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John Gilmary Shea (July 22, 1824 – February 22, 1892) was a writer, editor, and historian of both American history in general and American Catholic history specifically. He was also a noted authority on native Americans in the United States.
Shea was born in New York City to James Shea, an Irish immigrant and school principal, and Mary Ann (Flannigan) Shea. His early studies were at the grammar school of Columbia College, where his father was principal. At an early, age he became a clerk in a Spanish merchant's office, where he learned to read and write Spanish fluently. He studied law, and was admitted to the bar in 1846. From 1847 until 1852, he was a member of the Society of Jesus. This was when he added his middle name of Gilmary. He studied at St. John's College (now Fordham University), where he received the degree of LL.D. In 1854, he married Sophie Savage.
He turned his attention to literature, and was connected in an editorial capacity with Frank Leslie's publishing house and later edited the Catholic News. But for many years his attention was given to historical research in preparation of his History of the Catholic Church in the United States, the fourth volume of which was in process of publication at the time of his death in Elizabeth, New Jersey. A major research interest was French colonization and Jesuit missions in America. He edited the Historical Magazine from 1859 until 1865. In 1889, he became an editor of the Catholic News which supported him until his death.
He was connected with many historical societies in America and Europe and was the first president of the Catholic Historical Society of the United States. He was the first person to be awarded the Laetare Medal by the University of Notre Dame in 1883. Georgetown University conferred on him the degree of LL.D. in recognition of his work as a Catholic historian. The John Gilmary Shea Papers, a collection of correspondence, manuscripts, and research materials, are preserved in the Georgetown University Library (Special Collections Division).
He published a series of grammars and dictionaries of the Indian languages (15 vols., 1860–74). He also published Bibliography of American Catholic Bibles and Testaments (1859), corrected several of the very erroneous Catholic Bibles, and revised by the Vulgate Challoner's original Bible of 1750 (1871), and had issued several prayer books, school histories, and Bible dictionaries.
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