LARKIN, JOHN, Roman Catholic priest, Sulpician, and educator; b. 2 Feb. 1801 in Ravensworth, England, second son of John Larkin, an innkeeper, and Elizabeth Jones; d. 11 Dec. 1858 in New York City.
John Larkin came from a family of Irish origin; he grew up at Newcastle upon Tyne and seems to have been taught first by a Protestant minister at Whickham. In 1808 he and his elder brother Charles Fox, who became a doctor and a champion of the Roman Catholics in England, entered St Cuthbert’s College at Ushaw. The college had been started that year by teachers from the English college at Douai, France, who had been driven out by the French revolution. John had as his master John Lingard, a well-known English historian of the early 19th century, and one of his fellow students was Nicholas Patrick Stephen Wiseman, later the archbishop of Westminster and a cardinal. Larkin was reasonably successful, and in 1815 finished sixth in a class of 14. He believed he was called to the priesthood, but the college authorities dissuaded him, judging that he did not have the vocation.
On leaving the college, Larkin joined the navy; he went to sea several times and in particular visited India in 1816. When he came back he turned to business, and for a few years found work with firms at Newcastle upon Tyne and in London. In 1819 he met Mgr Edward Beda Slater, who had just been appointed vicar apostolic of Mauritius. Impressed by Larkin’s manifest interest in the religious life, Slater made him his secretary and took him to the island. During his stay on Mauritius Larkin’s call to the priesthood became clear, and in 1823 he decided to return to Europe. That year he entered the Séminaire de Saint-Sulpice in Paris, where he took the philosophy program and began his theology. He studied along with Henri Lacordaire, who was to become a Dominican and preacher at Notre-Dame in Paris. On 12 June 1824 he received the tonsure in Paris. Shortly afterwards he apparently informed the vice-president of the University of Baltimore, Michael Francis Wheeler, who was then visiting the seminary, of his desire to work for the Society of Saint-Sulpice in America. Late in the summer of 1825 he embarked for the United States with Wheeler, and they reached Baltimore on 9 September. Larkin finished his theological studies at St Mary’s Seminary, where he was ordained priest for the vicariate apostolic of Durham, England, on 26 Aug. 1827. He had begun teaching in the seminary, but he was not to stay long at Baltimore.
The Petit Séminaire de Montréal, the only French-speaking establishment for secondary education in Lower Canada founded and run by the Sulpicians, had 4 priests, 5 or 6 regents, and 130 to 150 pupils, two-thirds of whom were boarders and 30 per cent English speaking. In 1827 the death of one of its teachers, Simon Boussin, left a void in the institution. Moreover, the seminary urgently needed an English-speaking priest. Candide-Michel Le Saulnier*, who was directing it in the absence of Jean-Henry-Auguste Roux*, therefore asked the director of St Mary’s Seminary, Jean-Marie Tessier, to send Larkin to fill the vacant position. Tessier reluctantly agreed, and Larkin left Baltimore on 20 Nov. 1827, reaching Montreal nine days later. At the beginning of December he was appointed curate of the parish of Notre-Dame in Montreal, and in this capacity helped Sulpician Jackson John Richard* to minister to the English-speaking Catholics who met in the chapel of Notre-Dame-de-Bonsecours. He also became a teacher at the Petit Séminaire, a post he retained until 1840. From the start, Larkin enjoyed notable success as an instructor and as a preacher.
Under the guidance of the director of the Pétit Séminaire, Joseph-Vincent Quiblier, Larkin taught philosophy and classical studies. He exerted a strong influence on his pupils, and although at this period the Petit Séminaire was torn by internal quarrels, he adapted so well to teaching that in 1830 Quiblier considered naming him as his successor. In 1832 Alexander McDonell*, the bishop of Kingston, asked for Larkin as his coadjutor, but Larkin refused outright, saying that he wished to live as an ordinary priest and teacher in a community where he could find fulfilment. In the ensuing period Larkin continued to teach, and in 1837 he published at Montreal a Greek grammar for the use of the college.
During his years as a student in Paris Larkin had been deeply affected by the ultramontane doctrines of Hugues-Félicité-Robert de La Mennais. The Canadian Sulpicians, who were traditionalist and opposed to the ideas of liberty spread by the French revolution, clung to the gallicanism prevalent under the ancien régime. In this matter they opposed Bishop Jean-Jacques Lartigue*, the auxiliary to the bishop of Quebec in the district of Montreal, and the teachers at the Séminaire de Saint-Hyacinthe. Because of Larkin’s sympathies, Quiblier got the bishop of Quebec and the superior of the Séminaire de Saint-Sulpice in Paris, Antoine Garnier, to put pressure on him, and the advice of these men as well as the condemnations of La Mennais by Pope Gregory XVI in 1832 and 1834 proved stronger than Larkin’s liberal tendencies. In the late 1830s the teachers of the Petit Séminaire were not of one mind, and the lack of authority of their director, Joseph-Alexandre Baile*, may not have been conducive to maintaining harmonious relations among the priests in the seminary. At that time Larkin had some differences of opinion with his confrères. In 1837 the Sulpicians in Baltimore asked the Canadian Sulpicians to allow him to return to work at St Mary’s Seminary, but nothing came of the request.
In the summer of 1839 the bishop of Montreal’s coadjutor, Ignace Bourget*, invited Jean-Pierre Chazelle*, the Jesuit rector of St Mary’s College near Bardstown, Ky, to preach a retreat for his priests. From then on Larkin felt drawn towards the Society of Jesus, and confided his feelings to his superiors in Montreal and Paris. He gave up his membership in the community of the Séminaire de Saint-Sulpice in Montreal on 23 July 1840, and on 23 October he entered the noviciate of the Jesuits in Louisville, Ky. Subsequently he taught at St Mary’s College, gave lectures, and preached in the Bardstown region. He even began to build a new college in 1845.
In the summer of that year all the Jesuits established in Kentucky moved to New York City to take over St John’s College. This small institution, which was to become Fordham University, had 100 to 150 students. The following year, at the request of his superiors, Larkin opened a centre for teaching and spreading the faith in the heart of New York. For this purpose he converted a former Protestant church to accommodate more than 100 pupils. The centre opened in July 1847, but in January 1848 it was completely destroyed by fire. Refusing to be discouraged, Larkin found another house in the Bowery district where he could recommence the endeavour.
In February 1849 Larkin learned that the Canadian bishops had proposed to Rome that he be nominated bishop of Toronto. The bulls had been signed by Pius IX and all the authorities in Rome insisted that he should accept. In November Larkin went to France to ask the superior general to intervene with the pope and have his appointment cancelled. In the end Armand-François-Marie de Charbonnel* was appointed and Larkin concluded his training as a Jesuit by studying at the Laval theological college in France. On his return to the United States, he performed the duties of rector of St John’s College from 1851 to 1854. A degree of permissiveness had slipped into this institution; Larkin corrected the abuses with a firm hand, and proved a remarkable educator. When a Jesuit exchange was arranged in 1854 Larkin went to England and Ireland for two years as a visitor, and devoted his activity to preaching. He also took the opportunity to see his family and friends once more.
John Larkin returned to New York in October 1856, and worked the following year as curate in the parish of St Francis Xavier. There, on 11 Dec. 1858, after a day spent in the confessional, he was stricken suddenly with apoplexy and died. Larkin’s death in harness was fitting for a man who had led an active life wherever his apostolic zeal had taken him.
John Larkin prepared a work for students beginning the study of the Greek language which contained selected pieces on mythology, and he also wrote Grammaire grecque à l’usage du collège de Montréal (Montréal, 1837).
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