarly, bullets before measurements provide conversions to metric, e.g., 10 miles.

A small number of odd spellings, curious turns of phrase, etc. have been marked <!‑‑ sic  in the sourcecode, just to confirm that they were checked.

Any over­looked mistakes, please drop me a line, of course: especially if you have a copy of the printed book in front of you.

Pagination and Local Links

For citation and indexing purposes, the pagination is shown in the right margin of the text at the page turns (like at the end of this line); p57  these are also local anchors. Sticklers for total accuracy will of course find the anchor at its exact place in the sourcecode.

In addition, I've inserted a number of other local anchors: whatever links might be required to accommodate the author's own cross-references, as well as a few others for my own purposes. If in turn you have a website and would like to target a link to some specific passage of the text, please let me know: I'll be glad to insert a local anchor there as well.

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Site updated: 15 May 13