Curator’s Choice

Historic Vessels
Chalice and Paten of Bishop James Augustine Healy
Silver Coin, Gold-Washed
c. 1857
Gift of Supreme Knight John W. McDevitt, 1964-1977

James Augustine Healy (1830-1900) was the first black bishop in the United States. Born in Georgia to Michael Healy, an Irish plantation owner originally from County Roscommon, and Eliza Smith, an enslaved woman, James was the oldest of 10 children, and one of six children from his family to enter the religious life. Unable to free his family from slavery due to Georgia’s laws, Michael Healy sent James and his siblings to the North for schooling. After completing his primary school education at religious boarding schools, James was admitted to the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts. He was valedictorian of the first graduating class in 1849, and then pursued priestly studies. He studied initially in Montreal, Canada, before entering the Sulpician seminary outside of Paris, France. Healy was ordained to the priesthood at Notre Dame Cathedral in 1854.

Father Healy was assigned after his ordination to the Diocese of Boston, where he spent over 20 years in various positions from pastor and builder of St. James Church to diocesan chancellor and vicar general. He later was appointed Bishop of Portland (Maine) and was consecrated June 2, 1875. During his appointment, Healy focused his efforts on social projects and expanding the diocese. Accomplishments of note during his 25-year tenure include: establishing the Conference of St. Vincent de Paul for care of the poor, purchasing land on Little Diamond Island for orphans’ use during the summer, and the building of 86 mission and parochial schools and 50 church buildings. In 1969, the Knights of Columbus honored Healy’s memory by naming one of the Order’s Fourth Degree provinces (encompassing all of New England) after him.

This chalice (cup) and paten (plate) was given to Father Healy during his assignment in Boston. These vessels are used to hold the consecrated Body and Blood of Christ during the celebration of the Eucharist. Both pieces are made of silver coin with gold wash by Jones, Shreve, Brown, & Co. of Boston. The back of the paten is engraved with the monogram of Jesus Christ “IHS.” The chalice features repousse reliefs of grape vines on the cup and foot, and an engraving that reads:

Presented to
Rev. James A. Healy
By the Altar Boys of the
Cathedral
Feb. 22.d 1857