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Emmett McLoughlin (February 3, 1907 - October 9, 1970) was a priest who became known in the 1930s as an advocate for low-income housing in Phoenix, Arizona. He left the priesthood and the Franciscan order in 1948 in order to remain superintendent of Phoenix Memorial Hospital (Time, 1948), and wrote a number of books, including his autobiography People's Padre. Time magazine (1970) called him "America's best-known ex-priest".


Emmett McLoughlin was born John Patrick McLoughlin in 1907. He grew up in Sacramento, California, and entered St. Anthony's seminary in Santa Barbara, California. He took the name Emmett during his novitiate in the Franciscan Order.

After his ordination in 1933 he was assigned a parish in Phoenix, Arizona, and began work there that would last for 14 years. Time magazine (1948) said that "soon young Father McLoughlin began to be almost as well known in Phoenix as the mayor." During that time he founded and directed St. Monica's Hospital (Phoenix Memorial Hospital), organized a slum clearance campaign, was instrumental in applying for federal funds for the Matthew Henson public housing projects (opened in 1940), was appointed as the first chairman of the Phoenix Housing Authority in 1939, and served as secretary of the state Board of Health.

Then his Franciscan superiors charged him with neglect of his priestly duties and ordered him to resign as superintendent of the hospital. McLoughlin decided that his work for the hospital and urban renewal was more important, and that his vow of obedience did not apply. He resigned as a member of the Catholic priesthood in 1948 and remained head of the hospital with the support of its board of directors, most of whom were Catholic. In 1949 he married Mary Davis (Time, 1949). He achieved more national prominence with the publication of his autobiography in 1954.

Some Catholics criticize him for not following the vow of obedience he would have taken as a Franciscan. McLoughlin, on the contrary, criticized the Church for requiring young men to make such a vow often with no experience of life outside school and seminary. He also criticized the Catholic parochial school system, and alleged a Roman Catholic plot to assassinate Abraham Lincoln, criticisms which fed into anti-Catholicism in the 1950s and 1960s.

The city of Phoenix named the Emmett McLoughlin Community Training & Education Center in his honor ("City Dedicates", 2006).

Works published

  • People's Padre: an Autobiography (Boston : Beacon Press, 1954).
  • American Culture and Catholic Schools (New York: Lyle Stuart, Inc., 1960).
  • Crime and Immorality in the Catholic Church (New York: Lyle Stuart, Inc., 1962).
  • An Inquiry in the Assassination of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Lyle Stuart, Inc., 1963).
  • Letters to an ex-priest (New York: Lyle Stuart, Inc., 1965).
  • Famous Ex-Priests (New York: Lyle Stuart, Inc., 1968).