The Hogan Schism

Anniversaries today:

1. The Incarnation of God in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

2. Pope John Paul II’s encyclical letter on the Gospel of Life.

William Hogan
3. The destruction of the Ring of Power in the fires of Mount Doom.

4. The first Holy Mass in the English-speaking colonies of the New World, said by Father White.

So let us take a few steps down the road of American Church history.

Since we have recently been discussing the punishment of ecclesiastical malefactors, let us recall to our minds the episode called the “Hogan Schism.”

When I visited the church of St. Joseph in Philadelphia years ago, someone there explained that the church’s unusual architecture—which serves to hide it from view—was the result of anti-Catholic riots in the 1800’s.

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia endures some rough times as we speak. May justice be done, and may God comfort the innocent. But perhaps things are not as bad as they were back in the diocese’s nascent days…

The parish church of St. Mary’s in Philadelphia had more money and more members than any other parish church in the young United States. St. Mary’s was slated to be the cathedral of the diocese. The parish’s pastor served as the leader of the Church in Philadelphia during the transition between the first and second bishops of the city.

One of the pastor’s parochial vicars was an Irish priest named William Hogan. Father Hogan enjoyed the loving esteem of the parish’s well-heeled Catholics. Eye-witnesses reported:

Hogan was both personally and intellectually endowed with remarkably handsome features and an oratorical ability of a winning and persuasive order. He was in fact a decided favorite, more particularly with the ladies and children to whom he made himself highly agreeable by his genial and social manners. Frequently has he been noticed after the morning services to mingle with the congregation, and visit their pews conversing with the ladies and patting the children on the head with almost parental fondness.

At that time, according to the laws of most states in America, the temporal goods of stable parish churches were administered by a board of trustees. These boards consisted of the parish clergy and elected laymen.

When Bishop Henry Conwell arrived from Ireland to assume the cathedra in Philadelphia as the second bishop of the city, he stepped into the middle of a bitter feud between Father Hogan and the pastor of St. Mary’s.

Pope Pius VII
Bishop Conwell attempted to discipline Father Hogan privately and gently, but the charismatic preacher openly flouted him. A faction of the trustees of St. Mary’s—which proved to be a majority, albeit a slim one—asserted the ownership of the church and the right to hire and fire parish clergy (a claim with which our beloved Protestant brethren are very familiar, and which many of them have in fact put into practice for centuries).

This assertion by the trustees became known as “trusteeism.” It was formally condemned by Pope Pius VII in his 1822 letter Non Sine Magno—not before, however, the 1821 Easter-week trustee elections at St. Mary’s. The people of the parish were divided into “Hoganite” and “Bishopite” factions. During the balloting, which took place in the churchyard, a brick-throwing melee broke out, and over 200 people were injured.

The two factions disputed the election results; two different boards of trustees claimed the mandate; Bishop Conwell gave up on St. Mary’s for the time being and had the small chapel of St. Joseph’s expanded; he excommunicated Father Hogan and prohibited Catholics from entering St. Mary’s. Afterwards, Father Hogan proclaimed his intention to embrace eastern Orthdoxy; he married several times; he eventually apostatized and wrote Popery! As It Was and As It Is, which is circulated among Catholic-baiting bigots to this day.

In the 1840’s violent confrontations between “nativists” and Irish Catholics in Philadelphia resulted in dozens of deaths, hundreds of injuries, and the destruction of churches.

One thought on “The Hogan Schism

  1. Wow – and not unique… there is the modern-day ongoing struggle with The Archdiocese and St. Stanislaus Church, the parish board of trustees and Mr. Bozek in St. Louis, MO…

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