James Peter Davis was born in Houghton, Michigan, on June 9, 1904. His parents were Elizabeth Didier and John F. Davis, a telegraph operator. He spent most of his childhood in Flagstaff, Arizona, where his family developed a friendship with three San José nuns, who accepted him as a student in their school in Prescott, Arizona. Later, he enrolled at the St. Patrick Seminary in California, where he was an outstanding athlete, verger and nurse. After twelve years of preparation, on May 19, 1929, he was ordained a priest at the St. Augustine Cathedral in Arizona.
Father Davis initially worked as an aide at the St. Augustine Cathedral in Arizona. In 1932, he was the first resident priest at the Nuestra Señora del Monte Carmelo Parish. He was also named chaplain of the Newman Club at Arizona State College. In 1934, while he was working with the Mexican community in the town of Douglas, Arizona, he was named priest of the town.
On July 7, 1943, the Catholic Church named Father Davis the Bishop of San Juan Puerto Rico, replacing Bishop Edwin V. Burne. He was just 39 years old when he was ordained a bishop on October 6, 1943, in Tucson, Arizona. A month later, he moved to Puerto Rico along with three priests. He was officially installed as Bishop of San Juan in the San Juan Bautista Cathedral on November 25, 1943.
One of his main jobs consisted of increasing the number of religious orders established on the island, as well as getting more Puerto Ricans ordained as priests and as members of religious orders. To promote Catholic doctrine, he also supported various religious groups such as the Christianity Courses Movement and the Daughters of María.
In 1948, Bishop James Davis ordered that the San Ildefonso Council Seminary be moved from Old San Juan to the town of Aibonito and he assigned the Jesuit brothers as directors of the school and the retirement home. Various vocational and agricultural schools for children were founded under his direction and were run by various Catholic religious orders.
This concern for education led him to begin working along with the Bishop of the Ponce diocesediocese: Territory under the jurisdiction or administration of a bishop., Monsignor James E. McManus, to create a Catholic university. In the spring of 1948, the bishops announced the founding of the school, which at first was called Santa María. It would be affiliated with the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. During its first year, the students met in rooms provided by the Capuchin brothers and the nuns of the San Conrado School in Ponce. In 1949, the campus that would become the Catholic Pontifical University of Puerto Rico was inaugurated.
In 1958, John XXIII became Pope. It was under his papacy that the Diocese of San Juan, Puerto Rico, was elevated to the Archdiocese of San Juan, which made Puerto Rico an Ecclesiastical Province, or a group of several neighboring diocese presided over by a metropolitan archbishop. On April 30, 1960, Monsignor James P. Davis became the first Archbishop of Puerto Rico.
During his time as bishop and archbishop, Davis was a fervent opponent of birth control, which was made possible on the island by a law implemented in 1937. Because of that issue, and the legislature’s refusal to authorize free time for Catholic children in the public schools to go to catechism, the Christian Action Party was formed in 1960 by the Society of the Holy Name of Jesus and other lay organizations, with the support of Archbishop Davis and Bishops McManus and Luis Aponte Martínez.
On October 23 of that year, a Pastoral Letter was read at mass by the religious leaders, exhorting the faithful to support the Christian Action Party. Further, they prohibited voting for the Popular Democratic Party (PDP) and called the party and its leader, Governor Luis Muñoz Marín, "anti-Christian" and "anti-Catholic." These accusations were related in part to the introduction of birth control services in the public hospitals under the PDP’s incumbency.
Both the PDP and the press responded to the attacks by the Catholic leaders with indignation. In the elections of 1960, the Christian Action Party won 52,000 votes and the PDP more than 457,000. Four years later, the two bishops from the United States were replaced by Puerto Ricans. On November 4, 1964, Luis Aponte Martínez became archbishop.
The church assigned Monsignor James P. Davis as archbishop of Santa Fe, Arizona, a community he led until 1974, the year he retired. He died on March 4, 1988, in Phoenix, Arizona.
Adapted by the PROE Editorial Group
Original Source: Sister Miriam Therese O’Brien, "From Tumbleweed to Royal Palms: Archbishop James P. Davis", Revista Horizontes, Vol. 36, No. 71-72; Oct. 1992-April 1993.
Autor: Grupo Editorial EPRL
Published: September 16, 2014.