John Ireland

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Winning Nomination

John Ireland was a builder, a politician, a colonizer, an orator, a writer, a diplomat, and a friend to presidents, an Irishman who loved America and a true believer in the promise of Minnesota--and that's before you get to his accomplishments as arguably the state's outstanding religious leader. Nearly 100 years after his death, many Minnesotans know him mainly as the namesake of the street that runs from the Capitol to the Cathedral of St. Paul. But from the 1870s until his death in 1918, Ireland led the Catholic Church in Minnesota and won national fame for his work in the temperance movement and settling southwestern Minnesota with Irish immigrants like himself.

He was a highly intelligent, voluble, and hyperactive man who fought the widespread prejudice that Catholics couldn't be good Americans, and an outspoken Republican and intimate of McKinley, Roosevelt, and Taft at a time when the political sympathies of American Catholics rested largely with the Democratic Party. He may have become Minnesota's first (and only) Catholic cardinal had it not been for Rome's view that he was a political schemer who often put country ahead of church. He planted the Church firmly in the Twin Cities and for wide stretches to the west and north, as far as the Dakotas, and he stamped it with his personal openness to American democracy and eagerness to engage the "Modern Age" (as the 20th century was then known).

Ireland's leadership was not without its flaws--he was famously impatient with immigrants unwilling to trade in their old traditions for the American way, and at least once he needed James J. Hill to bail out his personal finances--but his legacy is still evident today. He founded the state's largest private college, the University of St. Thomas, in 1885. And he built not one but two massive Renaissance cathedrals in the Twin Cities, the Cathedral in St. Paul and the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis, two of Minnesota's most remarkable architectural and religious monuments that still move and inspire visitors and have long since become indelible parts of the Twin Cities' skyline. It's not too farfetched to suggest that Minnesota became familiar to many Americans at the turn of the last century because of Ireland. "I thought he had a fine name," Ernest Hemingway wrote of the archbishop in his book Farewell to Arms, "and he came from Minnesota which made it a lovely name: Ireland of Minnesota."
~Kevin Duchschere, St. Paul, MN



Runner-up Nominations

Ireland was one of the leading religious figures in Minnesota's past. He also worked tirelessly to promote immigration in Minnesota and the Northwest. He was the driving force behind the building of the St. Paul Cathedral.
~Craig Johnson, St. Paul, MN

During the Civil War, John Ireland was just an infantry clergyman, but he saved the life of my great-grandfather, Mathias Logelin. His jaw had been shot off and was to be left behind because of the maggots in his chin. Father Ireland was persuasive in having him put on a train headed for Kansas and then to MN. Later it was said that the maggots also saved his life because they were eating the bacteria that reduced the infection.
~Theresa Utecht, Apple Valley, MN

Archbishop John Ireland recruited Catholic European immigrants to settle and farm the land of southwest Minnesota: Swift, Big Stone, Nobles, Murray, etc.
~Helen Langer, Cottonwood, MN

He was influential in building the education system of Catholic schools.
~Marjorie Mountain, St. Paul, MN

First prelate of Catholic Church in St. Paul. Cathedral of St. Paul was erected under his tenure.
~Rosemary Desmond, Eagan, MN


Contents

History

(1838-1918)

Committed to church and state

Born in County Kilkenny, Ireland, in 1838, John Ireland came to St. Paul with his parents in 1852. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 1861, served briefly as chaplain for the Fifth Minnesota Regiment in the Civil War, and was appointed bishop in 1875. By the time he was appointed archbishop of St. Paul in 1888, he was one of the city's most prominent citizens, and he was responsible for recruiting Irish immigrants to settle in communities throughout Minnesota, including Clontarf, Adrian, Graceville, and Ghent. Nominator Kevin Duchschere of St. Paul picks up the story from here: "John Ireland was a builder, a politician, a colonizer, an orator, a writer, a diplomat, and a friend to presidents, an Irishman who loved America and a true believer in the promise of Minnesota--and that's before you get to his accomplishments as arguably the state's outstanding religious leader.

"From the 1870s until his death, Ireland led the Catholic church in Minnesota and won national fame for his work in the temperance movement and in settling southwestern Minnesota with Irish immigrants like himself. He was a highly intelligent, voluble, and hyperactive man who fought the widespread prejudice that Catholics couldn't be good Americans. He was an outspoken Republican and intimate of McKinley, Roosevelt, and Taft at a time when the political sympathies of American Catholics rested largely with the Democratic Party. Ireland's leadership was not without its flaws--he was famously impatient with immigrants being unwilling to trade in their old traditions for the American way, and at least once he needed James J. Hill to bail out his personal finances--but his legacy is still evident today. He founded the state's largest private college, the University of St. Thomas, in 1885. And he built two massive cathedrals in the Twin Cities, the Cathedral in St. Paul and the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis, among Minnesota's most remarkable architectural and religious monuments, which still move and inspire visitors and have long since become indelible parts of the Twin Cities' skyline.

"It's not too farfetched to suggest that Minnesota became familiar to many Americans at the turn of the last century because of Archbishop Ireland. 'I thought he had a fine name,' Ernest Hemingway wrote of the archbishop in A Farewell to Arms, 'and he came from Minnesota which made it a lovely name: Ireland of Minnesota.'"

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