George Hobart Doane was born in Boston, Mass on Sept. 5, 1830; and died in Newark, N.J on Jan. 20, 1905. He graduated in 1852 from Jefferson Medical College, Philadelphia, Pa.. but found himself unsuited to the medical profession. He decided to enter the ministry and was ordained a deacon in the Protestant Episcopal Church New Jersey of which his father, George Washington Doane, was bishop. He was appointed to Grace Episcopal Church in Newark.
In 1855, after studying the faith, he became a Catholic and was ordained for the Diocese of Newark by Bishop James Roosevelt Bayley (St. Elizabeth Ann Seton’s nephew) on Sept. 13, 1857. Under Bayley he became pastor of the Newark cathedral ( which is now St. Patrick’s Pro Cathedral), secretary to the bishop, and chancellor of the diocese. He was the second man to enlist in NJ and served as as chaplain in the 1st New Jersey Brigade during the Civil War. Afterward (1868–69) he was instrumental in collecting funds to save the North American College in Rome raising in excess of $100,000.00.
Under Bishop Michael Corrigan, Doane became a domestic prelate and vicar-general of the diocese, first president (1875) of the Catholic Young Men’s National Union, In 1880 Father Doane became Monsignor Doane. From October 1880 to October 1881 he was acting Bishop of Newark. Misunderstandings arose between Doane and Corrigan’s successor, Bishop Winand Wigger, over the administration of the diocese and the rights of the pastor of the cathedral; but these were settled, and Doane was named prothonotary apostolic in 1890 by Pope Leo. This gave Monsignor Doane the privilege of celebrating Pontifical Mass four times a year, wearing miter, cross, and ring. In 1884, Doane had attended the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore as an expert advisor to the bishops. After attending the council, he was named to the diocesan posts of consultor, dean, and member of the cathedral committee.
Monsignor Doane was also acclaimed for his devotion to the city of Newark. Contemporary sources noted: ” Monsignor Doane was a good man who worked early and late for fifty years to make Newark a pleasanter and cleaner city to live in. Monsignor Doane spread the gospel of civic uplift wherever he went, and was a great champion of Newark”. If you have ever admired the statue group above the door of the Newark Public Library, you have Monsignor Doane to thank, since Doane procured the funds for Newark Catholic school graduate John Flanagan’s work. Doane was also instrumental creation of the Essex County Park System , helped choose the site of Sacred Heart Cathedral was involved in its early planning, a leader in the movement for a new, City Hall, a new Post Office, the Free Public Library and even a well-lighted and equipped police station in the Second Police Precinct.
A friend of labor, he was largely instrumental in getting the early closing of stores for clerks and salesman, and all working people in Newark owed him a debt of gratitude for his effective work for the enactment of the Saturday Half-Holiday law. In addition, he got hundreds of men employment with the Pennsylvania and other railroads. He also was instrumental in securing jobs for hundreds of young men and women in department stores, insurance companies and factories.
For Monsignor Doane the poor were a continuing concern. The parish, of St. Patrick’s, followed Irish tradition and collected the “orphan’s shilling” on a regular basis. Special collections brought about $3,000 per year to the St. Vincent de Paul Society. The Christmas Midnight Mass was very popular and the pro-cathedral required an offering of $.25 per person. The proceeds, usually over $300, went to the poor as well. The $300 income tells us that more than 1,200 parishioners jammed the church for Midnight Mass. This income is quite extraordinary for the time. The financial “Panic of 1873” had set off a long economic depression. It was so bad that Bishop Corrigan commented that “in consequence of the hard times many of our churches have been robbed of their sacred vessels.” The resources of the parish were strained by the increasing needs of people out of work. Yet the generosity of the parishioners did not weaken.
The 1890’s , hardship returned to Newark , as it once again found itself in the midst an economic downturn from 1893 through 1897. “Times are so bad,” Doane wrote to the bishop, “that many people simply cannot give.” He asked to be excused from the “Peter’s Pence” collection for the pope because it was doomed to failure. Things had been so poor, he added, that for the first time he was not able to pay the sisters the money that was due to them. The parish did its best, the St. Vincent de Paul Society whose primary mission was to provide material help to the poor, was as usual, in the forefront of relief efforts. A turn of the century historian recounts that Monsignor Doane “was the principal motor and the most gratified witness of the origin and progress of the majority of Newark’s Catholic institutions. Churches, hospitals(St. Michael’s among them), schools, orphanages and academies sprang up under his watchful care.”
Monsignor Doane died on January 20th, 1905, at age 75. He was in conversation with several young priests when he suddenly collapsed. At the funeral a friend recalled that Doane had had a vision of Heaven two weeks before he died. When Monsignor Doane died in 1905 a Jewish citizen of Newark wrote “Kind, noble, and possessed of the highest public spirit and patriotism, he enters to his reward. He will live on in our memories and hearts. His charities and efforts were spent alike on every denomination. Jew and Gentile join in revering his memory and paying just tribute to his worth”.
A fundraising effort for a Doane Memorial commenced almost immediately after Doane’s death. In 1908 the statue was unveiled by Doane Gardner a grand-nephew of the Monsignor. The sculptor was Willian Clark Noble (1858-1938). Noble depicted Doane as he was about to begin a sermon.