Dear Editor: I was so happy to read that a play (Dec. 23-30) about our first Bishop, John Loughlin (1817-1891), is touring our parishes. It’s great to see the “good old man” (as his priests called him) getting his due. Bishop Loughlin deserves a lot more attention than historians have given him, so it’s good to see a playwright recognizing this.
He preferred to go about his work quietly without fuss. He served as his own receptionist, picked up his own mail at the post office every day, and was his own chancellor. One historian said he “carried the Chancery in his hat band.”
Nor did he go in for any kind of ostentation. Even after he became a bishop in 1853, the nameplate on his door simply read “Rev. J. Loughlin.”
As the play points out, anti-Catholicism was rampant in Brooklyn when Bishop Loughlin arrived in 1853. On more than one occasion, the military had to be called in to break up riots and prevent Catholic churches from being burned. Local newspapers ran ads saying “Neither Irish nor Catholic need apply.” Nuns and priests were jeered at and accosted on the street.
Through it all, Bishop Loughlin concentrated on meeting the needs of the immigrants who poured into Brooklyn in unprecedented numbers. In the long run, he slowly overcame hatred and prejudice.
When the Brooklyn Diocese was founded in 1853, it was dedicated to the Immaculate Conception. Fifteen years later, in the summer of 1868, Bishop Loughlin dedicated the cornerstone of a proposed Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception (on the site of what is now Bishop Loughlin Memorial H.S.).
The Cathedral, however, was never finished, as numerous pastoral demands prevented its completion. The bishop chose to spend the available money on meeting the needs of the sick, the poor and the elderly.
Unfortunately, Bishop Loughlin left almost no correspondence behind. But his real legacy continues in the schools and churches he founded and dedicated. Many, if not most of Long Island’s Catholic hospitals, orphanages, and colleges have their roots in the Loughlin era. (St. John’s University, founded in 1870 Brooklyn as the College of St. John the Baptist, was named for Bishop Loughlin by the Vincentian Fathers.)
These became his real legacy, the “living stones” of Brooklyn Catholicism.