First Bishop of Philadelphia, U.S.A., b. in Ireland, in 1761; d. at Philadelphia, July 22, 1814
Egan, MICHAEL, first Bishop of Philadelphia, U.S.A., b. in Ireland, most probably in Galway, in 1761; d. at Philadelphia, July 22, 1814. Entering the Order of St. Francis he was rapidly advanced to important offices. In his twenty-sixth year he was appointed Guardian of St. Isidore’s, the house of the Irish Franciscans, at Rome, and held this position for three years, when he was transferred to Ireland. After laboring for several years as a missionary in his native land, he responded to an earnest appeal of the Catholics of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and went to the United States. Though lacking the constitution demanded by the pastoral duties of that pioneer age, and suffering often from sickness, Father Egan’s priestly zeal and his eloquence in the pulpit gained universal recognition, and, in April, 1803, he was appointed by Bishop Carroll one of the pastors of St. Mary’s church in Philadelphia. On April 8, 1808, Pope Pius VII erected this city into an episcopal see, with Michael Egan as first bishop. Archbishop Carroll describes him to the Roman authorities as “a man of about fifty who seems endowed with all the qualities to discharge with perfection all the functions of the episcopacy, except that he lacks robust health, greater experience and a greater degree of firmness in his disposition. He is a learned, modest, humble priest who maintains the spirit of his Order in his whole conduct.” Owing to the Napoleonic troubles, the papal Bulls did not reach America until the year 1810. On October 28 Bishop Egan was consecrated by Archbishop Carroll in St. Peter’s church, Baltimore. His brief episcopate was embittered and his health shattered by the contumacious behavior of the lay trustees of St. Mary’s church, which he had chosen for his cathedral. These trustees, who were tainted with the irreligious notions of the times, without any legal right, and contrary to the canons of the Church, claimed the privilege of electing and deposing their pastors and of adjusting their salaries. This un-Catholic contention that “the laity own the churches and the clergy are their hired servants” disturbed the peace, retarded the progress, and threatened the existence of the Catholic religion in Pennsylvania during two episcopates. Bishop Egan’s troubles were aggravated by the insubordination of two Irish priests whom he had admitted to the diocese, James Harold and his better-known nephew, William Vincent Harold. Bishop Egan died worn out by his struggles to maintain his episcopal authority.
JAMES F. LOUGHLIN