At 8 a.m. on Sunday, Oct. 9, 1921, more than a thousand Catholics
packed St. Peter's Cathedral to celebrate the Jubilee anniversary of
Bishop Michael J. Hoban, who presided over the Diocese of Scranton.
was a well-deserved honor.
Hoban's tenure was marked by both tremendous growth and ethnic
The Diocese of Scranton, founded in 1868 when the Archdiocese
of Philadelphia was officially divided, comprised the 11 counties of
Northeastern Pennsylvania and represented Catholics from nearly every
country in Eastern and Western Europe.
While Hoban presided over the dramatic growth of parishes and the
quality of parochial education in the diocese, he was also subject to a
series of lawsuits brought against him by dissident parishioners in both
Luzerne and Lackawanna counties.
These conflicts resulted in the
creation of the Polish National Catholic Church, but without Hoban's
wisdom, mediation and humility, the schism would have reached even
Michael John Hoban was born on June 6, 1853, at Waterloo, N.J., to
Patrick and Bridget Hannigan Hoban, both of whom were Irish immigrants.
Shortly after, Patrick, a contractor for the Delaware, Lackawanna and
Western Railroad, relocated his family to Hawley.
Michael received his early education in private schools. At age 14,
he entered St. Francis Xavier School in New York City and, a year later,
matriculated to Holy Cross College in Worcester, Mass.
When his father
died in 1871, Hoban cut short his undergraduate education to care for
his widowed mother and younger siblings. Returning to college at
Fordham, the young scholar felt called to the priesthood and, in 1874,
enrolled at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia.
year, he was sent to further his studies at the Pontifical North
American College at Rome. On May 22, 1880, Hoban was ordained to the
priesthood by Cardinal Raffaele Monaco La Valletta.
Upon his return to
Northeastern Pennsylvania in July 1880, his career progressed with
astonishing speed. After serving two years as a curate in Towanda, Hoban
was transferred to St. John the Evangelist Church in Pittston, where he
assisted the Rev. John Finnen.
Four years later, in 1885, he received
his first pastorate, being appointed to St. John's Church at Troy in
In 1887, Hoban was named pastor of St. Leo's Church in Ashley. Over
the next decade, he would establish a church and rectory, taking pride
that his parish was, as he said, "begun in simplicity and poverty but
laid on a foundation of hope."
Hoban's keen intellect and compassion for the working class and poor
were recognized by the diocese and, on March 22, 1896, he was appointed
coadjutor to Bishop O'Hara, the same day of his ordination as bishop.
For the next three years, Hoban assisted aging O'Hara in ordaining
priests, administering the sacrament of confirmation, dedicating
churches and conducting the annual conference of the clergy.
He was also
responsible for one of the most controversial decisions in the history
of the young Diocese, a decision that led to the establishment of the
Polish National Catholic Church.
At the turn of the 20th century there were nearly 200 Polish parishes
scattered throughout the United States.
The Catholic Church simply
could not meet the demand for creating new Polish churches.
there were no Polish bishops and the parishioners were forced to accept
the pastor that was appointed by the bishop, many Polish Catholics felt
as if the Irish-German hierarchy had little concern for their welfare
and viewed themselves second-class members of the Church.
When these Poles tried to establish their own churches, those places
of worship were declared to be the sole possession of the bishops of the
They were also ordered to give up teaching the Polish
language and culture in their parish schools.
Outraged, they expressed
their discontent through mass upheavals in several Polish communities
throughout the country.
One of the trouble spots was the Scranton Diocese, which boasted a
membership of 200,000 Catholics.
In the autumn of 1896, a delegation of
Polish anthracite miners who made up the congregation of Sacred Hearts
of Jesus and Mary Church, requested lay representation in parish
They were refused.
A group then tried to block entrance of the
priest, Father Aust, into the church.
Bishop O'Hara called the police
and a riot developed.
Some 20 persons were arrested.
Within weeks, some
780 of the alienated parishioners organized a new parish called St.
Stanislaus, and a few months later purchased land for a new church.
invited a young Polish-born priest, Father Francis Hodur, to become
Hodur, then pastor of Holy Trinity Church in Nanticoke, had endeared
himself to working-class parishioners by participating in social work
and publishing one of the first parish newspapers, "The Guard."
felt "called" to defend the interests of the Polish dissidents and
accepted the invitation to become the pastor of the new Polish church.
On March 21, 1897, Hodur celebrated Mass in the unfinished structure
that was to become St. Stanislaus Polish Catholic Church.
and fifty families claimed membership in the new parish.
movement spread beyond Scranton into the Wyoming Valley, with
like-minded parishes in Duryea (St. Mary's), Wilkes-Barre (Holy Cross)
and Nanticoke (Holy Trinity).
Collectively, these parishes would unite
to become the Polish National Catholic Church and the Rev. Hodur
accepted responsibility as their leader.
Bishop Hoban, who was carefully monitoring these activities,
suggested that Bishop O'Hara take a hard line with the renegade priest.
But O'Hara was hesitant to do so and the situation worsened.
Hodur began to use his newspaper as a vehicle to give advice and
encouragement, but also to criticize the existing church hierarchy.
Acting on Hoban's advice, Bishop O'Hara met with Hodur and warned him of
the possibility of excommunication.
The message had little impact.
In February 1898, Hodur went to Rome to seek recognition of
American-Polish problems; something the American hierarchy refused to
Rome denied recognition and though the incident strained relations
with the Scranton Diocese, O'Hara still refused to act.
newspaper editorials became more vitriolic.
He made Irish Catholics the
scapegoats for almost every injustice Polish Catholics faced.
called for ownership by Polish parishes of property built by their
members, parish-wide elections of administrators of such property, and
no appointment by bishops of non-Polish priests to such parishes without
the consent of the parishioners.
Finally on Sept. 29, 1898, Hodur was excommunicated for clerical
Though Bishop O'Hara handed down the decision, it was
clear that it had been made by Hoban.
Hodur read the document to his
congregation, then burned it and threw the ashes outside the doors of
St. Stanislaus Church.
The dissident parishioners welcomed the news as
the church bells rang, people sang and embraced each other.
On Dec. 24, 1900, Mass at St. Stanislaus was for the first time sung
Other Polish parishes quickly followed the lead.
later, the first Synod of the new Polish National Catholic Church was
held in Scranton with 147 clerical and lay delegates representing two
dozen parishes and 20,000 parishioners in five states, including
Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, Connecticut and Massachusetts.
Synod also adopted a constitution, elected a lay-clerical Supreme
Council and unanimously elected Father Hodur bishop and administrator of
the new church.
Bishop Hoban continued to deal with the effects of the schism long
after he was appointed O'Hara's successor.
In February 1899, Hoban
inherited the Diocese of Scranton with its 100 parishes, 152 priests and
32 parochial schools.
Under his leadership, the diocese expanded to
include 202 parishes with 341 priests, 65 parochial schools and three
He was also harassed by Hodur, who used his newspaper to
openly criticize him and all the other priests of the Diocese as being
engaged in a widespread conspiracy to deny Polish Catholics of their
Hoban worked hard to embrace the Poles who remained in the Diocese.
He met with those who expressed concerns over church practice and
successfully defended the Diocese in lawsuits that were brought against
it from the dissident Polish parishioners in both Lackawanna and Luzerne
His charitable approach stemmed the tide of ethnic conflict
and prevented other Polish parishioners from joining the schism.
in 1926 at the age of 73.