Life and Legacy of John Timon, C.M., First Bishop of Buffalo, New York

by | Apr 17, 2016 | Formation | 5 comments

April 16 marked the anniversary of the death of Bishop John Timon, C.M., first bishop of Buffalo, New York and first provincial superior of the American province of the Congregation of the Mission. Throughout the 400-year history of the Vincentian Family, we find so many stories of need, and of those persons who rose to alleviate the suffering of others. Read on as author Timothy Bohen paints a vivid picture of the situation in Buffalo at the time of Bishop Timon’s arrival in 1847:

“Not only were the Irish being provoked by the nativists and mocked in local newspapers, but they were also exploited by the Protestant elite in Buffalo who owned the factories, controlled the capital, and made the laws. The Irish immigrants were paid meager wages, worked long hours, and most lived in deplorable conditions compared to their fellow Buffalonians. Adding to their troubles, these poor immigrants were more vulnerable to diseases like cholera because of poor sanitation, and they lacked adequate services to address these calamities. At this time they were also shut out of the political process in Buffalo, so they were without legislative protection.

Quite simply the Irish in Buffalo needed a savior, and they found one in a fifty-one-year-old priest and fellow Irish American, John Timon.

On April 23, 1847, the Vatican created the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo in order to minister to the growing number of its members in Western New York. Later that year, on October 17th, Bishop John Timon, Vincentian missionary priest, and son of Irish immigrants from Cavan County in Northern Ireland, was jubilantly welcomed as the first Bishop of Buffalo by 12,000 of the faithful in a pouring rainstorm. A fine carriage was waiting to pick him up, but Bishop Timon—setting a tone of solidarity with his poor flock—decided to walk with his carpetbag and umbrella in hand.

At the time, the center of the Buffalo Roman Catholic Church, and the presumed home for the new bishop, was the stately St. Louis Church on Main Street, a French and German parish. However, Bishop Timon, born of humble beginnings, had a strong affinity for the struggling Irish, and desired to live with those who were most in need.

On November 23, 1847, only four weeks after arriving in Buffalo, he packed up his few belongings at St. Louis Church and set up residence several blocks away in a rented apartment across from St. Patrick’s Church on Ellicott Street and Batavia Street (now Broadway Street), to more closely look after his Irish flock. While St. Patrick’s was north of the First Ward by several blocks, it was the closest church and considered the Ward’s home parish. At this time there were roughly 6,300 Irish people living in Buffalo and many of them lived close to St. Patrick’s Church. There were, however, only 300 registered families in St. Patrick’s Parish when Bishop Timon arrived, so clearly thousands of the Irish were not being ministered to.

The first Bishop of Buffalo didn’t waste time and confirmed a staggering 4,167 people in Buffalo in his first year—proof that Buffalo was mission territory. When Timon wasn’t performing his ecclesiastical duties, he was putting plans together to create an institutional church that would help lift its downtrodden members out of poverty.”

[…] Other subsequent bishops would face difficult conditions and situations during their tenure. However, no one would face more obstacles and opposition with so few resources, and still accomplish as much as Bishop Timon did.

It can be argued that Timon, a diminutive figure who stood at just over 5 feet tall, accomplished more for the Catholic Church in Buffalo during his tenure than any subsequent ecclesiastical figure. Along the way he planted the seeds that would uplift the Irish both economically and spiritually.

An excerpt from Against the Grain, pp. 43-55 by Timothy Bohen, 2012 Reprinted with permission. Thank you to Chuck LaChiusa of the Buffalo Architecture and History website for putting me in touch with the author Timothy Bohen.

Timeline of Bishop Timon’s Life


  • Born at the old Catholic settlement of Conewago in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, on 12 February 1797
  • Grew up in Baltimore, working for the family dry goods business. The family moved several times, to Louisville, KY and finally to Saint Louis in 1819
  • He determined to join the priesthood after a crisis which wiped out the family’s finances
  • He came under the influence of Felix De Andreis, C.M. and decided to study for the priesthood at Saint Mary’s of the Barrens Seminary beginning in 1823
  • Bishop Joseph Rosati ordained him to the priesthood on 23 September 1825
  • Spent the early years of his priesthood in teaching at the seminary
  • Served in missionary activity up and down the Mississippi River and in Texas, with Jean-Marie Odin, C.M.
  • Appointed as the first provincial superior of the American province of the Congregation in 1835 (ten years after his ordination). Spent 12 years as provincial.
  • Due to his abilities he was asked to manage the funds of the General Curia in Paris
  • Ordained as the first bishop of Buffalo on 23 April 1847
  • Instrumental in the foundation of St. Bonaventure University
  • Died in Buffalo 16 April 1867

Sources: 1. Vincentian Heritage Journal Volume 22 | Issue 1 Article 4 by John E. Rybolt C.M. 2. Dennis Frank/Archivist, St. Bonaventure University

See also: information on plans for the 150th Anniversary of Bishop Timon’s death in 2017.


  1. Ralph Middlecamp

    Bishop Timon is also credited for bringing the Society of St. Vincent de Paul to the United States in 1845. It is said that he discovered the Society at work on his visits to the motherhouse in Paris. He came back to St. Louis with a copy of the Rule in English (from the Irish Council) and encouraged Bishop Rosatti to establish the Society in St. Louis. His role is a little unclear as there is also evidence that a layman, Bryan Mullanphy also had been in Paris and had a significant role in the U.S. founding.

    Regardless, bishop Timon promoted the Society’s expansion in the United States. Immediately on arriving in Buffalo he created the organization of the Society making Buffalo the second site in the U.S. where the Society of St. Vincent de Paul would take root.

    • Monica

      Thank you very much Ralph, great to know. I like him even more now! Am in awe of all he accomplished.

  2. Sister Janet Keim, D.C.

    See below ( From the website of Sisters Hospital) for Bishop Timon’s role in establishing Sisters Hospital in Buffalo.

    The Roman Catholic Diocese of Buffalo was created in 1847, and Bishop John Timon, CM, its first prelate, immediately saw the lack of an organized healthcare system in the City of Buffalo. There were some private clinics, but no large central hospital, public or private. The city’s mainly Protestant and nativist leadership did not adequately address the healthcare needs of the rapidly growing and mostly Catholic working class, partly due to prejudice. Some did try to establish a Protestant hospital, but efforts faded away for lack of popular interest.[2] Bishop Timon took efforts into his own hands as he saw the pressing need of Buffalo’s Catholics for proper healthcare. He traveled to Baltimore in March 1848, seeking a religious order to administer the new hospital.[2] He especially wanted the Sisters of Charity (now known as the Daughters of Charity), who were based in Emmitsburg, Maryland, because they were founded by St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first American saint, and because they had much prior experience working with Protestants. He believed these qualifications made them the ideal religious congregation to work in such a hostile anti-Catholic atmosphere as Buffalo was at the time.[2]

    • Monica

      Thank you Sr. Janet. Our readers are learning so much about this great Vincentian. Also an inspiring example of coordination/collaboration among branches of the Family.

  3. Sister Jane Burger, DC

    Very interesting history. God provided!!! Thank you, Sr. Janet for sharing these early days of establishing the health care minister in this area. Sr. Jane Burger, DC