Catholic San Francisco

Bishop McElroy

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Strong leaders, colorful personalities among 16 auxiliaries who precede 17th Auxiliary Bishop Robert W. McElroy
September 1st, 2010
By Deacon Jeffrey Burns, Ph.D.

When Joseph Sadoc Alemany, a Dominican, became the first U.S. bishop of California in 1850, his diocese included all of Baja and Alta California. In 1853 when the Archdiocese was established, it covered all of northern California from the southern boundary of Santa Clara County to the Oregon border.

In 1861, the Archdiocese would be reduced to the 13 Bay Area counties (which now include the dioceses of Stockton, Oakland, Santa Rosa, San Jose and part of Sacramento). In short, Alemany presided over a vast and far-reaching Archdiocese. The rugged frontier conditions he confronted prompted him to request an assistant in this arduous work. In those days, Rome was more apt to appoint a “coadjutor archbishop” than an auxiliary. A coadjutor “had the right of succession,” and so would become the next archbishop with the retirement or death of the current archbishop. After 30 years of struggle, in 1883 Alemany was delighted to receive Patrick W. Riordan as his coadjutor. The following year Alemany retired and returned to his native Vich, Spain with Riordan becoming archbishop.

Not long after Riordan became archbishop, he also began to seek help. In 1903, the bishop of Los Angeles, George Thomas Montgomery, was appointed coadjutor for San Francisco. Unfortunately, Riordan outlived him. Montgomery died in 1907, his life apparently shortened by the toll taken by his heroic efforts in the aftermath of the great earthquake and fire of 1906. With the devastation of the earthquake and fire Riordan looked even more desperately to replace Montgomery. His choice was Rochester seminary professor, Edward J. Hanna.

Hanna’s road to San Francisco, however, was “rough” according to his biographer, Richard Gribble. Hanna’s appointment was short-circuited by accusations that he was a “modernist,” a heresy condemned by Pope Pius X in 1907. In his stead, the Archdiocese received its first auxiliary bishop, Bishop Denis O’Connell, one of the most colorful bishops in the U.S. Church. O’Connell had served as the rector of the North American College in Rome, where he played a major role in the Americanist controversies of the 1890s, and as rector of the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. before being named auxiliary for San Francisco in 1908. In 1912 he was named Bishop of Richmond, Va.

Riordan again sought a replacement and this time he succeeded in getting Hanna appointed later in 1912. However, Hanna did not come as a coadjutor archbishop as Riordan wanted, but as an auxiliary bishop without the right of succession. Nonetheless, Riordan celebrated Hanna’s appointment: “It was a great triumph…for until now he [Hanna]was under a cloud, and evil-minded people were disposed to carp at him because he had been rejected a few years ago, but I kept my counsel and remained loyal to him, and at last, for his sake, I brought him through triumphantly. He is a wonderfully good man, learned, and full of apostolic zeal for the building up of the Church, and I am not one to curb activities in that direction. I shall give him a free hand when he comes out to me.”

Despite being named an auxiliary, Hanna did succeed Riordan as Archbishop in 1915 and went on to become one of the most beloved figures in the history of the Archdiocese. (See Richard Gribble’s biography of Hanna, “An Archbishop for the People” (Paulist Press)).

San Francisco did not receive another auxiliary bishop until 1939. By that time Archbishop John J. Mitty had succeeded Hanna in 1935. In June 1939, Thomas Arthur Connolly was appointed the first native-born San Franciscan and alumnus of St. Patrick’s Seminary to be named auxiliary bishop. He remained until he was named coadjutor bishop of Seattle in 1948, later becoming Archbishop of Seattle in 1951 when Seattle became an archdiocese. When he died in 1991 he was the oldest member of the U.S. hierarchy.

Following Connolly, native San Franciscan auxiliary bishops became more familiar figures. Hugh A. Donohoe was appointed in 1947, with James T. O’Dowd appointed the following year. Both had distinguished careers. Donohoe, who had served as editor of The Monitor (the Archdiocese’s newspaper for 124 years until 1984) and professor at St. Patrick’s Seminary, became the first bishop of Stockton in 1962, and Bishop of Fresno in 1969. O’Dowd, who had served as superintendent of Catholic schools, was expected to do great things as he was only 40 years old when he was appointed auxiliary. O’Dowd was a broad, big shouldered man with a winning smile. One newspaper described him as “a policeman’s son with the physique of a college fullback, a scholar’s mind, and a deep concern for the welfare of children.” Unfortunately, O’Dowd died tragically in 1950 in a train accident at the age of 43. His loss was deeply mourned throughout the Archdiocese.

Shortly thereafter Merlin Joseph Guilfoyle was named auxiliary in August 1950. Guilfoyle is well remembered for his penchant for poetry and a historic confirmation sermon: “When I was one, I had just begun….” He was named bishop of Stockton in 1969.

William J. McDonald was named auxiliary to San Francisco in 1967. He had previously served as auxiliary bishop in Washington, D.C. and as rector of Catholic University of America. His tenure at CUA was quite tumultuous including the uproar that surrounded the dismissal of theologian Father Charles Curran for dissenting from Church teaching on sexual matters.

He remained in San Francisco until his death in 1989.

Mark J. Hurley was appointed auxiliary in 1967, but two years later he was named Bishop of Santa Rosa. Norman McFarland was named auxiliary in 1970. Known for his forthrightness and business acumen, McFarland oversaw the first total financial audit of the Archdiocese in 1972. Throughout his career he was called on to assist dioceses in financial trouble. He became Bishop of Reno in 1976 and Bishop of Orange in 1986.

Francis A. Quinn and R. Pierre DuMaine were named auxiliaries the same day, April 28, 1978. Quinn had served as editor of The Monitor, and was a much beloved pastor. He went on to become bishop of Sacramento in 1979. After he retired in 1994, he spent the next 13 years working with Native Americans in Arizona. DuMaine had served as superintendent of Catholic schools for many years, and was named the first bishop of San Jose in 1981.

Daniel F. Walsh became auxiliary in 1981, before being appointed bishop of Reno-Las Vegas in 1987 and later in Las Vegas when it became an independent diocese. He was called upon to become Bishop of Santa Rosa in 2000, where he overcame a financial nightmare and the aftermath of a high-profile scandal involving his predecessor.

A dual appointment was made once again on Dec. 6, 1998 when Carlos A. Sevilla, S.J. and Patrick J. McGrath were appointed auxiliaries. Sevilla ultimately became bishop of Yakima, Wash. in 1996 and McGrath became bishop of San Jose in 1999.

In the tenure of Archbishop William J. levada, one of the more popular auxiliaries in recent memory, John C. Wester, was appointed auxiliary in 1998. I remember when I had just finished writing the illustrated three-volume history of the Archdiocese and I had failed to include Wester in the history. He asked me, “What does an auxiliary bishop have to do to get into your history?” to which I flipply replied “Do something historic.”

With his good nature Wester laughed at my unfortunate remark, and then he did go out and make history. He was the point man in the Archdiocese’s response to the sex abuse crisis where his sensitivity, concern and diligence were commendable. In 2007 he was appointed bishop of Salt Lake City succeeding George Niederauer who had become Archbishop of San Francisco in 2006..

One of the more significant appointments of an auxiliary bishop occurred in 2002 when Ignatius C. Wang was named by Pope John Paul II. Wang became the first bishop of Chinese and Asian origin in the history of the Catholic Church in the United States. Wang’s appointment was particularly appropriate as it reflected the growth and importance of the Asian Catholic community in the Archdiocese and on the West Coast.

In April 2008, Pope Benedict XVI appointed a popular and long-time priest of the Archdiocese, Father William J. Justice, to be the 16th auxiliary bishop in the history of the Archdiocese of San Francisco. His Episcopal ordination was May 28, 2008. Among many duties, his role as Vicar for Clergy is his primary responsibility.

From September 3, 2010 issue of Catholic San Francisco.


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