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Chapter 2

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
The Life of
James Cardinal Gibbons

John Tracy Ellis
Abridged by Francis L. Broderick

published by
The Bruce Publishing Company
Milwaukee, 1962

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapter 4

 p40  Chapter 3
First Years as Archbishop of Baltimore

By reason of his vigorous young manhood and his relatively simple administrative problems, Gibbons found no difficulty during the early years in looking after the spiritual needs of his new flock. The Archdiocese of Baltimore embraced the District of Columbia and the entire state of Maryland with the exception of the eastern shore, the 7000 square miles being far smaller than either of his previous jurisdictions. Except for Baltimore and Washington, the new archbishop's responsibility was again confined chiefly to small towns and rural settlements. In 1881 about 268 regular and diocesan priests cared for a total of about 210,000 Catholics at 168 churches and chapels. The visitation tours throughout the archdiocese, with its relatively good transportation systems, were simple in comparison to those in the South. Moreover, Baltimore, the oldest see in the country, had known a large and devoted Catholic population for many years; as a result, Gibbons fell heir to highly developed, mature religious institutions.

In the city of Baltimore there were twenty-one parishes, five designated as German and Bohemian. Four years after his arrival Gibbons dedicated a church for the 500 permanent Italian residents and for the numerous Italian seamen coming and going in the pot. Washington had eleven parishes, two for Germans and one for colored Catholics. That Gibbons enjoyed a reputation for kindness to Negroes became evident several years later when Father Augustus Tolton of Illinois, the only colored priest in the United States up to that time, told him of the esteem he had won as "such a lover of our poor down trodden race." The archdiocese numbered sixty-six elementary schools; some parishes maintained separate schools for girls and boys. The academies for boys and novitiates for religious numbered nine, and the academies for girls totaled thirteen. Higher education was well served by St. Mary's Seminary, Mount Saint  p41 Mary's College in Emmitsburg, St. Charles College, and the three Jesuit colleges, Georgetown, Woodstock, and Loyola. Organized Catholic charity took care of the less fortunate in the House of the Good Shepherd, conducted by the Little Sisters of the Poor for the aged, the Saint Mary's Industrial School for homeless boys, and six hospitals.

Before an archbishop can exercise the full powers of a metropolitan or perform certain episcopal functions, he must receive the symbol of his jurisdiction, the pallium, from the Holy See. The new Archbishop of Baltimore lost no time in asking Rome for this insignia. But pallia were conferred only in a consistory, and there was no telling when one would be held, for Pius IX's health was not good. For the interim, the Congregation de Propaganda Fide granted him ordinary power for confirming and extraordinary power for ordaining.

Meanwhile there were a number of tasks that he could perform without delay. The day after Archbishop Bayley's funeral he held a meeting of the suffragans of his province to fill the See of Richmond. Some days later, on the third Sunday of Advent, he preached the first sermon in the cathedral since his appointment. Gibbons followed the practice of Sunday preaching in his cathedral all through his forty-four years as archbishop of Baltimore. Although business often took him away from the city, he managed to preach at least once a month at the Sunday high Mass. These sermons ultimately became occasions to which Catholics of the city looked forward with considerable pleasure. Nothing he ever said from the pulpit gave evidence of careless preparation. Of majestic eloquence and elegant diction he knew little. But he was a master of clear, simple language, rich illustration (especially from the New Testament), and unmistakable tone of earnestness.

Gradually the administration of the archdiocese became more familiar to the new ordinary. In his first months he was served by Joseph Dubreul, S. S., vicar-general, William E. Starr, chancellor, Thomas S. Lee, rector of the cathedral, and Alfred A. Curtis, secretary, all of whom had been on the scene in Baltimore for some time.

In Rome, the young Father Denis J. O'Connell, whom Gibbons had named his proxy at the Holy See, gathered items of Roman news and gossip. In November, 1877, O'Connell reported that Rome  p42 was virtually certain that there would be no American cardinals. He repeated this reference to an American cardinal often enough to create the impression that he was teasing Gibbons with the prospect of the red hat coming to Baltimore. In the last weeks of 1877, O'Connell chronicled his ups and downs in the matter of the pallium. Then at length on December 28 Pius IX assembled the cardinals, and the pallia for the new archbishops were postulated for and given out.

Now Archbishop Gibbons could make definite plans for the formal bestowal of the pallium in his cathedral. The date was set for February 10, 1878, and invitations were soon dispatched to the American hierarchy. Archbishop Wood was first invited to confer the pallium on Gibbons, but his health made it impossible. The archbishop then turned to his senior suffragan, Bishop Lynch of Charleston, who consented to perform the ceremony. A pressing invitation to Bishop Corrigan in Newark told him that Gibbons would be "more than disappointed by any excuse." Corrigan replied that he would be present. On January 22 Denis O'Connell arrived in Baltimore with the long-sought pallium. The plans were temporarily halted when news came that Pius IX had died on February 7. On February 8, however, Gibbons received a telegram from Cardinal McCloskey of New York that read: "Don't postpone ceremony." He decided to go ahead, omitting some of the external pomp. Besides Archbishop Gibbons and Archbishop Williams, eleven American bishops were in attendance, besides George Conroy Bishop of Ardagh and Apostolic Delegate to Canada. Lynch celebrated the pontifical Mass and preached, after which Gibbons himself responded, explaining the significance of the pallium and the advantages Catholics in large centers enjoyed in having an opportunity to witness the grandeur of solemn church ceremonies. Gibbons mentioned his experience in the South in receiving converts into the Church who had never seen a celebration of this kind since "their worship was in a place no better than a log cabin."

Gibbons had already settled into the routine of his archdiocese. There were constant calls relating to the parishes, their pastors and people, in addition to the maintenance of good relations with the many religious communities of men and women. As he never embarked upon a serious undertaking of national import without first consulting his fellow bishops, so in questions of a parochial character  p43 Gibbons sought the advice of his pastors. His relations with his priests were on the whole very easy and friendly. He observed no formality about appointments; whenever he was at home they were free to call and to transact business. With a few of these men he had been on terms of intimate friendship even before his own consecration as a bishop. With others the naturally mild-mannered archbishop occasionally found his patience sorely tried, and at times he felt compelled to deal resolutely with them. When he had occasion to rebuke a Washington pastor for intemperate outbursts in the pulpit and in correspondence, Gibbons called to the pastor's attention the pain he was inflicting by his letters:

. . . your letters betray a spirit calculated to alienate from you your brother priests. I pray you to meditate on the life of our Lord before committing your hand to paper. I have been always anxious, as you know, to befriend you, but your letters, I grieve to say, have added to my burden and increased my sorrows.

I pray you to read this letter in the spirit of charity which has dictated it.

A reasonable man could scarcely show a more conciliatory tone in offering correction to an errant subject.

With the various religious orders and congregations within his jurisdiction, Gibbons maintained the most cordial relations. The Archbishop of Baltimore was proud to have the Jesuit scholasticate at Woodstock College located in his jurisdiction, and he took pride, too, in the learned publications of its faculty. It was a district advantage to him to have these theologians close at hand for consultation. At the time that Georgetown University, the oldest Catholic college in the United States, celebrated its centennial in 1889, Gibbons likened the Jesuit teachers at the college to soldiers of the Cross who were enlarging the bounds of the great republic of letters and religion. Of all the religious communities in the archdiocese, however, the Sulpicians were nearest to the archbishop's heart. Under their direction he had pursued his priestly studies for six years, and from 1877 to his death the Sulpicians were his confessors, and among his most intimate advisers. At the celebration of the centennial of St. Mary's Seminary in 1891, he said:

I have been acquainted with the Sulpician fathers for nearly forty years. I have observed them closely, I have studied their character  p44 and spirit, and I solemnly declare that the more I have seen them the more I have admired and loved them.

Even among the Sulpicians he reserved a special place in his affections for Alphonse L. Magnien, the sixth Sulpician superior in the United States. In 1879 Magnien was made a member of the archbishop's council, and as time passed Gibbons came to rely more and more upon this wise French priest for advice. When Magnien died in 1902, his close friend insisted upon celebrating the requiem in the cathedral and giving the absolution. When a volume in memory of Magnien was published, Gibbons contributed a preface in which he described all that the abbé had meant to him:

I had been so much accustomed to consult the Venerable Abbé on important questions, and to lean upon him in every emergency, that his death is a rude shock to me, and I feel as if I had lost a right arm. He was indeed dimidium animae meae. . . . My chief consolation in my bereavement is found in the consciousness that his brethren inherit his virtues, and will perpetuate the good work which he had prosecuted for the glory of God, the service of his church, and the welfare of our beloved country.

Gibbons also had a hand in the formal establishment of an independent American branch of the Society of St. Joseph. The Mill Hill Fathers had come originally to Baltimore from England in 1871 to work among American Negroes. Finding the connection with the English superiors of the Society unsatisfactory, the American members expressed a desire for a separate group in the United States. For Gibbons, this involved a willingness to sponsor and supervise the new group. The independent American branch of the Society of St. Joseph was established in 1893, and Gibbons acted as their canonical superior from this time until his death twenty-eight years later.

The need for more nursing Sisters in Baltimore had been felt for some time, and Gibbons, in Europe in the spring of 1880, sought the services of the Bon Secours Sisters in Paris. In October of that year he informed the superior that a residence was ready for them, and in July, 1882, a larger and better house was blessed by Gibbons for these women whose services to the sick proved so beneficial to the city's unfortunate. Further facilities for the care of Baltimore's orphans were likewise provided when on December 28, 1881, Gibbons installed four Sisters of St. Francis from England, all of them  p45 converts, in their new home on St. Paul Street where they assumed charge of a foundling asylum and a school for colored children. The growing foreign-born population of the city prompted the archbishop in July, 1882, to request the Redemptorist provincial in Vienna to send him several priests who could help care for the Bohemians who were crowding into St. Wenceslaus Parish.

From his earliest years in Baltimore, Gibbons maintained cordial relations with Mount Saint Mary's College at Emmitsburg. He induced his brother and sister in New Orleans to send their sons there. In 1881, when the college found itself in one of the most severe financial crises of its history, the archbishop wrote an appeal to the alumni to aid the college. In the emergency it seemed wise that Father William J. Hill retire from the presidency. At length, William Byrne, Vicar-General of the Archdiocese of Boston, whom Gibbons had recommended, was selected to replace him. An advisory board was appointed to assist with the college finances, and Gibbons agreed to take the chairmanship and treasurer's post on this board. Within seven months he received $15,625 in donations. At the same time, he told Byrne: "My own donation is available at any time." As a result of the efforts of the advisory board and the loyalty of the alumni, Byrne could report by March, 1882, that the court had released the college from the custody of a receiver.

Gibbons' help to the Emmitsburg college was typical of his response to demands upon his purse from worthy causes. When the yellow-fever epidemic broke in the South in the fall of 1878, the archbishop within three weeks sent off checks varying from $100 to $500 for a total of $3,000. He directed his charities mainly to New Orleans, Tennessee, and Mississippi with requests that they be given to the particular missions or orphanages most in need. Bishop William Henry Elder of Natchez told Gibbons: "The liberal contribution that you and others have sent have been a great service already." During the epidemic word reached Baltimore that Elder had died of the yellow fever; thereupon a requiem Mass was celebrated and a sermon preached on Elder's sacrifice. The Bishop of Natchez wrote of this false report: "And what shall I say in acknowledgment of the Requiem Mass & the funeral sermon! Well — it for Mass did not get me out of Purgatory, it helped get me out of my sick bed. And for the sermon — I cannot say much about that, until I see it or hear it." Gibbons continued his help to the yellow- p46 fever victims well into the autumn, and as late as November 4 Elder was acknowledging an additional check of $500.

Among the charities that the Archbishop of Baltimore patronized in these years was an annual donation of $100 to the support of Dr. Levi Silliman Ives, the convert Protestant Episcopal Bishop of North Carolina. He likewise used the collections taken up throughout his archdiocese by the Society for the Propagation of the Faith to assist less favored missionary areas of the Church in the United States. And when in 1879 bankruptcy overtook Archbishop John B. Purcell in Cincinnati, Gibbons contributed $4,460 to the fund being raised by the American bishops, in addition to writing Purcell several letters of encouragement and sympathy. Shortly thereafter word reached the United States of the great suffering in Ireland as a consequence of the war over the Land League. In this crisis for the Irish peasants, Archbishop Gibbons directed that nearly £3,000 be sent for relief purposes with £400 earmarked for Archbishop McHale of Tuam and a like sum for his old schoolmate, Bishop McCormack of Achonry. These various sums were but a small amount of the benefactions that he gave to a wide variety of charities all through the time that he was Archbishop of Baltimore.

Gibbons visited the various institutions in the archdiocese as frequently as time permitted. On one visit to St. Charles College in Ellicott City, William H. O'Connell, a student there who later became Cardinal Archbishop of Boston, wrote his impressions of Gibbons. The archbishop struck him as

a very holy man, and withal very keen, too. He is almost emaciated. . . . His face is thin — his features, large and bony. His eyes are lanterns; they transform his whole face — very bright and keen if rather small. He bears himself with simple dignity, and one sees at once the genuine priest and gentleman. . . . His voice is very pleasant and he speaks in a clear-cut manner. I should think he was a very careful, orderly painstaking man in everything; and then his face, not handsome, but very pure and noble, as if he had known great difficulties and had patiently worked them out.

Gibbons always showed a strong inclination to demonstrate his regard for the civil authorities and for the nation's customs. When the time neared for the celebration of Baltimore's sesquicentennial in 1880,a the archbishop sent out a circular to his clergy instructing  p47 them to have the various parish societies prepared to march in the parade on October 14. Moreover, the Te Deum was ordered to be sung in all the churches after vespers on Sunday, October 17, and the priests were urged to preach on the event. The Catholic people should be told to enter into the spirit of the occasion with their fellow citizens, but to avoid "all sinful excess" during the days of the celebration. The following year when President James A. Garfield was shot on July 2, 1881, by an assassin, Gibbons at once wrote a circular letter to the clergy in which he urged prayers for the stricken chief executive,

. . . at once entreating God to spare his life and also as making an act of expiation for a crime which appertains to us as a nation and not only concerns but tarnishes us all.

That fall, when he issued an order for public prayers on Thanksgiving Day, he told Bishop Richard Gilmour of Cleveland: "We should not let Protestants surpass us in our expression of loyalty & devotion to our country."

In 1883 the archbishop suffered the loss of his mother, but the speedy burial of the dead in New Orleans and the great distance between the two cities did not permit him to attend the funeral. A week later he extended his thanks to Archbishop Francis X. Leray of New Orleans for, as he put it, "your great kindness and charity in presiding at the funeral service of my dear Mother. I beg you also to thank for me your devoted clergy who were present on the same occasion."

Amid his varied duties Gibbons managed to find time for writing. One of his first publications after his appointment to Baltimore was a pastoral letter on "Christian Education." In it the archbishop gave a fairly lengthy description of the evil effects of a purely secular education. He said that from the evidence submitted, "the conclusion is forced upon us, that Catholic Parochial Schools must be established and fostered, if we would preserve the faith of our children." He ended with a strong exhortation to parents to heed their duty to see that their children were given the benefits of a religious education. Some months after the appearance of the pastoral letter Gibbons made a visit to St. Joseph's Academy in Emmitsburg where he complimented the Sisters on their work for the  p48 education of young girls. On this occasion he took the opportunity to urge them to work for the canonization of Mother Elizabeth Seton, their American foundress, adding,

I would myself very gladly take the initiative, if I had any encouragement from here; the first movement must naturally begin here. . . . You remember too that American canonized Saints are very rare birds, and Mother Seton's name would add another to the very short list.

One of the principal duties of a metropolitan is to serve as counselor to the suffragan bishops of his province. In the early years of Gibbons' tenure as Archbishop of Baltimore a number of matters in the province demanded his attention. After a long delay in filling the See of Richmond, occasioned in part by the bulls being misdirected and sent to the dead-letter office in New York, the bulls arrived in Baltimore on August 1, 1878, with the name of John J. Keane as the new bishop. The ceremony of consecration was fixed for August 25 at St. Peter's Cathedral in Richmond. Keane chose Gibbons to consecrate him, the first of twenty-three such ceremonies that the archbishop was to perform in the years ahead. Gibbons found real satisfaction in installing Keane as the fifth Bishop of Richmond and his own successor in that see, for he had taken a liking to the thirty-nine-year‑old prelate and had been impressed by his fine work at St. Patrick's in Washington. He had a special admiration for Keane's exceptional ability as a preacher.

Both as ordinary of Baltimore and as an American metropolitan, Archbishop Gibbons was called on constantly to give his judgment to the Holy See on the qualifications of men for the episcopacy. While it was a simple matter to name men suitable for the episcopal office from among his acquaintances, it was at times anything but simple to give an informed judgment on the filling of vacancies in distant dioceses. When in 1878 the question of a coadjutor for Archbishop Alemany in San Francisco was raised and Bishop Elder of Natchez was prominently mentioned, Gibbons wrote to Rome, "exposing reasons why Bp. Elder should be permitted to remain in Natchez or that his departure for San Francisco should be delayed." Meanwhile, however, the financial disaster in Cincinnati prompted the proposal that the aging Archbishop Purcell have a coadjutor, and the suffragans of Cincinnati drew up a new list on which Elder was placed first. Gibbons, heartily in favor of Elder  p49 for the Cincinnati position, warmly recommended the choice to Rome. In 1880 Elder went to the See of Cincinnati. Three years later Alemany was given Patrick W. Riordan as coadjutor.

One episcopal vacancy introduced Gibbons to the intensity of the conflict of nationalities among Catholics in America. In 1878 the aging archbishop John M. Henni asked Gibbons' support for a terna of three bishops, all with German names, for the post of coadjutor archbishop of Milwaukee. Gibbons had already in his hand a petition from some priests in the archdiocese begging him to use his influence to end the excessive nationalism in the Church in Wisconsin. A pastor in Fond du Lac warned that "the principal and ulterior object" of the German clergy in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee was "to perpetuate a young Germany here." One of the immediate goals, this priest said, was to secure a German successor in the See of Milwaukee.

For the new Archbishop of Baltimore this was a novel problem. In North Carolina and in Richmond, few immigrants had settled, and of these only a handful were Catholic. In Baltimore, the several nationalities lived in peace. The Germans, who constituted about 60 percent of the foreign born, had established a thriving parochial life long before the advent of James Gibbons as bishop. Their parishes, mainly under the direction of the Redemptorist Fathers, had shown steady growth, and since 1859 the German-speaking Catholics of the city had their own weekly newspaper, the Katholische Volkszeitung. The German Catholic community of Baltimore gave no cause for uneasiness to the archbishop, and his relations with both priests and people were friendly. Nor was any other group disgruntled.

But elsewhere the problem was more acute, especially where there were concentrations of Germans and Irish. The Catholic Germans held tenaciously to their mother tongue. Wherever they settled in any numbers the familiar pattern of church, parish school, parish clubs and societies, and the German language newspaper soon appeared. Confronted by hostile forces that resented their foreignism and their religion, the German Catholics quite naturally clung all the more closely to their German priests, schools, and press as the best media through which to preserve their faith. However lofty the motives or undoubted the merit of many features of the life of these Catholic Germans, their adherence to the German language  p50 appeared to many non-German Catholics as excessive fondness for Old World customs, as well as lack of appreciation for the language and customs of the country that had given them a haven. In the torrent of national feeling in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, many American Catholics became more sensitive about their German coreligionists' attachment to their native language, for the charge of "foreignism" had been one of the most constant refrains against Catholics in former times. Some of the most vociferous Catholic critics of the Germans were themselves either born in or were only one generation removed from Ireland. Still their exclusive use of English gave them, or so they thought, at least the appearance of belonging.

Added to the difference of language were profound differences in temperament. To the phlegmatic German his mercurial Irish neighbor often appeared fickle and unstable, while the somewhat versatile Irishman viewed the more somber and plodding German as respectable but generally dull. These differences, of course, showed up among the clergy as well as the laity; when the two groups were thrown together in Church government, the result frequently was friction. Resentments were also fired by the comparative number of each group in its hierarchy. In 1886, the extraction of American bishops was: Irish, thirty-five; German (including Austrian and Swiss), fifteen; French, eleven; English, five; and Dutch, Scottish, and Spanish, one each. Many German Catholics felt with considerable justification that their numbers and strength warranted a higher proportion of bishops. Furthermore, the fiery advocacy of the Catholic temperance movement by prelates of Irish blood aroused little besides ridicule and resentment among the Germans; they felt that they knew how to use liquor with moderation, something they believed the Irish had yet to learn. If the growing differences had remained in the hands of moderates in both camps, most of the troubles could have been avoided. But, unfortunately, a minority of extremists among the Irish were intent upon compelling the Germans to step into line with the increasing tempo of Americanization, and they did not scruple to resort on occasion to abusive language that left behind wounds long in healing. On the other hand, a minority of leaders among the Catholic Germans were extremely tactless in urging what they regarded as their rights in the matter of their parishes, and especially of their parish schools. The great majority  p51 of both groups, who deplored the bitterness and the damage being done to Catholic fraternal sentiment, was powerless to check the extremists before the storm had run its course.

Alarmed by the situation in Milwaukee, Gibbons decided to consult the Archbishop of Boston before he wrote to Rome. He told Williams that while he wished to gratify Henni by recommending his selection, he felt the memorial of the Milwaukee priests was worthy of some consideration. To this Gibbons added that perhaps Bishop John Lancaster Spalding of Peoria, who knew German well, might be placed second or third on the list. Williams advised Gibbons to put the case clearly before the Holy See so that someone would be appointed coadjutor who would be satisfactory to the Germans, but who would likewise "take an interest in others not German."

Rome refused to consider Henni's nominations for the coadjutorship until he consulted his suffragans. Henni held a meeting with his suffragans for this purpose in the early autumn of 1878. Shortly thereafter Gibbons learned that Spalding's name now appeared second on the list. Another petition from four Milwaukee priests followed within two weeks. They earnestly begged Gibbons to use his influence to have Spalding chosen, since in their opinion, "he would be just the man for the place." In writing to Giovanni Cardinal Simeoni, Prefect of the Propaganda, Gibbons yielded to their advice and backed Spalding. But Spalding refused to be considered for the coadjutorship. Rome took its time in making the appointment, but when it finally came in the spring of 1880, the first choice of Henni, Michael Heiss, Bishop of La Crosse, was named. Thus one to earliest contests between the German element and their coreligionists resulted in a victory for the Germans.

During the following summer Cardinal McCloskey of New York appealed to Gibbons for assistance in getting a coadjutor of his choice. The New York case moved more rapidly, and within two and a half months McCloskey got as his coadjutor with the right of succession Bishop Corrigan of Newark, the third name on his list. Corrigan told Gibbons that he had hoped to "avert this fearful load." Now that it had happened, he said, he could "only humbly commend myself to your prayers — amazed at the thought that I am bidden to carry a cross which your Predecessor told me, years ago in your room, that even he would not dare to carry."

 p52  Much of this type of business, to be sure, fell to the lot of all the archbishops of the United States, but the amount reaching the Archbishop of Baltimore was especially great since, in the absence of an apostolic delegate, he exercised many functions normally performed by such an official.

The archbishop had not been long in Baltimore before he began to make frequent trips to Washington to be the guest of government officials or to confer with them about problems in which they had a mutual interest. In 1879 Alexander H. Stephens, the former Vice-President of the Confederacy who was then serving in the House of Representatives from his native Georgia, stated that he was anxious to make the archbishop's acquaintance, but that in consequence of his physical infirmities he had not been able to call. Gibbons accepted Stephens' invitation to dine and on this occasion met a number of other congressmen. He always took these contacts with public men very seriously. Nor did he fail to inform the Holy See when he believed they had made a contribution to the cordial relations between Church and State. In early July, 1879, he wrote Cardinal Simeoni telling him "of the good feeling which now subsists between the civil authorities and the Church," and he instanced the attendance of President Rutherford B. Hayes at the commencement of Georgetown College and the recent action of the Governor of Maryland in signing a law which remitted "to a great extent" the tax on Church property. The knowledge that the archbishop was acquainted with and esteemed by public men brought its annoyance, too, in the form of increasingly high demands for his intervention in behalf of office seekers. When the archbishop felt that he could in good conscience recommend a person for an appointment, he did so.

In the fall of the same year Archbishop Gibbons gave his support to a project of national scope when he subscribed for five shares of stock at $100 each in the recently organized Irish Catholic Colonization Association, which had been formed to colonize the western states with Catholic settlers who would strengthen the Church in rural arreas. Bishop John Ireland of St. Paul, one of the founders, wrote him enthusiastically of the plans of the association for settling Irish Catholic farmers in Nebraska and Minnesota. He closed with a typical flourish: "The one name of the Archbishop of Baltimore on our list did more than fifty discourses from little bishops of the West."

 p53  In his capacity as Archbishop of Baltimore, Gibbons was made a member of the executive board of the American College in Rome; as secretary of the board, he handled the correspondence about the college. When in 1878 Pope Leo XIII requested that the student body of twenty-one at the college be doubled, Gibbons was asked by the board at its meeting in New York on July 17 to communicate this wish to the metropolitans of the United States.

In February, 1880, the Archbishop of Baltimore had printed a letter to his clergy informing them that shortly after Easter he was going to Rome where he would inform the Pope of the fidelity of his priests and people. He asked them to be generous to the collection for Peter's Pence on Easter Sunday. Less than two weeks before sailing, Gibbons wrote Simeoni discrediting the rumors that the German Catholics in the United States were unjustly treated by the Irish bishops, and protesting against the removal of women from church choirs which in his judgment would be "impracticable & inexpedient."

Gibbons and his party sailed for Rome on the City of Chester on April 22. It happened that Henry Cardinal Manning was in Rome when Gibbons arrived, and Gibbons invited him to dinner at the American College. The meeting with Manning gave Gibbons an opportunity to discuss problems that the American and English Churches had in common with the Holy See. During his three weeks' stay in the Eternal City the Archbishop of Baltimore had two private audiences with Leo XIII and several conferences with Cardinal Simeoni and with Lorenzo Cardinal Nina, the Secretary of State.

Gibbons used the occasion of his visit to Rome to express deep hostility to the establishment of an apostolic delegation, a resident representative of the Holy Father in Washington similar to those in Paris, Vienna, and Madrid. It was Rome's preference that this official have the rank of an apostolic nuncio enjoying diplomatic recognition from the American government and possess full faculties from the Holy See to settle on the spot troublesome cases within the Church itself. To the overwhelming majority of the American hierarchy, however, this was not an acceptable arrangement, and from the earliest rumors of such an appointment it was vigorously resisted by many of the bishops. The precedents were not favorable.

An incident in June, 1853, had left a lasting memory in the minds of men of both Church and State. The Apostolic Nuncio to Brazil,  p54 Archbishop Gaetano Bedini, who had been commissioned by Pius IX to investigate serious troubles in Buffalo and other American sees, had arrived in the country just as the nation had been in a state of serious agitation over the Know-Nothing movement against Catholics and foreigners. Before the termination of his visit in February, 1854, he had been made the victim of numerous unfriendly demonstrations in various cities. The American bishops had not been consulted in advance; if they had, they might have spared the nuncio his painful experiences by advising the Holy See of the inopportuneness of sending a representative to the United States when the Know-Nothing bigotry was at its height.

Nearly a quarter of a century later the Church in America received a visit from another papal envoy when Bishop Conroy had come to this country in 1878. Conroy had met with no such vicious attacks as Bedini. After an extensive tour of many of the American sees, the bishop had expressed his astonishment at the progress of the American Church and his thought that an apostolic delegate should be appointed to the United States. Suggestions of this kind naturally increased the alertness of American Catholics about having a papal envoy in their midst, and the presence in this country from time to time of minor prelates from Rome who had no official standing but who, nonetheless, conducted themselves in an imprudent and officious manner did not improve matters.

In the absence of a regularly established apostolic delegation, the business of the Church with Rome had from the beginning of the hierarchy been channeled principally through the occupants of the See of Baltimore. From the very outset of his tenure as Archbishop of Baltimore, Gibbons received a constant stream of inquiries from Rome. The archbishop's handling of these situations was generally successful. Most bishops saw no need for any other official representative of Rome in this country.

Gibbons, and many others in the hierarchy, believed that any other need for a direct contact with the Vatican could be met by having a strong representative stationed in Rome. England, with a much smaller Catholic population, wielded more influence than the United States by reason of powerful representation there. In a report to Archbishop Elder in June, 1880, Gibbons set forth a clear statement of the motives which governed his policy:

 p55  I spoke freely to one or more of the Cardinals & other officials on the inexpediency of sending us a Delegate. I would have mentioned the matter to the H. Father, if I were not assured that there is no danger of such a step being taken at least soon. I agree with you, & I believe that one of the certain results of such a step would be to create a school of service diplomacy, & another would be to retard the healthy progress of the Church & arouse complications with our government. If the danger is renewed, the Archbishops would do well to send a joint strong but temperate remonstrance.

He also reported to Elder that there was a plan underway for increasing the Peter's Pence from the United States. It involved designating two bishops who would go from one diocese to another, or, as an alternative, setting up confraternities, "presided over by distinguished ladies," under the supervision of the pastors. He concluded: "I gave the Card. a lengthened opinion in writing condemning in strong terms the two plans proposed, & adding that the plan already in vogue among us was the only feasible one. The H. F. not only approved of my suggestions, but incorporated them in a letter to the Abps. of the U. S. of which I am the bearer."

After a return journey through northern Italy, Austria, and Germany, where he witnessed the Passion Play at Oberammergau, the archbishop stopped at Amsterdam, Brussels, and Paris and then crossed to England. He visited Lulworth Castle where Archbishop John Carroll had been consecrated in 1790 and then went on to Birmingham where he called on John Henry Cardinal Newman for breakfast. After a month in Ireland he sailed from Queenstown on the City of Chester on August 25. Ten days later he told the congregation in his cathedral that he was "proud to own that whatever be the faults and drawbacks of our own system & they are not a few, still I would infinitely prefer to live under our own flag than any Gov. of Contin. Europe, for with us liberty is not a name but a living reality."

After Gibbons' return from Europe, the problem of secret societies, a perennial one for the hierarchy, drew his attention. As organized media for easy social intercourse, secret societies spread widely in the large industrial areas. They served, also, the egoistic impulses in many obscure Americans who delighted in belonging to groups to which all could not belong and which encouraged the romantic extravagance of elaborate regalia on occasion. In the more practical  p56 order, most secret societies provided sickness and death benefits for their members, a service that held a strong attraction for many. While the older and still flourishing secret societies, such as the Freemasons and Odd Fellows and the Ancient Order of Hibernians, had been imported from abroad, the trend in the late century was toward indigenous groups. Between 1880 and 1900 approximately 490 new native-born secret lodges were established in the United States. Large numbers of American Catholics found their way into one or other of these secret groups.

The American bishops, of course, had long followed the directives of the Holy See forbidding Catholics to join the Freemasons. But what complicated the matter was the periodic emergence of secret societies on which Rome had not given a decision; the nature and purpose of these groups were often so hidden that it was almost impossible to gain an exact knowledge of their character. The Holy See showed caution before condemning societies by name, and the American hierarchy likewise moved slowly, prudently, lest it be guilty of an injustice and of a consequent injury to souls. For example, the bishops of the United States hesitated over the Fenians for a long until the Holy See in January, 1870, finally condemned them. A bewildering variety of secret Irish groups intensified their activity during the 1870's, and the rising tempo of violence in places like Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, where the Molly Maguires led the campaign for readers of their very real grievances against the coal operators, became a source of acute anxiety to those responsible for the spiritual guidance of the Catholic laity. The Ancient Order of Hibernians itself did not escape the suspicion of many of the Catholic clergy.

All during these years provincial and plenary councils of the American bishops repeatedly condemned secret societies in general. Yet their handling of the issue frequently created confusion and even scandal. A pastor here and a bishop there periodically thundered against a particular society while their neighbors in nearby parishes or dioceses often remained silent.

The earliest evidence of Gibbons' attitude toward secret societies came as a result of the activities of the Ku Klux Klan in North Carolina. Gibbons' friend, Edward Conigland, drew the bishop's praise for a lengthy speech in which he detailed the outrages committed by the Klan and the dangers to society that arose from secret  p57 associations. Gibbons moved slowly in his own jurisdiction. In Richmond, he confessed he was unwilling to take any overtly hostile action against the ancient Order of Hibernians until he had consulted more experienced bishops; but meanwhile he was trying to freeze them out quietly.

In the fall of 1881, Gibbons made known his own view clear in a letter to Archbishop Elder of Cincinnati. He was disposed to be very indulgent toward Catholic societies since they were generally actuated by a proper spirit of loyalty toward the Church, he said. He knew the current trend to belong to some organization; so long as Catholic men belonged to authorized societies, it would help to keep them secure from the dangerous and condemned groups. He elaborated on this view when Catholic membership in the Grand Army of the Republic, the organization of Civil War veterans, was at issue. He agreed that efforts should be made to eliminate objectionable ceremonials in the G. A. R., but then added:

I may be wrong, & too liberal, when I say that I would not hastily make the saying of a prayer by a non-Catholic before exercises a cause for excluding Catholics from the society, provided the obligation of assisting at them were not forced as a sine qua non. Such prayers are said in Congress & other deliberative assemblies in this country. The presence of a Catholic congressman is not considered, I think, a communicatio in divinis. It is looked upon as a civil function. To refuse to allow a Catholic to be present at these exercises would involve our exclusion from all participation in our legislative assemblies.

I hope I do not shock you by these remarks which are hastily made.

With a conviction very deeply rooted, James Gibbons reacted against harsh and unnecessary condemnations of any kind at any time. It was Gibbons' way to win men through persuasion and kindliness, not to alienate them through hasty and unsympathetic use of ecclesiastical authority. Comfortable in the atmosphere of conciliation, he felt estranged when the discussion of differences lost that spirit and assumed the air of uncompromising dogmatism. This trait invited accusations of vacillation, lack of courage, and even false liberalism. It was true that he did at times waver and hesitate; but beneath his uncertainty of action there lay fundamental strength.

One other problem, the relations between bishops and their clergy, was showing the need of attention on the highest level. In the last  p58 quarter of the nineteenth century the number of appeals reaching the Holy See from American priests who were in trouble with their bishops grew steadily, and so did the annoyance of the Roman officials. In a considerable proportion of these cases Rome gave its judgment against the bishops. This in turn caused irritation in the American hierarchy, which felt that Rome's leniency was detrimental to episcopal authority. The answer of the Holy See to prelates' complaints was frequently that the bishops did not keep Rome fully informed and that in some instances decisions had to be made without complete documentary coverage from the bishops. Moreover, some officials of the Roman Curia thought that American bishops had on occasion shown an arbitrary disposition in dealing with their priests. While an instruction from the Holy See of July 20, 1878, on the removal of priests from pastorates settled some aspects of this problem, a number of ill-defined points remained, such as the extent to which the bishop's council could exercise judgment in cases of removal of pastors. Several particularly difficult cases in the early 1880's pointed up the need for clarifying legislation and strengthened the view of some bishops that the Church of the United States should hold another plenary council.

Though Archbishop Gibbons alluded vaguely in 1880 to a forthcoming plenary council, it was characteristic of him not to initiate action, for all through his life he showed a marked disinclination to launch ambitious projects of any kind. The initiative for a council came not from him, but from some insistent demands from a half dozen bishops in the West, especially Thomas L. Grace, O. P., Bishop of St. Paul, who considered the council not only "most useful" but in some respects "even necessary." Gibbons did not share this view. Late in 1881 he consulted Cardinal McCloskey and Archbishop Corrigan in New York, and he wrote the latter to say: "The more I think on the subject of the council, the more I incline to the Cardinal's view — that it is undesirable for years to come to hold a Plenary Council, & if his Eminence has not yet written, he might if he think proper express my views in connection with his own." Nevertheless, the more venturesome western sentiment finally prevailed. Bishop Richard Gilmour of Cleveland told Gibbons in 1883 that he had advised Rome "that a Plenary Council was necessary but should not be held for at least three years to come, & before holding it that at least five Bishops should go to Rome & there with  p59 Rome prepare a schema to be submitted to all the Bishops here after which the Council should be called with profit."

Faced with these conflicting opinions, the Holy See decided by the spring of 1883 that a plenary council of the American hierarchy should be held. Late in May Cardinal Simeoni addressed a letter to the heads of most of the ecclesiastical provinces in the United States inviting them to come to Rome the following November for preliminary conferences with the officials of the Propaganda. The task that lay ahead was, of course, an arduous one. Gibbons asked Denis O'Connell, then pastor of Sacred Heart Church in Winchester, Virginia, to come to see him. Since O'Connell knew Rome so well, the archbishop found his assistance invaluable in making the preliminary preparations for the meeting, and when the time came for Gibbons to depart that fall for Rome, he had the young priest accompany him.

Fortunately for Archbishop Gibbons, one of his closest friends and most trusted advisers was in Rome that summer of 1883 — Bishop Keane of Richmond. Keane wrote him two very lengthy letters in an effort to describe accurately the background to the Holy See's summons of the American bishops for consultation. After conferences with Simeoni and an audience with the Holy Father, Keane reported that he found among Roman officials, even Pope Leo XIII himself, "a sort of suspicion or dread that there was not a perfect disposition of concord & union on the part of the American Hierarchy towards the Holy See." The Roman officials had noted that some American bishops appeared to lack politeness in not observing the proper style in their correspondence with the Holy See; to this Simeoni had added that often when he wrote American bishops for information, he did not even receive an answer. Keane agreed that this last, of course, was inexcusable, but the style in writing might be explained by ignorance of the proper forms and by brusqueness in the American character. Neither indicated insubordination to the Holy See. Keane stated that the Holy See had grown weary of receiving appeals from American priests against their bishops and that the Roman officials had likewise complained that the bishops often did not submit evidence to Rome for their side of the cases; consequently, curial officials, "to their great regret," sometimes had to decide against the bishops. There was a grave need, therefore, for more personal consultation between the American prelates and the Holy See.

 p60  Keane's second impression dealt with the question of personal representation. Simeoni told Keane that when Leo XIII had spoken to a certain American bishop of sending a delegate to the United States, the bishop had replied: "Oh we are independent, and would rather not have any one coming over to settle our business for us." Once more Keane contended that either the bishop had expressed himself poorly or that the Pope had misunderstood him. He then explained that the American hierarchy shrank from the idea of a stranger who would be immediately besieged by a crowd of malcontents and who would be unable to appreciate the real nature of the cases laid before him. Simeoni's answer at this point was that the delegate would not be a tribunal for deciding cases at all, but only an envoy to investigate, gather information, and report to Rome.

Keane again returned to the attack with a strong plea for an accredited American prelate in Rome who could perform the functions for the American Church that Edward Cardinal Howard did for the English Church. To this Leo XIII had replied that he desired this himself.

Summarizing his impressions, Keane wrote:

After my conversations with all these, it is perfectly clear to my mind that the summons has been issued in a spirit of the most entire friendliness towards the American Hierarchy, and through the desire to have all their relations with their priests & with the Holy See placed on the footing that will be the most advantageous & agreeable to our Hierarchy.

Pope Leo XIII, Keane reported, had spoken most kindly to him about the Church of the United States; he had said that through the conferences and the plenary council that would follow "the perfect unity of action which I desire among the Bishops & between them & the Holy See will be secured." For this reason, said Keane, it was important that the American bishops "should come cheerfully, as any objections would surely be misunderstood."

With these two lengthy explanations of the mind of Rome at hand, Gibbons was in a better position to assume the leadership that would be expected of him when he reached the Holy See. The uncertain health of Cardinal McCloskey of New York precluded his attending the conferences; in his absence the American prelates would naturally look to the Archbishop of Baltimore to take the lead.

Archbishop Gibbons left Baltimore on October 8 and sailed from  p61 New York two days later on the Gallia. He reached the Eternal City on November 1, about two weeks in advance of the opening of the conferences. Since the Church of the United States was still regarded in a canonical sense as missionary territory, its business was conducted through the Congregation of the Propaganda, headed at this time by Cardinal Simeoni, the prefect, who had as his associates Giovanni Cardinal Franzelin and Lodovico Cardinal Jacobini with Archbishop Domenico Jacobini, secretary, and Bishop Luigi Sepiacci, O. S. A., consultor. At the first meeting held on November 13 the American bishops were presented with thirteen headings as a suggested agenda for discussion. Simeoni made clear at the outset that the American bishops were to feel entirely free to offer their observations on the subjects proposed by the Propaganda and to suggest additional items. This opportunity for free discussion was fully employed by the Americans; as a result, a thorough canvassing of opinion took place before decisions were reached on the various topics. Archbishop Gibbons took the lead for the Americans in debating practically all the more important points; on a number of occasions the record revealed his speaking "in the name of all his other colleagues."

At the opening meeting on November 13 Gibbons took exception to the recommendation that summer villas for seminarians be instituted in the United States. The summer vacation offered a good time to test the vocation of students for the priesthood, he said; if a student were to change his mind about his vocation, it should happen before ordination. The Roman officials finally agreed that the coming council not make the institution of villas obligatory, although it should strongly recommend them.

On a second topic, that of erecting cathedral chapters in the Church of the United States, Gibbons argued that chapters would not conform to the customs of the American people; that qualified priests could not easily be convened in chapter meetings because of the great distances and the expense involved in traveling; that some priests given the dignity of canons might become haughty in their attitude toward their bishops; and, finally, that the system was conducive to strife between a bishop and his canons. The objection of Gibbons and his associates finally carried, and, as an alternative, the system of diocesan consultors was to be made mandatory for all American dioceses.

 p62  At a subsequent meeting the question arose whether a bishop should seek the consent, or merely the counsel, of the consultors on diocesan business. Gibbons and his colleagues were anxious to set limits to the consultors' authority. Although the cardinals gave their assent to all of Gibbons' suggestions, a number of aspects of this problem remained unsettled and provided material for one of the most closely debated subjects in the council itself.

On two other matters the suggestions of the Archbishop of Baltimore were adopted. Agreeing at the outset with the Roman suggestion that a certain number of priests in each diocese be named irremovable rectors, he felt that their selection should be governed by the bishop's judgment as to the fitness of a candidate, by an examination, and by a test of ten years of praiseworthy work in the ministry. Once more speaking for all the Americans present, he gave his approval to the system outlined by the Propaganda for obtaining the votes of priests of a diocese in the case of a vacant see. The archbishop merely suggested the substitution of the metropolitan or one of the suffragan bishops instead of the administrator of the vacant see to preside at the priests' balloting.

On November 22 Archbishop Gibbons again spoke for his associates in giving full assent to the instructions of the Propaganda forbidding the collection of money at church doors, and ordering that space be provided for the faithful who were not able or who did not wish to pay for the seats they occupied. Gibbons did not agree, however, that picnics and fairs held for the purpose of raising money for church purposes need be entirely abolished as the cardinals had recommended. The archbishop preferred to have rules governing these affairs in such a way as to remove the causes of scandal and sin.

Archbishop Gibbons accepted fully the general regulations proposed for secret societies. But when Archbishop Charles J. Seghers of Oregon City, seconded by Bishop Silas M. Chatard of Vincennes, mentioned the danger of labor unions (societates operariorum) because of the secret oaths, the predominantly non-Catholic personnel, and the tendency to use violence to prevent others from working, Gibbons and Archbishop Patrick A. Feehan of Chicago immediately came to the defense of the unions by saying that many of them offered no reason for ecclesiastical authority to prohibit Catholics from belonging to them. The conclusion reached was that in the case of a doubtful society of any kind the bishop would have  p63 recourse to the Holy See if he could not clearly decide about its forbidden character.

In the conference on November 29 Gibbons promptly gave his approval to the strong stand of the Propaganda for parochial schools in the United States. Gibbons here gave his ready assent to an annual collection to further the Negro apostolate, and he added the suggestions that the Society for the Propagation of the Faith be instituted in all American sees, that bishops in prosperous circumstances who had no Negroes in their charge contribute to the missions in dioceses where Negroes lived in great numbers, and finally that the Prefect of the Propaganda be asked to help supply missionaries for work among the American colored population. These ideas of Gibbons met with general approval.

In the meeting of December 1, Gibbons agreed with the cardinals' proposal of American committees for religious aid for Italian immigrants to the United States; he added the idea of similar committees in Italy to work in conjunction with those in the United States. Gibbons also suggested similar committees for other nationalities that were then emigrating in large numbers from various countries in Europe. The St. Raphael Society for German immigrants was singled out for special praise as a model. On the final major topic of this session, forms of holding Church property, Gibbons favored the bishop's holding temporal possessions of a diocese, not absolutely in his own name, but in the name of all the Catholics of the diocese. The archbishop stated that this method conformed more closely to American customs than the others.

One of the most delicate questions to arise in negotiations related to the choice of an apostolic delegate to preside over the council. The choice for the post fell first on an Italian, but, in the face of opposition from the American bishops, the Pope dropped this idea and appointed Gibbons. The appointment pleased most Americans involved, but Ella B. Edes, a journalist who was the unofficial agent of Archbishop Corrigan in Rome, was greatly annoyed. Speaking of Archbishop Gibbons, Miss Edes told Corrigan: "At the risk of scandalizing you I say of His Grace 'Il est capable de tout' where his own vanity or self-aggrandizement come in. It is provoking to see such intriguers succeeded in their plans." Later on she added:

 p64  I hope he is not going to be suffered to interject at will and have all the say. He is an intriguer and an ambizioso of the first water for all his pretended sanctity and he had fully conveyed that impression here. . . .

But the irritation of Miss Edes did not at the time seem to affect adversely the friendship between Gibbons and Archbishop Corrigan.

Before leaving Rome, the Archbishop of Baltimore was accorded a special honor when Pope Leo XIII appointed him to officiate on Christmas Day in the Basilica of St. Mary Major. Abbé Magnien was encouraged by this news. "I hear many say," said the Sulpician, "that this is an omen of something else. I fondly hope it is."

At length Archbishop Gibbons completed his business in Rome and left for home by way of the British Isles. After an absence of over five months he returned to Baltimore on March 13, 1884, to face the most important and difficult task that had yet been assigned to him. He confided to his diary that he reached home in good health and that Denis O'Connell, who had accompanied him on his journey, had been of great service and comfort to him. On the Sunday following his return Gibbons preached in the cathedral. The archbishop paid a tribute to the simple living and hard-working habits of the Roman cardinals, spoke of his three private audiences with Leo XIII, and added that the large standing armies of Europe had made him feel grateful to be back in peaceful America. He remarked: "The oftener I go to Europe, the longer I remain there, and the more I study the political condition of its people, I return home filled with greater admiration for our own country and more profoundly grateful that I am an American citizen."

Archbishop Gibbons had been at home less than a week when he began to prepare for the council by issuing the formal letter of convocation to the American hierarchy. Gibbons explained the purposes for which the council was called, set the date of opening for November 9, and explained to the prelates that because of the illness of Cardinal McCloskey he had been named apostolic delegate. Gibbons also exerted a serious effort to obtain the best theological talent in the United States to come to Baltimore in the late summer to work on the preliminary schema of decrees. He hoped that they might be properly drawn up and submitted to the bishops in advance of the council's opening.

All through the spring of 1884 Archbishop Gibbons kept in close touch with Archbishop Corrigan on almost every important matter  p65 that arose. He also consulted one or more of the other archbishops frequently. For example, when it came time to select the conciliar officers, he sought the approval of several of these leaders of the Church. From the consensus of their answers he was able to frame a judgment that met with the approval of a majority of the hierarchy.

By agreement among the archbishops, each metropolitan and his suffragans made themselves responsible in advance for commentary on one or more sections of the projected decrees. These were analyzed in the respective provinces, then forwarded to Baltimore where they were printed and distributed. The bishops of the Province of Chicago suggested the importance of some uniformity of textbooks in the schools in each diocese, "and especially the need of a Catechism, to be used everywhere." This suggestion appealed to Francis Janssens of Natchez, and he, therefore, sent along further suggestions about a catechism. There was enough demand to warrant Gibbons' appointing a committee of bishops to report on a uniform catechism. Thus began the project that eventually led to the Baltimore Catechism, still so widely used in revised form in the United States.

By mid-October the schema of the decrees, fresh from the printer, went off to the bishops. By getting the document into their hands three weeks in advance, Gibbons believed they would have ample time to examine it before the council met. Corrigan congratulated Gibbons on the successful completion of his labors. He thought that the proposed decrees showed throughout "marks of great zeal, good judgment and enlightened wisdom," and that the distribution of matter was "remarkably good, logical and judicious. . . ." While the actual work on the schema had been done by the consulting theologians, the responsibility for its overall preparation belonged to Gibbons, and it was reassuring to receive the approval of so exacting a critic as Archbishop Corrigan.

By the last days of October all was in readiness. In the first week of November the bishops and their theologians began to arrive in Baltimore and to settle themselves in various residences. The throng to be accommodated — fourteen archbishops, fifty-seven bishops, seven abbots, thirty-one superiors of religious orders, eleven superiors of major seminaries, and eighty-eight theologians, to say nothing of other minor officials — taxed every available bit of space in religious houses, parish rectories, and the private homes of Catholic families  p66 during the month the council was in session. On November 7 at St. Mary's Seminary on Paca Street the apostolic delegate greeted the prelates formally for the first time. Exceedingly nervous at first, Gibbons spoke simply of the need for harmony and good will:

God grant that our deliberations may be marked by mutual forbearance, & good will & genuine charity. May we keep in view the golden maxim of St. Augustine: In necessariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus caritas. May God bless our labors, & may His Holy Spirit so shape our thoughts & words that all our decisions may contribute to His glory & the exaltation of our Holy Religion.

The New York Herald described the formal opening in the cathedral at some length:

Venerable princes moved along, their long trains supported by bright-faced boys; keen-faced and intellectual-looking men in the prime fit to rule and ready to obey, walked with modest mien. . . . Occasionally among the crowd of clean-shaven faces could be seen one with patriarchal beard and venerable look seeming as though he had stepped out of a stained-glass window. Slowly swinging his censer, and spreading round an odor of frankincense walked the censerbearer, and then bringing up the rear walked the Apostolic-delegate, Archbishop Gibbons.

When the bishops and theologians began the real work on Monday, November 10, a document of nearly 100 pages entitled Schema decretorum concilii plenarii Baltimorensis tertii furnished the basis for debate. The role of the apostolic delegate was that of presiding officer who, in the parliamentary rules drawn up to govern the debates, had the power to break a tie with his vote, to recognize each speaker who wished to enter the debate, to appoint all special committees in the council, to call members to order in case the rules were being violated, and to settle any doubts that might arise concerning the rules.

The private edition of the Acta et decreta, which is the only extant record of the debates in council, indicates that Gibbons used his powers as apostolic delegate very sparingly. On the more important questions, however, he interjected his opinion. When debate started on the subject of irremovable rectors, Bishop Ireland asked the apostolic delegate to tell the assembly his mind on the subject. Gibbons stated that it was the fixed opinion of the cardinals in Rome that there must be irremovable rectors in the Church of the  p67 United States, and that if the council failed to pass legislation on this point it would only invite action from Rome that would not be without embarrassment to the bishops in this country. The apostolic delegate, therefore, indicated his view that the decree should be passed as it stood. That was done. In the extended and rather heated debate on secret societies, the voice of Gibbons was heard again on the side of moderation. He warned the bishops that it was the mind of the Holy See that, as he expressed it, "we condemn no society hastily."

Gibbons permitted the maximum of freedom of debate among the bishops, and his natural inclination to take the judgment of old and more experienced men contributed to his silence. Although he had passed his fiftieth birthday and had been an archbishop for seven years, he felt a certain reserve in the presence of men who were much his seniors both in age and in their years as bishops.

As the council neared its close and the newspapers found little in the realm of fact to report from Baltimore, speculation began about a red hat. The New York World of November 30 settled the question to its own satisfaction:

It can be stated now as an absolute fact that Archbishop Gibbons, of the metropolitan see of Baltimore and delegate apostolic to the third Plenary Council, will be a cardinal before the adjournment of the present council, or at least before January. This was determined upon at the Council of American Bishops held at Rome last November. After his elevation to the cardinalate it is likely that he will be given a coadjutor, on account of the increase of work in this archdiocese.

One unexpected item was added to the business of the council. For years eloquent advocates, of whom Bishop Spalding of Peoria was the most active, had proposed a national university for the Church in the United States. The friends of the university had been hopeful when the archbishops went to Rome in November, 1883, to prepare for the plenary council; but their hopes were disappointed, for the project of a university found no place in the conversations of the American prelates with the cardinals of the Propaganda. In fact, no concrete progress was made until four days after the formal opening of the council, when Miss Mary Gwendoline Caldwell, a young heiress of New York City, gave written expression of her intention to donate $300,000 toward the beginning of a university.  p68 The Caldwell offer, followed three days later by a powerful sermon for a university delivered by Spalding in the cathedral, definitely put an old idea in a new light. A committee of bishops studied the problem and on December 2 reported to the council that Miss Caldwell's offer should be accepted and the plans begun for a university. The council embodied the plan in the decrees to be sent to Rome for approval, and when the Holy See approved the decrees with a few minor changes, the American hierarchy was committed to a university for the American Church. At the request of Miss Caldwell, Gibbons had been named chairman of the committee for the university.

The solemn closing of the council took place on Sunday, December 7, in the cathedral with Archbishop Corrigan of New York the celebrant of the Mass, Bishop Spalding the preacher, and Gibbons presiding as delegate. After the Mass there followed the customary acclamationes, the bestowal of the pax by Gibbons on each of the bishops, and then two brief speeches by Archbishop Peter Richard Kenrick of St. Louis and Archbishop Gibbons. With the chanting of the Te Deum the ceremony came to an end. The Third Plenary Council had finished its long and difficult work.

In all, the council passed 319 decrees, grouped under eleven major titles, that ranged over practically every problem touching on the Church in the United States. After a brief chapter on the Catholic faith the bishops defined the rights and authority of various classes of ecclesiastical persons; framed laws governing feasts, fasts, and the administration of the sacraments; devoted a very lengthy section to Catholic education with provision for a university; passed decrees on diocesan newspapers, secret societies, work for the Negroes and Indians, ways of holding Church property, clerical trials and, finally, added a brief chapter on Christian burial. The chapter on immigrant contained words of praise for the German and Irish immigrant societies and emphasized the need for priests in the seaboard cities to care for the newcomers, the necessity of special protection for women immigrants, and the desirability of directing foreign-born from the cities to the rural areas. On secret societies, the council finally adopted a decree that took judgment entirely out of the hands of the individual bishops and gave it to a committee composed all the metropolitans of the United States. A unanimous decision of the American archbishops would settle the fate of a given society  p69 insofar as the Catholic Church was concerned; if they could not reach unanimity, then the case was to be referred to the Holy See for judgment.

Before the decrees framed at Baltimore in 1884 became law, they had to be approved by Rome, and that, of course, took further time and effort on the part of Gibbons and the bishops whom he appointed to represent the hierarchy at the Holy See. Yet so thoroughly had the council done its work that the decrees remained as law of the Church of the United States practically unchanged down to 1918 when the Code of Canon Law went into force for the Universal Church, and even after that date many of the decrees continued in effect.

In the last days of 1884 Archbishop Gibbons prepared the many documents that had to be transmitted to the Holy See, and after having dispatched them, he wrote a glowing overall account of the council to Cardinal Simeoni. In this letter Gibbons commented on the harmony that had marked the meetings, the generally friendly attitude of the public and the press, and the fact that the Post Office Department had established a special postal service for the bishops. He told Simeoni that the president would have liked to have been present for the opening of the council but the pressure of urgent business kept him away. He concluded his description by saying:

It is evident that everyone in our free America appreciates the important influence of the Catholic Church for the grandeur and prosperity of the nation and we can be only very grateful for the manifestations to which this sentiment has given rise. I am certain that your Eminence and His Holinesswill be happy to learn this.

To win the formal approval of the Holy See for the legislation of the Third Plenary Council, Gibbons as apostolic delegate decided to send Dr. O'Connell to Rome. O'Connell possessed the double advantage of having worked on the legislation from the outset and of having had considerable experience in the conduct of business with the Roman Curia. In addition to O'Connell, Gibbons chose John Moore, Bishop of St. Augustine, one of his own suffragans, and Joseph Dwenger, C.Pp.S., Bishop of Fort Wayne. The choice of Bishop Moore seems to have been prompted in good measure by the fact that he had studied in Rome and could speak Italian fluently. In the case of Dwenger, his German extraction made him a suitable  p70 candidate to represent the German Catholics of the United States, and he was thought to enjoy cordial relations with a number of the Propaganda officials.

The uneasiness of Gibbons and other American bishops centered on the diocesan consultors' rights. Gibbons was anxious that the American bishops' freedom of action should not be fettered by having to get the consent of their consultors for the purchase and sale of property, and he was determined that the substitution made in the language of the decree in Baltimore should stand. Cardinal Franzelin, on the other hand, was holding out for "consent" in the place of "counsel." Worried, Bishop Gilmour suggested to Gibbons the necessity for strengthening the American delegation at Rome. He said he did not feel confidence in the ability of Dwenger and Moore to stand up to Franzelin and others, and at the risk of obtruding he suggested that he and Bishop Bernard J. McQuaid of Rochester go to Rome after Easter. Gibbons, fearful of Rome's reaction to the already of so many Americans, sought to meet Gilmour's proposal, and at the same time safeguard his own position, by a countersuggestion that Gilmour and McQuaid announce that they were going to Europe for reasons of health and relaxation; Gibbons believed that

This and some other motives that may suggest themselves to you, while saving you from any suspicion of exercising any pressure, will not interfere with the exercise of your zeal and your aid in Rome. The authorities even will be glad to have you then for consultation.

McQuaid rejected this suggestion indignantly. He told Gilmour that if he did not know what kind of a man Gibbons was he would feel disposed "to resent his proposition as an insult." McQuaid would be no party to any unofficial visit to Rome; either they would go as the accredited representatives of the apostolic delegate, or he would not go at all. The Bishop of Rochester's annoyance did not abate; two weeks later he told Gilmour: "His Grace would be pleased if you could go to Rome on your own 'hook,' and save the American Church, without the possibility of his incurring any displeasure." He suggested that Gibbons seek the cooperation of the other archbishops. "Thus united," he continued, "he need not fear adverse criticism for himself. But he will get plenty of it should there be radical changes through his default." Meanwhile disquieting news over Franzelin's opposition continued to reach Baltimore from the Eternal City. Fears mounting, Gibbons still could not bring himself  p71 to commission the Bishop of Cleveland to go as his official representative. He limited himself to saying: "You can draw yr. conclusions about going. I cannot take the responsibility of advising you to go, but I wish you were there. You must decide for yourself & quickly."

The plain truth of the matter was that Archbishop Gibbons was sorely confused by contradictory advice. Dwenger was by all odds the most optimistic, but O'Connell informed the archbishop that he should take with some reserve what Dwenger wrote to him since the Bishop of Fort Wayne showed a tendency to overrate his own ability to convert the Propaganda officials to his views. To add to Gibbons' discomfort O'Connell, his most trusted adviser, disapproved of Gilmour's coming to Rome. He told the archbishop he could not see "what other interpretation could be put upon it by the Propaganda than an intention to coerce." Archbishop Elder of Cincinnati strongly advised Gibbons to issue the credentials for Gilmour. "If you feel a delicacy about assuming it," he wrote, "you might consult some of the Archbishops & some of the older Bishops; and I think their answers will reassure you." Fortunately, the opportunity was at hand, a meeting of the Bishops who composed the committee for the proposed Catholic university scheduled in Baltimore on May 7. At this meeting Williams, Ryan, Corrigan, Ireland, and Spalding all agreed Gilmour should be sent officially.

Just before Gilmour's departure, Gibbons warned him that talk of an apostolic delegate had begun again. When Gilmour arrived in Rome, he called on Cardinal Manning who was then in the Eternal City. He reported Manning as "very clearly and openly opposed" to the idea of sending a delegate to the United States. Bishop Moore had, on two or three occasions, spoken to Archbishop Jacobini about having an American bishop living in Rome; last time the Propaganda secretary had, according to Moore, "let the cat out of the bag" when he replied that the Americans wanted to tie Rome's hands. Jacobini had asked about appointing one or two American bishops, either permanently or temporarily, to receive appeals in the United States and to treat matters there for Rome. Moore was agreeable to this proposal, providing there was also a prelate in Rome from the United States who could put matters into shape for the Propaganda and who could inform the officials of the value to be attached to testimony that came from this country.

Just week before Moore wrote his letter to the Archbishop of  p72 Baltimore there occurred an appointment which, to the mind of Gibbons, gave promise of solving the difficulty. On June 15, 1885, Denis J. O'Connell was named fourth rector of the American College in Rome. O'Connell had been Gibbons' favored candidate for the post, and the archbishop succeeded in adding endorsements from other members of the hierarchy as well — Williams, Ryan, Corrigan, Ireland, and Spalding. Ryan attached great significance to the post: "Unless some regular representative of the American Bishops shall be selected, the Rector of the College will have to act — more or less — in that capacity and the Propaganda will consult him." For this very reason, Gibbons was all the more anxious that the man selected be O'Connell. When Leo finally approved O'Connell's nomination, the news rejoiced the heart of the new rector's patron in Baltimore. He told Gilmour: "I regard his selection as not only a great blessing to the College, but also as a signal advantage to the American Bishops who will find in him a wise and discreet intermediary between them & the Holy See. He will discharge with zeal & ability whatever commission may be entrusted to him." O'Connell, confirmed as rector, thus began a decade of service during which he served many of the American bishops as their Roman representative, although he never received any formal appointment nor any official recognition from the Holy See. With his intimate friend in that role, the Archbishop of Baltimore had every reason to believe that the questions in which he took a special interest would receive from O'Connell the attention they deserved. In this he was not disappointed.

While the nomination of O'Connell was working its way through the Curia, the Italian government was threatening to sell the property of the American College. Word of this danger reached McCloskey by cable from Simeoni the first week of March, 1884, while Gibbons was still on the high seas returning from Europe. Corrigan, acting for McCloskey, approached President Chester A. Arthur to use the good offices of the United States government in preventing the seizure of the property. The confiscation was to be made under the law of 1866 ordering the sale of all Church property held in mortmain throughout Italy, and a second law of 1873 that had applied the former measure to the city and district of Rome. Although the deed to the college property was held by the Propaganda, the cost of its upkeep had been borne for years by the American hierarchy. The bishops could, therefore, legitimately protest against the seizure  p73 of property upon which they had expended so much money. The favorable reception given Cardinal McCloskey's appeal by the president, Secretary of State Frederick T. Frelinghuysen, and the American minister in Rome, William W. Astor, saved the property. Astor energetically appealed to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and by March 25 the property of the American College was excepted from confiscation.

The months of waiting for the final word on the conciliar decrees were anxious ones. Dwenger related that the arrival of Gilmour had aroused the suspicion of coercion in the mind of Simeoni, as Gibbons had feared. He said: "Two weeks ago I felt sure that Bp. Moore and myself would obtain all we asked. I can give no such assurance now, in fact I feel a great deal discouraged." To add to the troubles Moore bluntly told Gibbons that neither he nor Gilmour could get along with Dwenger because of what Moore called Dwenger's "vanity and selfishness."

Yet, on the whole, progress seemed fairly steady. By mid-September O'Connell could inform Gibbons: "The Council work is done, nothing remaining but the Pope's approval. I feel as if a mountain had been lifted off my mind." On September 10 Leo XIII gave his approval to the legislation. The troublesome question of the "consent" and "counsel" of diocesan consultors was settled by a special brief giving the American bishops permission for ten years to proceed with property transactions without first winning their consultors' consent.

The German question led Bishops Moore and Gilmour to one more chore. In August, 1883, there had arrived in the United States Peter Paul Cahensly, the secretary-general of the St. Raphael's Society for the Care of German Catholic Emigrants. Cahensly spent several months visiting the German Catholic centers, conferring with both priests and lay leaders. After Cahensly's visit, though not necessity because of it, a German Catholic monthly journal in St. Louis, the Pastoral Blatt, published an article called "Clerical Know-Nothingism in the Catholic Church of the United States." The article criticized the system of maintaining German Catholic churches under the jurisdiction of English-speaking parishes. While the German Catholics could fulfill all their religious duties in such succursal churches, their priests did not enjoy the full privileges that were accorded to other pastors. The system led to friction, and the  p74 Pastoral Blatt called for a grant of full autonomy to these German congregations. By the summer of 1884 the German priests of St. Louis had framed a protest to the Holy See.

The attention of Archbishop Gibbons had been drawn to the situation in St. Louis by a letter from Cardinal Simeoni in which the latter transmitted the views of the St. Louis priests and suggested that the matter be made a subject for discussion at the Third Plenary Council. In his reply, the Archbishop of Baltimore deplored the publicity that this question had received in the German-speaking newspapers. It would have been better, said Gibbons, to have the Propaganda informed and the matter then referred to the bishops in council so that a remedy might be applied without exciting odium and spite. He feared that quarrels of this kind in public would aggravate the situation and make a peaceful settlement all the more difficult. Gibbons promised to do all he could to have the council deal justly with the Germans and with Catholics of other nationalities. Actually the question of independent parishes for the Germans did not arise during the council, nor did the bishops of German nationality make any effort to introduce it.

Aware that the agitation still existed, Moore and Gilmour now prepared a memorial on the subject for the Propaganda. They charged the German Catholics with egotism in resisting the request that they attend church with other nationalities. This attitude, the bishops maintained, threatened to lead to a conflict between the German and Irish Catholics in the United States; if it were not stopped, scandal to religion and injury to souls would ensue. For the time being, Rome took no action on their memorial.

Its business completed, the Third Plenary Council redounded to the personal fame of the Archbishop of Baltimore, for his management of its affairs during and after the sessions contributed greatly to its ultimate success. In fact, so generally favorable had been the impression created in Rome, that when Archbishop Elzear A. Taschereau of Quebec contemplated a provincial council, Cardinal Simeoni advised him to delay the meeting until after the Baltimore decrees were published. Similarly, the Archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh told Gibbons that the Scottish bishops were making plans for their first provincial council and that "Rome recommends to us your last Council of Baltimore as the best model for our imitation." Archbishop Gibbons felt a natural gratification at this  p75 approval by the Holy See and other hierarchies. With pardonable pride he concluded: "Thus are they all marching into line."

The completion of the work of the council released Gibbons for a variety of other assignments from Rome, such as resolving the ticklish administrative difficulties of the Archdiocese of New Orleans, and assignments from the hierarchy, such as getting affairs of the Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions in Washington straightened out. At the same time, the Archbishop of Baltimore managed to carry on the business of his own archdiocese and to respond to the increasing calls for his services from men in both Church and State. On December 28, 1884, he dedicated the new church for St. Patrick's parish in Washington. A week later he traveled to Philadelphia where he invested his friend, Archbishop Ryan, with the pallium. Shortly after Grover Cleveland was inaugurated as president, the archbishop called at the White House for about half an hour. The president expressed the hope that the visits would be renewed from time to time during his administration. President Cleveland was the first chief executive with whom Gibbons enjoyed close personal friendship; during the next four years the archbishop was a fairly frequent caller at the White House.

That fall Cardinal Simeoni, in a confidential letter, asked Gibbons' judgment on the propriety of Leo XIII's sending a note of greeting and goodwill to President Grover Cleveland. The Archbishop of Baltimore replied after a few weeks, laying before Simeoni a detailed explanation of why such a letter would do more harm than good. The United States, he said, was largely a Protestant country with Protestant traditions. Prejudices, however much buried at present, could easily be aroused again. American Catholics were in a position like that of the Catholics in England; only by the exercise of prudence could they remain strong. The American people, though opposed to religious persecution, were quick to resent favorite to any particular religion. A letter from the Pope to the president would make Catholics suspected of ambition, intrigue, and even of disloyalty.

Moreover a letter from the Pope would embarrass President Cleveland. Most American Catholics were identified with his party, and their opponents, the Republicans, would surely make the papal letter a weapon against the Democrats. In these circumstances Cleveland might not make a reply in keeping with the dignity of  p76 the Sovereign Pontiff and in accordance with the veneration with which Catholics surrounded his person. In the United States the real force, public opinion, would not be favorable to an exchange of letters even if Cleveland responded as fully and courteously as he should. At the moment both political parties were favorably disposed toward the Catholics. It would be unwise, said Gibbons, to do anything that might change these good dispositions. He was happy to assure Simeoni, however, that personally the Holy Father was held in the highest esteem in this country, as was demonstrated by the universal admiration shown by serious and intelligent Americans for his encyclicals like Immortale Dei. The point of view outlined in this lengthy reply contained the sentiments that motivated Gibbons all through his life in opposition to the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two governments.

As James Gibbons came to the close of 1885 and his eighth year as Baltimore's archbishop, he could look back with considerable satisfaction at the generally prosperous growth of the archdiocese, the finished work of the Third Plenary Council, and the increasing stature that he was gaining with American people of all faiths. He was easily among the three or four top leaders of the Church in the United States, not only by virtue of his office as Archbishop of Baltimore but, also, through the exercise of talents and natural virtues that recommended him strongly to the affection of his associates. To his friends and admirers the rumors of great honors that were in store for him seemed altogether fitting, and when in October, 1885, the only cardinal of the United States died, the speculation about a red hat for Gibbons took on more immediate significance.

Thayer's Note:

a Baltimore was founded on July 30, 1729, but her sesquicentennial was indeed celebrated in October, 1880.

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