The bishops of the Diocese of Charleston


Bishop John England


John England was born in Cork, Ireland, on Sept. 23, 1786. As a young man of 22, he was ordained by special dispensation. He was a great admirer of the United States Constitution and desired to go to America as a missionary. That desire was fulfilled when he was named Bishop of Charleston in 1820.

Bishop England broke ground in a land with few Catholics. He wrote the first pastoral letter in the United States in which he exhorted his flock to be good Catholics and citizens. He built a modest wooden cathedral on Broad and Friend (Legare) streets dedicated to the patronage of St. Finbar on May 19, 1822. He later founded the Seminary of St. John the Baptist on the site.

One of Bishop England’s fearless and pioneering contributions to his See was his response to the anti-Catholic press of the day: The United States Catholic Miscellany. His writings in The Miscellany were rife with controversy, and he was a defender of truth. He was active as the Bishop of Charleston until the day he died, April 11, 1842.

Bishop Ignatius A. Reynolds


His successor, Ignatius Reynolds, was born near Bardstown, Ky., on Aug. 22, 1798, to native Marylanders who had moved to the Western territory shortly before the revolution. He was ordained in 1823 and taught at his hometown seminary. Reynolds was the vicar general of the Diocese of Louisville, Ky., when he was named to the See of Charleston.

Unwilling at first because he felt he was not worthy, Reynolds was consecrated on March 19, 1844, in Cincinnati. Bishop Reynolds oversaw the building of an ornamental English Gothic cathedral dedicated to St. John and St. Finbar in Charleston and oversaw the publication of Bishop John England’s writings. At his suggestion, the Holy See created a new diocese in Savannah that included Georgia and eastern Florida. Reynolds died on March 6, 1855.

Bishop Patrick N. Lynch


Before he died, Bishop Reynolds depended heavily on his vicar general, Father Patrick Lynch. Appointed to the position in 1850, Father Lynch was also the editor of The Miscellany.

Lynch was born in Ireland and was one of the first priests to come from Bishop England’s seminary. He was consecrated at the Cathedral of St. John and St. Finbar on March 14, 1858.

Bishop Lynch was a stout defender of the Confederacy. Southern President Jefferson Davis sent him to present the Confederate side of the conflict to Pope Pius IX in 1864, but with no success.

While he was abroad, the Cathedral burned in the Great Fire of 1861, and the diocese was devastated by fighting. Until his death on Feb. 26, 1882, Bishop Lynch spent his time raising money and rebuilding from the ruins.

Bishop Henry P. Northrop


Building was also a hallmark of Henry P. Northrop. He was born in Charleston on May 5, 1842, and his family became Catholic when he was 7. He was baptized by Bishop Reynolds in 1849 and ordained in Rome on June 25, 1865.

Because of unsettled conditions, Northrop served at Nativity Church in New York until December 1865 when he became an assistant at St. Joseph’s in Charleston. He was appointed as Bishop of Charleston by a Papal Brief dated Jan. 7, 1883, and installed on March 11.

Bishop Northrop oversaw the building of St. Patrick Church in Charleston, the rebuilding of the cathedral and the creation of a Catholic high school named after Bishop England. He died on June 7, 1916.

Bishop William T. Russell


William T. Russell was born Oct. 20, 1863, in Baltimore. He went to St. Mary Seminary in Maryland and was ordained June 21, 1889. He was appointed pastor of St. Jerome Church in Hyattsville, Md., and worked with the unemployed, collecting food and clothing and preaching in their camps.

In 1908, Russell was appointed pastor of St. Patrick Church in Washington, D.C. He completed his graduate work at Catholic University. He became coadjutor to the archbishop of San Francisco.

Bishop Russell was consecrated bishop of Charleston on March 15, 1979, in Baltimore. He was known for his zealousness, but the crown of his life in Charleston was the building of St. Francis Xavier Infirmary. He died on March 8, 1927.

Bishop Emmet M. Walsh


Emmet Walsh was born in Beaufort, March 12, 1892. He was ordained Jan. 15, 1916, and served at churches in Atlanta and Albany, Ga., before returning to his childhood home and St. Patrick Church in Savannah. At 35, he was the youngest bishop in the country when he was consecrated Sept. 8, 1927.

During his 22 years as Charleston’s prelate, 20 new churches were built across the diocese. In September 1949, he was transferred to Youngstown, Ohio, to become coadjutor bishop.

Bishop John J. Russell


The news of the appointment of Msgr. John Russell as bishop of Charleston was not well-received in the diocese. Russell was the nephew of the unpopular fifth bishop of the See.

Born Dec. 1, 1897, John J. Russell studied at St. Mary Seminary in Baltimore and at the North American College in Rome. He was ordained July 8, 1923, by his uncle.

He was assistant at St. Martin Church in Baltimore until 1937, when he was appointed as pastor of St. Ursula Church in Parkside, Md. In 1946, he moved to St. Patrick Church in Washington, D.C. He was consecrated at St. Matthew Cathedral, Washington, on March 14, 1950. Two weeks later, he was installed in the Cathedral at Charleston. He was transferred to the Diocese of Richmond in 1958.

Bishop Paul J. Hallinan


Msgr. Paul J. Hallinan succeeded Russell on Sept. 9, 1958. He was born in Painesville, Ohio, on April 8, 1911. He received a bachelor’s degree from Notre Dame University and a master’s degree from John Carroll University in 1953.

He was ordained from St. Mary Seminary in Cleveland Feb. 20, 1937. He was assigned to St. Aloysius Church in Cleveland before entering the U.S. Army as a chaplain. He served throughout World War II and returned to the diocese as assistant at the cathedral until 1947. That year, he was made full-time director of Newman Clubs in the Cleveland Diocese and was national chaplain of the Federation of Newman Clubs for two years.

He was chosen to become the first Archbishop of Atlanta in 1962.

Bishop Francis F. Reh


Francis F. Reh was born Jan. 9, 1911, in New York. He prepared for the priesthood at St. Joseph Seminary in New York and at the North American College in Rome, completing his graduate study at the Gregorian College in Rome. He was a professor of canon law and rector of the seminary.

Bishop Reh was consecrated as bishop of Charleston on June 29, 1962, but was transferred on Sept. 5, 1964, to become rector of the North American College. He was named titular bishop of Macriana, Mauretania.

Bishop Ernest L. Unterkoefler


Born Aug. 17, 1917, in Philadelphia, Ernest L. Unterkoefler graduated summa cum laude as a layman in pre-law from the Catholic University of America. He was ordained on May 18, 1944, for the Diocese of Richmond and earned a doctorate in canon law.

On. Dec. 13, 1961, he was named titular Bishop of Latopolis by Pope John XXIII and as auxiliary bishop to Bishop John J. Russell of Richmond. He was named Bishop of Charleston in December 1964 by Pope Paul VI and installed by Atlanta’s Archbishop Paul J. Hallinan, South Carolina’s eighth bishop, on Feb. 22, 1965.

It was at Unterkoefler’s invitation that Pope John Paul II visited the state in 1987. He was known as a staunch protester of abortion, a protector of the poor and civil rights activist. He considered his greatest accomplishment the establishment of a permanent diaconate.

Bishop David B. Thompson


Born in Pennsylvania, Bishop David B. Thompson studied philosophy and theology at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Overbrook, Pa., earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees. He was ordained in 1950 and went on to receive a licentiate in canon law at the Catholic University of America in 1952.

Thompson was a high school teacher and principal, diocesan administrator and pastor. In 1957, he founded and was the first principal of Notre Dame High School in Green Pond, Easton, Pa., where he served until 1961.

He was appointed chancellor of the Diocese of Allentown and named secretary to the diocesan consultors and vice officials. He was made pastor of Immaculate Conception Church in Allentown in 1967. In 1975, he was appointed pastor of the Cathedral of St. Catharine of Siena in Allentown.

As bishop of Charleston, he focused on building, rejuvenating church social agencies, ecumenism, and vocations. His Synod of Charleston resulted in guidelines critical to the diocese’s future. He retired July 13, 1999 at the age of 76.