This Con Artist Was Expelled From the University

Winter 2024

In the spring of 1887, a promising young man named Joseph Slattery arrived in Hamilton, N.Y., to become a student in the theological seminary at Madison University, now Colgate. Hailing from Ireland, Slattery had traveled far to continue his studies, and the school was eager to take him on. 

Illustration by Bernie Freytag

As a graduate of the prestigious Maynooth Catholic College and a Roman Catholic priest of eight years, Slattery’s potential was clear — so much so that his training was paid for in full by the Baptist Education Society and his matriculation lauded in the April 20, 1889, issue of the Madisonensis. Young Slattery’s entry into the theological seminary looked to be an exciting new chapter in his life and the progression of his faith. There was just one problem: Nearly everything that Slattery had said about himself was a lie.

In reality, Slattery had not been educated at Maynooth, nor had he worked as a Roman Catholic priest for eight years. Perhaps the only truthful part of his tale was his name. In reality, Slattery had been educated at the Limerick Seminary and later at St. Patrick’s College in Thurles, Ireland, but no record of him at Maynooth existed. Additionally, while Slattery had indeed worked as a priest in Thurles for a time, this stint had ended in disgrace, with Slattery dismissed from the priesthood for repeated intemperance.  

Upon contacting the Thurles ministry for a standard verification of Slattery’s past, the theological seminary soon learned of Slattery’s true scandalous history. In an instant, the life that Slattery had fabricated for himself fell apart, and the ex-priest was expelled from the seminary. 

In the years that followed his expulsion, Slattery married fellow con artist and infamous fake nun Mary Elizabeth McCabe and embarked on a decades-long spree of scams and sacrilege that took them around the world. According to an investigative series by the Anglo-Celt newspaper, the couple eventually settled in Boston, after a storied, if unsavory, career in crime.