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Thomas Joseph Shahan

Thomas J. Shahan
Rector of CUA
Auxiliary bishop of Baltimore
Shahan in 1917
ChurchRoman Catholic
ArchdioceseRoman Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore
PredecessorJoseph Maria Koudelka
SuccessorFranciscus Joosten
OrdinationJune 3, 1882
ConsecrationNovember 15, 1914
Personal details
Thomas Joseph Shahan

(1857-09-11)September 11, 1857
DiedMarch 9, 1932(1932-03-09) (aged 74)
Washington, D.C., U.S.
BuriedBasilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
OccupationChurch historian
Alma materThe North American College, Rome; Pontifical Roman Seminary; University of Berlin

Thomas Joseph Shahan (September 11, 1857 – March 9, 1932) was an American Catholic theologian and educator, born at Manchester, New Hampshire, educated at Collège de Montréal (1872), at the Pontifical North American College, and at the Propaganda Fide in Rome.

In 1909, Shahan was chosen as the fourth rector of the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C..

Early life and education

Shahan was born September 11, 1857,[1] the son of Irish immigrants Maurice and Mary Anne Carmody Shahan, in Manchester, New Hampshire. His mother was mentally ill, and his upbringing was primarily influenced by his father and grandmother.[2] He was an advocate for Irish independence in language, culture, and politics.[3]

After attending public school in Millbury, Massachusetts, he entered the Sulpician seminary at the college in Montreal in 1872, after which he proceeded to the North American College in Rome in 1878. In 1882, Shahan obtained a Doctor of Divinity decree and was ordained a priest for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford in Connecticut.[4] He also studied at the Pontifical Roman Major Seminary, where he graduated with a J.U.L. in 1889.

Father Shahan served as a curate at St. John the Baptist parish in New Haven, Connecticut, and later as secretary to Bishop Lawrence McMahon of Hartford, and then chancellor of the Diocese of Hartford.[4]

From 1889 to 1891, Shahan studied at the Humboldt University of Berlin (S.T.D., 1891), the Sorbonne and the Institut Catholique de Paris earning a Civil and Ecclesiastical Law licentiate's degree. He also developed some expertise in Church History.



In 1891, Father Shahan was offered a position as professor of Canon and Civil Law and Patristics at the Catholic University of America, where he also taught Latin. In addition to teaching at CUA, he was editor in chief of the Catholic University Bulletin and also lectured at nearby Trinity College.[2] In an effort to gain more visibility for the university, in 1897, he preached the Lenten Series at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York.[5]

Professor Shahan was an editor of the Catholic Encyclopedia (published in 1913),[6] editor in chief of The Catholic Historical Review from its foundation in 1915 until 1928, and one of the editors of Universal Knowledge: A Dictionary and Encyclopedia of Arts and Sciences, History and Biography, Law, Literature, Religions, Nations, Races, Customs and Institutions (New York: Universal Knowledge Foundation, 1927).


Shahan had been among those considered for the position of rector as far back as 1902. In 1909, while Professor of Church History, he was appointed rector, when Pope Pius X declined to release Bishop John Patrick Carroll of the Diocese of Helena, Montana from his see. Some in the academic community raised objections to the appointment based in part on Shahan's seriously impaired hearing. Nonetheless, Shahan was elected as the fourth rector of CUA.[6] During his tenure as rector, African American students were barred from the university.[4]

He was named a Domestic Prelate in 1909.[7] Monsignor Shahan was also president of the Catholic Educational Association in 1909–14.

On September 25, 1910, representatives of a number of service agencies met at The Catholic University of America at Shahan's invitation, and formed the National Conference of Catholic Charities (NCCC) to support and coordinate their efforts.[8] He served as president from 1910 to 1914.


Bishop Shahan's grave in the National Shrine

In 1914 he was appointed auxiliary bishop of Baltimore, and ordained titular bishop of Germanicopolis. The consecration occurred on 15 November that year at the Baltimore Cathedral.[1] Cardinal James Gibbons was principal Consecrator.

Along with Catholic University sociology professor William J. Kerby and others, Shahan was instrumental in the creation of the National Catholic War Council, an organization of the American Catholic hierarchy founded to address the challenges of World War I. In 1919 it evolved into the National Catholic Welfare Council and is now known as the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).[9]

Bishop Shahan founded the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. Upon his death in Washington on March 9, 1932, he was buried in the crypt of the National Shrine.[10] To this day, he remains the only person interred at the Basilica.


Published works

As author

  • The Blessed Virgin in the Catacombs (1892)
  • The Civil Law of Rome Catholic University of America Press (1896)
  • Giovanni Batista de Rossi (1900)
  • The Beginnings of Christianity (1903)
  • The Middle Ages (1904)
  • The House of God and Other Addresses and Studies (1905)
  • St. Patrick in History (1905)
  • The Catholic University of America (1889-1916) (Paulist Press) (1916)
  • "The Cause of Ireland", The Catholic University Bulletin, December 1920.[9]

As translator

  • Otto Bardenhewer, Patrology: The Lives and Works of the Fathers of the Church; translated from the second edition by Thomas J. Shahan. Freiburg im Breisgau and St. Louis, Missouri: B. Herder, 1908.


  1. ^ a b "Bishop Thomas Joseph Shahan". David M. Cheney. Retrieved January 21, 2015.
  2. ^ a b Barga, Michael. "Shahan, Bishop Thomas", The Social Welfare History Project, Virginia Commonwealth University
  3. ^ Higgins, Iain (November 10, 2017). "W.B. Yeats: Catholic's Legendary Literature Guest". The Tower. Retrieved November 13, 2017.
  4. ^ a b c "Biographical Note", The American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives, the Catholic University of America
  5. ^ ADR, O'Connell Papers, Shahan to O'Connell, Washington, February 14, 1897
  6. ^ a b c Nuesse, C. Joseph. The Catholic University of America: A Centennial History, CUA Press, 1990, ISBN 9780813207360
  7. ^ "Investiture of Monsignor Shahan", CUB, XVI, (January 1910), 83-84
  8. ^ Larry J. Snyder, "Introduction," in J. Brian Hehir, ed., Catholic Charities USA: 100 Years at the Intersection of Charity and Justice, Kindle edition (Liturgical Press, 2010)
  9. ^ a b "Thomas Joseph Shahan Papers", The American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives, CUA
  10. ^ "Bishop Shahan Dies of Heart Attack". The Evening Star. March 9, 1932. pp. 1, 2. Retrieved September 30, 2021 – via
Academic offices Preceded byDenis J. O'Connell Rector of CUA 1909–1927 Succeeded byJames Hugh Ryan
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Thomas Joseph Shahan
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