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HARTNETT, JEFFREY ALOYSIUS

HARTNETT, JEFFREY ALOYSIUS (1859–1899). Jeffrey Hartnett, first priest ordained in and for the Catholic Diocese of Dallas, son of Daniel T. and Honora Hartnett, was born in Ireland on April 20, 1859. He was less than four years old when he came with his parents, brothers, and sisters to America. Apparently in heavy debt, the family lived for a while "in the North," moved south and west as Jeffrey's father became a levee and railroad contractor, and arrived in Texas about 1870. They stayed for a short time in Texarkana and Clarksville and finally settled in Weatherford. Jeffrey helped his father at work and eventually became his bookkeeper. He participated in the construction of several railroad lines in Texas-the Texas and Pacific, the Houston and Central Texas, and the St. Louis Southwestern (Cotton Belt).

Once the family was out of debt and firmly established, Hartnett felt free to pursue ecclesiastical studies. He attended St. Mary's College in Kansas and St. Mary's Seminary in Cincinnati, where he received a master of arts degree in 1891. He returned to Texas and was ordained at the procathedral in Dallas by Thomas F. Brennan, first bishop of the newly founded diocese, on July 5, 1891. He spent his first two years of ministry at Dallas and Paris, Texas. In 1893 he was sent to Ennis, where he built a church. In 1896 he was assigned to St. Patrick's parish, where he completed a large brick-and-stone church started by his predecessor. In late 1897 he was appointed rector of the procathedral in Dallas and immediately applied his building and managing skills to the construction of the present cathedral. In early 1899 a smallpox epidemic broke out in Dallas, and Hartnett took upon himself the duty of attending to the spiritual needs of the disease victims at the pesthouse six miles away.

On the night of February 11–12, 1899, an unprecedented blizzard hit Dallas. The upper Colorado, Brazos, and Trinity rivers froze solid, many cattle died in West Texas, and the Gulf region suffered a hard freeze. Answering the call of spiritual duty, Hartnett walked to the pesthouse at the peak of the blizzard to administer last rites to a dying woman. He contracted smallpox, and on March 7, 1899, he died. His death deeply affected many people in the Dallas area. Expressions of regret were sent to the newspapers by a wide variety of organizations, from the Dallas City Council to the Ancient Order of Hibernians to the Dallas Freethinkers Association. The Dallas Morning News remarked: "No death which has occurred in Dallas for many years, has occasioned more general regret than that of Rev. Father Hartnett." A true Christian folk hero, Hartnett soon became known as a "martyr to duty" and was the inspiration of poems, stories, and popular devotion.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Catholic Archives of Texas, Files, Austin. Dallas Morning News, February 12–14, 28, March 8–10, 1899. Southern Messenger, February 16, March 9, 16, 1899. Texas Catholic, July 11, 1891.

Aníbal A. González

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Aníbal A. González, "HARTNETT, JEFFREY ALOYSIUS," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fhade), accessed July 31, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.