About the Diocese
1918-1966 Golden Era
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On February 6, 1918, the Rev. Dr. John Mark Gannon was consecrated Auxiliary Bishop of
Erie, the first native son to be so honored.
With the death of Bishop Fitzmaurice on June 11, 1920, Bishop Gannon (1920-1966) succeeded to the Erie See. It was the beginning of a golden era in the history of the Erie Diocese. During the forty-six years of Gannon's episcopate the physical expansion and the spiritual development of the diocese was unprecedented. The purchase of the former Metcalf home on West Ninth and Sassafras Street for a Bishop's residence began a long series of activities which facilitated the almost miraculous expansion of Catholic institutions.
Among the first was the Cathedral Preparatory School for Boys which Gannon at first envisioned as a Seminary. The school
opened its doors in September, 1921. In 1923, he laid the cornerstone for St. Joseph's Home for Children, a million-dollar facility that provided housing and care for over three hundred children for several decades. During the first decade of his episcopacy, he also encouraged the foundation of Villa and Mercyhurst Colleges. In 1933, he established Cathedral College, a two-year institution that was the forerunner of Gannon University. Other institutions that were either founded or expanded during Gannon's administration include Spencer Hospital, Meadville; St. Vincent's Hospital, Erie; Andrew Kaul Memorial Hospital, St. Marys; San Rosario, Cambridge Springs; St. Mary's Home, Erie; Harborcreek Training School for Boys, Erie; Gannondale for Girls, Erie; and the Erie Day Nursery, Erie. The litany of construction projects included the establishment of twenty-eight new parishes, the erection of forty-nine new churches, twenty elementary schools, eight parish high schools, five independent High schools administered by the religious communities of women, five diocesan regional high schools which replaced several parish high schools and one seminary.
In the field of religious education, approximately twenty social halls and catechetical centers were constructed. The march of construction also included seven new rectories, five renovated
rectories, twelve new convents, two renovated convents, a new Benedictine Motherhouse on East Lake Road in Erie, and the expansion and renovation of the Motherhouse of the Congregation of the Divine Spirit. For the first time, too, missions appeared in the small rural communities of Spring Center, Sarah Furnace, and Rimersburg. Indeed, by the time he relinquished the reins of authority Bishop Gannon could claims that he as "God's bricklayer" for forty-eight years in the thirteen counties of northwestern Pennsylvania. However, above all Bishop Gannon saw the material growth of his diocese as the means to increase the spiritual development of the faithful. Religious education programs under the auspices of the Confraternity of christian Doctrine were organized in every part of the diocese. The Sister Servants of the Holy Ghost made it possible to penetrate every rural area in the diocese with their religious programs for children and adults.
The mission helpers of the Sacred Heart also contributed heavily to religious education. They were especially effective in training volunteer teachers to work in the various parishes of the diocese. In addition, there were various societies and religious organizations which aided in the growth
and development of the Faith in the minds and hearts of the faithful. Among them were the Sodality of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Holy Name Society, the Catholic Boy and Girl Scout movement the Catholic Daughters of America, the Ladies Christian Benevolent Association, the Holy Childhood Association, the Propagation of the Faith, the Rosary Society, the League of the Sacred Heart and several others too numerous to mention.
Besides the impact Bishop Gannon made on his own diocese, he became a national and international figure in 1936 when he was appointed chairman of the Bishops' Committee to establish a seminary at Montezuma, New Mexico. It proved to be a monumental achievement of the American Catholic Hierarchy which preserved the Catholic Church in Mexico in the face of brutal persecution. Following this appointment, he was chosen the director of the Press Department of the National Catholic Welfare Conference and founded the National Bureau of Information within the Department. The latter was founded essentially to combat anti-Catholic propaganda in the western hemisphere.
In November, 1939, Bishop Gannon was appointed chairman of the Commission for the
Canonization of the Martyrs of the United States, a project that was very close to his heart. In late summer of 1942, Bishop Gannon served as the personal representative of the American hierarchy at the Eucharistic Congress in Brazil. He was the principal speaker at the Fiftieth Anniversary celebration of the Pontifical Coronation of the Venerable Image of Our Lady of Guadalupe on October 12, 1945 in Mexico. In 1945, he was named treasurer of the NCWC. For five years thereafter, his signature appeared on checks for enormous sums that were targeted for the relief of millions of people both at home and abroad in those critical years after World War II.
Before his resignation in September, 1966, Bishop Gannon had witnessed the Catholic population in the Erie Diocese grow to 212,000. Catholic schools had opened their doors to 30,000 students. There were more than one thousand nuns of various communities working in the diocese. In 1953, Bishop Gannon was honored with he title of Archbishop in recognition of his many accomplishments both at home and abroad.
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