Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Reluctant Dissenter: An Autobiography

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Reluctant Dissenter: An Autobiography

Article excerpt

Reluctant Dissenter.' An Autobiography. By James Patrick Shannon. (New York: The Crossroads Publishing Company. 1998. Pp. ix, 228. $19.95.)

James Patrick Shannon is a name for American church history, if only as a footnote, because he is one of a rare breed-a bishop who resigned and married. In this autobiography he tells his story, or at least part of it. True to the title, he is reluctant to tell it; in fact, the manuscript of this account was completed in 1980. He admits that rejection by two different publishers reinforced his reluctance. Both in the dedication and the preface he credits his wife, Ruth, for the encouragement needed to overcome his reluctance. The dust jacket shows him as a young priest, as a bishop, and as a husband alongside his wife.

The family background is clearly one of determination and hard work. His mother, left widowed with four children, was living in one room and working as a waitress until she owned two restaurants and a hotel. His father came from Ireland to establish a prosperous business in cattle trading. Young James was a good student and a properly devout seminarian. His observation that the orthodoxy of the seminary professors often allowed them to turn in shoddy performances because they could depend on doctrinal purity to cover their pedagogical deficiencies is a fairly common truism, but whether he realized it at the time or only after his experience at Yale he does not say.

He was ordained June 9,1946, for the Archdiocese of St. Paul. His early priesthood was spent at the cathedral, where he was master of ceremonies for the archbishop. He went on to teach in the seminary, get a doctorate at Yale, and become president of St. Thomas College, where he successfully raised funds for a new campus. While at this assignment the "certified confidential letter" came from the Apostolic Delegate asking him if he would accept elevation to the episcopacy. He accepted. He was made bishop March 31,1965. He now asks whether the decision to accept was a mistake. His answer:wOn what grounds? …

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