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Biographer Details a Cardinal's 'Regime'

RELIGION / JOHN DART

James Francis McIntyre's influence on Catholicism in Southern California lasted 16 years after retirement, historian writes.

June 07, 1997|JOHN DART

MISSION HILLS — For 22 years until his retirement in 1970, the tall, stern-looking Cardinal James Francis McIntyre, a builder of churches and schools to keep pace with Southern California's growing postwar population, dominated every aspect of Catholicism in the Los Angeles area.

But a recently published biography by the archdiocese's historian--which revisits an old feud between the conservative cardinal and an order of liberal nuns--contends that the "McIntyre regime" actually extended another 16 years, including six years after his death, until Roger M. Mahony was named archbishop of Los Angeles in 1985.

That 16-year interim was when soft-spoken Cardinal Timothy Manning, a man of gentle demeanor, held the official top spot in the archdiocese but let a McIntyre aide hold the administrative and financial reins.

"There were some cosmetic changes in Manning's time . . . [but] essentially the McIntyre structures remained firmly in place for a total of 37 years," wrote Msgr. Francis J. Weber in an unusually frank footnote at the end of his two-volume "His Eminence of Los Angeles" (St. Francis Historical Society).

Weber, who works and lives at the San Fernando Mission, said his observations were not a slap at the Irish-born Manning. "He saw himself as a bridge builder between the older order and the new," Weber said. "Manning was a preacher and teacher, and he did that exceedingly well."

More than that, in Weber's view, it was the determination of McIntyre, a New Yorker who worked in business before entering the priesthood, that set the course of Catholicism for nearly four decades in parishes from Santa Ana to San Luis Obispo.

McIntyre never attended college other than seminary. "I think that's why he had a great appreciation for schools," Weber said. Indeed, from 1948 through 1969, McIntyre opened 180 Catholic schools. He also dedicated 192 churches, including 25 in the San Fernando Valley and 27 in Orange County, which did not become a separate diocese until 1976.

"He was a very ordinary man, and people who knew him invariably liked him," said Weber.

And yet, Weber added, few people knew McIntyre well enough to know that the ardently anti-Communist patriot was a lifelong registered Democrat, that he hated living in a mid-Wilshire mansion his predecessor had bought, and was a friend of Rabbi Edgar Magnin and Congregational minister James Fifield--two of Los Angeles' most prominent Jewish and Protestant leaders--well before cordial ecumenical relations became the religious norm.

Weber said he tried to write a balanced biography by quoting many of the cardinal's critics during the social and church changes of the mid to late 1960s. At the same time, his book accuses the previously favorable press of abruptly turning on McIntyre in that period because, Weber wrote, "he had grown old [age 79 in 1965], he was ill at ease with the media, he was unabashedly conservative and he had a temper."

He turned 75 in 1961, shortly before the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) decided to require bishops to submit their resignations to the Vatican at that age.

"There were those who wanted McIntyre to step aside, but McIntyre said he was under the impression that he had verbal assurances from Rome that the rule was not retroactive," Weber said.

In 1967, the majority of the Hollywood-based Immaculate Heart of Mary sisters hit an impasse with the cardinal over the order's new conditions for continuing to teach at or staff 36 schools. The nuns, taking their cue from reform ideas hatched at Vatican II, sought to experiment not only with wearing secular clothing but also exploring new ways of community, ministry and religious practice. McIntyre took it as an ultimatum and replaced them in the schools.

The news-making battle between the liberal nuns and the conservative cardinal was seen then as a microcosm of the post-Vatican II turmoil in the church, drawing strong defense of the nuns from some theologians and priests.

A Vatican-appointed committee recommended in 1968 that the Immaculate Heart order split into a traditional minority and the reform-minded majority. The latter group eventually formed a lay institute, whose members continued in various church roles, even teaching in other California dioceses.

Retired Immaculate Heart College President Helen Kelley, who has been researching a book on the episode, criticized Weber's account as a "flawed report because his main sources were not evenhanded."

Weber described the controversy as "a terribly unfortunate thing" for the church and parochial schools. In a separate interview, Kelley said Weber ignored the fact that members of the Immaculate Heart lay community continued to serve church and educational roles, including four who have worked at the archdiocesan headquarters.

As for McIntyre's continuing influence during Manning's time as Los Angeles archbishop, Weber said it was not due to any interference by McIntyre.

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