His Excellency, Most Reverend George T. Montgomery
The name Bishop Montgomery is prominent in our minds. For most of us, we say the name at least once a day in our conversations and in our daily activities. We even wear the name on everything from uniforms and sweatshirts to jackets and hats. Bishop Montgomery is such a vital part of our lives, but few of us actually know much about Bishop George Montgomery.
George Thomas Montgomery was born on December 30, 1847 in Kentucky. His father, Pius, married Harriet Warren, the sister of Oliver Wendell Holmes. On December 20, 1879 he was ordained to the priesthood and seventeen years later he was named bishop of the Monterey - Los Angeles diocese, a position he held until 1902. At the time of his elevation, the San Francisco Examiner reported that “Bishop-elect Montgomery has a standing in this community held by few men in or out of the Church. Conspicuous as a thinker and a leader in his own Church and among his own people, he is no less a leader in all the affairs of humanity.”
Described by many as a “gentle priest,” Bishop Montgomery was “a natural leader of God’s flocks,” according to Rabbi Jacob Voorsanger, a prominent figure in the Jewish community. To combat the widespread anti-Catholic bias of the American Protection Association, Bishop Montgomery organized the Catholic Truth Society. With his support the CatholicTidings, the newspaper of the diocese, was established to promote accurate representation of the Catholic Faith. Bishop Montgomery was also associated with the foundation of the Newman Club, a literary organization that promoted “the advancement of religious toleration in accordance with the Constitution of the United States.”
While a strong defender of the Catholic Faith, Bishop Montgomery was known for service to the community at large. On the issue of labor he wrote: “if ever the respective rights and duties of labor and capital are to be properly defined, it must be upon the principles which religion lays down.” On the topic of education he wrote: “the exclusion of the Bible from the public school of the country (is) a logical necessity,” since “its introduction into them would break down at once their nonsectarian character.” Bishop Montgomery promoted the idea that every religious group operates its own schools with state subsidies to compensate for the secular subjects taught.
In 1903, Bishop Montgomery was named coadjutor bishop of San Francisco. During the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco, where fires raged for over 500 blocks, it was Bishop Montgomery who led the archdiocese in caring for the victims of this tragedy. He was immediately looked upon as a “symbol of hope” in the community.
Bishop Montgomery died unexpectedly on January 10, 1907. At his funeral at St. Mary’s Cathedral, Bishop Thomas J. Conaty, Bishop Montgomery’s successor in the Diocese of Monterey - Los Angeles, delivered the eulogy to a stunned congregation. To those gathered in the cathedral Bishop Montgomery was described as “a leader of the people, a father of the faithful, a High Priest, an Onias, a good and virtuous man who prayed for all people. Simple as a child, strong as a man, Christ-like as a priest, a man of broad humanity and deep sympathies, a ideal Bishop, mighty as a Cedar of Lebanon, a faithful shepherd, a martyr of duty.”