John Gilmary Shea

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John Gilmary Shea
John Dawson Gilmary Shea.png
John Dawson Gilmary Shea

(1824-07-22)July 22, 1824
New York, New York
DiedFebruary 22, 1892(1892-02-22) (aged 67)
Elizabeth, New Jersey
Education St. John's College
OccupationWriter, historian
Sophie Savage
(m. 1854)
Signature of John Dawson Gilmary Shea.png

John Dawson Gilmary Shea (July 22, 1824 – February 22, 1892) was a writer, editor, and historian of American history in general and American Roman Catholic history specifically. He was also a leading authority on aboriginal native Americans in the United States. He is regarded as the "Father of American Catholic History". [1]



John Dawson Shea was born in New York City to James Shea, an Irish immigrant and school principal, and Mary Ann (Flannigan) Shea. His early studies were at the grammar school of Columbia College, where his father was principal. At an early age he became a clerk in a Spanish merchant's office, where he learned to read and write Spanish fluently. [2] Shea graduated from St. John's College (now Fordham University), and entered the Society of Jesus in 1844; [3] during this time he added his middle name of Gilmary ("servant of Mary"). [4] He studied law, was admitted to the bar in 1846, [2] and obtained the degree of LL.D. from St. John's College.

In 1852, he left the Jesuits. His comprehensive study of early Indian missions in America, the Discovery and Exploration of the Mississippi Valley with the original narratives of Marquette, Allouez, Membré, Hennepin and Anastase Douay, was published later that year. [3] In 1854 he married Sophie Savage.

Shea turned his attention to literature, and was connected in an editorial capacity with Frank Leslie's publishing house, and later edited the Catholic News, but for many years his attention was given to historical research in preparation of his History of the Catholic Church in the United States (1886–92), the fourth volume of which was in process of publication at the time of his death in Elizabeth, New Jersey. A major research interest was French colonization and Jesuit missions in America. He edited the Historical Magazine from 1859 until 1865. In 1889 he became an editor of the Catholic News which supported him until his death. [4]

Shea was connected with many historical societies in America and Europe, and was the first president of the Catholic Historical Society of the United States. He was the first person to be awarded the Laetare Medal by the University of Notre Dame in 1883. [5] Georgetown University conferred on him the degree of LL.D. in recognition of his work as a Catholic historian. [2] The John Gilmary Shea Papers, a collection of correspondence, manuscripts, and research materials, are preserved in the Georgetown University Library (Special Collections Division). [6]

John Gilmary Shea died at his home in Elizabeth, New Jersey on February 22, 1892. [7]

In 1945 the John Gilmary Shea Prize was established by the American Catholic Historical Association for the most original and distinguished contribution to the knowledge of the history of the Roman Catholic Church. Shea was inducted into the Fordham University Hall of Honor in 2008. [3]


History of the Catholic Church in the United States (1886) History of the Catholic Church in the United States (1886) (14596376490).jpg
History of the Catholic Church in the United States (1886)

Shea was author, editor or translator of more than 240 publications. [8]




Shea published a series of grammars and dictionaries of the Indian languages (15 vols., 1860–1874), and revised Challoner's original Bible of 1750 (1871). [8]


  1. "Wisdom and Learning", Fordham News, December 23, 2016
  2. 1 2 3 Wikisource-logo.svg  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain : Spillane, Edward Peter (1913). "John Dawson Gilmary Shea". In Herbermann, Charles (ed.). Catholic Encyclopedia . New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  3. 1 2 3 "John Gilmary Shea", Hall of Honor, Fordham University
  4. 1 2 Purcell, Richard J. (1935). "Shea, John Dawson Gilmary". Dictionary of American Biography . New York: Charles Scribner's Sons.
  5. Hope, Arthur J., 1943, Notre Dame — 100 Years, Chapter XVI, University of Notre Dame Press.
  6. "The Library of John Gilmary Shea", Georgetown University Library, January 31, 1993
  7. "Death of J. G. Shea, LL. D." The Standard Union . Elizabeth, New Jersey. February 22, 1892. p. 1. Retrieved December 1, 2020 via
  8. 1 2 Moore, Alexander (1984). "John Gilmary Shea". In Wilson, Clyde Norman (ed.). Dictionary of Literary Biography. Gale.

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