Archbishops of Baltimore
Lawrence Cardinal Shehan
served as the 12th Archbishop of Baltimore
Lawrence Shehan was born on March 18, 1898, to a Catholic family who lived on Greenmount Avenue in Baltimore. He grew up during the tough times of World War I and lived through the tragic outbreak of influenza and the great fire of 1904. In his autobiography, A Blessing of Years, he recalls that these experiences helped Baltimore neighborhoods come together.
On December 23, 1922, Lawrence was ordained a priest at Rome’s Basilica of St. John Lateran. He served as a pastor at St. Patrick’s Parish and as Director of Catholic Charities, both in Washington, D.C. In 1945, he was appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Baltimore. In 1953, the pope named then-Bishop Shehan the first Bishop of the new Diocese of Bridgeport, Connecticut. Eight years later, Bishop Shehan returned to Baltimore and became the 12th Archbishop of Baltimore upon the death of Archbishop Keough.
In February, 1965, Bishop Shehan became the second Baltimore Archbishop elevated to the Cardinalate by Pope Paul VI (James Cardinal Gibbons was first).
Cardinal Shehan participated in all four periods of the Second Vatican Council, "the four most significant years of the Church’s modern history." As a member of the Secretariat for Christian Unity, Archbishop Shehan was particularly concerned with the Council documents on Ecumenism, especially the statements on the Jews and religious liberty.
Under his leadership, the liturgical changes brought about by Vatican II were implemented throughout the Archdiocese. His leadership in ecumenism began in 1962 with the establishment of this country’s first Commission for Christian Unity.
In March, 1963, Cardinal Shehan issued his famous and fundamental pastoral letter Racial Justice. In this letter he wrote:
"...our Christian faith imposes upon us all a special duty of both justice and charity toward all men, no matter what may be their racial and social origin."
He went on to say:
"It must guide us in our personal relationships -- within our block, our neighborhood, our community; in our social and fraternal organizations; in the business we may conduct; in the labor unions to which we may belong; at work and at play; in all the circumstances of everyday life."
Despite threats of violence, Cardinal Shehan testified at the public hearing on the "Open Housing Bill" that had been introduced to the City Council. He faced booing and jeering crowds when he spoke from the steps of City Hall in support of the same bill.
The Cardinal led people throughout the city and the Archdiocese in promoting legislation for equal accommodations. It was his work that ensured that all Archdiocesan institutions, including schools and hospitals, would not segregate, i.e. "there would be no distinction of rank or place or treatment based on racial difference."
In 1966, Cardinal Shehan formed the Archdiocesan Urban Commission to identify and work towards the resolution of various problems and issues facing the urban faith community. Charles Tildon, the first chair of the Commission and appointed by the Cardinal, recalled Cardinal Shehan as "very humble and very forward thinking". Mr. Tildon was the first lay person ever appointed as chair of any major Archdiocesan commission.
"In his work with the Bishop’s Conference, Cardinal Shehan was instrumental in shaping the rules and the changes for the diaconate that enabled African Americans to become deacons," recalled Mr. Tildon.
When Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated, Cardinal Shehan chartered a plane and accompanied an entourage of Baltimore Catholics to Atlanta, where he himself joined the march from the funeral church to Morris College.
As his last official act before retiring, Cardinal Shehan was given the honor of being appointed by Pope Paul VI as Papal Legate to the 40th Eucharistic Congress in Melbourne Australia. Cardinal Shehan retired from active ministry in 1975 and died on August 26, 1984.
Cardinal Shehan's galero hangs in the sanctuary almost directly over his tomb in the Cathedral's crypt. It had long been a tradition of the Church to hang the red hat of a deceased cardinal in the sanctuary of his cathedral. Legend had it that when the hat falls to the ground, the cardinal's soul has entered heaven.
His autobiography, A Blessing of Years,
is no longer in print, but used copies
are available at online bookstores,
such as Amazon.com.