Biden, Rev John D - Erie County

THE REV. JOHN D. BIDEN, Rector of St. Joseph's Cathedral, has spent the twenty-five years of his priesthood in the diocese of Buffalo, and has been in charge of his present pastoral field for the past decade.

He was born in Buffalo on the 30th of September, 1852, his parents being Charles and Ellen Nelligan Biden, well-known and esteemed residents of that place.

Mr. Biden, who came to Buffalo from the Eastern States in the late forties, was of English ancestry and a convert to the Catholic faith, having been received into the Church about a year before his marriage. He was baptized in old St. Patrick's Church by Father Lennan. Mrs. Biden was a native of County Cork, Ireland.

To his mother's legacy of that ardent faith and lofty spirituality, which seem to be a Celtic birthright, and to the sturdy, practical qualities handed down to him by his Anglo-Saxon forebears, students of heredity who have marked Father Biden's career, will attribute, no doubt, a large measure of the success attending his various undertakings.

His hands have always been set to difficult tasks, tasks which tested to the utmost the reality of his priestly vocation and his exceptional administrative ability, and in their outcome invariably and fully justified his superiors' frequent choice of him to command in important and trying situations.

His father died when the future priest was but seven years old, and Mrs. Biden went with her children to kinsfolk in Ellicottville. There, in the "little red schoolhouse" - of a type that has fostered the youthful genius of so many of our greatest and best citizens - and subsequently in the village High School, Father Biden received his early education.

At the age of sixteen he went to Oil City, worked for a year in a bank in that town, and then returned to Buffalo, where he entered as bookkeeper the grape sugar manufacturing establishment of the late Mr. Jebb. In these positions he acquired the knowledge of business which has proved so valuable to him in later life. He remained with Mr. Jebb until 1874, when his long-cherished project of going to college was carried out and he matriculated at Niagara University. After a brilliant course in the University, where he took his Bachelor and Master of Arts degrees and completed his theological studies. Father Biden was ordained on June 3, 1882, by the late Bishop Ryan.

It may be told just here that, like many another distinguished member of the priesthood, leather Biden was for a time strongly attracted to the scarcely less holy calling of the physician. He studied medicine for a year and then decided that his mission was to minister rather to the souls than to the bodies of his fellow-men.

At the request of the pastor his first mass was said in St. Brigid's Church in Buffalo.

Appointed successively to the parishes of Limestone, Ellicottville, Andover, and Albion, the first fifteen years of Father Biden's priesthood may be described as an initiatory period wherein while laboring with zeal and efficiency for the upbuilding of the churches at different times under his charge, he developed the insight, the knowledge of men and conditions, and the breadth of view in matters spiritual and temporal which qualified him for a large sphere of effort. In every field where he was stationed he won the love and veneration of his people as a spiritual guide and their confidence as a man of sound practical judgment. In Albion, where he was pastor before coming to Buffalo, Father Biden directed the building of one of the finest churches in the diocese. In 1897 Bishop Quigley appointed him to the rectorship of St. Joseph's Cathedral. The growth of Buffalo and consequent encroachment of business houses in the neighborhood of the church; the death of many old parishioners and removal of others to distant parts of the city had made notable changes in the parish, and Father Biden found a dwindling congregation, diminished revenues, a church sadly in need of repairs, and a debt of $75,000 to be reckoned with when he assumed his present charge. He entered upon his work however, with characteristic clear-sightedness and vigor, and soon persuaded his people that his leadership and their co-operation would restore eventually the failing fortunes of the parish. Having proved the value of associations, he at once founded St. Anthony's Union, and, for seven years, preached every Tuesday evening at the devotions in honor of the Wonderworker of Padua, his eloquent, practical sermons attracting hearers from all parts of the city. The League of the Sacred Heart, the Third Order of St. Francis, the Holy Name Society, were in turn organized, and already existing societies stirred to new life. To Father Biden is due also the establishment of the yearly mission, which has been productive of so much good in the congregation.

By a sound and ably sustained financial policy he has reduced the debt of St. Joseph's to a minimum, and this notwithstanding the fact that heavy expenses have been incurred by a multitude of improvements, including the practical remodeling of the interior of the cathedral. The cleaning and redecoration of the edifice, began in 1900 and finished during Pan-American year, replaced its old-time greyness by color and ornamental details, which give an impression of warmth and cheerfulness. Electric lighting, new pews, tiled flooring, and stained glass windows add still further to the brilliant effect, while the beauty of the Chapel of the Blessed Virgin has been enhanced by a fine new altar and a remarkably lovely statue of Our Lady. A new altar and statue of the Sacred Heart and a marble vestibule are later additions to the completeness of architect and decorator's work. Many improvements have been made in other portions of the church property, particularly in the old parochial school building, now known as St. Joseph's Lyceum, used by the Cathedral Club and for various entertainments designed to promote a healthy social spirit among the members of the parish. To this movement Father Biden has given earnest attention, as he has also throughout his pastorate encouraged the performance of the best music, of a purely ecclesiastical character, and strict observance of all liturgical requirements.

Honors in plenty, as well as responsibilities, have come to the lector of the Cathedral. While still very young in the ministry he was offered promotion usually reserved for the older and tried clergy of the diocese; but he asked to be left at his humbler post. A year or two ago his university conferred upon him the degree of Doctor of Laws causa honores and most notable distinction of all- when Bishop Quigley's elevation to the Archbishopric of Chicago left the See of Buffalo vacant, Father Biden was the preferred choice of his brother priests for the succession, his name going to Rome as "Dignissimus."

On June 3, 1907, Father Biden celebrated, in St. Joseph's Cathedral, the 25th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood. The Eight Rev. Charles H. Colton, D.D., Bishop of Buffalo; Vicar-General Nelson H. Baker, and more than a hundred priests, including representatives of several religious orders, participated in the Jubilee. Solemn High Mass was sung by the jubilarian, and the sermon was delivered by the Rev. Luke Grace of Niagara University, who twenty-five years before had preached at Father Biden's first mass.

The occasion was a memorable one and furnished many evidences of the love and esteem in which the Rector of St. Joseph's is held by his brethren in the priesthood and by the different congregations to which he has ministered so long and faithfully.

SOURCE: Memorial and Family History of Erie County New York; Volume I