Harvard Honors R.C. Bishop, 1861

Today marks the death of John Bernard Fitzpatrick (1812-1866), Boston’s third Bishop. While his father emigrated from Ireland, his mother’s family had deep roots in Boston history; a grandfather fought in the Revolutionary War. As a young man he studied at the prestigious Boston Latin School, America’s oldest public school (founded in 1635). Fitzpatrick studied for the priesthood in Montreal and Paris, and was ordained a priest in 1840. Three years later he was named coadjutor bishop in Boston to Bishop Benedict Fenwick, with the right of succession. After Bishop Fenwick’s death, Bishop Fitzpatrick succeeded to the see of Boston. He was only thirty-four years old. Old-stock Protestant Bostonians, known as “Brahmins” or “Yankees,”approved of the new bishop, whom they regarded as a cultured and learned man. But they didn’t like the Irish immigrants flocking to Boston in ever growing numbers, and anti-Catholicism was rampant in Boston throughout Fitzpatrick’s tenure as bishop. Catholics experienced discrimination in public institutions such as schools, hospitals, or orphanages. But Bishop Fitzpatrick argued that the answer wasn’t to build parallel institutions, as was being done in New York under Bishop John Hughes. Rather, the answer was to work within the system to change things. And it worked. In 1861 he was the first Roman Catholic bishop to receive an honorary degree from Harvard.
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