Gibbons, James, 1834–1921, American churchman, cardinal of the Roman Catholic church, b. Baltimore. Ordained in 1861, he became secretary to the archbishop of Baltimore in 1865, vicar apostolic of North Carolina in 1868, bishop of Richmond in 1872, and coadjutor to the archbishop of Baltimore in 1877. His superior died the same year, and Gibbons succeeded him. He was created cardinal in 1886, becoming the second American to be elevated; he was the only American cardinal for most of his tenure. An advocate of the benefits of democracy for the Church, he had good relations with American Protestants and personal friendships with Presidents Cleveland, T. Roosevelt, and Taft. He also was a defender of the Knights of Labor against charges that it was a secret society, and succeeded in ending the papal ban on the group. Most notable among his works is The Faith of Our Fathers (1876), a defense of Catholicism written for conservative Protestants. His reputation was tarnished by his support for Leopold II when the Belgian king's brutal rule of the Congo Free State was attacked.
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Gibbons, James(1834–1921) Catholic prelate; born in Baltimore, Md. Gibbons was a pastor and Civil War chaplain before becoming secretary to the archbishop of Baltimore (1865), bishop and apostolic vicar of North Carolina (1868), and bishop of Richmond (1872); in 1877 he was named archbishop of Baltimore, becoming a cardinal in 1886. For several crucial decades he was the preeminent leader of American Catholicism. He presided over a national church council that established Catholic University (1884), and he became the university's first chancellor. A prudent leader as archbishop, he discouraged ethnically separate parishes, circumvented church condemnation of the Knights of Labor, and acted as an interpreter between the Vatican and American Catholicism. In 1911 two U.S. presidents joined in observing the 50th anniversary of his ordination. His writings included The Faith of Our Fathers (1876), a simple exposition of beliefs, which became a Catholic best-seller.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.