John Gilmary Shea Correspondence
Scope and Contents
The majority of materials in this collection are of incoming correspondence written or addressed to John Gilmary Shea within 7 boxes. There is also one folder of correspondence that we deemed unidentifiable either because the signatures were indecipherable or did not include signatures. Some of the larger files with twenty or more correspondences are from Archbishop James Roosevelt Bayley, Oscar W. Collet, Archbishop Michael Augustine Corrigan, John Ward Dean, Edmond Mallet, J.W. Powell, and Eugene Vetromile. There is only one folder that contains outgoing correspondence composed by Shea.
Correspondences in this collection may be useful to researchers, historians, genealogists, and others interested in the personal and professional life of John Gilmary Shea.
- Creation: 1836-1891; undated
Language of Materials
English, Latin, French
Conditions Governing Access
There are no restrictions to access this collection. Please note that the archives reserves the right to restrict access to materials of sensitive nature.
Conditions Governing Use
There are no restrictions to use this collection. Please note that copyright is retained by the authors of items in these papers, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.
Biographical / Historical
John Gilmary Shea was born John Dawson Shea on July 22, 1824 in New York City to an Irish immigrant James Shea and Mary Ann Flannigan. Shea is considered one of the first American Catholic historians in the United States. Much of his recognition and lasting fame comes from the accolades and accomplishments of publishing nearly three hundred articles and books.
As a child, Shea was plagued with poor health that did not permit him to perform highly physical activities. Therefore, Shea turned to books and academics; something he’d truly excel at. Shea attended the Sisters of Charity School in New York and enrolled at Columbia. Instead of pursuing further schooling, Shea decided to work for a Spanish merchant name Don Tomas in New York in 1838 for approximately six years. During his employment, he not only became fluent in Spanish, but continued to pursue his historical studies and sometimes devoted more time to them than to his work (Bowden, 237). The same year he began working for Don Tomas, at the age of fourteen, Shea published his first article—a short essay on Cardinal Albornoz in the Children’s Catholic Magazine (Gordon, 1).
It wasn’t until 1844 that Shea decided to follow the footsteps of his older brother by studying law. He passed the bar exam two years later in 1846. By 1847, Shea decided to leave his law career and enter the Society of Jesus in Fordham, NY. It was at this point where Shea decided to drop his given name of Dawson and adopted Gilmary, meaning “Servant of Mary.” (Bowden, 237-238). Due to health problems, Shea withdrew from the Society of Jesus in 1852. Ironically, Shea’s historical writing career flourished after he left the Society.
He had several successive publications that garnered widespread recognition. Discovery and Exploration of Mississippi Valley (1852), History of the Catholic Missions Among the Indian Tribes of the United States, 1529-1854 (1854), History of the Catholic Church in the United States (1886-1892). Not only did Shea contribute numerous religious publications such as Catholic World and the United States Catholic Historical Magazine, which he helped establish and served as both president and editor in 1890. Shea also was the Editor in Chief of the magazine for a period of time.
Because Shea was well received as a prominent Catholic historian, he received numerous accolades as well as honorary degrees. In 1862 St. Francis Xavier College honored him with the Juris Utriusque Doctor (J.U.D.); he was the first recipient of the Laetare Medal by the University of Notre Dame in 1883; in 1889, both Fordham University and Georgetown University awarded him the Legum Doctor (L.L.D.). During this time, he also had a significant role in the establishment of the United States Catholic Historical Society, so much so that the organization elected him its president in 1890.
After a long and successful life as a writer, editor, and historian of American history with an emphasis on American Catholic history, John Gilmar Shea died in Elizabeth, New Jersey on February 22, 1892 at the age of 68.
3 Linear Feet (; 7 boxes)
John Gilmary Shea (1824-1892) was a notable writer, editor, and historian of American Catholic history. Shea is considered one of the first American Catholic historians in the United States. Much of his recognition and lasting fame comes from the accolades and accomplishments of publishing nearly three hundred articles and books.
The John Gilmary Shea Correspondence preserved in the Philadelphia Archdiocese Historical Research Center primarily consists of correspondences received by Shea throughout the 19th century. Some of the larger files of correspondence are from Oscar W. Collet, Archbishop Michael Augustine Corrigan, John Ward Dean, Edmond Mallet, J.W. Powell, and Eugene Vetromile. There is only one folder of approximately twelve outgoing correspondences and another folder of unidentified received correspondence.
The John Gilmary Shea Correspondence collection is arranged into two series:
Series 1: Incoming Correspondence
Series 2: Outgoing Correspondence
Correspondences within the Incoming Correspondence series are arranged alphabetically by correspondent. Folders are loosely filled in order to promote proper preservation care.
Other Finding Aids
This is a revision of an older item-level finding aid located in hard copy at PAHRC.
- American Catholic Historical Society. "Index to the Records of the American Catholic Historical Society: Volumes 1-XXXI 1886-1920."
- Bowden, Henry Warner. "John Gilmary Shea: A Study of Method and Goals in Historiography." The Catholic Historical Review 54(2), (1968): 235-260.
- Gordon, Dudley C. "A Dedication to the Memory of John Gilmary Shea 1824-1892." Journal of Southwest 6, (1) (1964): 1-4.
This collection was previously processed by the Ryan Memorial Library. The Philadelphia Archdiocese Historical Research Center (PAHRC) believed the collection needed to be reprocessed in order to promote basic preservation standards. As a result, between October and November of 2012, our processing intern, Hoang Tran, reprocessed the collection at the file level and included item-level description of materials.
- John Gilmary Shea Correspondence
- Hoang Tran, Processing Intern
- November 2012
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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- Code for undetermined script
- Language of description note