From his chair in the asylum, the Bishop declares:
"Chicago has been swallowed up by the sea --
and all the Catholics therein have been given over to eternal punishment!"

During the Jubilee of his 50th anniversary as a Bishop, the ebullient Archbishop Peter Richard Kenrick of St. Louis makes a rare but grand visit to the St. Vincent Asylum for the Insane (in the Soulard area of St. Louis). He comes to see his former protégé - Bishop James Duggan – the fourth Catholic Bishop of Chicago.  After ten unhappy years in Chicago, Bishop Duggan was returned to St. Louis in 1869 and has been committed to the asylum "for the hopelessly insane" for over twenty years.  

Part One - From Student's Desk to Bishop's Throne


Seminarian James Duggan, seventeen years old, is recruited by young Bishop Kenrick to leave home and family – parents and eight siblings in Maynooth, Ireland - and come to the mission Diocese of St. Louis.  James makes the Atlantic crossing to New Orleans, and steamboats up the Mississippi to Missouri.


Instead of matriculating at the rural seminary of "St. Mary of the Barrons", James is informed by Kenrick that he will stay in the See city, residing next to the riverfront Cathedral, living in the Bishop's own house.   


Duggan, at twenty-two years old, is ordained a priest by Bishop Kenrick, with special dispensation from the Pope because of the young age of the ordinandus.  The next day, Kenrick assigns Duggan as Rector of the city's Seminary where he had been both student and professor of classical languages. 
Due to an ever-increasing flow of immigrants, the sprawling Diocese of St. Louis is elevated to the status of an Archdiocese.

Father Duggan is appointed by Archbishop Kenrick as his personal secretary and assistant in residence at the Cathedral.  The Catholic people of St. Louis know Father Duggan, at twenty-five, as an eloquent preacher and a cleric with winning charm.


The Very Reverend Duggan, only twenty-eight years old, is appointed by Kenrick as his Vicar General, with jurisdiction over the entire St. Louis Archdiocese.  For a brief time, he is also the popular Pastor of a parish.


The thirty year old Very Rev. Duggan is named temporary Administrator of the Diocese of Chicago – “an overgrown village” when compared to the city of St. Louis.  Archbishop Kenrick remarks: “James Duggan would make a fine Bishop, but he is too few years a priest.”

Back in St. Louis, Duggan, thirty-one, is consecrated by Archbishop Kenrick as titular Bishop of Antigone and Coadjutor Archbishop of St. Louis with right of succession. It is said that he is the youngest Roman Catholic Bishop in the world.


In Chicago for another term as Administrator, Duggan confronts the notorious ex-priest Chiniquy and a thousand of his French-speaking formerly-Catholic followers in Kankakee County, Illinois. On a hot August day, even though Duggan confidently addresses the mob in its native language, he is forcibly driven from the town.


Although the fifty-three year old Archbishop Kenrick looks upon him as his successor in the Archdiocese of St. Louis, Duggan is appointed the 4th Bishop of the smaller Diocese of Chicago – the decision of Allesandro Cardinal Barnabo, powerful Prefect of the Congregation Propaganda Fide in Rome.

Thirty-three year old Bishop Duggan arrives in Chicago, the Bishops’ residence prepared according to his own taste.  He faces struggles because of the brief, unhappy terms of his two immediate predecessors in the Chicago Diocese - Bishop  Van de Velde for five years, 1848-53, and Bishop O’Regan also for only five years, 1853-58.  Both fled the city after resigning.   

Financial problems from the Crash of 1857 have left the Diocese in dire straits - especially the fledgling St. Mary of the Lake College, envisioned to be ”mid-America’s great Catholic university.”

Some Catholic Germans in Chicago protest the appointment of another “Irish” Bishop.  

Newly-ordained Father John McMullen arrives in Chicago from Rome to reside with the Bishop and assist at St. Mary’s Cathedral.  A favorite of Duggan’s, he becomes “the Bishop’s shadow.”

Part Two - From the Settee of High Society to the "Hot Seat"


Bishop Duggan elevates Holy Name Church to “Cathedral status” for major events in the Diocese.

His “Board of Priests” - V. Rev. Dennis Dunne, Vicar General; Rev. McMullen, Chancellor (and eventually St. Mary’s president);  Rev. Joseph Roles, Cathedral rector; and later, Rev. T.J. Halligan, financial officer - offer “golden opinions” of Bishop Duggan’s leadership.

Bishop Duggan brings many religious orders of priests and sisters to the Chicago Diocese to staff parishes, schools, orphanages and hospitals – both in the city and throughout northern Illinois.

Bishop Duggan is renowned in Chicago society as a great linguist – Latin, Greek, German, French, Italian, and Spanish - and as a man “at ease in the world of arts and letters.”  Poets,  painters, actors, and artists from all over the world are known to visit the “Bishop’s Palace”, a stately marble-front mansion (built by Bishop O’Regan on the corner of Michigan Avenue and Madison Street).   Bishop Duggan's residence soon becomes a favorite center of culture for the elite of Chicago.  The Bishop's refined taste in literature and art make him an authority among the small but increasing circle of literary and art-loving people in the city.

The Civil War begins. Some Chicagoans suspect Duggan has sympathy for the South – because "he came from St. Louis.” Yet Duggan’s younger brother Thomas – who emigrated to US – enlists in the Union Army and his youngest sister Elizabeth, a Mercy nun given the name Sister Mary Jane, assists the wounded and dying in field hospitals.   

Bishop Duggan preaches at the burial of Senator Stephen A. Douglas who, on his deathbed, refused the Bishop’s offer of Baptism and the Last Rites.


In June, Bishop Duggan travels to Rome to participate with hundreds of the world’s Bishops in the canonization of the Japanese martyrs.  In Rome, he finds “the fulfillment of the most ardent desires of (his) Catholic heart and a feast for (his) cultured mind.”
Back in Chicago, Bishop Duggan contends with Fenianism, a form of militant Irish American nationalism, a “secret society” among the roughly 20,000 Irish immigrants in Chicago.  The Civil War provides a great spur to Fenianism in Chicago.  Amid calls to arms to defend the Union, Fenian leaders recruit Irish regiments by linking the fight against the South to a “war against England” – by means of a plan to invade Canada.

Bishop Duggan writes a personal letter to young Chicago priest Rev. James McGovern, acting-secretary to Cardinal Barnabo at Propaganda Fide in Rome, regarding “problems with the Civil War” and “personal matters.”


St. Mary’s of the Lake, under Father McMullen, erects new and much needed buildings – but assumes a considerable “floating debt.”  Some priests question Bishop Duggan’s administrative abilities.

To give Rome a clearer picture of the status of the Diocese of Chicago, Archbishop Kenrick sends to Propaganda Fide an account of “temporal offenses in Chicago as left by Bishop O’Regan”.


In the Spring on St. Patrick’s Day, Bishop Duggan watches from his residence as a “Fenian Brotherhood parade” stretches many blocks down Michigan Avenue.  The Fenians call for “another Enlightenment” to free Irish-Americans from "the domination of slavery to the Church."  

Bishop Duggan condemns Fenianism in Chicago, excommunicating Catholic men who are members of the secret society.  The condemnation hardly tempers the brotherhood’s militancy.

An anonymous letter with accusations against Bishop Duggan is sent to Propaganda Fide in Rome, signed - “Sacerdos Dei Altissimi” - “a Priest of the Most high God.”
Pope Pius IX announces plans for a (first) Vatican Council.

Thomas Duggan, the Bishop’s younger brother who had enlisted in the Union Army, is killed in battle on the 16th of February.

President Abraham Lincoln of Illinois is assassinated by the actor John Wilkes Booth, who may have been Bishop Duggan’s guest several times when the heralded young tragedian played at Chicago’s McVickers Theatre.  As Lincoln’s funeral cortege passes the Bishop’s residence, Duggan with head uncovered stands on the balcony, surrounded by seventy-five young ladies on the lawn “dressed in white, wearing long black scarfs” – Duggan’s own idea - “a unique display of patriotism.”

At the end of the Civil War years, thirty-nine year old Bishop Duggan shows signs of “restlessness” and “irritability.”  He suffers from acute dyspepsia; he cannot eat from the menus of parish banquets and Church dinners.


Rev. McGovern returns from Rome, to be co-editor with Rev. McMullen of Chicago’s The Catholic Monthly.

In October, the Bishop (with Rev. McMullen as his “theologian”) participates in the 2nd Plenary Council of Baltimore. Among the preachers are Bishop Duggan himself; the enthusiastic, evangelical Rev. Isaac Hecker; and young Rev. Patrick Ryan of St. Louis, Duggan’s replacement there.

The Bishop unexpectedly closes St. Mary of the Lake, amid much controversy.

Part Three - From the "Cathedra" to the Asylum Chair


Bishop Duggan travels for reasons of physical and mental health (“severe back pain”… “fear of paralysis, insanity, or both”), seeking relief in the “healing waters” of Karlsbad (Bohemia).  He hopes to make a visit to Rome and intimates that, while there, he might tender his resignation.

He places the young Rev. H. T. Halligan in charge of “temporalities” while he is away from the diocese.   


Chicago Jesuit Father Downen reports to Propaganda Fide, critical of Duggan’s administration, and expressing concerns about the Bishop’s “health.”

A letter from Bishop Duggan’s earliest and closest priest collaborators, addressed to Pius IX and Cardinal Barnabo, is forwarded by Archbishop M. Spalding of Baltimore to Rome:  “Reasons Why Bishop Duggan Should Be Removed,” including “poor condition of the seminary … and infelicitous handling of Church funds & property” - especially temporalities under young  Father Halligan.  Further, Revs. Dunne,VG, McMullen, McGovern, and Roles describe Duggan’s poor handling of temporal affairs. They ask that “Dunne be made Administrator or another Bp. be sent.”

Pius IX asks Archbishop Kenrick to investigate.


Upon learning about their letter to Rome, Bishop Duggan removes Dunne, McMullen, McGovern and Roles from their posts; they are reassigned to missions outside the city. 

The Bishop closes the diocesan Seminary.

Bishop Duggan writes to Propaganda Fide: “This is now a question of Episcopal Authority, which I will endeavor to defend at all costs."                                                                                                                                                                                     
Archbishop Kenrick (in Rome with Rev. Ryan, soon to be new Coadjutor of St. Louis) reports to Cardinal Barnabo that he can find no truth in any of the eleven charges against Bishop Duggan: 

1) negligent, careless administration of Diocese and parishes;  
2) long absences from the Diocese;  
3) insufficient numbers of priests, large numbers of “fallen-aways”;  
4) misspent seminary funds;  
5) use of diocesan funds for private use ($40-50,000);  
6) judgments made without sufficient reflection;  
7) no esteem from the clergy or laity; 
8) conflicts with the civil government over his authority;  
9) no visitations to parishes or outlying missions;  
10) scandalous, useless and trifling conversation; 
11) inexperience of youthful Father Halligan to administer in place of Bishop. 

In September, Cardinal Barnabo acknowledges Kenrick’s findings, clearing Duggan.                                                                                                                                                                             
In a lengthy public “circular letter” widely distributed to the priests and faithful of Chicago, Bishop Duggan re-prints the findings of Archbishop Kenrick and the response of Cardinal Barnabo “to present this matter in the clearest light.” 

Yet several groups of Catholic parishioners hold “mass meetings” in favor of Father McMullen and the other “removed” priests.

Father McMullen leaves for Rome, after sending a letter which is reprinted in the city’s newspapers: “Rome must act before the Diocese itself becomes ill, due to the Bishop’s indifference, omissions and neglect.”

Reports of Bishop Duggan’s “erratic” behavior multiply.

In December, former Vicar General Dunne, beloved by his people, falls seriously ill; he writes to the Bishop expressing his regret if he has offended him.  When the Bishop visits Dunne on his deathbed, Duggan magnanimously remembers, “Why, we were always friends.”  It is reported, however, that Duggan tries repeatedly to get a full recantation from Dunne, and that the dying priest offers none.


In the wake of the death of Very Rev. Dunne, a public petition is signed by Chicago priests stating: “Duggan must resign.”

Bishop Duggan is said to run deliriously through the aisles of Holy Name at night, shouting – “Fire! Fire! My cathedral is ablaze!” (two years prior to the Great Chicago Fire of 1871).  

He is briefly hospitalized.
Archbishop Kenrick of St. Louis visits Bishop Duggan, advising a change of scene and suggesting they travel together to Cuba.  To this, Bishop Duggan agrees, but when all is ready and he is crossing the threshold to the carriage, he suddenly draws back, saying that Kenrick wishes to get him arrested. He retreats to his private room.  Duggan harbors the idea that he has been convicted of some serious crime and that officers are watching for him, ready to seize him at the moment he shall emerge. 

Bishop Duggan adds a hand-written codicil to his Last Will & Testament: “Since I have been Bishop of Chicago I have never received or been paid any stipend or salary … My Cross, gold chain and large amethyst ring I give to Most Rev. P.J. Kenrick, Archbishop of St. Louis as a token of my love and affection for him.”

In the early spring, two suicide attempts by Bishop Duggan are reported to Propaganda Fide in Rome.

There is much infighting in the Diocese.  

As he prepares for the opening of the Vatican Council, Pius IX orders someone “other than Kenrick” (who has lost favor in Rome) to investigate the Diocese of Chicago.

Archbishop Spalding of Baltimore writes that Fr. Roles has sent “a certificate from a Dr. Cook of Rock Island that Duggan has lost his mind.”

Friends escort Bishop Duggan from Chicago, the Bishop “decoyed by a process little short of kidnapping.”

At the end of April, the Holy See is advised that Bishop Duggan is hospitalized in an “asylum for the insane,” under the care of Sisters in St. Louis. 


A newspaper reports that he “is permitted to retain the garb of a Bishop, in which he dresses every day.” Duggan sits daily for long hours in the parlor, sometimes under the delusion that he is Pope.  He refuses to enter the chapel.  Occasionally, young Bishop Ryan – soon to be named Archbishop of Philadelphia - takes him for carriage rides.

In June, Bishop William McCloskey writes that “Bishop Duggan is in the asylum, hopelessly insane.”



A broken Archbishop Kenrick, now in his ninetieth year, makes another visit - less grand - to the asylum to see Bishop Duggan.

After a meeting of St. Louis priests with Cardinal Gibbons, Archbishop Kenrick has been forced to relinquish the administration of the Archdiocese to his third coadjutor, Archbishop John J. Kain.  But refusing to resign, the aged, dying Kenrick is - according to newspapers - “deposed for reasons of mental health” from the See of St. Louis by Pope Leo XIII.  

It is only the second case in which an American Bishop has been publicly removed for reasons of mental incapacity – the other Bishop being Kenrick’s protégé, James Duggan. 

Within a month, Archbishop Kenrick is dead.


Duggan’s youngest sibling, Mercy Sister Mary Jane, cares for him in his last weeks.  

Bishop James Duggan, 74, the fourth Catholic Bishop of Chicago, dies peacefully at St. Vincent’s, having spent the last thirty years of his life in the asylum.