The Archivist’s Nook: Patrick Henry Callahan – Crusading Catholic Businessman

Patrick Henry Callahan was a model businessman, political activist, stubborn Prohibitionist, and tireless Catholic apologist of the Progressive and New Deal era. He hobnobbed with the rich and powerful, including celebrated evangelist Billy Sunday (1862-1935), acerbic journalist H. L. Mencken, and populist orator and progressive politician William Jennings Bryan (1860-1925). Nevertheless, Callahan was also a friend of the working class and co-author, along with Msgr. John A. Ryan of Catholic University, of an innovative and successfully implemented profit sharing plan between management and labor in the varnish industry, specifically The Louisville Varnish Company.

Patrick Henry Callahan (1866-1940), ‘The Colonel.’ A standard portrait often used in print, ca. 1930s. Courtesy of the Louisville Courier-Journal.

Born in October 1866 in Cleveland, Ohio, Callahan was educated in parochial schools and the Spencerian Business College. After a short-lived career as a professional baseball player for the Chicago White Stockings, where he was friends with fellow player Billy Sunday, Callahan became a salesman at the Glidden Varnish Company in Cleveland. In 1891, he married Julia Laure Cahill and they moved to Louisville, Kentucky, where he managed the Louisville Varnish Company, becoming president in 1908. Four years later, Callahan and Ryan produced their 50-50 profit sharing plan between capital and labor for Callahan’s plant, including a living wage for the latter. The plan’s success became widely known and Callahan implemented other pro labor measures such as interest earning saving accounts for employees to purchase homes and autos or use for retirement and medical expenses.[1] Callahan and Ryan continued to be friends even though they clashed over Callahan’s strong support for Prohibition.

The Callahan Correspondence from August 2, 1926, addressed to Luther Martin of New York City commenting on his personal reasons favoring prohibition of alcohol. Patrick Joseph Callahan Papers, The Catholic University of America.

Callahan participated in industrial conferences and spoke out against child labor. During the First World War he was an organizer of the National Catholic War Council and chairman of the Knights of Columbus Committee on Religious Prejudice and the Knights Committee on War. Additionally, President Woodrow Wilson offered him a position on the Federal Tariff Commission, though Callahan declined due to his already overburdened schedule. He was also involved with the postwar successor of the National Catholic War Council, the National Catholic Welfare Council/Conference, especially as vice president of the Social Action Department’s Catholic Conference on Industrial Problems, as well as vice president of the National Conference of Catholic Charities (now Catholic Charities USA), chairman of the organizing committee of the Catholic Association for International Peace and an organizer of the National Conference of Christians and Jews.

Callahan also mimeographed and did mass mailing of portions of his personal correspondence, dubbed the ‘Callahan Correspondence,’ to his employees, newspaper editors, friends, and Catholics though out the country. Awarded the honorary title of ‘Colonel’ by Kentucky Governor James B. McCreary, Callahan used his correspondence to comment on national affairs, especially regarding Catholics and prohibitionists. From his association with William Jennings Bryan, his vehement opposition to the Democratic nomination of New York governor Alfred E. Smith for President, and his staunch support of Prohibition, Callahan publicized and was nationally known for his opinions that were often controversial to his fellow Catholics. He summed up his political philosophy as “the country would be much better off if we go down in defeat fighting for a fine principle than the mere winning of an election which of course is rank heresy to some people.”[2]

Callahan’s published account of the 1928 election, 1929. Patrick Joseph Callahan Papers, The Catholic University of America.

A supporter of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Callahan worked to get him elected and was a key liaison between the FDR administration and both Catholics and businessmen. His opposition to firebrand radio priest Father Charles Coughlin, whom he called “virulent”[3] and backing of Ambassador Josephus Daniels (a Methodist) in Mexico brought Callahan criticism from fellow Catholics but gratitude from FDR’s White House. In return, Callahan publicly endorsed many of New Deal programs. Though nominated for national posts in the Public Works Administration and on labor administration panels, Callahan preferred to work locally, serving as a member of the Advisory Committee of the Loan Agency for the Louisville Office of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation and of the National Labor Relations Board for Kentucky.

Photograph of Callahan’s good friend, Msgr. John A. Ryan of Catholic University, along with U.S. Supreme Court justices Hugo Black, Felix Frankfurter, and James C. McReynolds at a Testimonial Dinner in honor of Ryan’s seventieth birthday, May 25, 1939. John A. Ryan Papers, The Catholic University of America. See Callahan’s description of the dinner in a letter to Rev. Maurice Sheehy of Catholic University.

After two decades of the ‘Callahan Correspondence’ and even more years of public service, ‘The Colonel,’ also known to his workers as ‘The Boss,’ died on February 4, 1940. He was buried in the Archdiocese of Louisville’s Calvary Cemetery. Among his most prestigious awards were his appointment by Pope Pius XI in 1922 as a Knight of the Order of St Gregory the Great and Newman Foundation’s Memorial Award in 1931. His archival papers along with those of his friend Msgr. John A. Ryan, the National Catholic War Council, and the NCWC Social Action Department, are all housed in the Archives of The Catholic University of America in Washington, D. C.

[1] Callahan to R. W. McGrath, undated, CUA-PJC Papers, Box 2, Folder 24.

[2] Callahan to W.W. Durban, October 8, 1927, CUA-PJC Papers, Box 1, Folder 2.

[3] William E. Ellis. Patrick Henry Callahan. Lewiston, Queenston, Lampeter: The Edward Mellen Press, 1989, pp. 12-14.

The Archivist’s Nook: The First Catholic Action Hero

Photo-Young Burke-Paulists
Fr. John Burke, the young, vigorous, visionary priest ready to face the challenges of the twentieth century, ca. 1899. Paulist Archives.

June 6, 1875, is the birthday of the widely influential New York City born John Burke, a Catholic University of America (CUA) educated priest (.S.T.B. 1899; S.T.L., 1901) of the Missionary Society of St. Paul the Apostle, a religious community known as the Paulists. Burke saw a convergence of both American and Catholic values that inspired his visions of a national church. He was editor of The Catholic World, 1904-1922, where he promoted social reform via articles by CUA professors William J. Kerby and John A. Ryan. Burke also supported national organizations, helping establish the Catholic Press Association in 1911 and, in 1917, founding both the Chaplain’s Aid Association to supply priests for the military and the National Catholic War Council (NCWC), subject of an earlier blog post, to coordinate Catholic efforts with the government during the First World War. It’s not difficult to imagine why I call Burke, honored by church and state, The First Catholic Action Hero!

Fr. John Burke with board members of the National Council of Catholic Women, a group founded under his leadership as part of the NCWC, though now an independent entity in the twenty first century, 1920. USCCB Executive Department/Office of the General Secretary Records, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives of The Catholic University of America.
Fr. John Burke with board members of the National Council of Catholic Women, a group founded under his leadership as part of the NCWC, though now an independent entity in the twenty first century, 1920. USCCB Executive Department/Office of the General Secretary Records, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives of The Catholic University of America.

Burke directed operations that mobilized Catholic lay persons, monitored legislation, and undertook postwar reconstruction. He also created an ecumenical advisory group to the government on maintaining morality in military camps. The War Department thereafter recognized Burke with the Distinguished Service Medal. In 1919, and in succession to the War Council, the American hierarchy created the National Catholic Welfare Council (later Conference), also known (confusingly) as the NCWC, to promote Catholic social work, education, and immigration through a secretariat in Washington, D.C. headed by Burke as general secretary. The newly reconstituted NCWC immediately faced a major act of organized anti-Catholicism with the Oregon School Bill of 1922 declaring children could only attend public schools. Supported by the Ku Klux Klan, this was an assault against freedom of education in general and parochial schools in particular. Burke mobilized a broad spectrum of opposition, including the ACLU, and the U. S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled against the Oregon School Bill in 1925.

Mural by Polish born artist (who taught at CUA) Jan Henryk de Rosen of James, Cardinal Gibbons blessing Fr. John Burke at the USCCB Building, 4th Street, Washington, D.C., 2016, courtesy of Katherine Nuss, USCCB Information and Archive Services.

Having interacted with President Woodrow Wilson as head of the War Council, Burke engaged his successors in matters of import to American Catholics, ranging from congratulating Warren G. Harding for a 1922 speech on religious toleration to providing advice to Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover, respectively, over conflicts in Mexico in 1927 and Haiti in 1929. Burke was an enthusiastic supporters of Franklin D. Roosevelt and his New Deal economic reforms. Burke actually wrote the drafts of several FDR letters to American prelates as well as the speech he gave at Notre Dame University in 1935. Most notably, Burke conferred with the President at the White House in August 1936 on how to deal with the stinging attacks that another Catholic priest, Charles Coughlin, was making against Roosevelt during the 1936 presidential campaign.

The Vatican recognized Burke’s work with an honorary Sacred Theology doctorate in 1927 and appointment as a domestic prelate (monsignor) in 1936, shortly before his death.  His sudden passing on October 30, 1936, shocked both the Catholic community and the nation and he was widely mourned. A collection of his personal papers is part of the Paulist Order’s archives, though research access is currently problematic at best. Fortunately, the records of both the National Catholic War Council and National Catholic Welfare Conference (now known as the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops) Office of the General Secretary), are housed and readily accessible at the CUA Archives.

New Website on 1936 Presidential Election

Catholics and Politics: Charles Coughlin, John Ryan, and the 1936 Presidential Campaign Website…
Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the thirty-second President of the United States, served longer than any other President in United States history. Elected to four consecutive terms, Roosevelt served from 1933 until his death in 1945. Millions of Catholic voters helped bring Roosevelt his landslide victory in 1936. Estimates of the number of Catholics voting for FDR range from 70% – 81%.

None of this Catholic support was taken for granted during the campaign of 1936, however, nor did all Catholics support a second term for Roosevelt. To the contrary, relations between certain prominent Catholics and members of the Roosevelt administration were strained. Father Charles Coughlin, a former FDR supporter who had become an outspoken critic of the President during the 1936 campaign, actively campaigned against him in the months before the election. Father John Ryan, on the other hand, publicly supported Roosevelt during the campaign, delivering a national radio broadcast under the auspices of the Democratic National Committee on his behalf. This website features previously unavailable audio and documents related to the presidential campaign of 1936 and the involvement of each priest in that campaign.