FR. STEVEN M. AVELLA
SPECIAL TO THE CATHOLIC HERALD
At one time, nearly all the archbishops of Milwaukee had a parish named for them. St. John’s Cathedral bears the patronal name of John Martin Henni, the first bishop. St. Michael’s Church in Milwaukee honors Michael Heiss. St. Frederick Church, (now Nativity) in Cudahy took the name of Frederick X Katzer. St. Sebastian Church carries the name of Sebastian Messmer. St. Alphonsus in Greendale has the middle name of Samuel A. Stritch. St. William’s in Waukesha chose the patron of William E. Cousins. St. Albert in Milwaukee, named for Albert Gregory Meyer, has closed its doors, but St. Gregory’s in Milwaukee still exists. We already had St. Jerome’s in Oconomowoc before the current archbishop arrived.
On April 15, I was thinking of Archbishop Kiley, who died on this day in 1953. He had gone to eternity long before I ever started writing archdiocesan history, but I spoke with many who knew and worked with him. Their memories were uniform. Everyone remembered how tall he was and how he accentuated his height with super-sized miters (the bishop’s pointy hat). They often mimicked his deep voice (one priest described it as “sepulchral”). He inspired fear, not love — especially among those with whom he worked most closely.
Kiley was born of Irish-immigrant parents on Nov. 13, 1876 (the last Milwaukee prelate to have been born in the 19th century) in Nova Scotia. He came from a hard-scrabble farming family and stayed home to help the family make a living. He later told a reporter, “I could ride a horse as soon as I could walk.”
When the farm failed in 1894, the family moved to Massachusetts, where Moses worked as a woodworker in a family-run carriage factory. Later, he got a job as a motorman on the Boston public transit. His brother Myles had entered the priesthood for the Archdiocese of Boston, and his uncle (for whom he was named), Fr. Moses McGarry, was a priest of the Holy Cross community. At the “advanced” age of 27, Moses decided he, too, wanted to join the priesthood. Because of his age, Boston did not want him, but his Uncle Moses got him into a Holy Cross College (St. Laurent) in Montreal and then later into St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore. From there, he was “adopted” by the Archdiocese of Chicago, which dispatched him to the North American College in Rome. This Roman experience left a big impression. One of his priest secretaries, Fr. (later cardinal) John Carberry remembered: “He loved to speak of his days in Rome [and] of his great love for St. Pius X. He was truly a Roman.”
Kiley was ordained in Rome in June 1911 and returned to Chicago. After brief stint in a parish, he was assigned by Archbishop George Mundelein to start a mission for homeless men on West Madison Street (“Hobohemia” as it was known). This operation cared for hundreds of homeless men. Kiley lived in the shelter and kept order among the sometimes unruly men. In 1917, he was appointed head of the Catholic Charities Bureau. In 1924, he was named a monsignor and in 1926, headed back to Rome to become the spiritual director of the North American College. As with many other “Del Nord” faculty, he also squired wealthy Chicagoans around the Holy City and procured for them special audiences with the pope.
Kiley was a serious man — indeed often grim. The priesthood was a life of sacrifice, requiring an intense personal spirituality and a steadfast fidelity to work. As a bishop, he chose as his episcopal motto: Ut Sim Fidelis — that I may be faithful.
In 1934, he was appointed to succeed Bishop John J. McMahon as the Bishop of Trenton, New Jersey. The Trenton Diocese was caught in the grip of the Great Depression and burdened with debts because of building projects in the prosperous 1920s. Kiley refinanced many of the loans, in part with help from the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, a government agency. Kiley kept a low public profile, believing that a bishop should appear in the local press only twice: when he came and when he died or was transferred.
His reputation as a money man may have accounted for his transfer to Milwaukee to succeed Archbishop Samuel A. Stritch. On March 7, 1940, he was installed as the sixth Archbishop of Milwaukee. His temporary “cathedra” was in Gesu Church, as the Cathedral of St. John was still under reconstruction after a 1935 fire. At his installation, he ventured a bit of uncharacteristic humor: “God proposes, man disposes, and the Holy Father sends Moses.”
Kiley presided as archbishop during the war years. Although the Catholic population was increasing, building restrictions prohibited much expansion. Kiley assiduously saved money for the reconstruction of St. Aemillian’s Orphanage, which existed in temporary quarters because its main building had burned down in 1930. He brought on board young priests who would serve the archdiocese for a generation, including Fathers Leo Brust and Mark Lyons. In 1947, he consecrated Stritch’s faithful secretary, Monsignor Roman Atkielski, as his auxiliary bishop. Kiley also saw to it that his two faithful Roman pupils, Albert G. Meyer (rector of the major seminary) and John Grellinger (a philosophy professor) were also elevated to the episcopate.
Kiley lived an orderly life in the Pabst Mansion, celebrating daily Mass in its small chapel, and eating breakfast served by the Franciscan Sisters. He loved a good cigar. He was hard on his staff. One poor staffer asked permission to join the military during World War II. Kiley barked out a loud “No!” and the priest left the room, closing the office door sharply. Kiley came out of the room and ordered the priest to open and close the door quietly 10 times — in much the same way as a teacher or parent might discipline an unruly or rude child. Kiley’s public rebukes of clergy he thought disobedient or disrespectful were legendary. Even the highly virtuous seminary rector, Albert Meyer, sometimes came home from sessions with Kiley with puffy eyes.
Kiley kept a close eye on diocesan finances and micromanaged any project that spent archdiocesan funds. During his term, St. John’s Cathedral was rebuilt, major renovations were undertaken at the major seminary, and high school seminarians were sent to Pio Nono (today St. Thomas More), which became St. Francis Minor Seminary. He insisted that the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine be established in all parishes to provide religious education to those not enrolled in Catholic schools.
For all his sternness, he had a gentle and compassionate side. He was kind to alcoholic priests, calling their affliction “the good man’s disease.” He could sing sentimental Irish ballads and wept at devotions to the Sacred Heart.
Gradually illness overtook him and his last days were spent in St. Mary’s Hospital. He delegated no duties to his auxiliary bishop, but insisted on reading and signing official documents. His reverence for the Eucharist was such that when he received Holy Communion in his hospital room, he insisted on kneeling on the floor to receive. Efforts to cheer him up were futile and he was irascible to the end. When his old student, Bishop John Grellinger, brought a hand puppet that resembled Kiley, the elderly prelate “was not amused.” When Grellinger gently suggested that the dying bishop receive Extreme Unction, Kiley indignantly rejected the idea.
He died peacefully on April 15, 1953. His successor would be one of his spiritual sons: Albert G. Meyer.