Born in County Kilkenny, Ireland, in 1838, John Ireland came to St. Paul with his parents in 1852. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 1861, served briefly as chaplain for the Fifth Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Regiment in the Civil War, and was appointed bishop in 1875. By the time he was appointed archbishop of St. Paul in 1888, he was one of the city's most prominent citizens, and he was responsible for recruiting Irish immigrants to settle in communities throughout Minnesota, including Clontarf, Adrian, Graceville, and Ghent.
Kevin Duchschere of St. Paul, who nominated Ireland for the Minnesota 150 exhibit at the Minnesota Historical Society, picks up the story from here: "John Ireland was a builder, a politician, a colonizer, an orator, a writer, a diplomat, and a friend to presidents, an Irishman who loved America and a true believer in the promise of Minnesota—and that's before you get to his accomplishments as arguably the state's outstanding religious leader.
"From the 1870s until his death, Ireland led the Catholic church in Minnesota and won national fame for his work in the temperance movement and in settling southwestern Minnesota with Irish immigrants like himself. He was a highly intelligent, voluble, and hyperactive man who fought the widespread prejudice that Catholics couldn't be good Americans. He was an outspoken Republican and intimate of McKinley, Roosevelt, and Taft at a time when the political sympathies of American Catholics rested largely with the Democratic Party.
"Ireland's leadership was not without its flaws—he was famously impatient with immigrants being unwilling to trade in their old traditions for the American way, and at least once he needed James J. Hill to bail out his personal finances—but his legacy is still evident today. He founded the state's largest private college, the University of St. Thomas, in 1885. And he built two massive cathedrals in the Twin Cities, the Cathedral of St. Paul and the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis, among Minnesota's most remarkable architectural and religious monuments, which still move and inspire visitors and have long since become indelible parts of the Twin Cities' skyline.
"It's not too farfetched to suggest that Minnesota became familiar to many Americans at the turn of the last century because of Archbishop Ireland. 'I thought he had a fine name,' Ernest Hemingway wrote of the archbishop in A Farewell to Arms, 'and he came from Minnesota which made it a lovely name: Ireland of Minnesota.' "
O'Connell, Marvin R. John Ireland and the American Catholic Church. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1988.
Regan, Ann. Irish in Minnesota. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2002.
In 1852, John Ireland arrives in St. Paul with his parents and goes on to help shape the city and bring attention to the state as an archbishop of the Catholic church.