Life of John P. Hopkins by Illinois Catholic Historical Society
John P. Hopkins, son of John and Mary Flynn Hopkins, was born at Buffalo, New York, on the 29th of October, 1858. His parents hailed from County Mayo, Ireland, and came to the city of his birth in the year 1847. He was the seventh of twelve children and was sent to the Sisters' School, the Public School, and for a few months to St. Joseph's Institute, conducted by the Christian Brothers.
With a fine mind but a meager education, he left school and was apprenticed to the machinist trade, in which he became quite proficient. Concerning this period, Father Cavanagh in his funeral sermon said: "Providence which had given him a vigorous, eager mind, surrounded him with conditions most suitable for its development. The energy which marked his whole career drove his restless spirit through a process of self-education during his young years in Buffalo. By intense application his vigorous mind learned to grapple triumphantly with difficult problems and he rose rapidly through humble employments until he came to Chicago in 1879 on the threshold of young manhood."
He was first engaged by the Pullman Car Company as a general utility man on their lumber docks, but he showed such initiative that he soon rose to the position of timekeeper and from that to paymaster. It is an interesting light upon his character that during his first weeks in Pullman he complained about the labor conditions of the men and organized a strike. His natural leadership asserted itself in manageing the athletic sports of the men and he was soon so well known that he naturally drifted into local politics, becoming in due time the treasurer of Hyde Park, of which Pullman was then a part.
In 1885 he engaged in the shoe business in what was known as the "Arcade" in Pullman, and this business was extended into other lines and became well known as the Hopkins-Seacord Company, and it was in this enterprise that he laid the foundation of his fortune. While in Pullman, Mr. Hopkins was chiefly instrumental in the annexation of Hyde Park to Chicago, and later he was made Chairman of the General Annexation Committee which brought into Chicago practically all the neighboring towns north, south and west of the city. He first attracted wide public attention in the political campaign of 1892 as head of the Cook County Democratic Organization. He worked with might and main in the interest of Grover Cleveland for President, and John P. Altgeld for Governor, and these two men showed their appreciation by a life-long intimate friendship.
In his address at the Hopkins' Memorial Exercises, Mr. John B. McGillen, a life long friend and intimate of Mr. Hopkins said:
"It may be of interest to know what some of long knew, that Grover Cleveland enjoyed to the day of his death an intimate delightful acquaintance with John P. Hopkins. It was a friendship of Mr. Cleveland's seeking. A respectable volume could be made of the letters from the distinguished occupant of the White House received by his friend John P. Hopkins in those by-gone days. It is one of the cherished memories of the speaker to have had the privilege of running over a number of those letters with Mr. Hopkins and enjoying the intimate confidences therein disclosed, existing between the two men. Grover Cleveland while president and always afterward was particularly interested in Chicago. He knew many things in detail in a surprising way about it and continued that interest always, because of his friendship and correspondence with our departed friend."
On the assassination of Carter Harrison, the Mayor of Chicago in 1893, Mr. Hopkins was made the candidate of his party and elected to serve the unexpired term. At the meeting which nominated him, it was suggested that he withdraw because of his race and religion. This stirred his deepest nature and he answered that he would withdraw provided the nominee would be an Irish Catholic. "If not," said he, "I will myself run for office to find out if religion or race is a barrier in free America.'' After this speech he was nominated.
During his term as Mayor, Mr. Hopkins inaugurated the elevation of the railroads within the city limits; gave the first impetus to municipal civil service, and played an important part in the adjustment of the Pullman strike. He also established compensations for the city for the grants of franchises and insisted on the right of public regulation of utility corporations. It was while Mayor that the penetrating mind of Mr. Hopkins and his determination to get action when he thought action necessary showed themselves. A striking instance of this was when the Lake Shore Railroad refused to elevate their tracks, informing him that he could do nothing in the matter. Mr. Hopkins was determined there must be some way if it only could be found. He carefully examined their franchises and found that they were allowed to lay but two main tracks across the streets of the city. He at once ordered the city laborers to tear up the four extra tracks and the next day the Lake Shore officials were at his office to discuss ways and means of elevation.
Though Mr. Hopkins held few political offices, he was always a leader in his party and his influence was even nation-wide, due to the fact that he did not seek office for himself. Business, however, and big business, was the breath of his nostrils and almost any substantial enterprise could interest him, for here his energy and judgment came into their own. Before he died Mr. Hopkins was a multi-millionaire, the director of many large organizations and reputed one of Chicago's foremost financiers.
Mr. Hopkins was primarily a prominent Catholic citizen, that is, he was a practical Catholic and a conscientious citizen. Every Catholic and worthy civic movement could count on his support. He was a director of the Associated Catholic Charities; he was a founder of the American-Irish Historical Society, and promised not only his own support but that of his friends for the Illinois Catholic Historical Society. Though a member of numerous clubs, he was devoted to his family, especially to his mother, with whom he kept in daily contact no matter where he was.
Called again to the public service by the clarion of war, he became Secretary of the State Council of Defense by appointment of Governor Lowden and continued in this office until his death. It is the opinion of those associated with him that the physical strain connected with the war work exposed him to the attack of influenza which led to heart complications, from which he died on the 13th day of October, 1918. It has been said of him, "He is as truly a martyr of America as any brave boy who went over the top at Chateau Thierry or St. Mihiel." On the 16th of October his parish Church, St. James, was crowded to its capacity by his host of friends to pay their last respects. The sanctuary was filled with prelates and priests, and among the honorary pall bearers present were the Governor and state officials, members of the Council of Defense, the Mayor and many of his cabinet. The service was notable; the solemn Requiem Mass was celebrated by Rt. Rev. Msgr. Edward A. Kelly, a life-long friend, assisted by Rev. James F. Callaghan and Rev. Patrick W. Dunne, his pastor. His Grace, Most Rev. Archbishop George W. Mundelein, occupied the throne and gave the last absolution. The funeral oration, as masterly as it was consoling, was given by Very Rev. John Cavanagh, President of Notre Dame University.
In the funeral procession were a thousand policemen and firemen, a battalion of home-guards, a regiment of naval reserves, the Marine Band and hundreds of members of the Democratic Organization. In this solemn and impressive way his remains were started to Calvary Cemetery, where all that was mortal of John Patrick Hopkins was buried beside his revered mother. Mr. Hopkins never married, but left to mourn his loss six sisters, namely: Mrs. Michael Lydon, Mrs. James H. Bonfield, Mrs. John A. McCormick and the Misses Adelia, Kate and Julia Hopkins.
Father Cavanagh in his eulogy said that the keynote of the life of John P. Hopkins was his sincerity. "There was nothing shallow about him, either in business, or politics, or friendship, or family life, or religion. Hence he was able to win and to hold the respect of opponents as well as the ardent loyalty of friends. The same sincerity of nature made him a great friend. If another sacrament had been established one could almost wish Our Lord had established a Sacrament of Friendship. It would be an aristocratic sacrament in the sense that comparatively few would be worthy to receive it. The confidence that never yields to suspicion; the affection stronger than death; the loyalty that shrinks from no labor, no sacrifice, no cost; the subtle sympathies; the inner glimpses; the sure responses; the deep intermingling of two lives through knowledge and sympathy, through faith and affection; that is true friendship. And few men understood it better or practiced it more faithfully than did Mr. Hopkins.
"Naturally the genuineness, the sincerity, that marked him in all other walks of life manifested itself especially in his religion. The seeds of the old faith, so deeply planted and so tenderly cultivated by his noble father and mother, found in his generous, clean heart a friendly and fertile soil.
"And as he was supremely loyal to the Cross, the symbol of his faith, so was he heroically devoted to the symbol of his country. To these twin loves, the noblest that can engage the human heart, he dedicated unreservedly the service of his heart.''
Chicago and Illinois knew John P. Hopkins during the active period of his manhood. He was just entering upon his career when he came to this western region and cast in his lot with its citizens thirty years ago. How he employed these years was admirably told at a meeting held to do honor to his memory under the auspices of the American-Irish Historical Society, an organization promoted by Mr. Hopkins and of which he was the first executive, on the evening of December 27th, 1918. Mr. John B. McGillen, a life-long friend and associate, President of the Illinois Chapter of the Society, recounted the various stages of his successful career. He brought forcefully to the attention of his auditors the obligations under which Chicago and indeed all Illinois rest for benefits conferred through the instrumentality of Mr. Hopkins in both his public and private life. It was the recital of a record of which any man might be proud, and one that disclosed the large capacity of the man whose memory was being honored.
In the course of this notable memorial meeting, other speakers who called attention to the qualities of Mr. Hopkins' character were: Mr. Bernard J. Mullaney, Mr. Joseph A. O 'Donnell and the Reverend Dr. John Webster Melody. These intimate friends of Mr. Hopkins emphasized his dominant characteristics of mind and heart; his loyalty of purpose, his wisdom and prudence, and, above all, the lovableness of his personal traits. When these addresses are published they will constitute a memorial to Mr. Hopkins which may be read with pleasure by his host of friends, with profit by all who seek success in life, and with pride by all who have at heart the welfare of city and state.
Frederic Siedenburg, S. J.
The memorial exercises of the American-Irish Historical Society in honor of the memory of John P. Hopkins, held at the Sherman House, Chicago, on the evening of December 27th, 1918, were notable from many points. First of all, on account of the merit of the man memorialized; next, by reason of the sincerity manifested by the audience and finally by the dignified manner in which the exercises were conducted.
From personal knowledge and from the masterly addresses of the presiding officer, Mr. John B. McGillen, President of the Illinois Chapter of the American-Irish Historical Society, Mr. Joseph A. O'Donnell, Mr. Bernard J. Mullaney and Reverend John Webster Melody, the merits and characteristics of the distinguished deceased thus were summed up by an admirer.
John P. Hopkins possessed the somewhat rare quality of individuality. In all Chicago, in all Illinois, in perhaps all America there was but one John P. Hopkins. Few other men were at all like him and none was like him in many particulars.
He was misunderstood by many, was thoroughly understood by but a few, but a large number had an appreciative understanding of the man. He was hated by some, admired by many and loved by those who knew him well. He was a wealthy Democrat with the acumen of a Rothschild and the heart of a Vincent de Paul.
JOHN P. HOPKINS Born at Buffalo, Xcw York, October 2U, 1S38. Died at Chicago, October 13, 191S.
He was unlike most other men in his disregard for praise or blame. He clearly recognized the existence of a higher criterion of conduct than mere human respect. He was no doubt concerned that his conduct should square with the solid judgment of men, but neither sought the ephemeral plaudits of the crowd nor feared the passing criticisms of the ill-informed or ill-intentioned.
John P. Hopkins stands in this community as an example of a very rich man, without the arrogance, and selfishness that so often accompany the possession of riches. A man of wealth who could think effectively in terms of big money, but who was ever alive to every human sympathy. He differed from many other rich men in that his mind remained unwarped by his wealth.
According to our human understanding, John P. Hopkins died too soon. He was called in the vigor of his manhood; age had left no decaying mark upon him. He was at the zenith of his usefulness, and every year was adding new records of accomplishment to his life history. He wrought not ostentatiously, not even publicly, but definitely and creditably. He was not a self-advertised philanthropist, but his canceled bank vouchers representing donations to charity, religion and education, in their aggregate would put to shame publicity-seeking donors to public or private enterprises.
He was what men call a man's man, able to lead, willing to follow; qualified to govern, content to obey; able to recognize and quick to resent any attempt at imposition ;conscious of both his strength and his infirmities; strong and constant in his admiration for the good qualities of others, and justly tolerant of their short-comings; tender and true in his likes and firm but just in his dislikes.
In speaking thus of John P. Hopkins, there is neither an intention or desire to idealize the man. He was eminently practical and gratifyingly human. Indeed, he possessed in a remarkable degree, the faculty of putting others at their ease by appearing to be what in reality he was—a fellow wayfarer on life's rugged road.
By the death of John P. Hopkins, the city, the State, and the nation lost a good citizen, his family a kind and loving brother, his intimates a loyal and gracious friend and all citizens a valuable and efficient fellow worker.