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Martin John Spalding

Seventh Archbishop of Baltimore, b. Bardstown, Kentucky, May 23, 1810; d., at Baltimore, Feb. 7, 1872

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Spalding, MARTIN JOHN, seventh Archbishop of Baltimore, b. Bardstown, Kentucky, May 23, 1810; d., at Baltimore, February 7, 1872. His forbears came from England and settled in Maryland about the middle of the seventeenth century; his grandfather removed to Kentucky in 1790. Martin Spalding entered St. Mary’s College, Lebanon, Kentucky, in 1821, taught mathematics there at the age of fourteen, was graduated in 1826, and studied philosophy and theology during four years in the seminary at Bardstown. In 1830 he entered the Propaganda, Rome, where after a brilliant course he was ordained August 13, 1834, and received the doctorate in theology at the close of a public defense of 256 theses. Upon his return to Bardstown, he became pastor of the cathedral and editor of the “Catholic Advocate”, founded in 1835. After the transfer of the see to Louisville, he was appointed vicar-general (1844), coadjutor cum jure to Bishop Flaget (1848), and Bishop of Louisville (1850). The diocese, which then numbered over 30,000 Catholics, was well provided with schools for girls, but there were comparatively few schools for boys. To supply this need and to recruit the clergy, Bishop Spalding, shortly after the dedication of the cathedral in 1852, went to Europe and secured the services of the Xaverian Brothers who came to Louisville in 1854. During his visit to Belgium, the bishop conceived the idea of founding the American College at Louvain which, mainly through his efforts, was opened in 1857. Much of his time was devoted to lectures and controversial writings in defense of the Church, especially against the Know-Nothing movement and the common school system from which religious instruction was excluded. He had already published “Evidences of Catholicity”, a series of lectures delivered in 1844-5, and the “Life, Times and Character of Benedict Joseph Flaget” (Louisville, 1852); these were followed by his “Miscellanea” (1853) and his “History of the Protestant Reformation” (1860) in which he enlarged his “Review of D’Aubigne’s `History of the Reformation‘”, published in 1840. He also lectured at the Smithsonian Institute, Washington, and in Baltimore, New York, Brooklyn, and other cities.

In 1864, on the death of Archbishop Kenrick, Bishop Spalding succeeded him in the See of Baltimore. Here he organized the St. Vincent de Paul Society, founded the House of the Good Shepherd and St. Mary’s Industrial School, and completed the cathedral. In October, 1866, the Second Plenary Council assembled at Baltimore; Archbishop Spalding arranged the details and presided over the deliberations. He had previously suggested the idea of a Catholic university, and it was chiefly due to his efforts that the project was endorsed by the council. In 1867 he again visited Rome and took part in the celebration of the centenary of St. Peter’s martyrdom. As the American College in Rome was in need of funds, Archbishop Spalding issued an appeal, which resulted in placing the college on a sound financial basis. His labors in behalf of religion and the spreading of Catholic truth were incessant. In 1868 he consecrated Bishop Becker for the See of Wilmington and Bishop Gibbons for the Vicariate Apostolic of North Carolina. Within one year (1868-9) he administered confirmation a hundred times, one eighth of the recipients being converts. He welcomed the Little Sisters of the Poor to Baltimore (1869), invited Father Herbert Vaughan to evangelize the negroes (1871), and aided Father Hecker in establishing the Catholic Publication Society of New York. At the Vatican Council he was a member of the Commission on Faith and of the Commission on “Postulata” which had to examine all the matters proposed for deliberation before they were presented to the council. He was a strong supporter of the doctrine of papal infallibility and he drew up a postulatum in which he favored a definition by implication in preference to an explicit affirmation of the dogma. Immediately after the final vote on infallibility, Archbishop Spalding addressed a pastoral letter to the clergy and laity of his archdiocese, in which he set the action of the council in the proper light and cleared away numerous misrepresentations. Shortly after his return to America he spoke at Philadelphia in defense of the temporal power of the pope, and on June 18, 1871, he commemorated with fitting observance the jubilee of the elevation of Pius IX to the papal chair, the last notable celebration in which he took part. Archbishop Spalding was a fine representative of the type of men who organized and developed the Church in the United States. To a strong faith he added sincere piety and tender devotion, to scholarship a high degree of administrative ability, and to his zeal for Catholicism a loyal interest in the welfare of his country. He enjoyed the esteem of those who were foremost in Church and State, and his death was the occasion of tributes from all classes of his fellow-citizens. His complete works were published at Baltimore in several editions.


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