John Gilmary Shea (July 22, 1824 – February 22, 1892) was the leading American Catholic Historian of his era. A prolific writer and editor, Shea's crowning achievement was the publication of a four-volume history of the Catholic Church in the United States.
Born in New York City, Shea graduated from Columbia Grammar School in 1837. Admitted to the New York bar in 1846, he entered the Society of Jesus and continued his studies from 1848-50 at St. John's College, Fordham. From 1850-52, Shea was associated with Jesuit historian Felix Martin at St. Mary's College in Montreal. In 1852, Shea left religious training and pursued a career of writing and editing.
Shea produced an astounding number of books, articles, and pamphlets while working as an editor for several periodicals. His writings amount a veritable library of works, focusing mostly on American Catholic History and important topics such as Native American linguistics. In 1852, Shea published "Discovery and Exploration of the Mississippi Valley," for which he won admittance into several prominent historical societies. In 1854, he compiled "History of the Catholic Missions Among the Indian Tribes of the United States, 1529-1854." Meanwhile, he published articles in "U.S. Catholic Magazine," "Catholic World," "U.S. Historical Magazine," and "American Catholic Quarterly Review." From 1855 through 1867, Shea worked on the "Historical Magazine." From 1858 through 1890, he edited Sadlier's "General Catholic Directory." From 1860 to 1874, he edited the valuable "Library of American Linguistics." He worked for a time for the publishing house of Frank Leslie. From 1887 to 1889, Shea served as editor for the U.S. Catholic Historical Society, an organization which he founded. Between 1886 and 1892, Shea published his "History of the Catholic Church in the United States," the four-volume capstone to his distinguished career.
Shea also published "History of Georgetown College" (1891) in honor of the school's centenary celebration in 1889. Georgetown awarded Shea an honorary degree (LL.D.) and a medal for his service in 1889.