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Wed, 07.20.1892

Joseph Ritter, Prelate and Activist born

Joseph Ritter

*Joseph Ritter was born on this date in 1892. He was a white-American prelate of the Roman Catholic Church and a racial justice activist.

Born in New Albany, Indiana, Elmer Joseph Ritter was the fourth of Nicholas and Bertha (née Luette) Ritter's six children. His father owned and operated the Ritter Bakery (where the family also lived). Both of Ritter's parents were of German descent. Ritter said his father revered education greatly: "Dad gave us all a chance to go to college, but only if we applied ourselves."

Ritter received his early education at the parochial school of St. Mary of the Annunciation Church in New Albany, where he was called "Apple-Pie Ritter." As a 1946 newspaper article said, "It was one of those shops, now rare, in which the whole family, the mother, father, and the whole family had to help, either in the store part, which was in the front, or in the bakery which was in the rear."

Ritter was appointed the fourth archbishop of the Archdiocese of St. Louis by Pope Pius XII on July 20, 1946. St. Louis multiplied during the post-World War II economic boom. Ritter opened an average of three parishes yearly in St. Louis city and county. An able administrator without the authority to tax or compel, Ritter nevertheless raised more than $125,000,000 (equivalent to $1,194,836,957 in 2022) to build sixty new parishes, sixteen high schools, and the Cardinal Glennon Memorial Hospital for Children in St. Louis during his tenure there.

As one of his first acts as archbishop, Ritter announced that Webster College would accept black students, endorsing the Sisters of Loretto's wish to enroll black women in Webster College. On August 9, 1947, Ritter announced an end to racial segregation in all five St. Louis diocesan high schools before the fall term. He declared, "The cross on top of our schools must mean something," and expressed his belief in "the equality of every soul before Almighty God." Ritter sent a memo to all parish school superintendents, saying they must begin to "accept all children into parish schools without regard to race."

In one stroke, Ritter had desegregated the Catholic St. Louis area schools seven years before the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court's Brown vs. Board of Education decision. The parochial schools represented one-quarter of all St. Louis area students. On September 21, 1947, Ritter issued a pastoral letter warning of possible ex-communication for "interfering with ecclesiastical office authority by having recourse to authority outside of the church." Ritter also desegregated all Catholic hospitals in the St. Louis archdiocese.  He served as archbishop of the Archdiocese of St. Louis in Missouri from 1946 until he died in 1967 and became a cardinal in 1961.

He previously served as auxiliary bishop (1933–1934) and bishop (later archbishop) (1934–1946) of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis in Indiana. Ritter was one of the cardinal's electors who participated in the Papal Conclave 1963. Joseph Ritter died on June 10, 1967, at DePaul Hospital in St. Louis after suffering two heart attacks earlier in the week.

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