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He vigorously promoted the extension of the Episcopal Church in Central and Western New York. He founded the General Theological Seminary in New York City and Geneva College, later renamed after him, in Geneva, in the Finger Lakes area of upstate New York.
He was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, being fifth in direct descent from Edmund Hobart, a founder of Hingham, Massachusetts. He was educated at the Philadelphia Latin School, the College of Philadelphia (now the University of Pennsylvania), and Princeton, where he graduated in 1793.
After studying theology under Bishop William White at Philadelphia, he was ordained deacon in 1798, and priest two years later. Hobart was called as assistant minister to Trinity Church, New York, in 1803 . He was elected assistant bishop of New York, with the right of succession, in 1811, and was acting diocesan from that date because of the ill-health of Bishop Benjamin Moore, whom he formally succeeded on the latter's death in February 1816.
He was one of the founders of the General Theological Seminary, became its professor of Pastoral Theology in 1821, and as bishop was,its governor. In his zeal for the historic episcopacy he published An Apology for Apostolic Order and its Advocates in 1807, a series of letters to Rev. John M. Mason, who, in The Christians Magazine, of which he was editor, had attacked the Episcopacy in general and in particular Hobarts Collection of Essays on the Subject of Episcopacy (1806).
Hobart's zeal for the General Seminary and the General Convention led him to oppose the plan of Philander Chase, Bishop of Ohio, for an Episcopal seminary in that diocese; but the Ohio seminary was made directly responsible to the House of Bishops, and Hobart approved the plan. His strong opposition to dissenting churches was nowhere so clearly shown as in a pamphlet published in 1816 to dissuade all Episcopalians from joining the American Bible Society, which he thought the Protestant Episcopal Church had not the numerical or the financial strength to control.
In 1818, to counterbalance the influence of the Bible Society and especially of Scott's Commentaries, he began to edit with selected notes the Family Bible of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. He delivered episcopal charges to the clergy of Connecticut and New York entitled The Churchman (1819) and The High Churchman Vindicated (1826), in which he accepted the name high churchman, and stated and explained his principles in distinction from the corruptions of the Church of Rome and from the Errors of Certain Protestant Sects. He exerted himself greatly in building up his diocese, attempting to make an annual visit to every parish.
By 1818, he had also become convinced that an institution of higher education was needed in the western reaches of the state of New York. Though he had visited many areas as a bishop, he selected the small village of Geneva on Seneca Lake for his new outpost of learning. The site for the new Geneva College was selected in 1820, and the first building erected in 1822. Geneva College became Hobart Free College, later renamed Hobart College in 1852 in honor of its founder, and which became Hobart and William Smith Colleges. His failing health led him to visit Europe from 1823-1825. Upon his return he preached a characteristic sermon entitled The United States of America compared with some European Countries, particularly England (published 1826), In which, although there was some praise for the English church, he so boldly criticized the establishment, state patronage, cabinet appointment of bishops, low discipline, and the low requirements of theological education, as to rouse much hostility in England, where he had been highly praised for two volumes of Sermons on the Principal Events and Truths of Redemption (1824). He died at Auburn, New York, on September 12, 1830. Bishop Hobart is remembered in the calendar of The Episcopal Church on the anniversary of his death .
Bishop Hobart has been considered by some historians an example of the American proto-Oxford Movement. That is, beginning with Hobart and extending throughout the denomination by way of the General Theological Seminary which he helped found, there was a renewed emphasis on Catholic essentials which predated the Oxford Movement by more than a decade. Bishop Hobart "preached Apostolic Succession, the sacramental life, prayers for the dead, and daily offices."
- The Most Reverend William White, 1st and 4th Presiding Bishop, 1st Bishop of Pennsylvania
- The Most Reverend Samuel Provoost, 3rd Presiding Bishop, 1st Bishop of New York
- The Right Reverend Abraham Jarvis, 2nd Bishop of Connecticut
- A Clergyman's Companion (1805)
- A Companion for the Altar (1804)
- A Companion to the Book of Common Prayer (1805)
- Festivals and Fasts (1804)
- Memorial of Bishop Hobart, containing a Memoir (New York, 1831)
- John McVickar, The Early Life and Professional Years of Bishop Hobart (New York, 1834)
- John McVicar, The Closing Years of Bishop Hobart (New York, 1836).
- Material by and about John Henry Hobart online from Project Canterbury
|3rd Bishop of New York|
1816 – 1830
| Succeeded by|
Benjamin T. Onderdonk
- The Episcopal Church Annual. Morehouse Publishing: New York, NY (2005).