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McMULLEN, Right Rev. Bishop


Posted By: Nettie Mae (email)
Date: 12/28/2023 at 17:53:29

SOURCE: Biographical History and Portrait Gallery of Scott County, Iowa. American Biographical Publishing Company, H. C. Cooper, Jr., & Co. Proprietors. 1895


SAYS Rev. James McGovern, D. D., in his life of Bishop McMullen: “Long before the diocese of Chicago was created by the Sovereign Pontiff, Dubuque had been erected into an episcopal see, embracing the Territories of Iowa and Minnesota . On December 10, 1837, the Right Reverend Mathias Loras, D. D., a native of Lyons, France, was consecrated at Mobile, Alabama, the first bishop of this diocese. At the time there was but one church in the whole Territory of Iowa, and Rev. Samuel Mazzuchelli was the only resident priest. Bishop Loras, after his consecration, returned to France for the purpose of securing missionaries for his new diocese. Leaving France in October of 1838, he arrived in New York, after a long and tempestuous passage, bringing with him Rev. Joseph Cretin, afterward Bishop of St. Paul, Rev. A. Pelamorgues and four seminarians. Bishop Loras took possession of his new diocese, and was installed in the church of St. Raphael, April 29, 1839, commencing his episcopal duties with three priests and four theological students. Father Pelamorgues was assigned to the extensive mission of Davenport, which comprised all the southern part of the Territory... . He did so well in laying the corner stone of the Church, in this vast field of labor, that neither time nor human events have changed his foresight and he had the consolation of seeing large and prosperous Catholic communities grow up around him.” It was therefore Father Pelamorgues - as he became familiarly known to everybody in Davenport -- who laid the foundation of the Davenport diocese. A man of splendid organizing ability, deep piety and earnest devotion to the cause to which he had consecrated his life, he greatly advanced the upbuilding of the Church, remaining at Davenport until he had reached a venerable age, when he sought retirement at his home in France, preferring this to the prospective reward of a bishopric.

During the administration of Bishop Loras, the diocese of St. Paul had been segregated from the original diocese of Dubuque, and during the administration of his immediate successor, Right Rev. Clement Smyth, D. D., the rapid growth of the Church caused another division of the diocese to be considered. Under the administration, however, of Right Rev. John Hennessy, D. D., who became Bishop of Dubuque after the death of Bishop Smyth, division was postponed until 1881, when the new diocese of Davenport was created. The Sacred Congregation of the Propaganda announced that the City of Davenport had been decided on as the see city of the new diocese, which would take in all that part of the State of Iowa bounded on the east by the Mississippi river, on the west by the Missouri river, on the south by the State of Missouri, and on the north by the northern boundaries of the Counties of Harrison, Shelby, Audubon, Guthrie, Dallas, Polk, Jasper, Poweshiek, Iowa, Johnston, Cedar and Scott. A special cable, dated at Rome, May 9, 1881, conveyed this further intelligence: “ On Sunday, May 8, 1881, the feast of the patronage of St. Joseph, it pleased our Holy Father, Pope Leo XIII, first, to ratify the creation of the diocese of Davenport, Iowa, cut from the diocese of Dubuque, which comprised the whole State of Iowa ; second, to name the Very Rev. John McMullen , D. D., Vicar-General of Chicago, to be the first bishop of Davenport. This see will be a suffragan of the Metropolitan See of St. Louis."

To briefly sketch the further development of the diocese, and the lives of the able and zealous clergymen who have controlled its destinies since its organization, is the further purpose of this chapter of Church history. The newly appointed Bishop McMullen was, at the time of his elevation to the episcopacy, vicar-general of the diocese of Chicago, had long held a pastorate in that city, and was greatly beloved by all classes of people.

He was a native of Ireland, having been born in Ballanyhinch, County Down, January 8, 1832. His father, James McMullen, and Alice, his wife, sailed for America when he was little more than a year old, and after a long and stormy voyage they landed at Quebec. For three years the family lived on a farm near Quebec, and later the elder McMullen established his home on another farm near Prescott, in the Province of Ontario. Here a fire destroyed the homestead and they removed to the neighborhood of Ogdensburg, New York, where they resided until 1843, when they removed to Illinois. The boy who was afterward to become Bishop McMullen, was twelve years old when his parents settled in Chicago. Prior to this time he had attended only a country school, but he had given evidence of strong intellectuality, and when afforded the advantages of educational training in the schools of Chicago he made rapid advancement. When Bishop Quarter founded the University of St. Mary of the Lake, John McMullen entered the new college and therein received his academic training. “In his academic course,” says Dr. McGovern, in the biography from which I have before quoted, “he gave undoubted proof of his future career. His triumphs of eloquence in debate, his caustic pen, his sound judgment and his mastery of the most intricate problems in mathematical science, caused him to come under the approving eye of his professors. In a little college paper, issued by him and another classmate, his intellectual weapons flashed with unwonted brilliancy, and the seeds of literature sowed in his powerful mind blossomed with a vigor which made itself remarkable in its fruits."

A deep piety and a remarkable capacity for influencing the character and conduct of his associates were distinguishing features of his early life and his fitness for the priesthood as well as his evident desire to enter , that holy calling were noted by his teachers and friends. At the close of his college course in 1850, he received the degree of Bachelor of Arts, and soon afterward entered upon a course of theological study.

In 1852, while pursuing these studies, he was directed by his physician to give up the routine for a time, and while obeying this injunction he devoted himself to writing for publication a series of letters which constituted an important contribution to the Catholic literature of that period. In the fall of 1853, in company with James McGovern, now a noted Catholic clergyman and author, he was sent by Bishop Van de Velde of the Chicago diocese to the College of the Propaganda at Rome, where he pursued a few years' course of study. In the summer of 1858 he was ordained a minister of the Catholic Church, and received from Cardinal Barnabo the insignia of Doctor of Divinity. He immediately left Rome for the United States and arrived in Chicago in October of that year. Immediately after his return home, he engaged actively in ministerial work, and one of his first important acts was the founding of the House of the Good Shepherd , an institution which has been grandly prolific of good results. In 1861 he was appointed to take charge of the Cathedral of the Holy Name, but in a short time he was called to the presidency of the University of St. Mary of the Lake, a position which he retained for several years. In 1870 he became rector of the Cathedral of the Holy Name, and continued to discharge the duties of this pastorate until he was made Bishop of Davenport. In the meantime he was appointed vicar-general to Bishop Foley, and continued in this position by Archbishop Feehan, when that renowned ecclesiastic succeeded to the bishopric left vacant by the death of Bishop Foley. Such is a brief sketch of the early life of the man appointed first bishop of Davenport. A profound scholar, an eloquent preacher and an ardent churchman, when he took charge of the new diocese he threw himself into the work of building up the Church in the promising field to which he had been assigned, with the ardor of an enthusiast. On the thirtieth of July, 1881, Bishop McMullen arrived in Davenport, and received a royal welcome not only from the people of his own Church, but from citizens of Davenport generally. After the ceremonies incident to his installation, he took up his abode with Father Cosgrove, who for twenty-five years had been the pastor of St. Marguerite's Church , and after a few days' rest began a visitation of his diocese in order to become acquainted with its condition. He speedily placed himself en rapport, not only with the clergy, but with the congregations of his diocese, and all became devotedly attached to the good man under whose guidance and through whose well directed efforts the interests of the Church were rapidly advanced. The priests of the diocese purchased and presented to him as an episcopal house the beautiful home of Antoine Le Claire,* situated on a historic bluff overlooking the three cities of Davenport, Moline and Rock Island, and numerous other testimonials of their regard came to him from time to time. In five months he visited almost every point in the diocese and confirmed more than six thousand people. The labors which he undertook were too arduous, however, to be long endured, and in the first year of his administrationship his health broke down, and after a long and continued illness he passed away, on the fourth of July, 1883, mourned by the Church and the general public of his diocese, as well as by thousands of Catholics in Chicago and else. where, where he was known.

*Vide “National Magazine," November, 1893.


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