William Henry O’Connell, Cardinal/Archbishop of Boston, Massachusetts
On this day – November 27, 1911 – William Henry O’Connell – priest and bishop of the Archdiocese of Boston, Massachusetts and Lowell native – was elevated to the Roman Catholic College of Cardinals by Pope Pius X. He was 52 years of age. Born on June 8, 1852, O’ Connell died on April 22, 1944. He served as a priest for nearly 60 years, as a bishop for nearly 43 years and as cardinal for 32 years. His influence on the American Catholic Church and particulary the Archdiocese of Boston was enormous. His leadership of the Archdiocese of Boston was preceded by Archbishop John Joseph Williams and followed by Cardinal Richard J. Cushing.
In his book, Boston Catholics – A History of the Church and Its People, Thomas O’Connor, university historian at Boston College, O’Connell’s alma mater, notes that during O’Connell’s tenure as head of the Archdiocese of Boston, the number of women in religious life increased from 1567 to 5459; the number of parishes increased from 194 to 322; the number of churches increased from 248 to 375; the number of diocesan priests increased from 488 to 947; the archdiocese was operating 3 Catholic hospitals. At page 208 of Boston Catholics, O’Connor writes: “It was under O’Connell’s influence too, that the Catholic Church in the Archdiocese of Boston assumed a conceptual solidarity and impressive visibility that it had never seen before and would never see again.”
A few weeks ago the nation’s oldest Catholic newspaper – The Pilot – noted the centennial of Cardinal O’Connell’s taking of the “red hat” with a article entitled “The Church in Boston at Full Mast.” Read the full article here. (Note: there is an incorrect date – the election was on the 27th.) O’Connell was not without controversary. The biography Militant and Triumphant by James O’Toole professor of history at Boston College gives readers a different take on the life and times of Cardinal O’Connell.
Just a few weeks ago, William Henry O’Connell – an 1876 graduate of Lowell High School – was honored as an LHS Distinguished Alumni. He was represented by his grand-nephew former U.S. Senator Paul Kirk. See our blog post here. A parkway named in his honored highlighted with a fountain and bust of the Cardinal - located just near City Hall – was recently restored.