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James Gibbons Edit Profile


James Gibbons was an American Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church.


The fourth of six children, James Gibbons was born in 1834 in Baltimore, Maryland, to Thomas and Bridget (née Walsh) Gibbons. His parents were from Tourmackeady, County Mayo, Ireland, and settled in the United States after moving to Canada.

After falling ill with tuberculosis in 1839, his father moved the family to his native Ireland, where he believed the air would benefit him. There, Thomas operated a grocery store in Ballinrobe. His father died in 1847, and his mother returned the family to the United States in 1853, settling in New Orleans, Louisiana.


In 1855 he entered St. Charles College in Maryland and later continued his studies for the priesthood at St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore.


Gibbons’s first task was to coordinate preparations for the Second Plenary Council of American Catholic; Bishops in Baltimore in 1866.

The thirty-two-year-old Gibbons was the youngest bishop in the Catholic Church when he was consecrated on 16 August 1868.

His diocese in North Carolina had fewer than seven hundred Catholics and only three priests.

In 1872 Gibbons became bishop of the diocese of Richmond.

He drew on this experience while writing his most important published work, The Faith of Our Fathers (1877).

The archdiocese of Baltimore was the senior Catholic diocese in the United States, and its bishop was acknowledged by his peers as the leader of the American church.

Gibbons hesitated for months but finally agreed to serve with Bayley.

As archbishop of Baltimore, Gibbons corresponded frequently with the Vatican and was deeply involved in formulating the church’s response to the massive surge of Catholic migration to the United States.

Gibbons epitomized the American Catholic hierarchy, an Irish American with little personal exposure to Catholics from eastern and southern Europe.

Indeed his own pastoral experience was gained in circumstances where Catholics of any sort were an overwhelming minority of the population.

The next two decades were exceedingly taxing, as Gibbons was called upon to mediate repeated and complex disputes about how simultaneously to meet the needs of immigrants and establish the Catholic Church as an American institution.

Gibbons also lent substantial support to a group of bishops who eagerly embraced American culture and the political system.

This group, led by Archbishop John Ireland of Saint Paul, Minnesota, argued that all Catholics in the United States should conform to a single Catholic culture, firmly American in ethos, language, and political commitment.

American bishops who opposed the Americanists frequently complained to Rome that concessions to American culture would lead to widespread abandonment of the Catholic faith by immigrants.

Gibbons himself was optimistic about Catholic success in America and willing to make public ecumenical gestures.

He, for example, attended the World’s Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893, an event organized and dominated by liberal Protestants.

The papacy’s growing concern about the influence of American society on the American Catholic Church became evident in the mid 1896.

In 1895 Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical Longinqua Oceani praised the progress of the Catholic Church in America but explicitly rejected the view that the American model of separation of church and state should be universally adopted.

It stated that reports had reached Rome that some American Catholic clerics held the heretical view that the Catholic Church should alter both its external forms and traditional doctrine to respond to the pressures of the modern world.

Gibbons hurriedly condemned those views, too, assuring the pope that no American bishops or priests supported those ideas.

In the final decades of his life, Gibbons witnessed the easing of ethnic tensions within the church.


  • During his 44 years as Baltimore's archbishop, Gibbons became one of the most recognizable Catholic figures in the country.

    Gibbons’s tact, diplomatic skill, and enthusiasm made him the most respected Catholic in the United States.

    He defended the rights of labor, and helped convince Pope Leo XIII to give his consent to labor unions.

    Part of Gibbons' popularity derived from the works he authored. The Faith of Our Fathers (1877) remains the most enduringly popular. Also widely read were Our Christian Heritage (1889), The Ambassador of Christ (1896), Discourses and Sermons (1908), and A Retrospect of Fifty Years (1916).


He guided the church through the tumultuous years of massive Catholic migration to the United States from 1880 to World War I.

When the papacy established the Vicariate; Apostolic of North Carolina in 1868, Gibbons was named the first Catholic bishop of that state.


Like many Irish American bishops, he was not always sensitive to the concerns of immigrants. Gibbons advocated for the protection of labor, an issue of particular concern because of the many Catholics who were being exploited by the industrial expansion of America's urban East Coast at the turn of the century.

Her motto - Emitte spiritum tuum (Send forth your spirit)

Quotations: He was once quoted as saying, "It is the right of laboring classes to protect themselves, and the duty of the whole people to find a remedy against avarice, oppression, and corruption. "


Like many Irish American bishops, he was not always sensitive to the concerns of immigrants.


Thomas Gibbons

Bridget (née Walsh) Gibbons