Bishop Francis Kenrick and His Journals

As a volunteer at PAHRC this summer, I was tasked with labeling descriptions of letters from one of the journals of Bishop Francis Kenrick, who served as bishop of Philadelphia from 1830 until 1851. This particular journal, which Kenrick kept while in Philadelphia, has never been published or translated from the original Latin in which much of it was written. In addition to this journal, Kenrick also kept another journal known as his Diary and Visitation Record that provides an account of his Episcopal Visitations throughout the Diocese of Philadelphia. This journal was translated into English by Reverend Francis Tourscher and published in 1916.

After noting the page on which each letter started, I marked whether the letter was written in English or Latin, which was the primary language of correspondence used by clergy during this time period. In his journal, Kenrick alternated between drafting long letters to fellow clergymen and jotting down short descriptions of letters written elsewhere; however, the inclusion of dates and the repeat appearance of various names made the letters easy to locate.

Bishop Francis P. Kenrick

Bishop Francis P. Kenrick

Born in Dublin in December of 1797, Kenrick first came to the United States after completing his clerical studies in Rome in 1821 and served as a professor of theology and history in Kentucky for the next nine years.  It was after attending the First Provincial Council of Baltimore in 1829 that Kenrick began his work in Philadelphia. During his twenty years in the city, Kenrick supported the building of asylums for young boys and girls and dozens of new churches throughout the diocese; wisely encouraged the establishment of a new diocese in Pittsburgh; and consented to the creation of the newspaper The Catholic Herald. Kenrick was succeeded by Bishop John Neumann in 1852 after Kenrick was named the Archbishop of Baltimore.

The early years of Kenrick’s time in Philadelphia were not without controversy, and many of the letters at the beginning of his journal detail the events surrounding the conflict between the bishop and the trustees of St. Mary’s Church, then the cathedral of Philadelphia. Named coadjutor bishop while Bishop Henry Conwell retained the title, Kenrick took pains to assert his authority amidst opposition from the trustees and even placed the cathedral under interdict for a short time. Bishop Kenrick’s efforts contributed to a decline in the power of the trustees and to an increased sense of stability in a diocese that had been long divided by tensions arising from trusteeism.

A letter written by Bishop Kenrick describing the conditions to which he hoped the lay trustees of St. Mary's would agree.

A letter written by Bishop Kenrick describing the conditions to which he hoped the lay trustees of St. Mary’s would agree.

While Kenrick maintained in several of his letters that Masses and funeral services should continue to be said in Latin rather than in a vernacular language such as German, his letters reveal a concern for the growing population of German Catholics in his expansive diocese. It is clear from a letter written to Kenrick from the president of the Council of Lyon in 1843 that some missionaries of the time were concerned for the welfare of German Catholics in America (Correspondence 120). Bishop Kenrick provided money to aid a new German parish in Philadelphia (Nolan 252) and allowed for the publication of a Catholic newspaper in German.

A page from Kenrick's journal that mentions the establishment of the Catholic newspaper for Germans.

A page from Kenrick’s journal that mentions the establishment of the Catholic newspaper for Germans.

It was also interesting to note that two of the letters mentioned in Bishop Kenrick’s journal were written to Joseph Bonaparte, the older brother of Napoleon Bonaparte. In these letters Kenrick requests an image of St. Mary Magdalene and expresses his thanks for The Flagellation of Christ by Hannibal Carracci.

Perhaps most noteworthy was Bishop Kenrick’s recognition of the importance of ensuring that the priests in his diocese were well-educated, and it was his welcoming of a young student named Patrick Bradley into his home that marked the establishment of what is today St. Charles Borromeo Seminary. Having such extensive experience as an educator, Kenrick taught his own students until his brother Peter arrived in 1834 and began to assist him. It seems fitting that a man so earnest in his desire to share his learning with others would refer to this particular endeavor as of the greatest “importance for the future of the Church” (qtd. in Nolan 187). The seminary continued to grow throughout Bishop Kenrick’s time in Philadelphia, especially after the Vincentians assumed control of its operations.

A letter in Latin written from Bishop Kenrick to Cardinal Pedicini in which he mentions the seminary, which was begun earlier that year.

A letter from 1832 to Cardinal Pedicini in which Kenrick mentions the seminary, which was begun earlier that year.

Learning more about the bishop who was so integrally responsible for the founding and expansion of the seminary was especially intriguing as a volunteer here. It is fortunate that Kenrick was so meticulous in keeping records of his life, since we are now able to use these records of his letters and travels to gain a deeper understanding of the Diocese of Philadelphia during a time of both hardships and great advances. The journal with which I worked offers insight into Kenrick’s personal relationships with other clerical officials, while his visitation journal details his travels throughout Pennsylvania and reveals him to be a man deeply interested in the spiritual well-being of the Catholics living in his diocese.


A typical page from Kenrick’s Visitation Records that shows the bishop’s concern with administering the sacraments to Catholics throughout the diocese.

This journal that Bishop Kenrick kept between 1830 and 1851 during his time in Philadelphia, as well as translations of many of his letters and of his diary and visitation records, can all be found here at the Historical Research Center. A summary and brief description of the main entries in Kenrick’s journal is also available here at PAHRC.



Kenrick, Francis Patrick. Diary and Visitation Record of the Rt. Rev. Francis Patrick Kenrick,  Administrator and Bishop of Philadelphia, 1831-1852, Later Archbishop of Baltimore. Trans. Francis Edward Tourscher. Lancaster: Wickersham Printing Co., 1916.

The Kenrick-Frenaye Correspondence: Letters chiefly of Francis Patrick Kenrick and Marc Antony Frenaye Selected from the Cathedral Archives, Philadelphia. Trans. Francis Edward Tourscher. Philadelphia: Wickersham Printing Company, 1920.

Looby, John. “Francis Patrick Kenrick.” Edited Appleton’s Enyclopedia. Virtualology, 2001.  <>.

Nolan, Hugh J. Francis Patrick Kenrick: Third Bishop of Philadelphia. Philadelphia: American Catholic Historical Society of Philadelphia, 1948.

O’Shea, John J. “Francis Patrick and Peter Richard Kenrick.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 8. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. <>.




Priest and Rosary Calm Tension – Oral History Interview

msgr devlin picture

Msgr. Devlin, in an oral history interview from 2008, reflects on his involvement with the Philadelphia Police Department​ as they joined forces to calm tensions in the inner city. Msgr. Devlin was later appointed Director of the Cardinal’s Commission on Human Relations.

Devlin: George Fencl, (Chief Inspector and head of the Police Department’s Civil Affairs Unit), would call me. And one time we were up there and I had to bring in Spanish priests you know. And they were good. They’d come out, you know and we decided that one way of calming the situation down was to have a rosary. We’d had a priest say a rosary in the vernacular in Spanish and then things would—and I still remember—one guy said, “All right, we know you’re a policeman because the kind of belt you’re wearing.” (laughter) I remember then a bottle going zoom—right past my ears. Things were getting panicky, you know. It was very quiet while everybody was saying the rosary. But then it started to stir up again and George Fencl comes up behind me and says, “Monsignor, you think you could say another rosary?” (laughter) 

Interviewer: Thank you for keeping the lid on that simmering violence in the neighborhood.

 Devlin: Yeah, we had, we developed a technique, with Monsignor Dowling and myself and a group, a particular cadre of priests, that you know, we could call on to do this anywhere. And we were in every area of the city. We were in North Philly, we were in the suburbs, we were in South Philly, you know, and all I had to do was call them and they’d be there. I remember a guy and he had his fists right up in my nose, like that. And he says, “You get back in your pulpit! You don’t belong out here. Arrrr arrrr.”  (laughter) And then finally when things settled down, he says, “Father, you want to come home and have dinner with me and my wife?” (laughter)

Centenarian Priest Speaks of Bells and Prayer – Oral History Interview


Monsignor Charles Monaghan, the oldest priest in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, turned 100 on March 31, 2015. In a 2007 taped interview, Msgr. Monaghan spoke of his earliest desire to be a priest, which came in the form of bells at Ascension of Our Lord Church.  Click the link below to listen to him describe this memory, or read the excerpt below.

And I remember going into the church and being there for the whole Mass. Now she had to carry my brother in her arms and my sister just about walking, and I was about 4 years old. 4-1/2, 4 years, and I remember seeing a priest, and I remember the Mass itself, very quiet, there weren’t that many people in church. This was the basement of the present church, and when it was all over, I said to my mother I’m gonna be a priest. And she says “How can you figure that out?” and I says “well, did you notice that the priest, when he put his knee on the ground a bell rang, and when he raised his hand, another bell? And I said I would like to do that.”


Msgr. Monahan was quoted in an April 14, 2015 article in The Philadelphia Inquirer ( as saying “I’m totally inactive, except for my prayers.” He mentioned in a 2007 taped interview that learning to improve prayer life is a key challenge facing Catholics today, especially children. He said that if we want to be Christians, if we want Christ living in us, we have to learn from Him, and His devotion to his own father.  Click the link below to listen to his thoughts on prayer, or read the except below.

We have to learn how to say prayers together. But we have to learn how to say the prayers individually, and hungrily. When children have problems we have to teach them to kneel down first and say their prayers. We want them to learn to find answers through prayer. Through prayer – I think prayer, and the teaching of prayer, and allowing a child to grow into the need for prayer, and to find out that in their needs, prayer comes first. Prayer comes first. You have to get a closer relationship with our divine Lord Himself, and that has to come through prayer and the sacraments. That’s the beginning, anyway.


Recently Processed Collection: John Gilmary Shea Correspondence

As an intern for PAHRC, I was tasked with processing the collection titled, John Gilmary Shea Correspondence, 1836-1891 (MC 51). John Gilmary Shea was not only a writer, editor, and lawyer, Shea was considered the leading American Catholic historian of his time.

Shea was only 14 years old when he published his first article, a short essay on Cardinal Albornoz in the Children’s Catholic Magazine. It wasn’t until the 1850s when Shea really began his work in American Catholic history. Between 1852 and 1855, Shea published several scholarly works that were critically acclaimed: Discovery and Exploration of Mississippi Valley (1852), History of the Catholic Missions Among the Indian Tribes of the United States, 1529-1854 (1854), An Elementary History of the United States (1855), and A School History of the United States (1855).

Shea was very passionate about his life as a scholar; so much so that over the next four decades, he published two hundred and fifty articles and books. His magnum opus was a four volume series titled, The History of the Catholic Church in the United States, published between 1886 and 1892. With all of Shea’s publications over the decades, it is reasonable to assume he relied on his expansive network of personal and professional relationships to obtain the pertinent information required for his extensive scholarly works. The Shea correspondence collection I processed in late fall 2012 provides a unique perspective and reveals Shea’s activities as a writer, researching scholar, historian, and friend.

During my initial review of the collection, I found that most of the correspondence was overstuffed in worn out archival folders and boxes—a preservation nightmare. I was fortunate enough to find one positive quality about the collection; it was previously processed at the item-level which may prove useful to researchers.

After discussing an appropriate processing plan with Faith Charlton, PAHRC’s then Reference and Technical Services Archivist, we devised a plan that included: keeping the item-level correspondence intact while updating correspondents’ names to Library of Congress Name Authority File (NAF) as well as their religious order (where applicable); performing basic preservation such as re-housing and removing rubber bands/staples/paperclips; and creating a finding aid in Archivists’ Toolkit. The most challenging aspect of processing the collection came from the fact that Shea had a substantial amount of personal correspondence; the collection is housed in approximately seven boxes.

The bulk of the collection is comprised of incoming correspondence. Some of the larger files with twenty or more letters are from notable figures who helped Shea during his scholarly years.

For instance, the collection contains a large file of correspondence between Oscar Wilkes Collet, a writer, scholar, and member of the Missouri Historical Society. Here is a postcard received by Shea requesting help locating research materials. 

February 2, 1885 postcard sent by Oscar W. Collet
regarding unpublished research materials.

Another notable correspondent was John Wesley Powell. Powell was a U.S. soldier, geologist, explorer of the American West, and director of the Smithsonian Institution Bureau of Ethnology.

Letter written by John Wesley Powell, Geologist for the U.S. Department of the Interior, on October 27, 1876 requesting Shea’s scholarly assistance.

Another large correspondence file comes from Michael Augustine Corrigan, Archbishop of New York.

Typed letter composed in 1891 by Archbishop Michael Augustine Corrigan asking Shea for clarification of sources to the assertion that there were large defections in the Catholic Church in America.

Other large correspondence files contain letters from Archbishop James Roosevelt Bayley, James Cardinal Gibbons, Peter DeSmet, John Ward Dean, Edmond Mallet, and Eugene Vetromile. 

The collection is open to researchers. The PDF finding aid can be found here. PAHRC also has the original finding aid with item-level information which includes specific dates. If you would like to take a look at the original finding aid or any of our other collections, you can schedule an appointment to visit PAHRC or email us at



The American Catholic Historical Society of Philadelphia. (1897). Records of the American Catholic Historical Society of Philadelphia Vol. VIII No. 1. Philadelphia: The Society.