Volume > Issue > The Curious Case of Bonaventure Broderick

The Curious Case of Bonaventure Broderick


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!

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