Joseph Ritter

Joseph Ritter bigraphy, stories - Catholic cardinal

Joseph Ritter : biography

July 20, 1892 – June 10, 1967

Joseph Elmer Ritter (July 20, 1892 – June 10, 1967) was an American prelate of the Roman Catholic Church. He served as Archbishop of St. Louis from 1946 until his death in 1967, and was created a cardinal in 1961. He previously served as auxiliary bishop (1933–34) and bishop (later archbishop) (1934–46) of Indianapolis.


On May 30, 1917, Ritter was ordained a priest by Bishop Joseph Chartrand at St. Meinrad Archabbey. His first assignment was as a curate at in Indianapolis. Shortly afterwards, he was transferred to , also in Indianapolis. He later served as rector of the cathedral from 1920 to 1933. In 1922, he received an honorary doctorate of theology from Pope Pius XI.


  • Ritter was a friend of Lionel HamptonTIME Magazine. January 27, 1961 and Cardinal Ottaviani.
  • In a gesture of ecumenism, Ritter granted his approval to the mixed marriage of a Catholic and an Episcopalian in 1964.TIME Magazine.

July 17, 1964 He also authorized the first English Mass in the United States.

  • Ritter, intensely dedicated to racial equality, even withheld Communion from Catholics who practiced discrimination.TIME Magazine. October 4, 1963
  • He was "dismayed" and "indignant" after the rector of Catholic University of America, Monsignor William McDonald, refused to allow certain liberal theologians to speak at the university.TIME Magazine. March 29, 1963
  • His birthplace and childhood home in New Albany, Indiana will be turned into a museum about the Cardinal’s life (he remains the only Indiana-born Cardinal in the Catholic Church’s history; there are no cardinalatial dioceses in Indiana itself) in three stages. The Cardinal Ritter Birthplace Foundation is promoting this project. The Museum will occupy the Ritter family’s bakery- its storefront was part of the 1874 Queen Anne-style home. This information is courtesy of a Friday, March 8, 2013 online article by Jenna Esarey of the Louisville Courier-Journal’s website (New Albany, across the Ohio River, is a prominent Indiana suburb of Louisville, Kentucky).



On February 3, 1933, Ritter was appointed auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Indianapolis and titular bishop of Hippos by Pius XI. He received his episcopal consecration on the following March 28 from Bishop Chartrand, with Bishops Alphonse John Smith and Emmanuel Boleslaus Ledvina serving as co-consecrators. At age 40, he was one of the youngest Catholic bishops in the United States. As an auxiliary bishop, he also served as vicar general of the diocese from 1933 to 1934.

Following the death of Bishop Chartrand, Ritter was appointed the seventh Bishop of Indianapolis on March 24, 1934. In 1938, he ordered an end to racial segregation in all Catholic schools in the diocese. His decision, made 16 years before Brown v. Board of Education, was met with opposition by the Ku Klux Klan, whose members protested outside of SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral, and even by his fellow members of the clergy. Also during his tenure, Ritter reorganized the diocesan Catholic Charities, introduced the Catholic Youth Organization, and completed the construction of SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral. He reduced the diocese’s debt by $3 million.

The Diocese of Indianapolis was elevated to the status of an archdiocese by Pope Pius XII on October 21, 1944, and Ritter was installed as its first Archbishop on December 19, 1944.

A local area Catholic high school, Cardinal Ritter High School is named in his honor.

St. Louis

Ritter was appointed the fourth Archbishop of St. Louis, Missouri, by Pius XII on July 20, 1946, succeeding the late Cardinal John J. Glennon. In 1947, as one of his first acts as archbishop, Ritter announced an end to racial segregation in all Catholic schools before the fall term. He declared, "The cross on top of our schools must mean something," and expressed his belief in "the equality of every soul before Almighty God." In response, a group of over 700 white Catholics threatened to sue Ritter on the basis that his directive was contrary to state law. Ritter then issued a pastoral letter in which he warned that any Catholic who brought him to court would incur excommunication; the group subsequently decided to take no action against him. He also desegregated all Catholic hospitals in the archdiocese.