Saint Louis has been a hotbed of Catholicism since the early days of French colonialism. Perhaps the second most iconic Catholic figure after Saint Louis IX, in the city of Saint Louis, would be John Cardinal Glennon, who lived his life in Saint Louis as the archbishop from 1903 to 1945. He expanded and influenced Roman Catholic culture while gaining popularity amongst the citizens of the city. During his tenure he was able to impact the city in a profound way. His outlook on the poor and sick coincided with his interest in healthcare and led to the development of various hospitals. Over time, Cardinal Glennon helped expand and strengthen the cause of the Roman Catholic Church in the city of Saint Louis in ways that can been seen in the world today.
John Glennon was born on June 14, 1862, in Kinnegad, Ireland, to Matthew and Catherine Glennon. In 1883, Glennon attended and graduated All Hallows College in Dublin. After college he prepared for the ministry and was ordained to the priesthood on December 20, 1884, in Kansas City, Missouri. From there he was assigned as an assistant pastor at St. Patrick’s church in Kansas City. Glennon remained there until 1887, when he became pastor of the Catholic cathedral, serving beneath Bishop Hogan. Fewer than seven years later, he transferred as coadjutor to Saint Louis, Missouri. When Archbishop John J. Kain died in 1903, Glennon became the youngest resident archbishop in the United States. John Glennon officially moved to Saint Louis and purchased a house in 1915. At the age of 83, he was still active as the archbishop when he was appointed to the College of Cardinals. While traveling to Rome, he became sick with bronchitis and passed away while at the home of Ireland’s President, Sean O’Kelly. Glennon was buried at the Cathedral of St. Louis in 1946, in the mausoleum of what is now the Cathedral Basilica in the Central West End.
John Glennon influenced the St. Louis community in many ways after being appointed as Archbishop. One of the first things he did under his new role of Archbishop of St. Louis was to direct the construction of a new Cathedral. Even though plans had existed for a newer, larger Cathedral since the early 1870s, previous ecclesiastical leadership had not been able to get the project started. So, in October of 1908 the corner stone of the "new" Cathedral of St. Louis was laid. In 1914, there was enough of the building completed for a dedication ceremony, with the full consecration ceremony not taking place until 1926. Construction would last until 1988 when the last of the tile mosaics were finally installed.
Glennon also directed the construction of new seminaries in St. Louis, including the Kenrick Seminary and another minor seminary, both in Shrewsberry, MO. The mission of these seminaries would be to enroll young people who had expressed a desire to enter the Catholic priesthood.
Through these efforts, Glennon’s mission was to "awaken" the dormant potential of the great archdiocese he inherited at such a young age. He took this power and influenced the church to continuously expand as a forceful factor in the moral progress of the city. He not only tried to expand the church in the city, but in the countryside outside of the city as well. The mission to help the poor, sick, and marginalized greatly increased under Glennon’s years as archbishop. As this mission increased, Catholic health care centers also increased. According to Martin G. Towey, “Cardinal Glennon was best known as a builder, educator, and orator. During his forty-two years in St. Louis he directed the building of the present cathedral, major and minor seminary buildings, seven high schools, and numerous parishes.” The National Catholic Education Association was founded after Glennon’s installation to better educate individuals from elementary school through university. St. Louis gained spirit in strong parishes, excellent Catholic education, liturgical vitality, charitable outreach, and hearty country Catholic family life because of John Glennon.
Glennon enjoyed a popular tenure in St. Louis--and was known to throw the opening pitch at Cardinals baseball games from time to time--but there was one glaring controversy during his time as Archbishop. Glennon was strongly opposed to racial integration of the city’s various Catholic schools, colleges, and universities. He even went so far as to block a young African American woman from attending Webster College (later Webster University) in 1943. Glennon was quoted as saying that racial integration was a “Jesuit ploy” and would transfer complaining priests away from the area. This caused an uproar throughout the Archdiocese, prompting one priest to deliver an angry sermon at St. Louis University about the immoral behavior of the church’s segregation policies. Under the growing pressure of his peers, Glennon had little choice but to finally grant his approval of desegregation in the summer of 1943.
The impact of Cardinal Glennon can still be seen in present day St. Louis. Perhaps the most enduring symbol of his life is Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital. This hospital was opened up in July of 1956, ten years after his death. It was John Cardinal Glennon’s goal to see that all children had access to a health care facility in order to get medical care. Subsequently, the hospital was named after Cardinal Glennon because of his dream for children. Cardinal Glennon unintentionally brought together Catholics throughout St. Louis Archdiocese when they donated and funded the building of this hospital. Today, Cardinal Glennon is exceeding in the Archbishop’s goal. Cardinal Glennon Hospital has made a huge difference in the St. Louis community in saving lives of children. These services affect not only the Catholic population but the general in public in need. Thus, allowing all children to get medical care lives out the Archbishop’s dream.
John Cardinal Glennon had a profound impact on the city of Saint Louis during his lifetime and his legacy continues to shape the city today. Through his idealistic mindset he helped the city grow. These ideas ranged from educational improvements to establishing new healthcare facilities to assisting the poor. He strongly believed in providing people with a good educational background. He deemed this necessary and went as far as to push for improvements for kids education from elementary education to college level education. He did not stop here. He helped obtain funds in order to construct healthcare facilities that could help the ill. He also worked for the betterment of the child poor. Even though deceased, Glennon’s impact on the city of Saint Louis can be seen today. His healthcare facilities are still open, which are now named John Glennon children's hospital. John Glennon’s influence laid the groundwork for what the Catholic community of Saint Louis is today. The decisions he made not only proved beneficial for the Catholic Community but the community of Saint Louis as a whole.
Researched and written by Ashley Corbin, Morgan Evitts, Sien Gallop, Sarah Gilfillan, Somer Hill, Dylan Robb, and Jason Welch.
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