Los Angeles County










     Entering the priesthood at the age of twenty-five years, the Most Rev. John Joseph Cantwell has become the Roman Catholic Bishop of the diocese of Los Angeles and San Diego and a distinguished prelate of his church.  His ecclesiastical duties have been performed not only with the zeal and enthusiasm of a churchman, but with an appreciation of the beauty and historical significance of the long record of Catholicism in California.  Therefore his constructive efforts have brought a vast increment to the dignity and power of a church whose foundations were laid by Junipero Serra and others of hallowed memory.

     Bishop Cantwell was born in Limerick, Ireland, December 1, 1874, a son of Patrick and Ellen (O’Donnell) Cantwell, and represents a family prominent in the annals of the church.  Several of his uncles were priests, and three brothers of the Bishop became honored members of the clergy of California, namely: Very Rev. Msgr. James P. Cantwell, chancellor of the archdiocese of San Francisco; Rev. William J. Cantwell, pastor of St. Monica’s Church, San Francisco; and Rev. Arthur J. Cantwell, pastor of St. Lorenzo.

     Bishop Cantwell obtained his academic education in Sacred Heart College, conducted by the Jesuit Fathers in Crescent, Limerick County, and pursued his theological studies in St. Patrick’s College at Thurles, Ireland.  Ordained to the priesthood, June 18, 1899, by Bishop Browne of Cloyne, he at once came to California, being assigned to the archdiocese of San Francisco, and for five years was curate of St. Joseph’s Church at Berkeley.  His learning and eloquence gave him great opportunities for service in that city, where he interested himself particularly in the Catholic students at the University of California, and through his efforts brought about the organization of the Newman Club in Berkeley.  In 1904 he was appointed secretary to the late Archbishop Riordan of San Francisco and during his ten years of service in that capacity was closely associated with the clergy, laity and non-Catholics.  This work was a splendid preparation for the duties he was called upon to perform after the death of the Rt. Rev. John J. Prendergast, vicar general of San Francisco.  For three years, from 1914 until 1917, he acted as vicar general to Archbishop Edward J. Hanna.

     Meanwhile, on September 18, 1915, the revered Bishop Conaty was called to his reward.  It was two years later that the decision as to his successor came from Rome, announcing that the vicar general of San Francisco should continue the work of Bishop Conaty, who had labored untiringly in the southwest for many years.  On December 5, 1917, in St. Mary’s Cathedral at San Francisco, the Bishop-elect of the diocese of Monterey and Los Angeles was consecrated by Archbishop Hanna, the assisting bishops being the late Rt. Rev. Thomas Grace, of Sacramento, and Rt. Rev. Joseph S. Glass, of Salt Lake.  A week later, Bishop Cantwell assumed his new duties, to which he brought ability of more than average scope and talents that have make his labors more than ordinarily effective.  After the close of the World War the power and prestige of the church in Southern California increased to a notable extent, and one result of this rapid growth was a division of the diocese.  The announcement of this decision was made June 5, 1922, and on December 3 of that year the new diocese of Monterey and Fresno was created.  The remainder of the old diocese then became the diocese of Los Angeles and San Diego, the latter city having been designated in 1840 as the residence of the first bishop of the Californias.  Bishop Cantwell served as apostolic administrator of the diocese of Monterey and Fresno until the new bishop, the Most Rev. John B. MacGinley, was consecrated on March 27, 1924.

     During the first six years of Bishop Cantwell’s administration eighty new churches were built and more than seventy parishes established in his diocese.  In addition to these achievements numerous parish schools and high schools were erected; also three modern hospitals and a number of institutions for the care of children and unfortunates.  He also takes an active interest in all civic projects in Southern California.

     For these accomplishments Bishop Cantwell was honored by the Patriarch of Jerusalem, who made him a knight commander of the Holy Sepulchre wit the Grand Cross.  In recognition of his work in the field of religion and social service for the Mexican people he was appointed a bishop-assistant to the Papal Throne by His Holiness, Pope Pius XI, in September, 1929.  The Mexican people also expressed their gratitude and esteem by presenting Bishop Cantwell with the “Golden Rose of Tepeyac” in December, 1930, - a distinction worthily bestowed.




Transcribed by Bill Simpkins.

Source: California of the South Vol. II, by John Steven McGroarty, Pages 239-241, Clarke Publ., Chicago, Los Angeles,  Indianapolis.  1933.

© 2012  Bill Simpkins.