Styles of
Joseph Ritter
CardinalCoA PioM
Reference style His Eminence
Spoken style Your Eminence
Informal style Cardinal
See Saint Louis

Joseph Elmer Ritter (July 20, 1892—June 10, 1967), was an American Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church. He served as Archbishop of Saint Louis from 1946 until his death, and was elevated to the cardinalate in 1961.


Joseph Ritter was born in New Albany, Indiana, to Nicholas and Bertha (née Luette) Ritter. Entering St. Meinrad's Seminary in 1907, he once said, "There was no vision, no voice from Heaven. I simply wanted to be a priest."[1] He was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Joseph Chartrand on May 30, 1917. He then did pastoral work in Indianapolis until 1933, also serving as rector of the unfinished Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul.

On February 3, 1933, Ritter was appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Indianapolis and Titular Bishop of Hippos. He received his episcopal consecration on the following March 28 from Bishop Chartrand, with Bishops Alphonse Smith and Emmanuel Ledvina serving as co-consecrators. Ritter succeeded Chartrand as Bishop of Indianapolis on March 24, 1934. In Indianapolis, he reorganized the local Catholic Charities organization, introduced the Catholic Youth Organization, and completed the construction of the cathedral. In Indianapolis during the 1930s, Ritter directed the racial integration of a parish school despite a revolt by white parishioners.[2] On November 11, 1944, he became an Metropolitan Archbishop when Indianapolis was elevated to the rank of an archdiocese.

Pope Pius XII named Ritter as the fourth Archbishop of Saint Louis, replacing the late John Cardinal Glennon, on July 20, 1946. Although he did not possess Glennon's flair for oratory, Ritter was very good at administration and addressed some issues his predecessor had not. Key among these was Racial integration.[3] In 1947, he announced that all segregation in Saint Louis' parochial schools would end before the beginning of the fall term that year[4]. Some Catholics were considering bringing charges against Ritter, on the basis that state segregation laws would apply also to parochial schools, but when Ritter pointed out to them that Church law clearly stated that anyone who brought charges against a bishop in a secular court was automatically excommunicated, the threat of lawsuits disappeared[5]. Also during his tenure as Saint Louis' archbishop, he forbade Catholics to see The French Line under pain of Mortal sin[6], and declared that Catholics must have written permission from the archdiocese to attend secular or non-Catholic colleges[7].

He also was one of the first bishops to create a diocesan mission, specifically in La Paz, Bolivia. Until that time, most missions had been conducted by religious orders. The people of Saint Louis regularly contributed more money to these foreign missions than any archdiocese of its size.

He was created Cardinal Priest of Ss. Redentore e S. Alfonso in Via Merluana by Pope John XXIII in the consistory of January 16, 1961. From 1962 1965, Ritter actively participated in the proceedings of the Second Vatican Council, during and after which he was viewed as a liberal[8] [9]. He also protested against the Roman Curia's oppressive actions[10] and Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani's draft on the sources of Revelation at the Council[11]. On his return to Saint Louis, many Catholics expected him to make several changes to the existing administrative structure to give priests and laity a greater role in Church governance, as recommended by the Council. However, before he could implement such reforms, Ritter died from a heart attack[12] at age 74, ten days short of his next birthday.

A one-hour documentary of Ritter's life was filmed.[13]



  1. "Cardinal Joseph Elmer Ritter". Cardinal Ritter Birthplace Foundation. 
  2. Donald J. Kemper, "Catholic Integration in St. Louis, 1935-1947," Missouri Historical Review, Oct. 1978, pp. 1-13.
  3. Donald J. Kemper, "Catholic Integration in St. Louis, 1935-1947," Missouri Historical Review, Oct. 1978, pp. 1-13.
  4. TIME Magazine. Caution! September 29, 1947
  5. TIME Magazine. Four New Hats December 26, 1960
  6. TIME Magazine. The Censors January 11, 1954
  7. TIME Magazine. The Letter June 20, 1960
  8. TIME Magazine. Cum Magno Dolore October 23, 1964
  9. TIME Magazine. The Unlikely Cardinal August 21, 1964
  10. Ibid.
  11. 11.0 11.1 TIME Magazine. The Cardinal's Setback November 23, 1962
  12. 12.0 12.1 TIME Magazine. Milestones June 16, 1967
  13. Plaque marks Cardinal Ritter's birthplace in New Albany
  14. TIME Magazine. [1] January 27, 1961
  15. TIME Magazine. Toward Easier Mixed Marriage July 17, 1964
  16. TIME Magazine. Waking Up to Race October 4, 1963
  17. TIME Magazine. Crisis at Catholic U. March 29, 1963

See also

External links

Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Joseph Chartrand
Archbishop of Indianapolis
Succeeded by
Paul Clarence Schulte
Preceded by
John J. Glennon
Archbishop of Saint Louis
Succeeded by
John Carberry
no:Joseph Elmer Ritter

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