The highest honor that can come to a Catholic churchman, aside from the Papacy itself, is membership in the College of Cardinals. A great personal distinction for the recipient, the cardinalate also often signifies the Holy See's favorable opinion of a particular nation and attests the maturity of the branch of the Universal Church thus honored.
The growth of the Catholic Church in the United States — well over six million members by 1880 — led, not surprisingly, to repeated rumors of a second cardinal for this country. Furthermore, the relations between the government and the Church, although entirely unofficial, were cordial; there was every prospect that the Church's progress in the republic would continue unimpeded by any hampering action of the civil power. With the first American cardinal, John McCloskey, Archbishop of New York, in poor health, Archbishop Gibbons' skill as apostolic delegate at the council, together with his position in the premier see of the country, focused attention on him as the most probable candidate. When Denis O'Connell arrived in Rome in the early spring of 1885, he had an audience with Leo XIII in which the Pope inquired about McCloskey's health and closed the audience with a reference to Gibbons:
He spoke of you with an air of great acquaintance and affection, and tho he did not say so in so many words, I am satisfied that he intended to convey to me the impression that he intended to create a cardinal in Balto. to succeed the one of New York, and I think you know from experience with me that I am not disposed to commit myself to the promises of hope.
After Cardinal McCloskey died in the autumn of 1885, the rumors quickened. O'Connell heard from Archbishop Jacobini at the Propaganda that the red hat would come to Baltimore. Then in February p78 of 1886 Archbishop Gibbons received a telegram from the Archbishop of New York: "It is authentic. Biglietto will arrive about the twenty second." Corrigan, convinced of the authenticity of a cablegram he had received from Rome, released the news in New York. Within a few hours Gibbons began to receive congratulations from many friends and admirers. The Baltimore American of February 11 promptly picked up the Associated Press dispatch from New York. A report on the American rushed to the archbishop's residence that night and was told by John Foley that private telegrams received by the archbishop confirmed the authenticity of the news.
Later that day Gibbons noted in his diary: "Should the report be verified may God give me as he gave to His servant David a humble heart, that I may bear the honor with becoming modesty & a profound sense of my unworthiness. . . ."
Meanwhile he acknowledged Corrigan's telegram; he hoped the day was not far distant when he would be "sweetly revenged" by communicating a similar message to the Archbishop of New York. "Then what a hurricane there will be! The present storm will be mild in comparison to it." Just at this time Corrigan fixed March 4 as the date for receiving his pallium, and Gibbons gladly agreed to confer it.
During these days of mid‑February, 1886, Archbishop Gibbons received hundreds of congratulatory messages. Their authors ranged through all the ranks of the hierarchy and priesthood, officials of the United States government, officers of the state and municipality, on down to little children in the parochial schools.
Yet amid all these notices in the public press and the numerous letters received by the archbishop from his admirers, no official word came from the Holy See. Two weeks passed, and then a registered letter to Archbishop Corrigan from Ella Edes in Rome revealed that he had unwittingly committed "an awful blunder." With the approach of Lent the Archbishop of New York and his consultors had discussed the subject of permitting the Catholic people the use of meat on Saturdays of the Lenten season. Corrigan knew that Gibbons had requested a similar indult. With that in mind he asked Miss Edes to inquire of Propaganda if Gibbons' request had been granted; if time pressed she was to cable the answer. Following out Corrigan's orders, Miss Edes cabled him on February 10 in these words: "Granted, Official Letter Baltimore, Feb. 8th." Corrigan, p79 having meanwhile entirely forgotten about the Lenten indult, jumped to the conclusion that the cablegram pertained to Gibbons' red hat.
The episode proved painful, of course, to the two principals. Corrigan told Gibbons that he was "mortified beyond measure," but that if the information were kept secret probably no harm would be done. The mistake would hasten the consummation if Corrigan himself could wield any influence, he said, and meanwhile the goodwill of the entire community had been made after. The Archbishop of New York craved the forgiveness of Gibbons for the error; as he put it, "I meant to do a kind act, and on the contrary have only covered myself with confusion."
Archbishop Gibbons replied promptly:
Your letter came just as I was going down to conflict with Bp. Kain & Bp. Dwenger. You may well realize its effect on me. I tried with great difficulty to maintain my composure at the table. It has of course unnerved me. But I am praying earnestly to God to give me grace & strength to bear the humiliation & drink the chalice. I am sorry also my Dear Friend, for your sake. I know how distressed you must feel & all on my account, in your friendly eagerness to send me what you naturally supposed would be a joyful message. I will keep the secret, but I cannot stop the congratulatory messages that are coming in every day. I can only say to them in reply, as I have been saying, that I have no communication from Rome on the subject. . . .
Pray my Dear Friend that I may have grace to bear this confusion, & may joyfully do God's will, & I beg you not to be distressed on my account.
The tension of these days must have been exceedingly trying. The excitement died down in Baltimore, but, as Gibbons confessed to Corrigan, he dreaded the gauntlet he would have to run in New York when he came for the conferring of the pallium. He was fearful that the strong emotion under which he had written his first letter to Corrigan would convey the impression that he was thinking more of himself than of his friend in New York, for as Gibbons expressed it, "You needed more sympathy than I did." He was especially uneasy lest the Roman correspondent of some American secular or religious paper seek authentication of the news at the Vatican. In that case Rome might well cable an official contradiction to the United States. For this reason, Gibbons remarked, it had occurred to him that Corrigan might forestall such a contingency by sending to Rome an explanation of what had really happened.
p80 Corrigan did communicate to the Secretary of the Propaganda, Jacobini, the story of his blunder. He added a statement — in the name of the entire American hierarchy — that if the Pope should see fit to confer the hat on Gibbons it would be gratifying to all the American bishops. Jacobini informed Leo XIII of Corrigan's error. The Pope received the report good-naturedly and said that no harm had been done. Gibbons told his friend in New York that he never dreamed Corrigan would carry his atonement "for a most pardonable & magnanimous mistake to such a length of noble generosity."
At length the official silence was broken in May when a cablegram arrived from Lodovico Cardinal Jacobini, Secretary of State, informing Gibbons of his designation by the Pope for the cardinalate in the forthcoming consistory. In Rome, O'Connell was plainly elated: Gibbons 'are trumps' now, and everyone will try to play them."
Even as Gibbons rejoiced in his new honor, he shared the general horror provoked by the riot caused by the explosion of a bomb in Haymarket Square, Chicago, on May 4. Eleven persons, including three policemen, died as a result of the tumult. On the following Sunday, the new cardinal seized the opportunity of the dedication of Holy Cross Church for the German Catholics in Baltimore to utter a strong cry of warning to foreign born of his own faith. Gibbons emphasized that the United States welcomed foreigners, but he lashed out against the turbulent minority of anarchists who preached the gospel of socialism and nihilism and whose favorite weapon was dynamite. He said: "Instead of strengthening the hands of the government that upholds and protects them, they are bent upon its destruction. Instead of blessing the mother that opens her arms to welcome them, they insult and strike her." In this salutary warning Gibbons joined his voice to those of responsible citizens everywhere in deprecating the tragic events in Chicago that had implicated a number of the foreign born.
Even as Gibbons waited for the arrival of the red biretta, he showed that, though he was at all times respectful of pontifical authority, he did not respond to every hint that emanated from circles close to the Roman Curia. Robert Fulton, S. J., provincial of the Maryland province of the Society of Jesus, told Gibbons that he had been instructed by Rome to take an active interest in raising a special collection in the United States for the golden jubilee p81 of Leo XIII's priesthood. Gibbons frankly opposed the collection. The bishops had pledged themselves in the Third Plenary Council to take up a collection for the Pope sometime before the summer of 1887; there was also the annual Peter's Pence. In Gibbons' judgment three collections in one year for the same purpose would fatigue the people. The fact that Fulton mentioned pressure from Rome did not disturb the cardinal, for he remarked to Archbishop Williams of Boston: "I replied that I would wait for the pressure." He proposed to the Archbishop of Boston that at the proper time the hierarchy join in a letter of felicitation to the Pontiff and make his jubilee the occasion for increasing the Peter's Pence. "I think it is very important," he said, "that we should act in concert on this matter, and agree on a basis of action." In the end the proposals made by Gibbons were carried out.
The cardinal-elect chose June 30 for the imposition of the red biretta in Baltimore. It was the silver jubilee of his ordination as a priest by Archbishop Francis P. Kenrick, the brother of the man who had now been appointed to confer upon Gibbons the symbol of his new rank. On the afternoon of June 29 the official letter of notification and the red zucchetto were presented to Gibbons in the parlor of his residence. On the following morning the Cathedral of the Assumption was filled to overflowing. The solemn procession in the cathedral found twenty-four bishops and ten archbishops in the line of march. Archbishop Williams said the Mass, Archbishop Ryan preached the sermon, and at the end of the Mass Archbishop Kenrick of St. Louis imposed the biretta on the new cardinal. Germano Straniero, the papal ablegate, made a brief speech. The long, unusual ceremony was concluded by three brief addresses by Gibbons, the first to Kenrick, the second to Straniero. The third address, directed to the prelates, clergy, and laity, afforded Gibbons an opportunity to pay a special tribute to the high moral influence exercised by the reigning Pope. The new cardinal also struck a favorite note in praise of his own country:
In no country of all the nations of the earth does he [Leo XIII] find more loyal and devoted spiritual children than among the clergy and laity of this free republic. And I am happy to add that our separated brethren, while not sharing in our faith, have shared our profound admiration for the benevolent and enlightened statesmanship of the present Supreme Pontiff.
p82 The American press's reaction to the ceremonies found favor in Rome where the tokens of respect expressed by the American newspapers for Leo XIII and the new cardinal were contrasted to the antipapal attitude of the Italian government and press. The Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, paid high praise to the United States for the friendly reception given to its new cardinal, then went on: "To those proud republicans, citizens of the greatest and best constituted republic the earth has ever known, the Pope is something higher than any other man, and they laugh at and scorn and cannot understand those who seriously pretend to consider the Pope a simple citizen of Italy."
For Cardinal Gibbons the principal ceremony was yet to come — the consistory at Rome at which he would receive the red hat itself. In the meantime, the new cardinal attended to certain formalities, such as addressing letters of greeting to all other cardinals in the world, and to the Catholic sovereigns which, in turn, brought him the felicitations of the King and Queen of the Belgians, the Emperor and Emperor of Austria-Hungary, the Emperor and Empress of Brazil, and the Queen of Portugal.
The fall and early winter of 1886 found Gibbons preoccupied with diocesan business and with increasingly serious problems facing the Church in turn.
Since the Third Plenary Council, Gibbons had not exerted himself for the proposed new university. In 1885 Bishop Ireland of St. Paul, restive at the long delay, pointedly reminded him that two members of the original committee had already died and that further delay would endanger interest in the project. The strong pressure of Spalding and Ireland finally led Gibbons to make a new start; he set May 7, 1885, for a meeting of the university committee in Baltimore. On this occasion the leading item of business was the selection of a site. When Bishop Spalding put the motion for Washington, it carried without difficulty. The choice was not to the liking of Gibbons but he yielded to the strong preference of Spalding and Ireland and the wish of Miss Caldwell. The news of the selection of the nation's capital was greeted with favor by both the Catholic and the secular press.
In the fall of 1885 the Holy Father addressed a private letter to the Archbishop of Baltimore in which he expressed gratification p83 over the plans for a university. The arrival of Leo XIII's letter in time for a committee meeting on November 11 enabled Gibbons to read it to members as an encouragement to their efforts. On that occasion Bishops Spalding, Ireland, Keane, and Martin Marty were authorized to collect funds throughout the dioceses of the United States; Gibbons was to write a letter to the American hierarchy explaining the authorization and inviting the support of the bishops. When three months passed and no letter appeared, Bishop Keane, on the job collecting in New York for some time, prodded the archbishop: "Does it not seem time for Baltimore to speak out & act?" Archbishop Gibbons' caution found support in the spring of 1886. While Denis O'Connell was personally enthusiastic about the university, his correspondence suggested that the idea had not taken too well with a number of the officials of the Roman Curia. More alarming was the resignation of Archbishop Heiss from the university committee. Heiss pleaded his many duties in Milwaukee, the great distance he would have to travel to meetings, and the little he could contribute to the university's work. His resignation removed the leading representative of the German Catholics in the United States, and O'Connell reported that the Heiss resignation was made to look "ominous" in Rome.
At a meeting in Baltimore May 12, a special subcommittee named to select a rector chose John Lancaster Spalding. When he refused the post, the archbishops turned to John J. Keane, Bishop of Richmond. After expressing his reluctance to undertake a position for which he had no training or experience, Keane at length accepted. The appointment was to be kept confidential until it received the approval of the Holy See. The subcommittee also decided that Bishop Keane should go personally to Rome in the autumn. John Ireland was going at that time to make his ad limina visit; the committee planned to have the two bishops travel and work together. In the meantime, Keane begged his old friend, Denis O'Connell, to be on his guard and to protect the university project against "petty undermining."
In the autumn of 1886, the university committee convened to draw up two lengthy letters for Leo XIII and Cardinal Simeoni. Five other archbishops, in Baltimore on other business, also signed. The letters thus bore the names of nine of the twelve archbishops p84 in the United States. Armed with these documents, Bishops Keane and Ireland sailed on the Aurania three days later to lay the plans before the officials of the Curia.
Meanwhile, quite unknown to Gibbons, Cardinal Simeoni asked Archbishop Corrigan for a confidential opinion on the university. Corrigan had recently sought the judgment of Father Fulton, who had opposed the university strenuously in the Third Plenary Council. Fulton complied with detailed objections; these the Archbishop of New York made the substance of his reply to the Propaganda. When Keane and Ireland arrived in Rome, they easily spotted the source of the opposition to the university that had been reaching the Holy See. Seriously concerned, they composed a very strong answer to all the objections made to them by the Propaganda officials. A copy of this lengthy document, along with private letters from Keane and O'Connell, kept Gibbons posted. Still he said little, even though his failure to speak out strongly proved to be a source of embarrassment to the Americans in Rome. When the secretary of the Propaganda, Archbishop Jacobini, told the two bishops that the whole question was to be laid aside until Gibbons' arrival and then "laid on the table indefinitely," that proved too much for the Americans. They demanded and received an audience with Leo XIII the next day. During this interview the Holy Father told them he had not yet made up his mind about the university. He asked the two bishops to remain in Rome until Gibbons arrived. Until then the matter lay dormant.
That same autumn Cardinal Gibbons received a letter that began a chain of events that would involve him deeply in the conflict between the nationalities. In this letter, Father Peter M. Abbelen of Milwaukee stoutly defended the right of the Germans to enjoy full parochial rights and just as strongly condemned the undue haste with which some people were trying to Americanize the Germans. He correctly pointed out that the Germans — unlike the Irish — were surrounded by the fellow countrymen who were often infidels and members of secret societies who did everything in their power to lure the Catholic Germans away from the Church. If these non‑Catholic Germans could taunt their Catholic countrymen with being only second-rate Catholics, the Church would suffer serious consequences. The Milwaukee priest admitted that in the course of time Americanization would come through a gradual amalgamation. But he did not appreciate p85 the danger that other American Catholics saw, that the tenacious holding to the German language might end in his countrymen's being considered not second-rate Catholics but second-rate citizens. At any rate, Abbelen was going to Rome to lay the matter before the Holy See. He asked Gibbons to recommend him to Simeoni as "a trustworthy person and sufficiently Americanized not to be a one‑sided partisan in this question." The cardinal gave him the letter.
Before long, Cardinal Gibbons had reason to regret his act. In Rome, Bishops Keane and Ireland soon got wind of the Abbelen mission and even secured a copy of the Abbelen document — "a more villainous tissue of misstatements I have seldom read," Keane said. Abbelen's petition, which bore the approval of Archbishop Heiss of Milwaukee, dwelt particularly on the succursal parishes for the Germans in St. Louis and on unfair treatment in Albany and New Orleans. While Abbelen praised Cardinal Gibbons personally for his fairness to the Germans in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, he added that Gibbons' kindness did not prevent "Irish rectors from acting against the letter of the law, and meddling in various ways with the rights of the Germans." The language of the Abbelen petition was, on the whole, judicious, the claims substantially just. Nevertheless, Keane did not hesitate to tell Gibbons of his and Ireland's amazement that "this secret emissary of a clique of German Bishops among us" had come with a letter of recommendation from the cardinal: "No wonder the Propaganda is puzzled."
Unduly excited, Ireland and Keane sent cables to a number of American prelates urging them to write to Rome in protest. The cables at once alerted the American bishops, and Cardinal Gibbons began to receive urgent pleas for action. Corrigan advised him to call a meeting of the Archbishops of Boston and Philadelphia, himself, and Gibbons right away so that they could draft a letter in time to reach Rome before the next meeting of the Congregation of the Propaganda.
Meeting in Philadelphia, the four archbishops denied any unfair treatment of any national group in the American Church. They acknowledged some trouble in the succursal parishes for the Germans in the Archdiocese of St. Louis, but they emphasized to Simeoni that there had been ample opportunity in the Third Plenary Council for discussion of this question when a special committee p86 for "new material" was appointed with Archbishop Heiss himself a member; yet the German bishops had remained silent. Therefore, the archbishops asked, in what way had they offended? The eastern metropolitans recognized, too, the folly of trying to uproot customs in a sudden and violent manner, and for that reason they had made provision for non-English-speaking Catholics in their respective sees. Their efforts had not led to the results that Abbelen envisioned. In Gibbons' jurisdiction, St. Joseph's Church of Washington had been tried as a mixed congregation for Germans and non‑Germans; but when sermons were delivered in German, the second-generation Germans got up and left, although they remained for the English sermons. The prefect of the Propaganda was warned that any precipitous action by the Holy See on the Abbelen petition would endanger the welfare of Catholicism in the United States.
The day following the meeting in Philadelphia the Cardinal of Baltimore gave an account of the conference to Archbishop Elder:
If they [the Germans] get what they ask, other nationalities will claim similar privileges [sic], & we will have a war of races, the charges of our enemies that we are a religion of foreigners will be vindicated.
Gibbons also explained to Rome that he had written the letter for Abbelen under the impression that the priest was going to Rome to resolve some local conflict between German- and English-speaking missions. "My letter simply recommended him as a priest who had rendered us good and faithful services at the Plenary Council," Gibbons said, "I did not make any allusion to any other subject."
Despite Gibbons' show of vigor once he understood the grave issues involved, Bishop Keane was plainly alarmed for Gibbons' reputation. Other issues were also calling for the utmost care lest a blunder be made. The naturally cautious temperament of Gibbons, combined with his desire to give satisfaction to the many conflicting elements that sought his support, convinced Keane that Gibbons' seeming vacillation was endangering his reputation in Rome. With this thought in mind, he wrote the cardinal a letter in every sense admirable for its candor and genuine bravery. He begged the cardinal to pardon him if he now mentioned painful truths that only his high regard for Gibbons personally and for Gibbons' exalted office could induce him to write. Keane then proceeded:
p87 I find, to my intense regret, that an impression has taken shape in Rome to the effect that your Eminence is changeable in views, weak and vacillating in purpose, anxious to conciliate both parties on nearly every question; that it is hard to know, therefore, upon which side you stand concerning any important question, or what weight to attach to your utterances. Hence I find a growing inclination to look elsewhere than to your Eminence for reliable information & judgments, — a tendency, not only here but among the Bishops of the United States, to look to New York rather than to Baltimore for the representative & leader of our Hierarchy.
As Keane explained, the accusations against Gibbons' integrity were not always made in so many words, but in "shrugs, and smiles, and insinuations." Even Leo XIII had intimated he had a kind of apprehension about the cardinal. Bishop Keane acknowledged Gibbons' kindness of heart, his anxiety to be gracious and yielding. Yet Keane reminded the cardinal that lack of determination would lead to a widespread mistrust of his strength of character and capacity for leadership. Keane closed his remarkable letter with these words:
Let me hope that you will not be offended, that you will appreciate the affectionate devotedness which, next to my desire for the Church's best welfare, has been my only motive in thus writing; and let me hope that henceforth your Eminence will more than regain the lost ground, by showing such singleness, such consistency, such firmness, such nobleness, in every word and act, as to fully realize the grand ideal of your position in the forefront of the foremost Hierarchy of the world.
A letter such as this could have been written only by a man possessed of the forthright, transparent honesty of John Keane; it could have been received with profit and equanimity only by a man whose lofty position had not robbed him of the spirit of humility that permitted him to view these criticisms in their true light. The friendship between the two prelates was in no way impaired by Keane's candor, and it may have had a salutary effect, indeed, upon the cardinal's stamina.
By the late summer of 1886, the failure of the American archbishops to take definite action for or against some of the secret societies prompted certain parties to lodge pleas for action with the Holy See. Monsignor O'Connell informed the Cardinal of Baltimore that Bishop Chatard of Vincennes was again trying to get a condemnation of the Ancient Order of Hibernians and — an even more p88 disquieting fear — perhaps a condemnation of the Knights of Labor as well.
An all‑inclusive labor union founded in 1869, the Knights of Labor had used secrecy as protection against blacklists and ritual as bait for prospective members. After Terence V. Powderly, a Catholic, became head of the order in 1879, he succeeded in diminishing the secrecy and in chipping away at the ritual. But even these reforms did not altogether quiet criticism from some of the clergy, for the order retained secrecy regarding the private work of the various assemblies and prohibited members from revealing the name of any fellow member without his permission. In the meantime, of course, the hostility of the managers of industry did not abate, and this opposition, coupled with the criticism of churchmen, prompted Powderly to tell one correspondent: "Between the men who love God and the men who don't believe in God I have had a hard time of it." Regardless of the difficulties, the organization continued to grow. The depression of the years 1883‑1885 swelled the ranks of the Knights, and by September, 1884, the membership rolls showed a total of 71,326.
Just three weeks before the Third Plenary Council, the Holy Office, in response to an inquiry from Archbishop Elzear A. Taschereau of Quebec, sent out a directive that the Knights were a society that "ought to be considered among those prohibited by the Holy See." The adverse action against them in Canada soon became known among the bishops in the United States of course, and before long the more conservative prelates were pointing to it as a precedent that the American hierarchy should follow. At the Third Plenary Council, on the other hand, the decrees on the prohibited societies repeated word for word the exception made in favor of bona fide labor unions in the legislation of the council of 1866.
In the midst of the discussion aroused by the decree of the Holy Office for Canada, it became known that Gibbons had examined the ritual and the constitution of the Knights and had raised no objection. The sudden and almost startling growth of the K. of L. in Gibbons' see city, an increase of over 11,000 members for the year 1886, brought the Knights in Baltimore to a total of 13,052 in 111 local assemblies.
That spring when the disastrous strike of the K. of L. on the p89 Southwest Railway System of Jay Gould was in progress, the Catholic Review of New York for April 3 reported that the Archbishop of Baltimore directed his secretary to assure the laborers that Gibbons gave "cordial approval" to every movement consistent with fair dealing toward employers that had for its end the amelioration of the conditions of the laboring class.
While these cautious but sympathetic indications of Gibbons' attitude were appreciated by the Knights, and by the same token probably reprobated by conservative ecclesiastics, they did little to clarify the status of the American branch of the order. Gibbons attempted to clarify his own position in a letter to Archbishop Elder:
With regard to the Knights of Labor it is not easy to determine what action if any should be taken. A masterly inactivity & a vigilant eye on their proceedings is perhaps the best thing to be done in the present junction. If the Holy See has disapproved of the society in Quebec, as has been represented — the decision was juxta exposita. My impression is that the metropolitans of the United States will be almost, if not unanimous in not condemning them. The society cannot be held responsible for the acts of individual members. There are however some features of this organization that ought to receive an official rebuke:
1. Their persecution of non‑unionmen, forbidding employers to employ them &
2. The custom of boycotting. . . .
It has occurred to me to propose to the Abps. that a formula of paternal exhortation (calling attention also to the irregularities which I have referred to) be drawn up, that the draft be submitted to each of the Abps., published in the name of all the metropolitans after they have approved of it.
But we should be careful not to be too hard on them, otherwise they would suspect us of siding with the moneyed corporations & employers.
Later in the year Gibbons moved forward a step on his own. He was aided by a communication from the pastor at Carbondale, Pennsylvania, which included not only a copy of the constitution of the Knights but a letter from Powderly that breathed, as Gibbons told elder, "a truly Catholic spirit of obedience and respect for the voice of the Church, and a willingness to amend the constitution if anything faulty is found out." With these documents in his possession, and with an outline made up for him by Aloysius Sabetti, S. J., of Woodstock College, the cardinal sent O'Connell a letter p90 for Simeoni in which he set forth his reasons against a hasty condemnation of the K. of L. The cardinal explained that the purpose of the Knights in the United States was in no way evil, that their sole aim was to strengthen themselves by united effort within the law so that they could better protect their members against what he termed "the tyranny with which many very rich corporations, and especially those controlling the railroads, inhumanly oppress the poor workers." He pleaded against a condemnation that would expose the Catholic Church of the United States to serious losses, and he was at pains to explain that the secrecy of the K. of L. was in no sense intended to hide its aims from legitimate authority. Furthermore, the Knights had made frequent offers to institute whatever changes the Church might recommend. Near the end of his letter emphasized that a condemnation would prove a detriment to religious growth. Since the government did nothing to protect the workers — the latter — in good part Catholics — looked to the Church for sympathy and counsel. If instead of sympathy they encountered penalties and condemnation, they would naturally give a willing ear to agitators who babbled about the Church's favoring the strong and leaving the weak to their fate. Referring to the K. of L., Gibbons stated that as far as he knew all the American archbishops were "entirely of the opinion that it should not be condemned." This opinion was advanced without evidence, and on this point the cardinal was wrong.
The Knights, from their side, were alert to win ecclesiastical approval. When the order held its annual convention in Richmond, Bishop Keane, just prior to his departure for Rome, arranged for Powderly to confer with Gibbons in Baltimore at the end of that month.
The morning of October 28 found nine of the twelve archbishops of the United States gathered at the cardinal's residence. The cardinal opened the meeting by noting that there were about a half million Catholic members of the Knights of Labor and that Powderly had declared against the boycott and the refusal to allow nonunion men to work. He most likely had these facts freshly in mind from the conference he held that morning with the grand master workman.
After the metropolitans had been given ample opportunity to air their opinions, Gibbons restated his benevolent attitude toward the organization. The rough draft of the minutes revealed his position:
p91 Labor has rights as well as capital. We should not condemn labor and let capital go free — would regard condemnation of K. of L. as disastrous to the Church — We should send documents to Rome and if objectionable features are eliminated K. of L. should be tolerated, should not be condemned — We have controlling influence over them; if they are condemned, a secret organization will follow in their wake and over that we will have no control.
On the final vote all but two of the archbishops — Kenrick of St. Louis and John B. Salpointe of Santa Fe — gave their judgment against condemnation, but since the vote lacked unanimity, the canonical procedure laid down by the Third Plenary Council demanded that the case be referred to Rome for ultimate decision.
The second major social question in which Cardinal Gibbons was destined to play a prominent, if somewhat reluctant, role was the controversy that centered on the economic theories of Henry George and the advocacy of those theories by Dr. Edward McGlynn.
In 1879 there had appeared from the pen of the self-made economist and reformer, Henry George, a volume entitled Progress and Poverty. George contended that men were entitled to their fair share of land in the same manner that they were to water and air. In order to eliminate the inequalities of landholding, George proposed a land tax adjusted in such a way that the gain, or what was termed the "unearned increment," accruing by reason of advantageous location in a growing community, would be taken away. To the young reformer economic rent was a form of robbery. George would, therefore, siphon off this economic rent in taxation and then abolish all other taxes. Land would not have to be distributed, he said; only its economic rent would be taken away. In the end the single tax would, in his judgment, yield so much revenue to government that it could take over the railroads and telegraphs to inaugurate a vast program of social services. The book enjoyed a tremendous vogue, and the energetic crusade of its author in the United States, the British Isles, and elsewhere served to spread its message to an immense audience.
Although many American Catholics doubtless read Progress and Poverty, the author and his economic doctrines would never have become a problem to the Church had it not been for George's stanch ally Edward McGlynn, pastor of St. Stephen's Church in New York City, then one of the most populous parishes in the p92 entire country. Daily brought face to face with the problems of unemployment, McGlynn studied economic problems and ultimately accepted the single‑tax doctrines of Henry George. The occasion that brought on a crisis was the bid made by Henry George in the autumn of 1886 for the office of mayor of New York. When Archbishop Corrigan learned that McGlynn intended to address a rally of the Labor Party, which supported George, the archbishop forbade him to do so. The priest refused to obey, and as a consequence he was suspended from his priestly functions for a period of two weeks. Several weeks after the election Archbishop Corrigan, in pursuance of what he regarded as his duty to guide the faithful of his jurisdiction, issued a pastoral letter especially defending the right of private property. Although it did not mention any names, the archbishop's pastoral was obviously directed against the teaching of Henry George.
Though aware of the trouble in New York, Cardinal Gibbons took no cognizance of the matter, since it was entirely outside his jurisdiction. When the pastoral letter of the Archbishop of New York appeared, the cardinal told Corrigan that he felt that the remarks on land and private property were well timed and would go far to counteract the evil effects of loose utterances on the subject.
Meanwhile matters were going from bad to worse in New York. When McGlynn refused to cease his public addresses on the single tax, he was suspended a second time, and on December 6 there came a summons to Rome, a command that he likewise refused to obey. McGlynn maintained that nothing in George's teaching or his own was contrary to the Church's doctrines. Until his suspension was lifted he would not comply with the orders of the archbishop or of the Holy See; in obeying, he would be tacitly admitting the correctness of his superiors' action in penalizing him for views that he insisted were not erroneous. After discussing the matter with his consultors, Archbishop Corrigan on January 14, 1857, removed McGlynn from the pastorate of St. Stephen's Church.
At just this point, a cablegram from Cardinal Jacobini arrived, informing Gibbons that the consistory would be held at the end of February or in early March and that the Pope desired him to come to Rome.
A week before leaving Baltimore the cardinal received a letter from Secretary of State Thomas F. Bayard that enclosed a circular p93 to the diplomatic and consular offices of the United States in Europe requesting "official aid and courtesies" for Gibbons. The cardinal decided to pay a farewell visit to President Cleveland, and, since the day fixed for the appointment coincided with a reception that Mrs. Cleveland was giving, the president suggested that possibly the cardinal might wish to attend and to meet the first lady.
Up to this time Cardinal Gibbons had taken no part in the controversy over Henry George and Edward McGlynn. About a week before his departure, he told Corrigan: "I hope that God will give Your Grace strength to pass through the present trying ordeal." A week later Gibbons was in New York where he received a visit from Father Richard L. Burtsell, close friend and legal adviser of McGlynn. According to Burtsell's own account of the interview, the cardinal advised Burtsell to urge McGlynn to go to Rome and to explain his views to the ecclesiastical authorities. The cardinal was quoted as saying that he would see to it that if McGlynn consented to answer the summons of the Holy See as soon as he was again in good health, he would not go on trial except to unfold a principle.
With all preparations finally attended to, Cardinal Gibbons set out from New York on Saturday, January 29. He sailed on the Bourgogne, where he had as a fellow passenger Cardinal Taschereau of Quebec, who was also to receive a red hat in the consistory. On his way to Rome Cardinal Gibbons stopped in Paris, Genoa, and Pisa and finally arrived in the Eternal City on February 13. There he found a warm welcome awaiting him at the American College from his trusted friend, Denis O'Connell, then in his second year of his rectorship, and from Bishop Ireland and Bishop Keane.
Having arrived a month before the secret consistory scheduled for March 17, Gibbons immediately plunged into a busy round of audiences and conferences. Three days after his arrival he had his first private audience with Leo XIII in which the Pope immediately expressed his anxiety about the McGlynn matter. Leo XIII instructed Gibbons to write to McGlynn and urge him to obey the summons. All this the Archbishop of Baltimore explained later to Corrigan, and he added:
In obedience to the H. Father's command, I will send a brief letter today detailing without note or comment the H. Father's conversation. p94 As I do not know Dr. McGlynn's address, I will send the letter to the care of Dr. Burtsell.
Whatever may be the upshot of his visit, I am sure you need have no fears of his being sent back to St. Stephen's. I told Canon Sparetti [sic] that this was out of the question, & said the same to the H. Father himself. His return to St. Stephen's would simply destroy your moral influence, & destroy Episcopal authority. Before I leave Rome, I will see to it that there is no fear on this score. But I have no apprehensions at all in the matter.
True to his word, Gibbons sent the letter to Burtsell. He refrained from adding any comment to the summary of his conversation with Louis XIII except to say in conclusion, "I may add that the Holy Father's and the Cardinal's words were expressed with paternal kindness."
At home, meanwhile, the affairs of Archbishop Corrigan and Father McGlynn were growing progressively worse, creating a grave scandal and a serious threat to ecclesiastical discipline. Not only did the laity take sides, but the clergy themselves were divided with the great majority supporting the archbishop but a strong and articulate minority favoring McGlynn. McGlynn's own public statements became more and more intemperate.
Burtsell explained many of the recent details of the controversy for Gibbons in a letter that dealt harshly with Archbishop Corrigan for what the writer stated was unfairness in his dealings with his unruly subject. The cardinal was probably a bit disconcerted in learning that his letter of February 18 to Burtsell was regarded by the canon lawyer as gratifying proof of what he termed "your earnest sympathy with Rev. Dr. McGlynn in his troubles." Three days after writing this letter, Burtsell cabled the cardinal asking what prospect there was of McGlynn's reinstatement, saying he was proceed to Rome if reinstated and remarking: "State of affairs here intolerable." The following day Gibbons cabled in reply: "No prejudgment possible but immediate compliance with Holy See's call necessary." The Archbishop of Baltimore had no intention of lending encouragement beyond what the instructions of the Holy See warranted. Later on, revealing his sympathetic feeling for the Archbishop of New York, the cardinal told Corrigan: "The strain on you would try a younger man."
With this issue hung on, Gibbons moved on promptly to the p95 threatened condemnation of the Knights of Labor. Several days in advance of Gibbons' coming, Keane had sought the support of Cardinal Manning in order that the English prelate might help the Americans prevent a hasty decision. Knowing that Cardinal Taschereau would exert all his influence to prevent a rescinding of the decree against the Knights, Gibbons availed himself of all the help his colleagues could lend in the supreme effort that was before him. He called upon all the key officials in the Congregations of the Holy Office and the Propaganda, and in what an earlier biographer described as a "heated interview" with Archbishop Vincenzo Sallua, O. P., commissary of the Holy Office, he went so far as to say he would hold Sallua responsible for the loss of souls in the United States if the Knights were condemned. He determined to fortify his position with an elaborate statement for Cardinal Simeoni, the Prefect of the Propaganda, and for this he turned to Keane and Ireland for assistance. Keane and Ireland made a major contribution to the memorial. Nonetheless, the only signature it bore was that of James Gibbons, and, more important, the responsibility before the Roman Curia for the arguments it advanced was his alone.
The memorial, dated February 20, 1887, proceeded in orderly fashion to outline the case against condemnation. First Gibbons insisted that the American Knights could not be classed as a society condemned by the Church since they were free of any oath, extreme secrecy, or blind obedience. As evidence that they were not hostile to the Church the cardinal cited Powderly's pledge of devotion. Nor was the order of the type that intrigued against the State, since President Cleveland had told Gibbons of a long conference he had had with Powderly. As for the laborers organizing themselves, this was only "natural and just," and if Catholic workingmen avoided, as Powderly had stated, the protection afforded by Masonry because it was banned by the Church, were they now to find themselves hindered from what the cardinal called "their only means of defense" by a condemnation of their organization?
To the charge that Catholics would suffer by contact with Protestants in organizations like the K. of L., the Archbishop of Baltimore replied that to suppose that the faith of the Catholic laborers was endangered by this contact was to reveal ignorance of the Catholic workingmen of the United States. Admitting that Catholics were thrown in with radical elements at their work, Gibbons maintained p96 that this was merely another test of their faith, and he stated that Powderly and the press were agreed that they had stood up well under this trial to their religious beliefs. Gibbons then spoke with pride of the happy relationship in the United States between the Church and its faithful; the only serious danger he would fear would be a cooling of this affection, which, he added "nothing would more certainly occasion than imprudent condemnations."
He quoted Cardinal Manning to the effect that the Church had no longer to deal with parliaments and princes but rather with the masses, and from this he educed a warning: "To lose the heart of the people would be a misfortune for which the friendship of the few rich and powerful would be no compensation." There would follow from a condemnation of the Knights, in the judgment of Gibbons, a threat to the Church's right in popular estimation to be called a friend of the people, a danger of incurring the hostility of the political power in the United States and of having the Church regarded as un‑American. Gibbons added the danger that the American Catholic laboring class might not obey a condemnation, for "it is necessary to recognize that, in our age and in our country, obedience cannot be blind." If this were to happen, the revenues of the Church, emanating entirely from the free-will offerings of the people in the United States, would suffer; so would Peter's Pence. Furthermore, many keen observers predicted that the Knights would not endure long and if the Church now condemned them it would embitter the faithful without accomplishing any lasting good. Alluding to the suspension of McGlynn by Archbishop Corrigan, the cardinal instanced the "sad and threatening confusion" that had arisen over the case of a single priest who was regarded as a friend of the laboring people.
Cardinal Gibbons made it plain that he was speaking solely for the Church of the United States. Insofar as the United States was concerned, out of seventy-five archbishops and bishops only about five desired the condemnation of the Knights. To this reminder, Gibbons added a pointed counsel:
And, to speak with the most profound respect, but also with the frankness which duty requires of me, it seems to me that prudence suggests, and that even the dignity of the Church demands that we should not offer to America an ecclesiastical protection for which she does not ask and of which she believes she has no need.
p97 In every respect the Gibbons memorial on the Knights of Labor was a remarkable document. Not only did it display a deep sympathy with the just claims of the workingman to organize and of Catholics to join such organizations, but it showed as well that the cardinal understood thoroughly the temper of the age. His shrewd observations about the strength of the masses — even if he did exaggerate the power that the laboring class then wielded at the polls — his keen insight into the psychology of the American people in their dislike for orders given by simple fiat, his correct judgment that the Knights had already shown signs of a short life, and his skillful link between these observations and the future welfare of the Catholic Church in the American Republic stamped Gibbons as a man with admirable understanding of his country. No less remarkable was his courage in practically telling the highest officials of the Holy See that he did not wish to see repeated in his country the mistake they had made two and a half years before in condemning the Knights in Canada.
As a result of the memorial and of Gibbons' subsequent conference with the principal officials of the Holy Office, Keane sensed that the cardinal had already produced "an evident change of front." Gibbons, too, was breathing a more confident air when he forwarded a copy of the memorial to Bishop Gilmour in Cleveland:
I feel strongly on this subject. We must prove that we are the friends of the working classes; if we condemn or use them harshly we lose them, and they will look on us with as much hatred and suspicion as they do in the Church of France. They commit excesses now and then. Let us correct them, be they have also real grievances. Let us help them to readers them. I would regard the condemnation of the Knights of Labor, as a signal calamity to the Catholic Church of America.
Gibbons' confidential memorial to Simeoni soon leaked to the press, probably because the New York Herald's man in Rome bribed some secretary in the Vatican. Once published in the United States, the memorial drew generally favorable reactions, though the Nation referred to the cardinal as "partaking freely of the labor beverage" and sarcastically lamented the loss sustained by politics when he entered the Church.
While preparing the memorial on the Knights, Gibbons learned of a disposition in some circles of the curia to put the writings of p98 George on the Index of Prohibited Books. The cardinal was decidedly opposed to such a move as neither opportune nor useful. With that in mind he prepared a memorial on this question, too. Gibbons contended that ideas similar to George's had been expressed by Spencer and Mill. The world would judge it rather singular if the Holy See were to attack the work of "a humble American artisan" instead of condemning the writings of his masters; and if the Holy See thought it had a duty to condemn Spencer and Mill, it would seem prudent to consult first with Cardinals Manning and Newman. The cardinal also pointed out that George's theories differed from those of communism and socialism; in proof of his point he quoted the definition of communism given by Valentino Steccanella in a work published by the Propaganda press five years before. Only in the matter of land, explained the cardinal, did George set a limitation on ownership by an extension of the supremum dominium of the State, and in this case he did not teach that the actual proprietors should be dispossessed but that the system of taxation should be changed so that taxes should come from the land only and not from the fruits of industry.
The relation of the State to the right of land ownership and to the taxation of land would not admit of solution by a trenchant sentence from ecclesiastical authority, Gibbons warned. Moreover, the question was already before the American public in the political arena and there it would speedily find its end. Gibbons alluded, without mentioning names, to the recent excitement in New York. He told Simeoni that even if there was a certain need for a condemnation of the works of Henry George, this was not the time to do it. Finally Gibbons held it as certain that a condemnation of George's work would excite the curiosity of readers so that thousands of additional copies would be sold. Prudence suggested that absurdities be allowed to perish of themselves and that the tribunals of the Church not run the risk of giving them an artificial life.
In both these memorials, Gibbons used similar devices. In both he revealed his distaste for measures of a harsh and negative character, in both he correctly guessed that the phenomena were of a transitory nature. Likewise evident in both documents was the keen awareness of the American mind that served to give the Roman officials pause and to afford them a sorely needed enlightenment in American affairs.
p99 When Gibbons consulted Ireland and Keane about the progress of the university and heard from Simeoni about Corrigan's secret opposition, he became so discouraged that he proposed to Keane that they abandon the enterprise and let the responsibility for its failure fall where it belonged. Keane, wearied by the trying ordeal, readily consented. But then Ireland, who had been out of Rome for a few days, returned. Thoroughly aroused, the Bishop of St. Paul protested that he would be no party to what he termed "so cowardly a surrender to so unworthy an opposition." Ireland's energy galvanized Gibbons and Keane into the preparation of a lengthy document designed to meet all the objections that had been raised by Corrigan.
In this letter to Leo XIII the cardinal renewed the story of the university from the time of the Third Plenary Council: the support it had won in that body, the favorable reaction of the laity, and the work that had thus far been done by the university committee. He proposed that the time had now arrived for formal approbation by the Holy See. In granting approval the Pope would be giving cause for joy to the American Catholics who regarded the projected university as in harmony with the various instructions on Christian education that the Holy Father had more than once given to the world.
On Easter Sunday Leo XIII signed the papal brief giving his hearty approval to a Catholic university for the United States.
Once within reach of the Curia, the Cardinal of Baltimore also exerted every effort to prevent the appointment of a nuncio to the United States. As an alternative Gibbons submitted to Leo XIII a formal request for the recognition of Dr. O'Connell as the representative of the American hierarchy. He was convinced, said Gibbons, that of all the churchmen in the United States no one knew both the civil and ecclesiastical conditions of this obscure more intimately than Denis O'Connell. He asked the Pope, therefore, to accord the rank of counselor to the Propaganda to O'Connell. Despite this plea, no official action was taken by the Pope, although the Roman rector continued to serve the American hierarchy without official status.
In their anxiety over this question, a number of American bishops urged Gibbons to consent to fill the office himself. Bishop James O'Connor of Omaha suggested that the Archbishop of Baltimore might secure a coadjutor or an auxiliary bishop for the work of his see; this would enable him to spend five or six months of the year in p100 Rome. McQuaid, on the other hand, opposed an Italian nuncio or delegate, but he was hopeful that if the Italian delegation must come, it would put a stop to "the growing nonsense about Baltimore, alias the Sulpitians [sic], being the head of the Catholic Church in the U. S." Gibbons as nuncio or delegate would have been too much, indeed, for the Bishop of Rochester.
In addition to his numerous conferences, Gibbons also found time to fulfill a large number of social engagements. Then on St. Patrick's Day the colorful ceremony of the consistory was held in which the seven new cardinals went through the ceremony of the sealing and opening of the lips, the reception of their red hats, the assignment of their places on the various congregations, and the designation of their titular churches. Gibbons was appointed to places on the Congregations of the Propagation of the Faith, Religious, Indulgences, and Studies. The Pope also assigned to Cardinal Gibbons as his titular church the ancient Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere, which dated in its original foundation from the time of Julius I (337‑352). On March 25, a week after the consistory, Gibbons took possession of the church in a memorable ceremony which found him surrounded by a large gathering of friends, among them some colleagues in the American hierarchy. For this occasion, Denis O'Connell advised him to go beyond the expression of polite generalities and to deliver a major address that would carry a serious message, not only to his Roman audience but to the United States and to the world at large. The cardinal decided to adopt the suggestion.
The present prosperous condition of the American Church, the cardinal maintained in his sermon, was owed under God and the vigilance of the Holy See "to the civil liberty we enjoy in our enlightened republic." He then continued:
For myself, as a citizen of the United States, without closing my eyes to our defects as a nation, I proclaim, with a deep sense of pride and gratitude, and in this great capital of Christendom, that I belong to a country where the civil government holds over us the aegis of its protection without interfering in the legitimate exercise of our sublime mission as ministers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. . . .
But, while we are acknowledged to have a free government, we do not, perhaps, receive due credit for possessing also a strong government. Yes, our nation is strong, and her strength lies, under Providence, in the majesty and supremacy of the law, in the loyalty p101 of her citizens to that law, and in the affection of our people for their free institutions.
There are, indeed, grave social problems which are engaging the earnest attention of the citizens of the United States. But I have no doubt that, with God's blessings, these problems will be solved without violence, or revolution, or injury to individual right.
For naming Gibbons to the cardinalate, the prelate thanked Louis XIII not only in the name of the hierarchy, clergy, and Catholic laity of the United States:
I presume also to thank him in the name of our separated brethren in America, who, though not sharing our faith, have shown that they are not insensible — indeed, that they are deeply sensible — of the honor conferred upon our common country. . . .
If European Catholics, so accustomed to union of Church and State, were surprised at the forthright approval of the harmonious relationship based on separation, Americans themselves were delighted with Gibbons' pronouncement. Bishop John J. Kain of Wheeling expressed what was in the minds of many when he said that a native American cardinal, "voicing with clarion tones beneath the very shadow of the Vatican the sentiments so dear to all lovers of our free institutions, is the strongest refutation of the grievous charges by which our loyalty has so long been impugned." The New York Herald of March 26 carried the text of the sermon, a new article on the ceremony, and an editorial on the address, which, the paper said, would be "read with interest by Catholic and Protestant alike." The New York Independent, a Protestant weekly, called the address "one of singular spirit and tact"; it was especially gratified at Gibbons' references to American non‑Catholics as "our separated brethren."
Gibbons also received a heartening reaction to his efforts on the German issue. After some weeks he wrote encouragingly to Elder that the American bishops had "gained immensely lately in Rome." Not only were their petitions granted, but the Propaganda officials had conceded that in the future nothing would be decided on vital matters affecting the American Church until the bishops had been heard from. Further, after Gibbons presented his case on the Abbelen petition to his colleagues of the Propaganda, they yielded a few details to the Germans, then rejected the rest of it. When the question of a possible softening of the decision arose, Gibbons let O'Connell know privately that he was opposed to the least sign of p102 backing down or weakening of the decision since he believed this "would only make the Germans more insolent & aggressive."
At last his official business with the Holy See was concluded, and on April 18 he left Rome. From Florence Gibbons advised O'Connell to urge Jacobini, Secretary of the Propaganda, to make another effort to get McGlynn to Rome. If he once more failed to obey, then, said Gibbons, it would be the Holy See's business to determine whether and to what extent he should be punished for contumacy.
The view in newspapers that Gibbons sympathized with McGlynn, indeed that he was McGlynn's defender, caused the cardinal considerable chagrin. Finally the leading Catholic newspaper of New York, the Freeman's Journal, carried an unsigned statement under a Roman dateline that expressed astonishment at the "absurd rumors" about Gibbons' sympathy with the priest; it was authoritatively stated that the cardinal was amazed that any Catholic would believe he would countenance disobedience of this kind. Gibbons himself, genuinely apprehensive of the effect that all the garbled press reports might have on Corrigan, wrote to Corrigan from Paris:
I have been sorely distressed by the continuation of your troubles, and deeply wounded by the insinuations thrown out in the papers that I was championing the cause of Dr. McGlynn. I most solemnly declare that my constant & prayerful desire has been to see an end to the trouble with honor to yourself and with the full maintenance of your Episcopal authority.
He confessed to "one error of judgment" in communicating with McGlynn through Burtsell, and he revealed his embarrassment at the possible misinterpretation of his reference to the McGlynn case in his memorandum on the Knights of Labor. Gibbons' misgivings were not without foundation, for Corrigan's aggrievement at what he regarded as an interference in the business of his archdiocese continued to grow.
From Paris the cardinal traveled to London where he visited with Manning and exchanged notes on the struggle they had just come through at Rome. It gave Gibbons an opportunity to thank the Archbishop of Westminster in person for the splendid support he had given to the cause of the American workers and to talk over in further detail the case of Henry George in which Gibbons was again to appeal for Manning's assistance.
Although Gibbons had originally planned to go immediately to a p103 private home upon his arrival in New York, he cabled Corrigan that he would come directly from the steamer to Corrigan's residence. By this time McGlynn had received a letter from Cardinal Simeoni in which he was told that if he did not appear at Rome within forty days after receipt of the letter he would be excommunicated. Through one channel or another Gibbons was fully aware of the more critical turn that events had taken. Virtually every communication reaching him in these days suggested supreme caution. From Baltimore Father John Foley warned the cardinal to watch his step in New York, where any demonstration in his favor would be made use of by the followers of McGlynn. While in New York, Gibbons received a detailed written explanation from Burtsell, who denied that he had implicated Gibbons in defense of McGlynn. In reply the cardinal very briefly assured the canon lawyer that his explanation was quite satisfactory. But beyond the demands of politeness Gibbons did not go.
After a day or two in New York, the cardinal and his party left for Baltimore on the morning of June 7. At the railroad station there, they were greeted by an immense throng headed by an official committee. Mayor James Hodges and Charles J. Bonaparte, prominent Catholic lawyer,a made the speeches of welcome to the cardinal. The Catholic societies of the archdiocese then formed in line and marched to the cathedral where the cardinal expressed his gratitude for the enthusiastic welcome. Speaking of the sentiments that had been expressed to him by various groups, he said: "They will bind me still more strongly, if that is possible, to my fellow-citizens, and to this city of Baltimore, where I was born, where Providence has cast my lot, and where I hope to die."
Finally the forty days of grace expired without McGlynn making any move to comply with the Roman command, and on July 8, 1887, Archbishop Corrigan, following the instructions of the Holy See, issued a statement explaining that the priest had incurred excommunication. The cardinal clearly did not believe that this extreme measure would remedy matters. He forwarded a copy of the New York Herald covering the announcement to Denis O'Connell, and he said:
I hope I am mistaken, but my impression is that it will lead to the loss of many souls, & to a weakening in some places of the reverence due to the Holy See. It was prudent not to require the reading of the excommunication in the churches; for, I dare say, there would have p104 been a commotion, judging from the temper of the people as exhibited in the journals.
Though Gibbons scrupulously resisted all attempts to draw him into the McGlynn case again, Corrigan remained disgruntled. A few months after Gibbons' homecoming the papers carried a report that Archbishop Williams of Boston would be named a cardinal. Corrigan told his friend, Bishop McQuaid, that Williams was deserving of any honor Rome could give him; he added that the report of a cardinal for Boston made him wonder if it was not intended to save the Roman purple from falling into discredit "by conferring it on one whose head would not be turned by the compliment."
Corrigan's hostility made itself felt in his withdrawal of support from the university. Just after Gibbons' arrival in New York, the Archbishop of New York told his friend in Rochester that he was disposed to resign from the university committee since he had lost confidence in the good faith of some of the members. The charge was not apt. The Archbishop of New York had been present at all the meetings and could, if he chose, have presented his objections to the body. The fact that he remained silent and concealed his own plans for a Jesuit university in New York naturally put the committee at a disadvantage in knowing the archbishop's real mind.
At a committee meeting in September, , the cardinal emphasized that Leo XIII was really enthusiastic about the project and had taken several occasions to speak of it, with the result that his words had been quoted all over Europe. He also reported that a large majority of the bishops who had replied to his inquiry favored Washington as the site. Plans had now advanced far enough so that the next meeting could be scheduled to coincide with the laying of the cornerstone of the university's first building in May, 1888. Another item of business was the formal announcement of the appointment of Bishop Keane as the first rector, and from this time on, the active management of affairs passed almost entirely into his capable hands. Keane kept closely in touch with Gibbons in all matters of importance, and the cardinal gave his active assistance to the rector by writing a letter to the hierarchy begging its support for the bishops who would come into the dioceses to collect.
Later that fall Gibbons received the woeful intelligence that Archbishop Corrigan would not permit the collectors to enter the Archdiocese of New York and that he was resigning from the university p105 committee. It was a major blow. Gibbons was deeply affected by the news, and he asked Corrigan to reconsider. Corrigan replied, reaffirming his resignation. To this Gibbons answered in a restrained manner, dismissing the subject with the words, "Fiat voluntas Dei." The following year Corrigan's resignation became known, and the Chicago Tribune carried a sharply critical editorial, imputing the archbishop's action to jealousy of Gibbons, Ireland, and Keane. Writing to Gilmour, cardinal revealed to the Bishop of Cleveland his personal attitude on the university:
If I were to consult my feelings I would have the project abandoned. It has been to me a source of anxiety and care since the close of the council. If the enterprise success, as I hope it will, it will redound to the glory of God & of our faith in this country.
By midsummer of 1887 the decline in the Knights of Labor had become a source of alarm to its leaders. To bolster the order's falling fortunes, the Knights sought and received an encouraging word from Gibbons to be read before their annual convention scheduled for Minneapolis in early October. In this instance the cardinal referred to his defense of the laboring man's rights when he was in Rome; now that he was at home he wished to speak in a friendly spirit of the workingmen's duties. Gibbons warned of the evil effects of strikes and the danger to the good name of the order that would come from any association with anarchists and nihilists. In all probability the K. of L. would have appreciated a stronger emphasis on their rights, but on this occasion they did not get it.
That fall Henry George was defeated in his effort to become mayor of New York, and his defeat was looked upon by some as a rout of the Knights. With this in mind Bishop McQuaid gleefully asked Archbishop Corrigan:
How does his Eminence feel now about his pets, the Knights of Labor?
They are evidently breaking to pieces and are getting many more kicks than kisses. . . . For the countenance his Eminence gave them, he will have to suffer. He exceeded his instruction and must bear his burden.
Far from feeling any burden, His Eminence was just at this time concluding a triumphal tour across the continent.
p106 As the ranking American prelate, Gibbons received numerous invitations to represent the Catholic Church at important public functions. Just after his return from Rome, one invitation caused him some concern. In September, 1887, the United States government was scheduled to celebrate the centennial of the federal Constitution at a three‑day affair in Philadelphia. Hampton L. Carson, secretary of the Constitutional Centennial Commission, wrote to Gibbons to request the offices of the cardinal "for one of the services of prayer, to form part of the exercises on the 17th of September." From the outset the cardinal wished to accept the invitation, but the novelty of his position as a member of the College of Cardinals and the sensitiveness of the Holy See about Catholic prelates participating with ministers of other faiths in public exercises having a religious significance made Gibbons uneasy. For that reason he sent off a hurried note to Archbishop Corrigan, asking for his advice. The same day Gibbons wrote to Denis O'Connell telling him to inquire of the Holy See if there would be any objection. After advancing all the arguments in favor of his acceptance, he concluded with a postscript: "My presence on the occasion would, I am sure, give great joy to the Catholics of this country; they wd. rejoice to see our Church represented."
The results of these precautionary moves were, in the main, reassuring. Corrigan believed that the invitation could be accepted and that genuine good would come from Gibbons' presence at the celebration, providing that ministers of other religions did not offer prayers on the same occasion. The Archbishop of New York believed that the exercise of prudent precaution would avert a mistake, and in the end "only good results would follow from your attendance."
It was not so easy for Denis O'Connell to give an answer. The well-known opposition of Rome toward the participation of Catholic churchmen in mixed religious gatherings was born of the teaching that Catholicism was the one true religion; to make it appear that it was only one among a group of equal religious bodies was, in the Catholic position, to run the danger of religious egalitarianism and ultimately of religious indifferentism. Neither Cardinal Simeoni, Prefect of the Propaganda, nor Raffaele Cardinal Monaco, the head of the Holy Office, would approve. Finally, Monaco agreed to ask Leo XIII. The Pope assented.
The celebration in Philadelphia in September, 1887, was the type p107 of ceremony, honoring the finest traditions in American history, that Cardinal Gibbons thoroughly enjoyed. The Catholic Club of Philadelphia gave a reception in his honor on the evening of September 15, an affair brilliant beyond the anticipation of those who had planned it. The distinguished guests who came to honor the cardinal were headed by President Cleveland and Secretary of State Bayard and Secretary of the Treasury Charles S. Fairchild, ex‑President Rutherford B. Hayes, several justices of the Supreme Court, a large number of senators and representatives from Congress, and the governors of seventeen states. On September 17, the final day of the celebration, Cardinal Gibbons entered Independence Square, extended his greeting to President and Mrs. Cleveland, and then met the Protestant Episcopal Bishop of New York, Henry C. Potter. The churchmen shook hands, the New York World reported, "while fully fifteen thousand people looked on at the unusual sight of the meeting of the two American heads of the Romish and Anglican churches." At the close of the program, the World went on:
Silence came over the assemblage as Cardinal Gibbons raised his hands and opened the words of the closing prayer. He, too, had been cheered until he found it necessary to step to the front and quiet the people with a bow.
Gibbons chose as his prayer a combination of Archbishop Carroll's prayer for civil authorities, the Our Father, and a final general blessing.
Any misgivings about Rome's reactions were quickly dissipated when word reached Gibbons from Monsignor O'Connell and others. O'Connell told the cardinal: "They feel proud in Rome now of your presence at the Philadelphia feast, seeing how imposing it became."
As the date of the golden jubilee of Leo XIII's priesthood approached, Gibbons received a letter from President Cleveland in which he asked if Gibbons "could without impropriety on your part, convey to him my congratulations and felicitations." The president's suggestion prompted the cardinal to visit Cleveland and, in turn, to suggest that he send the Pope a copy of the Constitution as a souvenir of his jubilee. Cleveland was pleased with the idea and requested Gibbons to write for him the inscription to accompany the document.
The news about President Cleveland's letter gave Leo p108 great pleasure, and he told O'Connell that he could bring along a small delegation so that the president's letter would be presented with some solemnity. The episode was closed when Leo XIII wrote to Cardinal Gibbons and charged him with thanking President Cleveland for his letter and gift. In this letter the Pope paid tribute to the American Constitution when he said:
In fulfilling this duty We desire that you should assure the President of Our admiration for the Constitution of the United States, not only because it enables industrious and enterprising citizens to attain so high a degree of prosperity, but also because under its protection, your Catholic countrymen have enjoyed a liberty which has so confessedly prompted the astonishing growth of their religion in the past and will, We trust, enable it in the future to be of the highest advantage to the civil order as well.
In the fall of 1887, Gibbons agreed to cross the country to confer the pallium on his old friend, William Gross, the new Archbishop of Oregon City. Gross, delighted, felt that Gibbons' visit would do good for the Church in that region; the Catholics, who were few in number and without social standing, would be heartened by his presence. As he expressed it: "The visit of Your Eminence will give a tone to Catholicity."
When the trip was announced, invitations to receptions in various cities along the route led to plans for four principal stops between Baltimore and Portland. After gala receptions in Chicago and Milwaukee, the editor of the Catholic Mirror glowed with pride at the attentions shown to Baltimore's cardinal. In a flamboyant editorial on October 1 he wrote: "Reports from points en route indicate that the beloved head of the Church in America has been everywhere received with the strongest tokens of affectionate respect and esteem by all classes of citizens without regard to creed." The reception in St. Paul outdid Chicago and Milwaukee. The resourceful mind of John Ireland had seized upon the occasion to show off the cardinal of the United States to the best advantage and to the largest number of prominent citizens. After the party left St. Paul, it traveled on to Portland where on Sunday, October 9, the ceremony of the conferring of the pallium on Gross was held in the Church of the Immaculate Conception. After a few days in Portland the cardinal went on to San Francisco, where he was the guest of Archbishop Riordan, and then to Los Angeles. By the first week in November Gibbons reached p109 New Orleans, and at a reception for him in Grunewald Hall he had the pleasure of meeting again old Mr. Raymond in whose grocery store he had worked as a clerk over thirty years before. On the following Sunday Gibbons presided at the high Mass and preached at St. Joseph's Church, the parish wherein he had heard the sermon that had set his feet on the path to the priesthood.
By the middle of November the cardinal returned to Baltimore. This first visit of Gibbons to the West aroused a great deal of enthusiasm among the Catholic people of those regions. For many, this was their first glimpse of a prince of the Church, and their pride in playing host to a member of the College of Cardinals was hastened when they observed the generally friendly manner in which their non‑Catholic neighbors greeted the visitor. For Gibbons himself, the outpouring of respect and affection was a bracing experience. The cardinal, quick to sense the value of these demonstrations for the Church, had shown care in each of the cities to pay courteous tribute to the local bishops, to the governors and mayors, as well as to make special calls at the leading Catholic institutions. The effect of his gracious presence was not lost upon his hosts. And the experience helped to fit him for the larger role that he was destined to play as the acknowledged leader of American Catholicism in the years ahead.
a A grand-nephew of the Emperor Napoleon but as thorough an American as one would want, Charles Bonaparte saw eye to eye with Cardinal Gibbons on being Catholic and American with pride and without conflict: see The Bonapartes in America, p64.
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