Miner-turned-priest Patrick Manogue left indelible mark on Sacramento

The recent St. Patrick’s Day parade through Old Sacramento owes a nod to a 6-foot-4 inch, 240-pound, square-jawed pioneer and miner from County Kilkenny, Ireland, who helped civilize the Nevada territory and later became Sacramento’s first bishop.

Patrick Manogue ministered with his Bible and occasionally his fists, rousting miners out of Virginia City’s saloons on Fridays and ordering them to take their paychecks to their wives. He settled disputes among Indians, Irish and Chinese miners, earning him the nickname “Wyatt Earp with a collar.”

His legacy lives on in two splendid churches he built: St. Mary in the Mountains in Virginia City, Nev., in 1868; and Sacramento’s Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament on K Street in 1887. He also helped build Catholic schools, orphanages and hospitals, and fought hard to make Sacramento – not Grass Valley – the capital of Catholicism in Northern California by creating the diocese of Sacramento in 1886.

“Manogue had the vision to come to Sacramento with the silver money out of Viginia City,” said Father Dan Madigan of St. Joseph’s Church in Clarksburg. “He was a big hunk of a guy who was greatly admired and respected, loved people and didn’t take any nonsense or back down from a fight.”

One of Madigan’s ancestors worked as Manogue’s assistant in Virginia City, “and the news got back to Ireland that there was a formidable Irish priest out here in the mines,” Madigan said. “The Irish flowed into Nevada and Northern California, and about 240 Irish priests – many of them trailblazers in the gold country – have since gone through the diocese.”

Manogue’s family still lives in Sacramento. His great-great-great-nephew, Chris Brown, founded the Shamrock Club of Sacramento, co-sponsors of the St. Patrick’s Day parade. “He had a tremendous impact not just as a religious and spiritual leader, but an individual who impacted the political climate – many of the more powerful leaders of California went to him for advice and arbitration,” Brown said. “I always sort of viewed him as a bigger-than-life guy. He was one big Irishman when the average Joe in those days was 5-foot-7.”

Born on March 15, 1831, Manogue was a boy when his parents died, leaving seven children, while the “blight” turned the potato fields into black mush, Brown said. At 15, Manogue set sail for the United States, working several years in Connecticut to support his six younger siblings. He attended seminary in Chicago, but a cholera outbreak drove him west to the gold fields in 1853, according to “The Miner Was a Bishop,” a biography written by William Breault of the Sacramento diocese.

Manogue began mining at Moore’s Flat, 18 rugged miles north of Nevada City, buying a one-eighth share in the Paradise Mine. After saving an ounce of gold dust a week, he headed to Paris to finish his seminary studies, Brown said. “He sailed all the way down the Americas around the Horn, then across the Caribbean to France. It took about a year.”

In 1861, Manogue was ordained a priest and asked to be sent to Virginia City, which had turned into a boom town of 25,000 from the Comstock Lode’s silver.

Mark Twain, a reporter and city editor at the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise, was friends with Manogue’s benefactor, silver baron John Mackey, who financed the Blessed Sacrament Cathedral. Twain, in “Roughing It,” wrote that “during the great flush year of 1863,” $25 million in silver was pulled out of the mines, and “vice flourished luxuriantly ... the saloons were overburdened ... The devil seems to have again broken loose in our town. Pistols and and guns explode and knives gleam in our streets.”

Manogue – the only priest in the 98,000-square-mile Nevada territory – recruited Daughters of Charity to open schools, orphanages and a hospital. Manogue’s front-page obituary in The Bee on Feb. 27, 1895, described him as “a stalwart-limbed man of gigantic build, and a heart as warm as the tropics,” adding “there is not a man, woman or child that does not know and venerate the man.”

The obituary recounted the time Manogue rode 180 hard miles to give last rites to a man named Bonner whom the miners were about to hang. After learning he wasn’t guilty, “without a moment’s delay he retraced his steps in the face of bitter Winter blasts” and got the governor to pardon him.

Another legend involves Manogue administering last rites to an Irish woman who was dying after a breach birth. Her husband, a German miner, said “he wasn’t going to allow any Catlicker (Catholic) near his wife,” Brown recounted. “Manogue asked the man to step outside for a minute, beat the stuffing out of him, administered last rites to the wife and then took the man back to Virginia City for medical care.”

That story got to John Wayne, who was planning to make a movie about Manogue when Wayne died, Brown said.

Virginia City still has the Bucket of Blood, Washoe Club, Red Dog Saloon and other drinking establishments that Manogue would stride into on payday – the gold eagles flew on Friday – and tell the miners to take what was left of their paychecks and go home, said Virginia City historian Patrick Neylan. “The wives would come to him and ask him to get their husbands out of the saloons, and when everybody knew he was coming, they’d slink away.”

In 1881, Archbishop Alemany of San Francisco consecrated Manogue as bishop of Grass Valley, but Manogue spent five years trying to get the diocese centered in Sacramento, a thriving city of 20,000 fueled by agriculture and commerce where Manogue could have access to power – and power to him. The Bee reported Manogue’s “millionaire friends have presented him with articles of wondrous value ... in the event of him making Sacramento his residence, he will be provided with means to build an elegant Cathedral.”

Finally, in May 1886, Manogue was made bishop of the new diocese of Sacramento and 10 days later ground was broken on the new cathedral. In Sacramento, his niece Minnie Fogerty met a bookkeeper from Belfast, William Francis Gormley, founder of Gormley & Sons Funeral Home, Brown said.

Manogue died on Ash Wednesday, 1895, from diabetes. “His successful efforts in settling the difficulties between the miners and the Chinese are oft-told tales,” The Bee wrote in its obituary. “Even the Indians looked to him for protection. ... In time of need they never appealed to him in vain.”

Pete Basofin contributed to this report.

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