Archbishops of the Modern Era (1851 – 2012)

During the second half of the Nineteenth Century, the premier See of Baltimore was ruled by four colorful and individually unique prelates. In 1851, Bishop Francis P. Kenrick of Philadelphia was transferred to Baltimore following the death of Archbishop Eccleston. A prominent theologian and brother of Archbishop Peter Kenrick of St. Louis, he administered Baltimore during a period of intense national division both preceding and during the first two years of the Civil War.

Archbishop Kenrick died in July, 1863, and for the only time in its history there was no archbishop in Baltimore for almost a year. The federal government was particularly interested in a successor to Archbishop Kenrick who would hopefully be sympathetic to the Lincoln administration.

In May 1864, Bishop Martin J. Spalding of Louisville was named archbishop. A prolific writer, he served until his death in 1872 and is chiefly remembered for organizing the second plenary council of 1866 during which the Church, like the government, reconstructed itself following the Civil War. Remarkable was the complete union of the Catholic Church in the United States when the major Protestant denominations had split into northern and southern conferences.

The eighth Archbishop of Baltimore was James Roosevelt Bayley, Bishop of Newark, who was appointed in July 1872. He was a nephew of Mother Seton and a relative of the Presidents Roosevelt. Plagued by illness, he frequently absented himself from Baltimore, preferring to reside at Seton Hall College in Newark.

In May 1877, Bishop James Gibbons of Richmond became coadjutor-archbishop with the right of succession to the ailing Archbishop Bayley, and automatically succeeded at the latter’s death on October 3, 1877. For forty-four years the native-born Archbishop Gibbons ruled the Baltimore see and in 1886 became its first cardinal.

His successor, Bishop Michael J. Curley of St. Augustine, Florida, was archbishop from 1921 until 1947. His later years were marked by blindness and suffering. In 1939, when the Archdiocese of Washington was erected, Archbishop Curley was chosen to administer it, thus becoming the only American prelate to occupy two archbishoprics simultaneously. His reputation as an administrator rests in part on the building program he adopted in Baltimore, particularly the establishment of new parishes and parochial schools. This reputation was inherited by the eleventh archbishop, Francis P. Keough, who was transferred from Providence, Rhode Island, to Baltimore in 1947. In October 1954, ground was broken for the new Cathedral of Mary Our Queen. Dedicated in 1959, the contemporary Gothic structure was made possible by the late Thomas J. O’Neill (1849-1919) in a bequest to Cardinal Gibbons. Archbishop Keough, during his later years, gave special attention to the need for Catholic high schools and his administration ended shortly after the completion of Archbishop Curley and Cardinal Gibbons high schools. This program was carried on by Archbishop Keough’s successor, Archbishop Lawrence J. Shehan, who succeeded to the see on December 8, 1961, and became Baltimore’s second cardinal on February 22, 1965. Cardinal Shehan was succeeded by Archbishop William Donald Borders who became the thirteenth Archbishop of Baltimore in April, 1974. Archbishop Borders reorganized the administrative structure of the Archdiocese and greatly encouraged the development of a collegial approach to pastoral ministry.

Archbishop Borders retired in April, 1989 and was succeeded by Most Reverend William Henry Keeler, until then the Bishop of Harrisburg. From November 1992 through November 1995, Archbishop Keeler served as President of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in the United States. In November, 1994, Archbishop Keeler was elevated to the College of Cardinals by His Holiness, Pope John Paul II, making him Baltimore’s third cardinal archbishop and only the second cardinal to serve as President of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Cardinal Keeler retired in 2007 and Archbishop Edwin O’Brien was installed as the 15th Archbishop of Baltimore on October 1, 2007 at a Mass at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen. On August 29, 2011, Pope Benedict XVI appointed Archbishop O’Brien as Pro Grand Master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem and on January 6, 2012, elevated him to the College of Cardinals. On March 20, 2012, Bishop William E. Lori of the Diocese of Bridgeport, was named to succeed Cardinal O’Brien as the Archbishop of Baltimore. His Mass of Installation occurred on May 16 at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen.