Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography/Purcell, John Baptist
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Purcell, John Baptist
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PURCELL, John Baptist, R. C. archbishop, b. in Mallow, County Cork, Ireland, 26 Feb., 1800; d. in Brown county, Ohio, 4 July, 1883. He emigrated to the United States in 1818, and entered Ashbury college, Baltimore, where he taught. In 1820 he was admitted to Mount St. Mary's, Emmettsburg, and, after receiving minor orders, finished his theological course in the Sulpitian college, Paris. He was ordained a priest in the cathedral of Notre Dame in 1826, and in 1827 was appointed professor of philosophy in St. Mary's college, becoming president in 1828. The progress that this institution made during his presidency attracted the notice of the American hierarchy, and he was nominated bishop of Cincinnati. He was consecrated on 13 Oct., 1833. At the time of his appointment there was only one small frame Roman Catholic church in the city, and not more than 16 in the diocese, while the church property was valued at about $12,000. He founded academies and schools, organized German congregations, and built a convent for the Ursulines. The number of Roman Catholics had increased from 6,000 to 70,000 in 1846, with 70 churches and 73 priests. In 1847 the diocese of Cleveland was formed out of that of Cincinnati, and placed under the jurisdiction of another prelate at his request. He was made an archbishop in 1850, with four suffragan bishops attached to his see, and being in Rome in 1851, he received the pallium from the pope's own hands. He at once set about founding what was to be one of the chief theological seminaries of the country, Mount St. Mary's of the West. He presided over his first provincial council in 1855, and held a second in 1858. It was impossible to meet the wants of the new congregations with the resources at hand, and this led to the financial embarrassments that shadowed the closing years of the archbishop's life. In 1868 the creation of new sees had limited his diocese to that part of Ohio south of latitude 40° 41', but this still contained nearly 140,000 Roman Catholics. In 1869 he attended the Vatican council, was active in its deliberations, and, although he opposed the declaration of the infallibility of the pope, he at once subscribed to the doctrine on its definition. His golden jubilee was celebrated in 1876 with great splendor. A crisis in his financial affairs came in 1879. Several years before this he had permitted his brother, Edward Purcell, who was vicar-general of the diocese, to receive deposits of money. Neither of them knew anything of the principles on which business should be conducted. When the crash came, Edward Purcell died of a broken heart. It was discovered that the indebtedness reached nearly $4,000,000. The folly of the financial operations that led to it was widely commented on, but no one thought of charging the archbishop with dishonesty or evil intent. The salary of a bishop known as the “cathedraticum” amounts to $4,000 or $5,000 a year, but he was twenty-five years a bishop before he could be prevailed on to accept any part of the sum. He was given $800 one morning, and by evening he had parted with the whole. His priests gave him $3,400 at his golden jubilee; the next day he divided it among charitable institutions. He offered his resignation in 1880, but it was felt that its acceptance would imply some reproach. He was given a co-adjutor instead, and retired to a house in Brown county. At his death the number of Roman Catholics in the diocese that he originally held was more than half a million, the priests numbered 480, and the churches 500. Archbishop Purcell in 1837 held a seven days' discussion with Alexander Campbell, and in 1870 publicly defended Christianity against an infidel orator. Both discussions were printed and widely circulated; the latter as “The Roman Clergy and Free Thought” (1870). His other publications were “Lectures and Pastoral Letters,” “Diocesan Statutes, Acts, and Decrees of Three Provincial Councils held in Cincinnati,” and a series of school-books for use in Roman Catholic schools in his diocese.