James McGolrick

John McGolrick, first bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Duluth (Image: Duluth Public Library)

James McGolrick, the first bishop of the Catholic diocese of Duluth, has often been characterized as the best loved man of the city. He lived a life of extraordinary usefulness and his memory is revered in thousands of homes in Minnesota.

Bishop McGolrick was born May 1, 1841, in County Tipperary, Ireland, and died at Duluth January 23, 1918, at the age of seventy-seven. He was a son of Felix and Bridget (Henry) McGolrick. He was educated for the priesthood and was ordained a priest by Bishop Moriarity of Kerry at All Hallows College in Dublin June 11, 1867.

That was his preparation for a service of half a century beginning on the northwestern frontier at St. Paul in 1867. He became assistant to Father Ireland, later the eminent archbishop. Subsequently Bishop Grace 1221instructed him to build a church for the people of West Minneapolis, and aided by several carpenters the young priest built a frame dwelling popularly called the “shed,” but dedicated as the Church of the Immaculate Conception. Father McGolrick was pastor of that church from 1868 to 1889, and in that time saw it grow and flourish as a great instrument for good.

Father McGolrick came to Duluth January 9, 1889, and was consecrated the first bishop of the Duluth diocese December 27, 1889. In June, 1917, he celebrated the golden jubilee of his priesthood and he died shortly after the twenty-eighth anniversary of his appointment as bishop.

Besides the huge amount of administrative detail that he handled so efficiently while bishop, he is best remembered as a wonderful friend of children, and Duluth regards as a real monument to his life and character the St. James Orphans’ Home. He selected the site and obtained the money for its construction, and the service it performed for homeless children doubtless afforded him the deepest satisfaction of any of the constructive work he did during his long career as priest and bishop.


Rt. Rev. James McGolrick, D. D., bishop of the Roman Catholic diocese of Duluth, was born in County Tipperary, Ireland, May 1, 1841. The son of pious parents, he gave from his earliest days evidences of a calling to the ministry. At an early age he went to All Hallows College, Dublin, where he distinguished himself by his scholastic ability and thoroughness. He was ordained priest June 11, 1867, for the diocese of St. Paul. Coming to this country he spent one year as assistant at the Cathedral of St. Paul, Archbishop Ireland being pastor. He was then appointed by Rt. Rev. T. L. Grace, D. D., to establish a parish in the sister village of Minneapolis. Here the outlook was anything but encouraging; still, the zealous young priest undertook his arduous task and built a temporary wooden structure, which was used as the parish church for many years, until the present beautiful church of the Immaculate Conception was erected. As pastor of the church for twenty-two years Father McGolrick was a ceaseless worker, and the record of his work in Minneapolis is engraved in the hearts of the people. The parish grew and flourished under his administration. When, on October 3, 1889, northern Minnesota, by apostolic brief, was formed into a diocese, Father McGolrick was chosen for the new dignity and consecrated at the Cathedral of St. Paul by Archbishop Ireland on December 27, 1889. The same zeal which characterized Bishop McGolrick’s work as a pastor manifests itself in his work as a bishop. Under his fostering care have sprung up temperance societies, literary clubs, pious and charitable confraternities. When possible the bishop presides at their meetings and besides mapping out and directing the work for the whole season, takes an active interest in each topic under discussion, furnishing the necessary references to the readers from his well stocked library. He is also frequently called upon to address scientific societies and various organizations having for their object social benefits, thus testifying to the esteem in which he is held. Among the many living monuments of his zeal in Duluth may be mentioned the Cathedral church and presbytery and the Cathedral school with its club rooms and auditorium, as well as the new Cathedral high school.

The Cathedral school would not have been possible for many years had it not been for the bishop’s generous donation of a commencement fund of $30, 000. He also took a most prominent part in the erection of the Catholic orphan asylum, St. Mary’s hospital, the Academy of the Sacred Heart and the various hospitals and charitable institutions throughout his diocese. His untiring energies have also been directed to further the material prosperity of the city, having served as a member of the library board and also the park board. Two of the bishop’s brothers have entered the ministry. One is the Rev. Father William, of Shakopee, Minn., and the other Rev. Henry McGolrick, chaplain of St. Mary’s hospital, who is deceased. Two of his sisters have entered the order of St. Joseph, Sister Elizabeth, of St. Joseph’s hospital, St. Paul, and Sister Bridget, of the Academy of Graceville, Minn. The bishop, despite his ministerial labors, has always found time for special studies. His great fund of knowledge points to the fact that his extensive library, containing useful volumes on nearly every subject, especially the classics, modern and ancient history, books on divinity and those of scientific value, have been carefully read and digested. Scientific research has a charm for the bishop. His opinions are listened to with attention and carry great weight, based upon good principles and logically carried out. His views are those of sound science, and he is generally conceded to be one of the most reliable authorities in the state of Minnesota. He has always been a most energetic temperance worker, having established many total abstinence societies. He is always especially interested and anxious about the sick, and is a frequent and consoling visitor at the hospital of St. Mary’s. Any movement that promises the betterment of the cause of humanity will always find one of the warmest friends and most zealous workers in the bishop.


  • Van Brunt, Walter, ed. Duluth and St. Louis County, Minnesota Vols. 1 – 3. The American Historical Society. Chicago: 1922.
  • Woodbridge, Dwight and John Pardee, eds. History of Duluth and St. Louis County Past and Present Vols. 1 – 2. C. F. Cooper & Company, Chicago: 1922.
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