No Way to Treat a Bishop

December 20 marks the death of Bishop John DuBois (1764-1842), New York’s third (and the only non-Irish) ordinary. A friend of the Marquis de Lafayette, he fled the French Revolution. Coming to America, he stayed with Patrick Henry, who taught him English. At that time Catholicism was a largely English and French community. When he came to New York, the Irish were making their presence felt, and they weren’t happy with a French bishop . When the trustees of St. Patrick’s Cathedral threatened to withhold Dubois’ salary over a dispute, he said: ”You may vote the salary or not just as seems good to you. I can live in a basement or a garret. But, whether I come up from the basement or down from the garret, I shall still be your bishop.” In a pastoral letter, he reminded them that St. Patrick was actually born in France, not Ireland. The Truth Teller, the local Catholic weekly with a strong Irish bent, refused to print the letter. When he died, it was said, he wanted to be buried under the sidewalk of the cathedral: “‘They walked over me in life. Let them walk over me in death.”‘ (For what it’s worth, the website for Long Island Paranormal Investogators notes that there have “been reports of seeing the ghost of Bishop Dubois inside” Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral.) In 1946, a high school was named in his honor in Harlem. It closed in 1976.

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