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William George McCloskey

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Bishop of Louisville, Kentucky, b. at Brooklyn, N.Y., 10 Nov., 1823; d. 17 September, 1909. He was the youngest of five brothers. Two of his older brothers also became priests : John, for years president of Mount St. Mary's College , Emmitsburg, Md.; and George, pastor of the Church of the Nativity, New York. William George was sent to Mount St. Mary's in 1835. In May, 1850, he was ordained subdeacon at that seminary by Archbishop Eccleston of Baltimore, and 6 Oct., 1852, was ordained priest by Bishop Hughes in St. Patrick's Cathedral, New York. He said his first Mass in the basement of the Church of the Nativity, of which his brother George was then pastor, and remained there ten months as assistant. Then, from a desire to live in the seminary cloister, he returned with the consent of his superiors to Mount St. Mary's, where he taught moral theology, Scripture, and Latin for about six years. He was appointed, 1 Dec., 1859, the first rector of the American College at Rome, being the unanimous choice of the American bishops. He reached Rome March, 1860. Georgetown University had shortly before conferred on him the degree of Doctor of Divinity. He was rector until his promotion to the See of Louisville in May, 1868, being consecrated bishop in the chapel of the college on 24 May of that year by Cardinal de Reisach, Archbishop of Munich, Bavaria, assisted by Monsignor Xavier de Mérode, minister of Pius IX, and by Monsignor Viteleschi, Archbishop of Osimo and Cingoli. Dr. McCloskey's administration of the American College saw the crisis in the history of its affairs, an echo of the crisis in American political life. He was rector during our Civil War. In spite of all his efforts and diplomatic skill the spirit of faction affected the college, Southern Catholics being as loyal to the South as the Northerners were to the North. Moreover, some of the bishops could at the time send neither students nor support, and the very existence of the institution was threatened. But Dr. McCloskey stood loyally to his post, and cheerfully bore adversity.

He arrived in Louisville as its bishop towards the end of summer, 1868. The following facts attest the energy of his character and the zeal of his administration. He found sixty-four churches and left in his diocese at his death one hundred and sixty-five. He was zealous to provide chapels for the small settlements of his jurisdiction. From eighty, the number of his priests grew to be two hundred. He introduced many religious orders into the diocese, the Passionists, the Benedictines, the Fathers of the Resurrection, the Sisters of Mercy, the Little Sisters of the Poor, the Franciscan Sisters, and the Brothers of Mary. The growth of the parochial schools was chiefly the product of his zeal. The number of children attending them increased from 2000, in 1868, to 12,000, in 1909. In 1869 he established the diocesan seminary known as Preston Park Seminary. He was present at the Vatican Council in 1870. He also attended the Second Plenary Council of Baltimore in 1866, and the Third, in 1884, strongly advocating in the former the cause of the American College at Rome. He had a splendid physique and was a man of talent and cultured taste. He had a strong will, and held tenaciously to any view or plan of action that he had once entered on. Of strong Christian faith, of exemplary priestly life, he was especially charitable to the very poor and to the unfortunate classes of society. He will never be forgotten by the unfortunate magdalens of the House of the Good Shepherd at Louisville. Every Sunday, unless stormy weather prevented, he visited, instructed and consoled them, listening to each one's tale of woe and showing to this class that charity of which Christ set the Divine example. He wrote a life of St. Mary Magdalen (Louisville, 1900). His love for the poor, whom he visited in their homes even in his old age, and to whom he gave whatever money he owned, so that he died a poor man, illuminated the city in which he wielded the crosier with force and mercy for almost half a century. He was beloved by all who knew him.


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