Volume > Issue > The Curious Case of Bonaventure Broderick

The Curious Case of Bonaventure Broderick

ONCE A BISHOP, ALWAYS A BISHOP?

By James K. Hanna | January-February 2023
James K. Hanna is a Director of the Catholic Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania and author of The Remarkable Life of Bishop Bonaventure Broderick: Exile, Redemption, and a Gas Station (Serif Press, 2022).

Bonaventure F. Broderick has been but a footnote in the history of the Catholic Church in America. Those who know of him know he ran a gas station — as a bishop! Sadly, the rest of his life has received little attention. The short version is that Broderick was auxiliary bishop of Havana, Cuba, in 1905 when he had a falling out with Pope St. Pius X, a ruptured relationship cloaked in mystery. As a result, Broderick was set adrift at age 36 with no assignment and a small pension. He eked out a living until 1939, when then-archbishop Francis Spellman discovered him pumping gas in upstate New York and brought him back to the Church.

That’s a fair summary, but in truth, the celebrated gas-station episode is just a blip in the full but little-known narrative of a life so remarkable it has the feel of fiction.

It is a story of accusations, from the serious to the salacious to the silly: that Broderick shared in a million-dollar commission to sell a monastery in Havana; that he was living with a nun he “stole” from a convent in St. Louis; and that he was running a hotdog stand in upstate New York. It is a story of a failed bomb-building business in Connecticut and a sewer system in Cuba. It is a story of a millionaire Congregationalist and his Catholic widow, an impeached governor, quarreling siblings, and a quibbling Catholic hierarchy.

A native of Hartford, Connecticut, Broderick studied at the North American College in Rome, where he gained respect as an expert in archaeological graffiti. A student of Orazio Marucchi, Broderick was present for several discoveries in the Forum and the catacombs and was lauded by The Catholic Times of London as a “young ecclesiastic with a brilliant future before him in the domain of Christian science” (Jan. 7, 1898).

After completing his studies in 1899, Fr. Broderick returned to Connecticut. Assigned to a parish in need of a new building, he raised $30,000, including $5,000 from Henry B. Plant, a multimillionaire known for his steamship and railroad lines. Plant, a Congregationalist whose wife, Margaret, was Catholic, died a year later, leaving most of his estate to the future offspring of his then-eight-year-old grandson!

Enjoyed reading this?

READ MORE! REGISTER TODAY

SUBSCRIBE

You May Also Enjoy

The Present State of the Catholic Church in England

If a new generation of Catholics has arisen which is largely ignorant of what it means to believe, then Cardinal Hume must take part of the blame.

Bishops as Signs of Compassion, Fidelity & Contradiction

The bishop must announce to the rich and poor, to the powerful and weak the fullness of truth, which sometimes irritates and of­fends, even if it always liberates.

Episcopal Authority: Use It or Lose It

A certain sense of episcopal consensus means not only those who are here now but also those who have gone before us.