Nineteen Sixty-four is a research blog for the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University edited by Mark M. Gray. CARA is a non-profit research center that conducts social scientific studies about the Catholic Church. Founded in 1964, CARA has three major dimensions to its mission: to increase the Catholic Church's self understanding; to serve the applied research needs of Church decision-makers; and to advance scholarly research on religion, particularly Catholicism. Follow CARA on Twitter at: caracatholic.


The 1,429 American Bishops from 1790 to 2017

This post is authored by CARA Research Associate Michal Kramarek, Ph.D. and provides top-level observations about bishops ordained in the United States between 1790 and 2017. The data come from Catholic Hierarchy, a freely available website created and maintained by David M. Cheney.

As of July 2017, 1,429 bishops have been ordained in what currently constitutes the United States. Each of those bishops is represented in the chart below (click on the graph below to view the full size image) by four dots (or less, if data are missing). The black dot at the bottom of the chart indicates the year of birth. Moving up and to the right (as a bishop ages) is a dark green dot that shows the year and age of ordination to priesthood. Continuing diagonally the same direction is a light green dot representing the year and age of bishop ordination. Finally, the top most dot shows the year and age at the time of death.

The low density of dots on the left-hand side of the chart indicates that there were relatively few bishops until mid-nineteenth century. Specifically, there were 51 bishop ordinations prior to 1850. Moving from left to the right, the dot density increases, as the number of bishop ordinations in the United States grew to 485 between 1850 and 1949, and to 858 bishops between 1950 and 2017 (note that the ordination data are missing for 35 bishops). The rate of increase was so fast in recent years that a third of all American bishops (32 percent) are alive today.

Nine American bishops were born early enough to remember the Declaration of Independence (in 1776). The youngest of them was Archbishop James Whitfield, who was six years old at that time. Five were already ordained priests: Archbishop John Carroll (ordained priest in 1761), Bishop Richard Luke Concanen (1770), Archbishop Leonard Neale (1773), Bishop John Connolly (1774), and Bishop Henry Conwell (1776). The first bishop in the United States was John Carroll, who was ordained as the Bishop of Baltimore in 1790, at the age of 59 (and appointed the Archbishop of Baltimore in 1808).

The youngest person to be ordained a bishop was Leo Raymond de Neckère, who became the first Bishop of New Orleans in 1830 at the age of 30. He died just three years later during the yellow fever epidemic, which also made him the youngest bishop to die, to date. The period preceding, during, and after the American Civil War (between 1825 and 1874) was characterized by the lowest average life expectancy among American bishops (at 62 years). Ever since, the life expectancy has been increasing exponentially with the exception of the period preceding, during and after the World War II (in years between 1925 and 1949) when it decreased by 0.5 years to 70 years. The bishops who died in 2000 or later lived on average 84 years. The longest living bishop was Edward Daniel Howard who died the Archbishop Emeritus of Portland in 1983, at the age of 105.

Not all bishops enjoyed long years of service. The shortest serving bishop was John Raphael Hagan, who was ordained the Auxiliary Bishop of Cleveland in 1946, at the age of 56. He died 123 days later, after unsuccessful surgery.

As hinted by the vertical concentrations of dots, bishops were ordained priests at an average age of 26, and ordained bishops at an average age of 50. However, there were some significant deviations from those numbers. The bishop ordained to priesthood at the oldest age was Elliot Griffin Thomas, who was ordained to priesthood in 1986, at the age of 59 (he was ordained a bishop in 1993, at the age of 67 and he is currently the Bishop Emeritus of Saint Thomas, American Virgin Islands). The oldest person to be ordained a bishop was Joseph Patrick Donahue, who was ordained as Auxiliary Bishop of New York in 1945, at the age of 74.

Saint John Paul II named the most American bishops. A full accounting for each pope is below:
  • Francis (69 bishop ordinations in the first 5 years of papacy)
  • Benedict XVI (105 bishop ordinations in 8 years)
  • John Paul II (342 bishop ordinations in 26 years)
  • John Paul I (0 bishop ordinations in 33 days)
  • Paul VI (208 bishop ordinations in 15 years)
  • John XXIII (48 bishop ordinations in 5 years)
  • Pius XII (178 bishop ordinations in 20 years)
  • Pius XI (103 bishop ordinations in 17 years)
  • Benedict XV (36 bishop ordinations in 7 years)
  • Pius X (59 bishop ordinations in 11 years)
  • Leo XIII (108 bishop ordinations in 25 years)
  • Pius IX (97 bishop ordinations in 32 years)
  • Gregory XVI (24 bishop ordinations in 15 years)
  • Pius VIII (2 bishop ordinations in 2 years)
  • Leo XII (5 bishop ordinations in 5 years)
  • Pius VII (10 bishop ordinations in 23 years)
  • Pius VI (1 bishop ordination in 25 years)

If you are curious to find out more about the bishops mentioned in this post or about your local bishop, consider visiting Catholic Hierarchy. It offers a treasure trove of information accessible to anyone for free.

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