Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)/Jeremiah Williams Cummings

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Catholic Encyclopedia (1913), Volume 4
Jeremiah Williams Cummings

by Thomas Francis Meehan


Publicist, b. in Washington, U.S.A., April, 1814; d. at New York, 4 January, 1866.

His father's death caused his mother to move to New York in his boyhood, and he was there accepted as an ecclesiastical student by Bishop Dubois, who sent him to the College of the Propaganda at Rome to make his theological studies. He displayed much ability, and after winning his doctor's degree returned to New York, where he was assigned as one of the assistants at St. Patrick's Cathedral. He there proved himself an accomplished linguist, writer, and musician, and an interesting and popular preacher and lecturer. In 1848 Bishop Hughes selected him to found St. Stephen's parish, New York, and to erect a church. Dr. Cummings was then, and had been for several years previously, the intimate friend and disciple of Orestes A. Brownson, the philosopher and reviewer. He was instrumental in having Brownson change his residence from Boston to New York, took charge of his lecture arrangements, and wrote frequent contributions for the "Review". "It was often complained of in Brownson", says his son (Middle Life, Detroit, 1899, p. 132), "that he was lacking in policy, and no doubt he was in the habit of plain speaking; but Cummings was more so, and some of the most violent attacks on the editor and his 'Review' were occasioned by unpalatable truths plainly stated by Cummings".

Cummings was one of the leading spirits in a little club of priests and laymen, who were opposed to what they called the "Europeanizing" of the Church in the United States by the foreign-born teachers, to the system of teaching in vogue in the Catholic colleges and seminaries, and who were in favour of conciliating those outside the Church by the use of milder polemics. In an article on "Vocations to the Priesthood" that Dr. Cummings contributed to "Brownson's Review" of October, 1860, he severely criticized the management and mode of instruction in Catholic colleges and seminaries which he styled "cheap priest-factories". This aroused a bitter controversy, and brought out one of the noted essays by Archbishop Hughes, his "Reflections on the Catholic Press".

Under the administration of Dr. Cummings St. Stephen's, which he had completed in March, 1854, became the most fashionable and most frequented church in New York, its sermons and music making it a local attraction. He continued as its pastor till his death, which followed a long illness that incapacitated him for active service. Besides his articles in "Brownson's Review" he was also a contributor to "Appleton's Encyclopedia" and published in New York: "Italian Legends" (1859); "Songs for Catholic Schools" (1862); "Spiritual Progress" (1865); "The Silver Stole".

THOMAS F. MEEHAN