Biography of Rev. James Treacy

Rev. James Treacy, born in County Cork, Ireland, was a prominent Catholic pastor in Illinois. Son of John and Bridget Treacy, he pursued early education in Cork and later theological studies in the United States, at St. Michael’s Seminary, Pittsburgh, and St. Mary’s Seminary, Baltimore. Ordained by Archbishop Kendrick, he served in Pittsburgh, championing education and religious inclusion for African Americans. In 1878, due to health issues, he moved to Illinois, eventually leading St. Patrick’s Church in Dixon. His tenure saw the rebuilding of the church and extensive community engagement, serving 300 families and various missions.

Rev. James Treacy, Pastor of St. Patrick’s Church at Dixon, is one of the most learned, zealous, and worthy upholders of the Catholic faith in the State of Illinois. His birthplace is in County Cork, Ireland, and he is a son of John and Bridget (Noonan) Treacy, who were also born in County Cork. His paternal grandmother died in the city of Cork at the remarkably advanced age of one hundred and three years. His father was prosperously engaged in the mercantile business in his native county until 1853, when he came to America, and spent the remainder of his days in Pittsburgh, Pa., where he died at the venerable age of ninety-four years. The parents of our subject reared ten children, who were given liberal educational advantages, and two of the sons are doctors and one is an attorney.

Father Treacy early became a pupil in the schools of his native place, and subsequently his education was advanced under the supervision of the Lazarist Fathers in the city of Cork. He came to the United States in 1849 and entered St. Michael’s Seminary at Pittsburgh, in which institution of learning he remained two or three years, preparing himself for the sacred office of the priesthood, and he then finished his studies in St. Mary’s Seminary at Baltimore, where he was under the instruction of the Rev. Father Varot, later Bishop of Florida, and of Father Freddot, the distinguished moral theologian and author. Thus well prepared for the duties that lay before him in the life that he had chosen, our subject was ordained by the late Archbishop Kendrick, of Baltimore, and was appointed assistant pastor of St. Patrick’s Church and Chapel, and of Mercy Hospital at Pittsburgh. He occupied that position one year, and then was placed in charge of the building of St. Bridget’s Church.

He remained a resident of Pittsburgh until 1878, and the church there found in him a noble and earnest worker, who threw his whole soul into his labors, and was an ardent champion of whatsoever tended to elevate the community and the status of its citizens, making the cause of the unfortunate and the suffering his own. It was while he was at Pittsburgh that the Bishops and Archbishops of the church in council at Baltimore received a dispatch from Cardinal Barnabo, of Rome, representing the will of the Pope, instructing the assembled council in the most emphatic terms to espouse the cause of the colored man in the most practical manner. This order, promulgated from the head of the Church of Rome, found ready response in the heart of our subject, and he was one of the first to move in the good work of helping the negro to an education, and to the benefits of the Roman Catholic religion. He built a church and school for the colored people of Pittsburgh at a cost of $10,000, the school being taught by the Sisters of Mercy. He officiated in the pulpit, and had a colored choir and colored altar boys. He was very successful in his work in other directions, especially among the poorer and more abandoned class, the outcasts of a great manufacturing city. This work was performed by Father Treacy under adverse circumstances not being popular at that time, but owing to the vast amount of good resulting from it, it has become popular.

While in Pittsburgh Father Treacy was a member of the Bishops’ Council, and held the offices of Chancellor and Secretary. He was also a member of the Orphan Seminary and Cemetery Boards. In the midst of his many arduous duties he found some time to devote to literary work as an author and as editor of a Catholic journal, first called the Hibernian, and later the Catholic Journal, in which he had a half interest. He prepared two works for publication, which are of great merit, but owing to ill health, brought on by a too close application to his duties, and to the change of scene necessitated thereby, he has not yet given them to the world. One of them is a poem, containing upwards of fifteen thousand lines, illustrative of the glories of the Roman Catholic Church.

In 1878 our subject was obliged to abandon his labors in Pittsburgh, as his failing health and flagging energies warned him that he must seek to restore his physical powers elsewhere. He removed to Chicago, where he joined his old-time friend, Bishop Foley. He was appointed to attend to the missions at New Dublin, Lena, Apple River, and Elizabethtown, and after a short time was sent to look after the church at Rochelle. He remained there six years, and was then appointed to take charge of St. Patrick’s Church at Dixon, one of the leading churches of the Catholic faith in Northern Illinois. By his good works and by the example of a pure life guided by lofty principles of right, he has gained the sincere respect and esteem even of the members of other Christian denominations, and has been an influence for much good in the community.

Father Treacy looks after the spiritual welfare of three hundred families, including the Catholic societies at Harmon and Ashton. His church at Dixon was founded more than thirty years ago by Father McDermott. In 1887 the original structure in which services were held was partially burned, the walls remaining intact, and the present house of worship is composed of the walls of the original edifice. It is a handsome brick building, of an appropriate style of architecture, and cost, with its rich furnishings, $18,000.


Biographical Publishing Company, Portrait and biographical record of Lee County, Illinois, containing biographical sketches of prominent and representative citizens, together with biographies of all the governors of the state, and of the presidents of the United States, Chicago: Biographical Publishing Co., 1892.

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