DePaul Presidents: Rev. Francis X. McCabe, C.M.

Bygone DePaul is a series highlighting DePaul’s campus and how it has changed through the years.

Fr. Francis McCabe was born in 1872 in New Orleans and ordained in 1896. Fr. McCabe spent his early years as a priest engaged in missionary work in the Midwestern United States. When DePaul’s second president, Fr. John Martin, left for Cape Girardeau, Fr. McCabe was assigned to replace him; he served as DePaul’s third president from 1910 to 1920.

Fr. McCabe’s presidency was a period of transition for DePaul. In 1911, DePaul became the first Catholic university to admit women(initially, the women were only allowed to attend summer school). Because he inherited heavy debt, Fr. McCabe concentrated on increasing enrollment and spreading knowledge of DePaul out to the surrounding community. A skilled orator, he spoke at events often and always made sure to mention DePaul’s address. The Colleges of Law, Commerce and the School of Music were added during these years. With the advent of WWI, Fr. McCabe encouraged the formation of a DePaul chapter of the Student Army Training Crops and saw the College Theater transformed into barracks. When Fr. McCabe took office, DePaul’s enrollment was around 200. When he left in 1920, the enrollment was 1500.

Honorary degree Eamon DeValera
Fr. McCabe conferring an honorary degree on Eamon DeValera, 1919.

But, Fr. McCabe’s tenure was not without controversy. Fr. McCabe had a more relaxed attitude towards religious discipline. He had upset Archbishop Mundelein by refusing to honor his orders not to admit women into the University. Also, as an Irish-American, he felt strongly about the cause of Irish independence. In 1919, he invited the President of Ireland, Eamon DeValera, to receive an honorary degree at DePaul. He was the first international figure to receive an honorary degree from an American university. In 1920, Fr. McCabe was transferred from DePaul to St. Stephen’s Church in New Orleans to great student outcry.

Contact DePaul’s University Archives for more information.

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