“We shall have to build the schoolhouse first and the church afterward. In our age, the question of education is the question of the church.” – Archbishop “Dagger John” Hughes
John Joseph Hughes was a feisty Irish immigrant who became the first Catholic Archbishop of New York. If you have seen the film “Gangs of New York,” you have a sense of the city in which he charted a course for the Catholic church, with the explicit purpose of helping immigrants find their way in their new home.
I say “feisty” because, like many of the scrappy Catholic school teachers and leaders we work with today, he was exactly that. One account described Dagger John as: “Unsystematic, disorganized, impulsively charitable, unable to keep his checkbook balanced, vain enough to wear a toupee over his baldness, and combative.” He became “the best known, if not exactly the best loved, Catholic bishop in the country."
Yet, Archbishop Hughes’s “dagger” was not only his sharp personality, but also his unwavering belief in the transformative power of Catholic schools. He faced fights from the legislature, from “nativist” mobs who attacked him and ransacked his home. But he always stayed true to his...