The First Cardinal Archbishop of Washington

By Stephanie A.T. Jacobe, Ph.D.

Giving the invocation at the March on Washington in August of 1963 raised Archbishop Patrick O’Boyle’s profile nationally.  He was never one to seek the spotlight, and there was discussion before he spoke at the march about whether it really was something that he should do.  But Washington’s archbishop believed strongly in the cause of Civil Rights and supported the legislation being put forth by the Kennedy Administration, so he was willing to lend his name and his image to the effort.

Shortly after being installed as Washington’s first resident archbishop in 1948, Archbishop O’Boyle began his pioneering work of integrating local Catholic parishes and schools, and he promoted Civil Rights in 1960-61 with a series of local public statements and a speech in New York.  In all of his statements, he strongly promoted equal opportunity for all people no matter the color of their skin, in employment, education, and housing, and he preached against the evil of racism.

Speculation about Archbishop O’Boyle being named a cardinal began only a few months after the March on Washington with rumors that Pope Paul VI would soon name new American cardinals. Though rumors swirled, it took another three years for Archbishop O’Boyle to receive his red hat along with three other Americans. He was made a cardinal in a class with 27 other men, four of whom were Americans, including Archbishop John P. Cody of Chicago, and Archbishop John J. Krol of Philadelphia.

After midnight on May 29, 1967, Archbishop O’Boyle was informed of his appointment in a call from the papal nuncio, which apparently he answered directly.  Normally Father John Donoghue, then serving as his vice chancellor, would answer the calls that came into the residence late at night, but he missed this one.  Father Donoghue, who later served as the archbishop of Atlanta, realized he missed the call and found the pajama-clad archbishop with the phone at his ear receiving the happy news.

In his statement on his elevation, Cardinal-designate O’Boyle stated, “In a very real sense this honor which has come to me is an expression of the Holy Father’s gratitude, not only to the priests, religious and devoted laity of the Washington Archdiocese, but also to the many clergy and laymen of other faiths who have labored beside us in attacking the problem of racial and social injustice, which are our common concern.”

The cardinal-designate soon made plans to travel to Rome, arriving on June 21, 1967 from Friendship Airport, which is today known as Thurgood Marshall Baltimore-Washington International Airport.  Cardinal-designate O’Boyle welcomed a contingent of 160 friends and family three days later.  At his own insistence, this group included representatives from Washington’s Protestant and Jewish communities, who were also involved in Civil Rights work. The group toured Rome and attended all the events that were open to the public. On June 28, 1967, Cardinal Patrick O’Boyle knelt before Pope Paul VI and received his red zucchetto and biretta.  The next day he concelebrated Mass with the pope and received his ring.

We pray for Cardinal-designate Gregory as he prepares for his own Consistory on Saturday, Nov. 28, 2020 and remember the first Cardinal Archbishop of Washington, Patrick A. O’Boyle, who served from 1948 to 1973, leading the Archdiocese of Washington during a time of great growth in the years after World War II, when many parishes and Catholic schools were established. Cardinal O’Boyle, whose episcopal motto was State in Fide– Latin for “Stand Fast in the Faith” — died in 1987.

(Dr. Jacobe serves as the director of the Archives for the Archdiocese of Washington.)