Wednesday, May 19, 2010

In Twins' Country, Ireland's Sextuplets

We interrupt this Pentecost prep for a unique bit of Bench History.

Sure, a week from today in the City of Angels will see just the third occurrence of one rite in Catholicism's four-century journey on these shores... today, however, marks the 100th anniversary of another act that remains without equal in the life of the Stateside church: the ordination of six bishops in one fell swoop.

Like today's rapid growth in parts South and West, the sextuple high-hatting was the fruit of a quickly-burgeoning Catholic population in the Upper Midwest, and provided a crowning moment for the region's undisputed ecclesial builder-prince: John Ireland (above left, standing) the hometown product whose 34-reign over the church in Minnesota and the Dakotas saw the first archbishop of St Paul become one of the nation's most outspoken prelates and, at his peak, arguably the most powerful American cleric of his era -- the first non-Easterner to lay claim to the distinction.

With Ireland's twin seats -- the capital's Cathedral of St Paul and Minneapolis' St Mary Pro-Cathedral (made the nation's first minor basilica in 1926) -- then at mid-construction, the four-hour spectacle was held in the local seminary chapel, its capacity easily overflowed.

Thanks to the pastor of one of the archdiocese's most celebrated parishes, a commemoration of the event -- and, indeed, what it signified -- is running in the Twin Cities' Catholic Spirit....

Here's a taste:
The [ordinandi] were:

» Fathers Joseph Busch, 44, Diocese of Lead, S.D. [seat moved to Rapid City in 1930]

» Timothy Corbett, 51, new Diocese of Crookston.

» Patrick Heffron, 50, Diocese of Winona.

» John Lawler, 47, auxiliary bishop of St. Paul.

» James O’Reilly, 54, Diocese of Fargo, N.D.

» John Wehrle, OSB, 54, new Diocese of Bismarck, N.D.

The event was occasioned by the deaths of two bishops, the resignation of another, the need for an auxiliary in St. Paul and the creation of two new dioceses in the Province of St. Paul.

This remains a singular event in our country. The closest we can come is May 27, 1979, when Pope John Paul II ordained 29 men to the episcopate at St. Peter’s Basilica, among them five for service in the United States. There have been many double and triple consecrations in the U.S. and even a couple of quadruple consecrations. But never a sextuple....

Archbishop Diomede Falconio, papal apostolic delegate, 21 bishops, hundreds of priests and religious, local dignitaries and family members attended. Others circulated outside on the seminary grounds, hoping to catch a glimpse of the proceedings.

The church was growing rapidly in those days, moving westward. Toward the end of the 19th century, Pillsbury Company could claim that it had built the world’s largest flour mill. By 1910, the population of Minneapolis swelled to more than 300,000, only about 70,000 fewer than today....

A newspaper photo shows Minnesota Gov. Adolph Eberhardt flanked by an impressive military entourage, trimmed in gold uniforms. The governor stood at attention with his entourage outside the chapel while all the ecclesiastical dignitaries filed in. He then took his own seat, it was noted by the newspaper, in the back of the church!

He did, however, sit next to the archbishop at the celebratory dinner afterward, held in a giant outdoor tent. In his after-dinner remarks, the governor recalled the “magnificence” of the occasion, saying that he would “remember it as one of the most auspicious occasions which I ever had the honor to attend.”
The youngest of the group, Busch was the last survivor of Ireland's "sextuplets" when he died in 1953, aged 87.

All of 44 at the ordination, he spent just shy of half his life as a bishop... and all of it in active ministry; the retirement age of 75 wouldn't come into force for another decade and a half.

Meanwhile, it might not have happened at once, but history does have its ways of repeating itself: in just the last three years, five Twin Cities priests have been elevated -- four to dioceses, one as a local auxiliary.

PHOTO: SPM Archives/
The Catholic Spirit