ohn McCloskey was a bishop in the Roman Catholic Church and the first American
cardinal. He was born in Brooklyn, New York, to Irish immigrant parents,
Elizabeth Harron McCloskey and Patrick McCloskey, a clerk. In 1817 the family
moved to New York City and enrolled young McCloskey in Thomas Brady's Classical
School. In 1820 his father died and he became the ward of a wealthy
philanthropist, Cornelius Heeney. The next year he entered Mount St. Mary's
College in Maryland, and after graduation he entered their seminary. He was
ordained a priest at St. Patrick's Cathedral in January 1834, the first
native-born New Yorker to become a diocesan priest. At first he taught
philosophy at a seminary in Nyack, New York, then studied for three years at the
Gregorian University in Rome, traveling widely throughout Europe.
In 1837 McCloskey returned to New York City and was appointed pastor of St.
Joseph's Church on Sixth Avenue, serving there for seven years. In 1841, at
Bishop John Hughes request, he organized St.John's College (now Fordham
University) as its first president, then resigned after one year. In March 1844
he became an auxiliary bishop of New York under Bishop Hughes. McCloskey played
an instrumental role in the conversion of former Brook Farmer Isaac Hecker, who
later founded the Paulist order of priests, and of James Roosevelt Bayley, who
later became archbishop of Baltimore.
In 1847 McCloskey was named the first bishop of Albany, New York. He was a
dynamic church leader, constructing a cathedral, building a new seminary, and
expanding the numbers of priests and churches in the bishopric. He took
advantage of his location in the state capital to development relationships with
important state politicians, such as Thurlow Weed, Rufus King, and Horatio
Seymour. He also lobbied for the repeal of the Putnam Law, which prohibited
Catholic bishops from bequeathing church property to their successors.
Eventually the law was repealed.
In January 1864 Archbishop Huges died and McCloskey was appointed as his
replacement. He administered completion of the new St. Patrick's Cathedral on
Fifth Avenue, dedicating it in May 1879. He used his moral authority to caution
his parishioners against involvement in the Fenian Movement, the revolutionary
organization agitating for an independent Irish republic. He participated in the
first Vatican Council (1869-1870) and formed part of the faction that opposed
declaring the doctrine of papal infallibility, although he finally voted in
favor of it.
In March 1875 Pope Pius IX named McCloskey as the first American cardinal in the
Roman Catholic Church. Three years later when Pope Pius died, he traveled to
Rome but arrived too late to help elect the new pope, Leo XIII. By 1880 ill
health forced McCloskey to accept an assistant, Micahel Corrigan, Bishop of
Newark (New Jersey). McCloskey became increasingly less active in church affairs
and died in 1885.