Cardinal Gibbons' significance sprang from both his position and his personality. As occupant of the premier see of the United States, as the only American cardinal for almost a quarter of a century, he won prestige because of his office. By virtue of the confidence inspired by sound judgment, wise counsel, and supreme tact, he united himself with his fellow bishops to give enlightened leadership to the American Church for many decades. His influence extended not only to ecclesiastical affairs like the Catholic University of America, but to national problems like those created by the Spanish-American War.
The sinking of the American battleship Maine in the harbor of Havana on February , 1898, with a loss of over 250 men, led the United States to the brink of war. For three years the Cuban insurrection against Spain had excited American sympathy, and now the warmongers in the United States had the incident they needed to demand a declaration of war.
Amid the tumult Cardinal Gibbons said nothing for publication until February 28 when a requiem Mass was offered in the cathedral of Baltimore for the victims of the Maine. On this occasion he had words of sympathy for the bereaved families, as well as praise for the president, the cabinet, and armed forces for their dignified bearing in the emergency. The most important part of the sermon dealt with forbearance:
This nation is too brave, too strong, too powerful, and too just to engage in an unrighteous or precipitate war. Let us remember the eyes of the world are upon us, whose judgment we cannot despise, and that we will gain more applause and credit for ourselves by calm deliberation and masterly inactivity than by recourse to arms.
The only circumstance that the cardinal believed would warrant hostilities was evidence that the Spanish government had connived at placing explosives in the harbor to destroy the vessel.
p151 During the first week in April the prospects for peace brightened when the Spanish government, responding to the intercession of Pope Leo XIII, prepared to grant an armistice in Cuba. The name of the Pope began to appear frequently in the news dispatches concerning the crisis, and on April 4 the Washington papers gave the first information concerning the presence of Archbishop Ireland in the capital. Ireland had been at pains to keep his movements secret, but the news leaked out. Leo XIII had asked the Archbishop of St. Paul to go to Washington as his representative. The New York Herald of April 5 explained that Ireland and not Gibbons had been chosen because "The Cardinal, while a shrewd diplomat, does not stand in the same relationship to the present Administration as Archbishop Ireland, whose support of Mr. McKinley during the last campaign is well remembered." At first optimistic, Ireland abandoned hope of peace on April 11, the day McKinley sent his war message to Congress, and he went to Baltimore that afternoon to confer with Cardinal Gibbons. "The two prelates," said the Baltimore Sun, "after discussing the situation thoroughly, agreed that nothing more could be done." On April 19 Congress passed a four-point resolution that was tantamount to a declaration of war on Spain.
When the London Daily Chronicle circulated reports that cast aspersions of American Catholics' support of the war effort, the cardinal issued a statement: "Catholics in the United States have but one sentiment. Whatever may have been their opinions as to the expediency of the war, now that it is on they are united in upholding the government."
Cardinal Gibbons promptly turned his attention to providing chaplains for the great number of Catholic men in the army and the navy. Early in July he called on the president to put before him the difficulties attendant on the insufficient number of Catholic chaplains. After the defeat of the Spanish fleet at Santiago on July 3 Admiral Pascual Cervera and a number of his officers were brought to Annapolis where they were detained for some weeks. Late in August the cardinal called on the superintendent of the Naval Academy and paid a visit to Cervera and his men. On August 29 he visited the 100 members of the Fifth Regiment in the City Hospital in Baltimore. In the autumn, rumors reached Gibbons that priests were not being admitted to the hospital tents at Camp Wikoff at Point Montauk, Long Island; whereupon he paid a personal visit to the camp which p152 was described by Thomas Beer:
. . . a buzz passed under the brown canvas, though smells of typhoid, and the titular pastor of Santa Maria in Trastavere [sic] walked slowly down the line of cots, pausing to speak to a red‑haired Unitarian youth of Celtic expression and bestowing a blessing which, he said, would do the boy no harm.
The American invasion of Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippine Islands led inevitably to grave problems for the Catholic Church. In the final week of the fighting, Gibbons heard that in one area in Puerto Rico containing eighty parishes there was only one priest, and in the city of Ponce with about 50,000 inhabitants, only eight priests. With support from the government now cut off, there were grave fears that the future of the Church in Puerto Rico would be very dark indeed. In the Philippine Islands the native forces, under the leadership of Emilio Aguinaldo, felt a deep hatred for the Spanish bishops and religious whom they associated with the former government. On August 18 the cardinal received a cablegram from Bishop Luigi Piazzoli, Vicar Apostolic of Hong Kong, which read: "Use influence in releasing one hundred priest prisoners of insurgents Cavite." Gibbons immediately communicated with Archbishop Ireland who was then in Washington and who, in turn, saw the president. An interval of two months passed, and in October the cardinal urged the secretary of war, Russell A. Alger, to take steps for the relief of the captives:
It cannot fail to appear inconsistent to the world at large that we should be so deeply interested in the welfare of a distant and unknown people, and in freeing them from a hard rule of another nation, and, at the same time, be indifferent to the barbarities which that people uses toward its non‑combatant captives.
As a result of the cardinal's intervention, Secretary Alger succeeded in getting better treatment for the captives. He promised to continue his attempt to win their release.
The peace negotiations to bring the Spanish American War to a formal close were opened in Paris on October 1, 1898. From the outset, the Catholic Church was vitally interested in the final settlement. As early as the previous May, Monsignor Denis O'Connell had cabled Archbishop Ireland from Rome: "Help hold Philippines." On August 2, ten days before the end of hostilities, Cardinal Rampolla p153 first expressed the anxiety of the Holy See over the future of the religious orders in the Philippines. When Ireland sounded out the president, McKinley told him that in any territories annexed by the United States the Church would be separated from the State in conformity with the American Constitution and that absolute protection of ecclesiastical properties and persons would be guaranteed.
In regard to the Philippines, McKinley urged the Holy See to obtain every possible concession before the treaty was signed. These quiet arrangements would preclude the possibility of sectarian clamor. Once the treaty was signed, the United States government would grant no concessions to Catholics or to any other denomination. President McKinley summoned Gibbons to the White House to ask his views on Philippine independence. Gibbons assured McKinley that the Church was safer under the American flag than anywhere else; as a citizen, however, he opposed annexation. Annexation, he said, was "a good thing for the Catholic Church, but, I fear, a bad one for the United States." Finally, the president resolved his doubts. On December 10, the Treaty of Paris was signed; it provided that Spain should relinquish sovereignty over Cuba and cede the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Guam outright to the United States.
The Archbishop of Baltimore immediately turned his attention to the problem of adjusting the Church to the new American regime in the island possessions. From both Cuba and Guam, he received strong pleas for upright priests to improve the standing of the Church.
Bad as conditions were in Guam and Puerto Rico, they were even more critical in the Philippines. When Aguinaldo's men broke with the Americans over the question of independence and raised the standard of revolt, the Spanish friars were relentlessly pursued by the insurgents with a consequent serious loss both in lives and in properties belonging to the religious. During the course of Spain's three centuries of occupation, the Spanish religious had become extensive landowners, and their wealth, together with the power they wielded over the lives of the masses, had made them the object of deep hatred on the part of the insurrectionists. The abuse of power by some of the friars lent plausibility to the campaign against them, and by the time the Americans took over, the widespread opinion in the Philippines, that the friars must go, gradually spread in the United States.
To make matters worse, the Catholic Church of the Philippines p154 was soon faced with a schism. Among the close friends of Aguinaldo was Father Gregorio Aglipay, an extreme nationalist, strongly ambitious, and violently antifriar. In October, 1899, he broke entirely with the Filipino ecclesiastical authorities, and by August, 1901, Aglipay and his followers proclaimed the Filipino Independent Church. Aglipay and his party whipped the nationalist resentment to white heat. Thousands joined the rebellion against Rome and seized parish churches and Church lands.
When the second American commission in the Philippines, headed by Judge William Howard Taft, arrived in Manila in 1900, the problem of the friars was a part of the task of establishing a civil government for the islands. Taft urged a mutual friend to have Archbishop Ireland recruit American priests to replace the Spaniards. When Taft and his colleagues finished their report, they drew a clear distinction between the interests of the Catholic Church and those of the Spanish friars. Archbishop Placide L. Chapelle of New Orleans, the apostolic delegate in the Philippines, rejected this distinction. He was convinced that the attitude taken by the Philippine Commission was "unconsciously perhaps, indirectly surely," hostile to the Church. Shortly before his departure from Manila for Rome and Washington, he informed Taft of his view. The situation had reached an impasse. Clearly matters had to be referred to Rome and Washington for final settlement.
On May 11, 1901, Cardinal Gibbons sailed for Rome. The cardinal remained in the Eternal City for a month. He had three private audiences of Leo XIII, which gave him an opportunity to explain what he knew of Philippine affairs. The cardinal apparently found his role a pleasant one, for on the eve of his return he told Ireland: "This was my most enjoyable visit to Rome."
On Gibbons' return to New York, the Times reported that he refused to discuss the Philippines. As he turned south to Baltimore, a crowd of 30,000 to 40,000 people welcomed him in what the Baltimore American called a "Royal Welcome to the Cardinal." To the American's reporter it was one of the most remarkable demonstrations in the history of the city; never before had a Baltimorean received such an ovation on his return after an absence of a few months. The cardinal rose to the occasion, and to the delight of the crowd that there was no place like home and no home like a home in Baltimore. His attachment to the city was not, he p155 said, to buildings and brick and mortar, but to the living monuments of all that was good and upright among his fellow citizens. In the cathedral, he added that he had always enjoyed the most friendly relations with all his fellow citizens without distinction of race or creed because he firmly believed in the words, "Behold how good and joyful a thing it is for brethren to dwell together in unity."
The Archbishop of St. Paul, in welcoming Gibbons back to the United States, reported receipt of several letters from Cardinal Rampolla, all of which led up to a formal request that the American government send a representative from Washington to treat with the Holy See about the friars' lands and other questions. Elihu Root, the secretary of war, was inclined to favor the proposal, but he was waiting for word from Taft in Manila.
Two weeks later President McKinley was struck down by an assassin's bullet in Buffalo on September 6. He died eight days later. Gibbons immediately instructed his clergy to hold memorial services in all the churches of the Archdiocese of Baltimore on September 19, the day of the funeral at Canton, Ohio. He personally presided in the cathedral on that occasion and preached the sermon. He found it difficult, he said, to think of a murder more atrocious, wanton, and meaningless than the assassination of McKinley, for no court in the civilized world was more conspicuous for moral rectitude and purity, or freer from the breath of scandal, than the official home of the late president. "He would have adorned," said the cardinal, "any court in Christendom by his civic virtues." McKinley had passed away, honored and mourned by the nation, and Theodore Roosevelt had succeeded at once to the title, honors, and responsibilities of the presidential office, Gibbons went on. In other countries the assassination of the ruler meant revolution, and revolution meant death. "What a striking illustration," said Gibbons, "of the strength of our Government!" He urged the American people to rally around Roosevelt, to sustain him in bearing the formidable burdens so suddenly thrust upon him.
With the advent of Theodore Roosevelt, Cardinal Gibbons was probably on more intimate terms with the occupant of the White House than at any other time in his life. The day after McKinley's funeral he conveyed to the new president a message of condolence from Patrick Cardinal Moran of Sydney, and he used the occasion to express the earnest hope that the new administration would be p156 creditable to Roosevelt and would redound to the material prosperity of the country. Roosevelt replied that in thanking the Australian cardinal through Gibbons he wished to add a word of "my regard for you and my appreciation of your attitude," and that he hoped to see him soon. Thus began a deepening friendship between the two men that ended seventeen years later only with the death of Mr. Roosevelt.
Sometime late in October the cardinal and the president had a long conversation on the Philippines. Roosevelt confessed that he found the problem of the friars' lands baffling. He thought that the most it seemed possible to pay for the lands, and still win the consent of Congress, was about $7,000,000. It was his idea that the lands should then be resold in small holdings so that the friars would no longer be a factor in the economic life of the islands. At the conclusion of their discussion Gibbons said: "I will undertake, Mr. President, to obtain a settlement for you on the terms which you state."
Some days after the interview the cardinal informed Rampolla of his visit to the White House. He limited himself to general statements that conveyed the impression of the goodwill on both sides. Roosevelt, said Gibbons, was very well disposed toward Catholics and toward the Church; the Holy See would have nothing but praise for the actions that the president would take. Having thus contributed to the creation of a cordial atmosphere, Gibbons let the matter rest for the time being.
Early in December, Gibbons urged the president to send a representative to Rome to matters in the Philippines. Roosevelt adopted the suggestion, and named Taft, now Governor of the Philippines, head of the commission. Ten days before Taft sailed in May, 1902, he paid a lengthy visit to Gibbons in Baltimore. The cardinal gained the most favorable impressions: "He is a splendid type of an American citizen, & he is disposed to be not only just but generous to the Catholic Church." Bishop Thomas O'Gorman of Nebraska, who had preceded Taft to Rome, reported from a recent audience with Leo XIII; "The Taft Commission simply delights him."
Governor Taft remained in Rome for about a month, and by the middle of June, 1902, he was able to submit to Secretary Root the terms of purchase of the friars' lands in the Philippines, as well as p157 further details of his negotiations with the Holy See. But it was only in December, 1903, that the •410,000 acres were finally purchased by the United States for the sum of $7,329,000 in gold. With that the case was closed insofar as the Church was concerned.
From the beginning, opposition to the purchase had been expressed in both Catholic and secular journals. The president received protests from certain Catholic groups against the injustice that they said was being done to the friar by the government. One article was bluntly entitled "The Friars Must Stay." Roosevelt was puzzled by the Catholic criticism, since the government had only acted on the request of Archbishop Ireland and with the cordial approval of Cardinal Gibbons. In sending Taft to Rome, he said he had feared anti-Catholic criticism, but it had never entered his head that he would "encounter Catholic hostility."
In one Catholic editor, however, the government found a stanch defender. Herman J. Heuser of the American Ecclesiastical Review struck out sharply, especially at the Germans whose papers, he said, worked closely with the religious orders that were biased in the case. Moreover, some of the Catholic editors, Heuser said, were guilty of publishing stories on such flimsy evidence that it simply made them falsehoods. "It is the odium theologicum, said Heuser, "carried into the domain of social and political life by half-informed champions who see in their own interests the interests of a common cause."
At one point Gibbons himself contributed to the president's discomfort. In April, 1904, Gibbons signed a petition requesting the United States to promise ultimate independence to the Philippine Islands. Roosevelt told the cardinal: "If such a promise was made by us one of the first consequences would be that the position of . . . American Bishops would grow literally intolerable." Gibbons at once sensed the mistake he had made. "I should deeply regret," said the cardinal, "to do anything that would in the smallest way embarrass you in your delicate task & formidable burden of maintaining peace & order in those islands." From that time forward Gibbons resolutely opposed all efforts to hasten Philippine independence. After Theodore Roosevelt won the presidency in his own right in the election of 1904, Cardinal Gibbons sent him cordial congratulations, to which Roosevelt responded with similar warmth.
Just as matters in the Philippines settled down, Gibbons became involved, almost by inadvertence, in another international episode, p158 this time in Africa. In March, 1904, the Congo Reform Association was founded in England to arouse world opinion against the regime of Leopold II and to compel reform of conditions little better than slavery for the natives. The association was intent upon winning American opinion to its side, and in the autumn of 1904 it delegated its secretary, Edmund D. Morel, to present a petition to President Roosevelt and to carry its case before the thirteenth International Peace Congress scheduled for the first week in October in Boston. At this point Cardinal Gibbons was drawn in by the Belgian government. Not invited to send a representative to present the king's side of the case at the Peace Congress, the government of Leopold II asked Gibbons to support its demand that the question be kept off the agenda. The cardinal agreed to lend his assistance by writing a letter to the Reverend Edward Everett Hale, one of the leading officials of the Congress, who read it at one of the sessions. Gibbons remarked that if he were present he would regard it as his duty to say a word in vindication of the policy of Leopold II in the Congo. He cited the recognition given to the regime at the Berlin conference twenty years before, quoted the Italian and British delegates to that conference in admiration of the king's policies, and attributed the present prosperity of the region to Belgian toil and sacrifice. With all these factors in mind, the cardinal said he would regret having a congress bearing the name of peace discuss a question calculated to arouse enmity and strife, and he added that it would likewise be unfair since no representative of the Belgian government had been invited to present the king's case. Gibbons' effort failed to prevent a discussion of the question; the day after his letter was read, Morel assailed the Congo regime.
When word of the cardinal's action reached King Leopold II, he promptly instructed his minister at Washington to thank Gibbons in his name. Pope Pius X likewise expressed his gratitude. Yet Gibbons did not escape criticism for his intervention in the case. Morel reproached him for not knowing the facts, and in December, 1906, the Reverend H. Gratton Guinness publicly attacked Gibbons in a Presbyterian church in Baltimore as "the strong hand in this country who prevented the government from noticing the atrocities in the Congo." The cardinal did not back down. He prepared a statement for the press in which he stated that he had had access to the facts from Catholic missionaries on the scene in the Congo, p159 and from that source he had been informed that the stories of abuse were greatly exaggerated. Gibbons credited Leopold II with being a wise and humane ruler who promptly redressed cruelty when he learned of it. The king's recent decrees giving the natives additional lands and ameliorating the condition of the laborers were cited as evidences of his goodwill. "I fear," said the cardinal, "that this agitation against King Leopold's administration is animated partly by religious jealousy and partly by commercial rivalry." Gibbons disclaimed any personal interest in the affair, and in reiterating his motive as that of wishing to defend a small nation in the interest of fair play, he concluded by saying: "I would willingly make the same defence in behalf of Holland, Sweden, Denmark, or any of the weaker Powers if circumstances demanded."
As Gibbons suggested, religious jealousy and commercial rivalry had played their part in the movement for reform. But the evidence still weighed heavily against the government of the Belgian king as having been guilty of serious exploitation of the natives and, at times, of inhuman treatment of the Negro population.
Gibbons erred in becoming involved. The cardinal's apparently complete reliance on the word of the king's government and on the reports that reached him periodically from missionaries betrayed him into a position difficult to defend. When challenged, he presumably did not see a sufficiently cogent reason for reversing his position. For one of the few times in Gibbons' long life, his normally keen judgment went astray and exposed him to the charge of partisanship and of ignorance of the facts governing an issue. The cardinal should have steered clear of the case.
Closer to home, the cardinal continued his concern for the Catholic University. By 1901, very serious disorders in the finances, as well as a spirit of opposition to the rector among a group of trustees and professors, made it appear that Bishop Conaty should retire at the end of his first term. In the spring of 1902, talk naturally turned to a successor. Cardinal Satolli, now Prefect of the Congregation of Studies, intimated to Monsignor O'Connell, the former rector of the American College in Rome who was the vicar of Gibbons' church in Rome, that he might be the next rector. When this news was sent to Gibbons, it filled his heart with joy. The action of Rome was delayed, but in January, 1903, the Congregation of Studies, "thinking to please to [sic] Your Eminence," as Satolli expressed it, had p160 named O'Connell. O'Connell himself cabled the cardinal to express his joy over the appointment. From Baltimore, Gibbons' chancellor told O'Connell that he had never seen the cardinal so elated. Archbishop Ireland could scarcely believe that the appointment had been made. "What a revolution in the temper of Rome there is implied in his nomination!" said the archbishop, recalling the stormy days of the Americanism controversy.
The university was then in its fourteenth year, but the period of strain had not yet passed. Many of the hierarchy still withheld their support, the scars of internal feuds were not fully healed, both students and financial resources were still scarce, and some of the officials of the Roman Curia had doubts about the university's future. It was no surprise, then, that apart from reasons of friendship the cardinal should welcome so wholeheartedly as rector one in whom he placed such great confidence.
On April 22, 1903, the new rector was formally inaugurated immediately after the semiannual meeting of the board of trustees. It had been evident for a long time that the university needed more ample sources of income than those yielded by occasional benefactions and by students' fees. O'Connell lost no time in getting to the heart of the matter, and at this meeting he presented to the trustees a highly detailed account of the university's finances. The report was not very encouraging: current liabilities of $201,233.33, only $56,251.11 to meet the obligations. In order to overcome this debt and to build up an endowment, O'Connell proposed that the trustees petition the Holy See to order an annual collection for ten years in all the dioceses of the United States. The trustees agreed and empowered O'Connell to present their request to Pope Leo XIII. In fulfilment of this mission, the rector sailed for Rome on July 1.
In the summer of 1903 when Pope Leo XIII had reached his ninety-third year, it became evident that the end was not far off. On July 8 Gibbons received a cablegram from Rampolla that the Pope was not expected to live, and at this news the cardinal quickly made arrangements to sail with Patrick C. Gavan, his chancellor, who would serve him as conclavist at the approaching election. They landed at Le Havre on July 16 and proceeded to Paris. Leo XIII died on July 20, and the cardinal then set out for Rome where he was to have the distinction of being the first American to take part in the election of a pope.
p161 The conclave opened on the evening of July 31 with all but two of the sixty-four cardinals present. On the two first scrutinies the voting ran strongly in favor of Cardinal Rampolla, and it appeared that he might be elected. In fact, as Gibbons later related, prospects appeared so favorable for the secretary of state that after the second scrutiny the Cardinal of Baltimore, who was seated at Rampolla's right, turned and congratulated him. But before the third scrutiny on August 2, John Cardinal Puzyna, Bishop of Cracow, rose in the conclave and pronounced the veto of the Emperor Francis Joseph of Austria-Hungary against Rampolla's candidacy. The imperial veto brought forth vigorous protests against this interference in the affairs of the Church by a lay State. Nonetheless, whatever chances Rampolla had had for the Papacy were now destroyed, and the balloting began to incline toward Cardinal Sarto, Patriarch of Venice.
At this point, however, a difficulty arose when Sarto made it known that he wished his colleagues to pass him by. His reluctance threatened a stalemate. While affairs were in this uncertain state, Cardinal Satolli paid a visit to Gibbons' room. After conferring for some time, Gibbons volunteered a suggestion, which he later said he hoped was an inspiration. He told Satolli to go to Sarto and to beg him for the love of God to bow to the selection, to yield to the action of the Holy Spirit. The Cardinal of Baltimore waited until the middle of the afternoon, but Satolli did not return. When they had assembled in the conclave, however, Satolli came and whispered to Gibbons, "Accepit." Thereupon the news was made known to all the cardinals that Sarto would accept the Papacy if elected. At the next scrutiny he received thirty-five votes and, as Gibbons reported, "all left the conclave like boys out of school for they felt the end was near." On the following morning, August 4, in the seventh scrutiny Sarto received fifty votes, was declared elected, and took the name of Pius X. The new Pope granted an audience to the American cardinal on the evening the conclave ended, and in another private audience gave his approval to an annual collection for the Catholic University of America.
By reason of the papal approval, a subsequent appeal of the chancellor, and the publicity given to the subject by the bishops, priests, and Catholic press, the first annual collection proved very gratifying — a total of $105,051.58. All but three of the dioceses p162 responded to the call, the most conspicuous absentee being Bishop McQuaid's Diocese of Rochester. In an optimistic vein the cardinal chancellor remarked: "This present year is the most prosperous & auspicious that has dawned on the Catholic University since its foundation."
Actually, these bright prospects were soon overcast by an event that would mark 1904 as one of the darkest years in the university's annals. The origin of the crisis lay far back in the administration of Bishop Conaty. As early as April, 1902, a special committee of the board of trustees had reported that the management of the university funds had suffered from not only a lack of competency and of business methods, but "an almost culpable negligence. . . ." Although the business methods of the treasurer, Thomas E. Waggaman, a Washington lawyer and real-estate man, left much to be desired, the blame for the muddled state of affairs could not be laid solely at his door, since the trustees and administrative officers had for years neglected to demand an accounting of the institution's investments.
On August 22, 1904, all hopes for solvency were suddenly dashed when it became known that three Washington banks were prepared to enter involuntary bankruptcy proceedings against Waggaman. The prospect of Waggaman's bankruptcy threatened all the university's investments. It was a trying moment for Cardinal Gibbons. He hurriedly drafted a letter to the trustees, explaining that Waggaman's entire indebtedness to the university amounted to $876,168.98; as collateral, the institution held the deed of trust on some real estate in the Woodley section of Washington, a chattel mortgage on Waggaman's art gallery, which was valued by its owner at $600,000, a bond of Waggaman's father-in‑law and son for $200,000, and other securities amounting to $75,000. Gibbons then said:
The only regular source of revenue the University can depend on is the annual collection, which amounted last year to $104,023.86.
He then came to his appeal for help:
The time has come now for the Trustees to exert themselves in an heroic manner and to preserve their honor and integrity before the world. The salvation of the University depends on the early action of the Board of Directors. What I would suggest is that each member p163 of the Board who feels capable of raising that amount should contribute $50,000, payable in five or ten annual installments.
Although the tone of the chancellor's letter was calm, actually he had been dreadfully shaken by the blow. Father George A. Dougherty, O'Connell's secretary, wired the rector in Seattle: "Eminenza very distressed. Situation uncertain." In a letter the following day he told the rector that the day the crisis broke he had found the cardinal in a state bordering on collapse; Gibbons had suggested that the board suppress the Schools of Law and Technology and cut the salaries of the faculty.
But regardless of pain and embarrassment, Cardinal Gibbons rallied nobly. In its most severe trial the university found no greater source of strength than the assurance of his loyalty and the prestige of his name. He turned to a number of valued friends among the hierarchy and the laity to lend him $1,000 a year for five years so that he might be enabled, in turn, to give it to the university. The depth of his feeling was revealed in the appeal he made to Bishop J. F. Regis Canevin of Pittsburgh: "It is not pleasant for flesh & blood to become a beggar in my declining years, but God wills it to Whom I bow in all humility." As the time neared for new academic year, Gibbons requested the rector to ask the professors to come to see him as they arrived so that he might urge upon them the reasons for reducing their salaries.
Other problems relating to the university were laid before the chancellor. Archbishop Sebastian G. Messmer of Milwaukee had warned Gibbons the previous spring that O'Connell was inviting criticism by failing to respect the constitutional right of the academic senate and the faculty to voice their opinions regarding policies and decisions. Messmer suggested that names of four priests of German extraction as suitable candidates for the office of vice-rector; he gave it as his opinion that the appointment of one of these men would do much to overcome the prejudice of the German Catholics against the university.
The day before the meeting of the trustees on November 17, 1904, Gibbons was presented with a communication from Cardinal Satolli suggesting that lay students not be admitted to the university and that greater emphasis be given to the School of Theology. Coming when the trustees were eagerly seeking sources of increased revenue, Satolli's letter met with a very unfavorable reception on p164 all sides. The trustees discussed the matter at length, and finally resolved unanimously that Gibbons should thank the prefect for his solicitude for the university but tell him courteously that his suggestion could not be complied with. With this no more was heard of the proposal, and in the autumn of 1905 the university was opened to lay undergraduates as well as to lay graduate students.
In view of the financial strain, the second annual collection scheduled to be taken up on the first Sunday in Advent, 1904, assumed a more than ordinary importance. In preparing a letter to the hierarchy, Gibbons readily followed a suggestion of Spalding's that a full account of the financial condition of the institution be included. He noted that the university had no floating debt nor any deficit at the end of the previous year and stated that the losses suffered through the bankruptcy of the treasurer were in part covered by securities; but he added that the university's income was not sufficient to cover the necessary expenses. The cardinal pleaded strongly with the hierarchy to come behind the collection.
The Archbishop of New York, John M. Farley, was delighted with the chancellor's frank appeal but annoyed at the failure of trustees like Archbishops Ireland, Keane, and Riordan to respond with $1,000 personally to the guarantee fund. A day or two later the cardinal was told of Ireland's disappointment in learning that Farley was giving only $10,000 and Ryan of Philadelphia only $5,000. "The possessors of such large sees, each one with enormous revenues," said Ireland, "should have given much larger sums." These reflections of the East and the West among the university trustees probably afforded a moment of amusement to the harassed chancellor. He was very careful, however, not to involve himself in the trustees' varying estimates of what their colleagues should contribute.
By the autumn of 1905 the chancellor was in a position to offer the university's friends a much brighter prospect. When he mailed his letter to the hierarchy for the next annual collection, he told the bishops that the entire debt of the institution was then only $50,000 and that $355,000 was invested in first-class securities. The amount of the collection on this occasion reached the satisfactory sum of $100,551.30. With the success of this endeavor, together with the gradually mounting guarantee fund, the cardinal could rightly feel that the worst of the storm had passed. The university eventually p165 realized the sum of $361,589.08 from its claims against Waggaman, less by far than the total indebtedness of the treasurer to the university, but more than anyone had dared to hope for.
Those who were close to the university in the crisis appreciated Gibbons' extraordinary effort. When the cornerstone of Gibbons Hall was laid on October 12, 1911, Archbishop Farley said:
But while Cardinal Gibbons thus rendered invaluable service from the beginning in every juncture, never in is history was his indomitable courage, the quality most needed in every vast undertaking, so notably shown as in the dark days of its greatest trial.
Fortunately, the relations of Cardinal Gibbons with the university were not all troublesome. To offset the revenues he had the satisfaction of witnessing the extension of the university's work and the gradual addition of new affiliates. For example, on April 23, 1903, Gibbons laid the cornerstone of the Apostolic Mission House on the campus, a building intended for priests who would take special training for missionary labors in the United States, and on the same day he turned the first spade of earth for the College of the Immaculate Conception, the house of studies of the Dominican friars, a structure that he dedicated on August 20, 1905. In the spring of the year 1905 the provincial of the Oblate Fathers purchased land across the street from the campus for a house of studies. Plans for a Sulpician seminary matured more slowly, and it was not until November, 1919, that Gibbons dedicated the Sulpician Seminary at Washington, and then only as a strictly Sulpician project, not as an integral part of the university.
During the years of Monsignor O'Connell's rectorship the university suffered the loss of one of its most loyal and helpful trustees when a stroke of paralysis incapacitated John Lancaster Spalding. No one appreciated the loss more keenly than the chancellor. In telling Spalding of the reluctance with which the board of trustees accepted his resignation at their meeting in 1907, the cardinal said:
In doing so, however, they recognized all your great services to the University in the past, and how in a sense you could be considered its founder and its ever-constant protector.
Later that year, the theological movement known in the Church as "modernism" reached its climax with the issuance of Pius X's encyclical, Pascendi dominici gregis, on September 8, 1907. When p166 the trustees of the Catholic University of America met on November 16 they unanimously assented to the condemnation of the false doctrines enumerated in the encyclical. At the same meeting Gibbons appointed a committee of five to make recommendations concerning books in the library of the university that might contain modernist teachings. In fulfillment of his duty the cardinal addressed a letter to Pius X in which he stated the adhesion of the board of trustees to the encyclical. He also reported the spontaneous adhesion of all the instructors in the university and his personal assurance that as chancellor he would rigorously use his authority if necessary.
The modernist movement was European; its application to the Church of the United States was on the whole slight. In only one instance did the issues raised by the modernist movement call forth action from the cardinal chancellor. In this case, involving the complicated case of Henry A. Poels, associate professor of Old Testament Scripture, Gibbons found himself in the uncomfortable position of appearing to force the resignation of a scholar who, in full conscience and with priestly humility, could not accept the decision of the Biblical Commission that Moses must be held to have been the main and inspired author of the Pentateuch. Poels thought that although the Holy Father did not require Poels' resignation from the university, Gibbons was attempting to effect it merely "to please the Cardinal Secretary of State, even if I have to be wronged."
The position of Cardinal Gibbons in the Poels case entailed a great deal of anxiety. As chancellor of the university he was responsible to the Holy See for the doctrinal orthodoxy of the institution, and at a time when there was such widespread uneasiness in Catholic circles over the dangers of modernism, the cardinal was more than ordinarily sensitive. Moreover, as Gibbons had good reason to remember, less than fifteen years before, the university had passed through two severe trials: the controversy over the schools, which involved Professor Bouquillon, and the Americanism trouble in which Bishop Keane was removed from the office of rector. It was not surprising, then, that the cardinal should have felt that the university could not well stand to have its orthodoxy questioned again, and that therefore Poels' contract should not be renewed.
Monsignor O'Connell had gone to Rome in the summer of 1906 where he found the officials of the Holy See in a very agreeable p167 mood toward the university. He told Gibbons that he learned of a desire among some to accord him an official acknowledgment for what he had done, as well as to accentuate the position of the rector. Without mentioning directly advancement to the episcopacy, O'Connell quoted his Roman sources as having referred to the fact "that all his predecessors had that character." The idea, of course, was altogether pleasing to the university's chancellor, and in the early winter of that year he wrote to Cardinals Satolli and Gotti with high praise of the rector; he urged that O'Connell be made a bishop. Rome did not respond to the original prompting, and in the autumn of 1907 the cardinal wrote again, this time to the pope himself. A few weeks later Raphael Cardinal Merry del Val informed him that the appointment would come in the next consistory. At last the nomination of O'Connell to the titular See of Sebaste was announced. Gibbons was overjoyed. He told the rector:
You may know, but hardly to its full extent, how happy I was made this morning by your elevation to the episcopate. It is just a month today since I wrote to the Holy Father.
Now you can say with Card. Newman: "At last I am vindicated." Thanks to God.
On May 3, 1908, Cardinal Gibbons consecrated his eighteenth bishop when he performed the ceremony for his friend, Denis O'Connell, in the cathedral of Baltimore.
As O'Connell's first term ended, he made it clear that he did not wish to be reappointed. Despite the achievements of his rectorship, he was not happy. The root causes of his discontent are not too clear, and probably only Gibbons knew the complete background. O'Connell had made enemies within the university by his methods, and this hostility persisted after the question of conflicting jurisdiction between the rector and the academic senate had been settled in 1906 in the former's favor. The atmosphere continued to be unfriendly to the rector. At the semiannual meeting of the board of trustees in November, 1907, the trustees voted for a second term for O'Connell, but then, when O'Connell made it known officially that he did not wish a second term, the balloting ended with a unanimous vote for John Carroll Bishop of Helena. Gibbons promptly informed Carroll that in accordance with the university's constitution, only his name would be forwarded to Rome. At the same time, the cardinal, p168 with the consent of Archbishop Riordan of San Francisco, recommended O'Connell's appointment as auxiliary bishop of that city. On Christmas Eve, 1908, the third rector of the university was named Auxiliary Bishop of San Francisco.
Meanwhile Bishop Carroll was hurrying his preparations in Helena to finish the plans for his cathedral and college so that he might be free to take up his new duties in Washington when O'Connell's term would expire on January 11, 1909. But a week after that date Rome instructed the apostolic delegate by cable to inform Gibbons that Pope did not deem it opportune to transfer Carroll from his diocese. Until candidates could be presented, Pius X named Thomas J. Shahan as prorector.
In compliance with the wishes of the Holy See the trustees at their meeting on April 22‑23, 1909, drew up a terna for the rectorship with Shahan in first place. Gibbons forwarded the list to Rome and accompanied it with a powerful endorsement of Shahan. The appointment came through in a month's time. In the early autumn the chancellor requested of the Holy See that Shahan be made a domestic prelate, an honor that was likewise readily granted and with which Gibbons invested the new rector on December 16, 1909, in the chapel of Caldwell Hall.
During Roosevelt's second administration, disputes raging in the Philippines finally moved toward settlement. In 1906 the Supreme Court of the Philippines confirmed the Church's title to the ecclesiastical buildings put up originally for the use of its communicants. A thornier problem was the adjustment of the claims made by the Church for damages done to its properties during the time they were occupied by the American military forces.
The Archbishop of Manila, Jeremiah J. Harty, became aroused about the matter and, early in 1906, sent Gibbons a lengthy document sharply critical of the government. He asked the cardinal to forward the document to the president. The communication from Harty met with anything but a friendly reception at the White House. Roosevelt was distinctly annoyed by the strictures against the government's conduct in the islands; while he acknowledged that anything coming from Gibbons would have his careful consideration, the opening sentence of Harty's document, he said, prejudiced him against the whole of it. The offending sentence said:
p169 From the time of American occupation of the Philippines the Catholic Church has been harassed and confounded with an apparently studied purpose on the part of the Government of the United States to control as its own if not to confiscate outright great charities of undoubted private origin.
Roosevelt maintained that such a statement was simply untrue. Nevertheless, he would submit the matter to Taft.
Gibbons found the role of mediator unenviable. He informed Archbishop Harty that Roosevelt had been "evidently displeased with the severe tone of the paper, & the manner in which the Administration was arraigned." The following day he told the president that he regretted having been requested to send him Harty's communication on account of the brusqueness of its language and the sweeping character of its complaints.
The presidential ire at the Archbishop of Manila was heightened when Harty published his letter. Now President Roosevelt was genuinely irritated. He was sincerely in favor of an appropriation for the damage claims, and he told Taft in June, 1906, that he would have sent a message to Congress on the Church's claims some time before had it not been for the publication of Harty's letter. If he acted now it would be construed as attempting to influence the fall elections, whereas he was determined to make it clear beyond a peradventure of a doubt that in dealing with the Church he was influenced solely by a sense of equity. Not until more than two years later was the final settlement made. In March, 1908, the sum of $403,030.19 was appointed for payment to the Church in the Philippines.
In Puerto Rico, serious threats to the properties of the Church in the islands arose periodically. The changes in government, along with the departure of the Spaniards and the arrival of the Americans, had entailed a good deal of confusion over land titles. When the archbishops met in April, 1907, an appeal was read from Bishop William A. Jones, O. S. A., expressing the hope that the metropolitans would intervene with the United States government to have the disputed titles clearly vested in the Church so that the matter could be settled outside the courts. Nonetheless, it did reach the courts, and in June, 1908, the Supreme Court handed down its decision upholding the previous judgment of the Puerto Rico court in favor of the property rights of the Church.
p170 By reason of the measure of self-government allowed to Cuba there was, of course, far more leeway for the local politicians to make trouble for the Church there than in Puerto Rico. When the Liberal Party won the elections of November, 1908, and took power with President José Miguel Gómez, the situation became grave. In the spring of 1910 the Apostolic Delegate to Cuba and Puerto Rico, Archbishop Giuseppe Aversa, informed the Holy See that the government was threatening to prohibit all external manifestations of religion and to forbid foreign priests and religious from entering the country. Once more the Holy See requested Gibbons to use his influence with the American government. The cardinal conferred in Washington with President Taft and Secretary of State Philander C. Knox, who were both sympathetic. In response to an inquiry, President Gómez assured Washington that the unfavorable legislation was not likely to pass, and that if it did he would oppose it. Taft passed this information on to the cardinal with the remark: "I hope you will regard this as ending the matter." Gibbons promptly summarized developments for Archbishop Diomede Falconio so that the apostolic delegate might, in turn, let Rome know that the danger had been averted. In the course of these negotiations, Gibbons reaffirmed his familiar stand on Church and State. In an important article in the North American Review in March, 1909, he was at pains to explain the Church's theological doctrine on the ideal union of Church and State. He made the distinction, however, that such an arrangement was not always the happiest solution in all countries; "while the union is ideally best, history assuredly does not perverse that it is always practically best." Gibbons concluded his article with a paragraph that made his position quite clear:
American Catholics rejoice in our separation of Church and State; and I can conceive no combination of circumstances likely to arise which should make a union desirable either to Church or State. We know the blessings of our present arrangement; it gives us liberty and binds together priests and people in a union better than that of Church and State. Other countries, other manners; we do not believe our system adapted to all conditions; we leave it to Church and State in other lands to solve their problems for their own best interests. For ourselves, we thank God we live in America, 'in this happy country of ours,' to quote Mr. Roosevelt, where 'religion and liberty are natural allies.'
p171 It was ironical that Gibbons should have quoted Roosevelt in this article, for their friendship proved to be the occasion of some embarrassment to the cardinal in the spring of 1910 after Roosevelt had retired from office.
The ex‑President arrived in Rome the first week in April on his return from a hunting trip in Africa, and the visit provoked a public storm when he grew angry at the Vatican's request that he cancel an engagement with Methodists and, in turn, lost his temper with the Protestant group when one of their number made an insulting reference to Pius X. In the end Roosevelt left Rome without visiting either the Vatican or the Methodists. The affair caused great commotion on both sides of the Atlantic, and political circles worried about its effect on the American electorate. Gibbons visited President Taft at the White House soon after the news broke, and as he was leaving he remarked: "The President and I both regret this incident."
Yet despite the tension, the unfortunate incident did not cause a break in the friendship of Gibbons and Roosevelt, for in the following year, the former president came to Baltimore for the civic celebration of the cardinal's jubilee, publicly lauding him in the highest terms.
The ceremonies surrounding Cardinal Gibbons' silver jubilee as a bishop in 1893, dramatic as they were, were far overshadowed by the splendor with which the nation did him honor in 1911 as he reached the fiftieth anniversary of his priesthood and the twenty-fifth of his cardinalate. By that time his position in national life had been firmly established; his name was a household word throughout the land, and the occupant of the White House, William Howard Taft, numbered him among his intimate friends. On May 19, 1911, the Baltimore Sun announced the resolutions passed by the Baltimore city council giving its warm approval to a civic celebration for their foremost citizen who was described as "a pattern for Americans, an illustrious example to all men, without distinction of creed or party. . . ." Among the earliest to signify that he would be there was Theodore Roosevelt, who said: "The Cardinal is a trump; I earnestly desire to do him honor."
Two days before the demonstration the New York Herald published a lengthy interview with Gibbons, all of which was given over to a lengthy discussion of what he believed to be the greatest defects in p172 American life. The evils that the old churchman arraigned were Mormonism and divorce, the imperfect and secularized system of public education, the desecration of the Christian Sabbath, the unreasonable delays in carrying into effect decisions of the criminal courts, and the corruption and frauds that often attended elections.
On the afternoon of June 6 a crowd estimated at 20,000 persons gathered in the Fifth Regiment Armory in Baltimore for the civic celebration of the cardinal's jubilee. President Taft arrived from Washington on a special train that carried Vice-President James S. Sherman, Champ Clark, speaker of the House of Representatives, members of the cabinet and the supreme court, and large delegations from both houses of Congress. In fact, as the Washington Post reported the next day, "The business of the United States government, superficially at least, was at a standstill for four hours. . . . Assistant secretaries held down the lid in most of the government departments. . . ." Chief Justice Edward D. White made a special trip from New Orleans for the event. Ten speeches were made during the course of the afternoon. Governor Austin Crothers led off with a welcome from Maryland to the distinguished assemblage. He was followed in turn by the president, Sherman, Roosevelt, Senator Elihu Root, Ambassador James Bruce of Great Britain, Clark, Joseph G. Cannon, former speaker of the House of Representatives, Mayor James H. Preston of Baltimore, and finally the cardinal. All the speeches were brief, but the encomia heaped upon the guest of honor added up to the most remarkable demonstration of universal esteem for a private citizen ever witnessed in the United States. Taft said that the present assembly could find few counterparts in history. They had gathered, he said, not as members of any religious denomination nor in any official capacity, but rather to honor in Cardinal Gibbons one who in his long and useful life had "spared no effort in the cause of good citizenship and the uplifting of his fellow men." The president lauded the services that Gibbons had given to the nation by his inculcation of respect for constituted authority and for religious tolerance and by his continuous wholehearted interest in the moral and material welfare of all elements of the population. "But what we are especially delighted to see confirmed in him and his life," said Taft, "is the entire consistency which he has demonstrated between earnest and single-minded patriotism and love p173 of country on the one hand, and sincere devotion to his church and God upon the other."
Thus the tributes flowed on until it reached the moment when the cardinal rose to reply. He felt satisfied, he said, that the speakers had portrayed their subject, not as he was in reality, but as he ought to be. "But I have become so enamoured of your portrait," he continued, "that it shall be the endeavor of my life to imitate and resemble that portrait more and more during the few years that remain to me in this world." Gibbons claimed one merit, an earnest and ardent love of his native country and of its political institutions. He was persuaded that the government of the United States was one of the most precious heirlooms ever transmitted to posterity. He would have all Americans impress upon their minds the truths that the president and his colleagues were divinely appointed ministers of the law, that they represented Him by whom kings reigned and lawmakers decided just things. He concluded by saying: "And, therefore, it should be the duty and the delight of every citizen to co‑operate with our Chief Magistrate and his aides, and to bless them as they are steering along the destinies of our beloved and our glorious republic."
June 6, 1911, would ever remain as one of the most memorable days in a long life filled with unusual events. And yet Gibbons took the demonstration in the same unruffled manner with which he had met most of the striking circumstances of his colorful career. In fact, it was later said of him: "There was not in all the thousands a more unassuming man than he who was the central figure of the demonstration."
The golden jubilee of Gibbons' priesthood was climaxed in October of 1911 by a three‑day celebration largely ecclesiastical in character. Three issues, said the cardinal in a sermon in his cathedral, were now before the American people, and he was opposed to all of them: the election of United States senators by popular vote, the making of the acts of state legislatures subject to the suffrage of the people, and the recall of unpopular judges before the expiration of their terms of office. Gibbons was unimpressed by the argument that legislatures were subject to corruption, and, therefore, should not elect the senators, for if legislators were corrupt, so, too, would be the people from whom the legislators sprang. Subjecting acts of the state legislatures p174 to mass vote was, to his mind, substituting mob law for established rule. And to recall a judge for decisions that were unpopular was an insult to the dignity, independence, and self-respect of the judiciary. Far less menacing to the republic was an occasional corrupt or incompetent judge than one who would be the habitual slave of a capricious multitude, constantly adjusting his decisions to the popular whims.
On Sunday, October 15, solemn pontifical Mass was celebrated in the cathedral by the cardinal in the presence of the apostolic delegate, Archbishop Falconio, nine other archbishops, and forty‑six bishops. The sermon at the Mass was preached by Archbishop John J. Glennon of St. Louis, who stated that Gibbons' career had been unique in the history of the Church. Speaking of the cardinals of an earlier day, he said:
We may not deny their greatness, their learning, their consecration; but, unlike any one member of either group, our Cardinal stands with the same devotion to his country as Richelieu had for France, cultivating a citizenship as unstained as Newman, and while reaching out to a broader democracy than even Cardinal Manning, he still remains pre‑eminent in his unquestioned devotion to Holy Church.
The year of his jubilee, Gibbons gave unrestrained support to a new missionary society of American priests. The two persons chiefly responsible were Fathers Thomas F. Price of the Vicariate Apostolic of North Carolina and James A. Walsh, director of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith in the Archdiocese of Boston. Gibbons was well acquainted with Price from his days in North Carolina where years before he had given this first native priest of the state his first Communion, confirmed him, and shown him great kindness in the pursuit of his vocation. It was, therefore, no stranger who presented himself on Charles Street in the early spring of 1911 to seek the cardinal's approval of the plan for foreign missions. Gibbons gave him a warm reception and suggested that he consult the apostolic delegate. Shortly thereafter, he likewise addressed a lengthy letter to the metropolitans in which he cited the need for a seminary in the United States to train priests for the foreign missions. He noted Cardinal Manning's observation concerning the increase of vocations in England after the Church there had bestirred itself for the missions abroad, quoted Cardinal Vaughan's warning that the prosperity of the American Church would hardly endure if it failed to assume its share of the missionary endeavor in foreign lands, and noted that p175 the American Protestants had been in the foreign mission field for over a century. Gibbons also submitted at this time a practical plan of action. He suggested the establishment of a missionary seminary that would be independent of any diocese and would be directly under the Congregation of the Propaganda. He stated that since sufficient funds were already at hand to make a humble beginning, as well as the promise of several burses, the question of money would prove no immediate obstacle.
A month later the metropolitans gathered for their annual meeting, and at that time Gibbons won their unanimous consent. The minutes read:
We warmly commend to the Holy Father the two priests mentioned as organizers of this Seminary, and we instruct them to proceed to Rome without delay for the purpose of securing all necessary authorization and direction from the Propaganda for the proposed work.
Walsh and Price lost no time in carrying out this mandate. In Rome they were kindly received by Pius X and Cardinals Merry del Val and Gotti. As Price said, the doors were thrown wide open to them as the result of Gibbons' and Falconio's letters of recommendation. One thing remained to be decided at once, and that was the name the new society should take. Price told Gibbons of "our united desire that you should have the honor of naming it." He then suggested as a name the Catholic Foreign Mission Society of America so that it would emphasize that the Catholic Church of the United States was now actively in the field. The cardinal approved the name and it was, therefore, adopted. The young society prospered, and on September 8, 1918, Father Price set out for China as the superior of a group composed of himself and three other priests, the first of the many Maryknoll missionaries to devote their lives to spreading the faith in the Orient.
The year after his jubilee, Gibbons finally found a suitable opening to secure his favorite, Denis O'Connell, as one of his suffragans. After the death of Bishop Van de Vyver of Richmond on October 16, 1911, the cardinal presided at his own residence over the meeting of the Richmond consultors on November 15, and he rejoiced when O'Connell received five of the six votes for the first place. A week later the bishops of the province also chose him as first on their terna; Gibbons jubilantly informed his friend that he now had high hopes of success.
p176 Early the following year the cardinal learned of O'Connell's appointment to Richmond. They were probably few ceremonies during his many years as metropolitan of the Province of Baltimore that Gibbons performed with a fuller heart than that of installing Denis O'Connell as seventh Bishop of Richmond in St. Peter's Cathedral on March 19. In his sermon on that occasion he stated that it was rare, indeed, for any bishop to be chosen for a diocese with such exceptional concurrence as O'Connell had enjoyed. Addressing the clergy directly, the cardinal said he was persuaded that if they had the selection of their ordinary, they would have named O'Connell. "Like the people assembled in the Church of Milan," he continued, "who suddenly cried out: 'Let Ambrose be our Bishop,' you would have exclaimed: 'Let Denis J. O'Connell be placed over us.' "
By the spring of 1912 Gibbons was nearing his seventy-eighth birthday, and his auxiliary bishop, Owen B. Corrigan, pastor of St. Gregory's Church in Baltimore, and nine of his consultors and irremovable rectors presented him with a formal request that he take steps to insure a successor of his own choice by asking for a coadjutor. The petitioners stated that they had so long enjoyed the happiness and peace of his fatherly administration that, in view of what had taken place in other American dioceses, they could not regard the future without serious apprehension. While they prayed and had every reason to expect that the cardinal would be with them for many years, yet the archdiocese must some day suffer its greatest loss, a loss that would be aggravated a hundredfold if they were totally unprepared for it. For that reason they humbly begged Gibbons to mitigate the sorrow of the future by preserving them from the evils of a vacant see, by taking action now while he was in perfect health and in a position to have his wishes favorably considered by Rome. The cardinal was reminded that the evils incident to a vacancy in any diocese would be greatly increased in the case of the premier see because of its proximity to the seat of government, to the Apostolic Delegation, and to the Catholic University of America. Therefore, it was proposed that Great Britain be select three names to be presented to the Holy See; the consultors and irremovable rectors would pledge themselves to vote officially for these three persons. To assure the cardinal of the spirit that motivated their suggestion, the petitioners stated:
p177 We should be pained beyond expression if our action should give rise in your mind to a doubt of our affectionate loyalty to Your Eminence. Our action is prompted by no disaffection towards your benevolent administration either in the past or in the present. We desire no change. Should duty in your wisdom and generosity accede to our wishes, we beg that all jurisdiction and authority be retained absolutely by Your Eminence, and that the Coadjutor be given a vacant parish or provided with a residence at the Seminary.
This petition met with no success.
One persistent rumor did, however, move Gibbons to act. He ordinarily discounted rumors, but by the winter of 1913‑1914 the reports had grown so persistent that the Holy See intended to divide the Archdiocese of Baltimore and erect a new see at Washington that the old cardinal decided upon a trip to Rome to lay his protest directly before the Holy Father against an eventuality of this kind. He informed the pope in measured words that many bishops, out of their love and veneration for the See of Baltimore, looked upon this proposal with disfavor; they had urged Gibbons to make known to the Pontiff certain grave reasons why it should not be carried out. Insofar as Washington was concerned, the Catholics there had neither the numbers nor the resources to support a bishop; heavy debts compelled some of their parishes to have recourse to Baltimore to meet their obligations. As for Baltimore, such a separation would lessen the prestige of the premier see which, in comparison to other American dioceses like New York, Chicago, Boston, and Philadelphia, was very small. Furthermore, the Archbishop of Baltimore was by appointment of the Holy See ex officio chancellor of the Catholic University of America; many inconveniences would arise were the university to be separated from the chancellor's ecclesiastical jurisdiction. "In the interest of truth," said Gibbons, "I must say that when the University went through its most critical period, were it not for myself and the Clergy of Baltimore, it would have ceased to exist." As for himself, Gibbons remarked that his life was now far advanced. He prayed, therefore, that his declining years might not be clouded by the humiliation of a dismemberment of his archdiocese. "The Holy See could not in a more acceptable manner crown my earthly career," he said, "than by sparing me this tribulation which would bring me with sorrow to my grave." Gibbons' protest proved effective. In fact, a quarter of a century p178 lapsed before the names of the two cities were joined in a dual jurisdiction under a single ordinary on July 22, 1939, and not until November 15, 1947, was a complete separation effected when the two archdioceses were given their own archbishops.
With the elections of 1912 approaching, one last major concern redirected the cardinal's attention to the Philippines. Early in 1912 agitation began within the Democratic Party to have inserted in its platform a statement that would commit the party to early independence for the islands. When news of this reached Manila, Archbishop Harty became genuinely alarmed. He hastened word to Baltimore asking the cardinal to induce the American hierarchy to work against independence. He said it was the consensus of the white men in the Philippines that the natives were not yet ready to govern themselves and would not be ready for a long time. In the lengthy communication Harty detailed other reasons for his view and concluded by saying: "Sooner or later Japan would swoop down on the islands, annex them, and blot out any vestige of Christianity that might be found." Two days later Harty remarked that if it were known in the islands that the resident American bishops were working against independence they would be compelled, as he said, "to get out of the Philippines by night — thankful if our lives were spared." Therefore, the utmost discretion was necessary.
As summer approached, Gibbons informed Ireland that he was to open the Democratic national convention with prayer the following month in his see city. Ireland — a pronounced Republican — replied: "Be on your guard while invoking blessings upon the Democratic Convention. Pray hard for the country, not so much for the party. I still hope that Mr. Taft will be nominated & elected."
The Democrats wrote Philippine independence into their platform and went on to win the election with their candidate, Woodrow Wilson. Taft deplored the plank, and after the election he asked Gibbons to come to the White House to discuss the issue.
The president and the cardinal lunched together on November 23 and went over all aspects of the question. As a result of their conference Gibbons got in touch with members of the American hierarchy and urged them to work against the Jones independence bill. He stated that early independence for the islands would be a serious blow to the Catholic Church there and would place its properties in dire jeopardy. The cardinal reported that the president p179 had suggested that the energy of the hierarchy be exerted quickly to forestall independence. Gibbons urged the bishops to bring to bear all the influence at their command upon their congressmen and other important citizens. "The President," he said, "was particularly emphatic in the expression of these views, adding that the Catholic Church is the great bulwark against Socialism, the wanton destruction of property, and the violation of property rights, and that her power is sorely needed in the islands."
Both President Taft and W. Cameron Forbes, governor general of the Philippines, were gratified at the cardinal's action. Forbes forwarded a package of documents on Philippine affairs to give Gibbons fuller information on the subject, and a few days later he told him: "I am sure your action will have immense effect, and I am also sure that if this matter is followed up, the bill can be killed in its infancy." Cardinal Merry del Val was likewise pleased; he too doubted that the Filipinos were yet ready to govern themselves. He was certain that they were not prepared for their own ecclesiastical government. To his mind a native episcopate was not within sight, not within his lifetime. If it proved impossible to stop independence in one form or another, Merry del Val hoped that at least some sort of American protectorate could be retained that would safeguard the freedom of the Church and preserve Catholic education in the islands.
Later that year, the Boston Evening Transcript carried a feature story entitled, "Cardinal Gibbons on 'Our Duty in the Philippines.' " In the interview itself the cardinal stated he was irrevocably opposed to a scuttle policy in the Philippines, "today, tomorrow or at any fixed time in the future. . . ." He said he had maintained that taking the Philippines in the first place was open to question; but once in, the United States had the responsibility to finish the job. It was evident that Gibbons' opposition to the Jones bill was not political but moral in character. He noted that the Filipinos had not been consulted; but that even if a majority desired independence, he believed them utterly unprepared for the responsibility. Moreover, if the United States withdrew, there was danger of a lapse into barbarism and infidelity. Withdrawal would work an injustice on a large number of Americans who had invested in the islands. And the president, who was especially well informed about the islands, was altogether opposed. In conclusion the cardinal said:
p180 I have no patience with the argument that the Philippine Islands are the source of an annual deficit to this country. Even were that true, the fact would not warrant a cowardly abandonment of the clear and accepted duty of the American people toward the Filipinos.
The interview in the Boston Transcript created quite a stir. Some days after it appeared Gibbons told Cardinal Merry del Val that almost every paper of importance in the country had carried it. He enclosed a copy of the interview and said that he had purposely emphasized law and order rather than religious interests for fear of arousing sectarian bias. He thought that a congressional majority would defeat the Jones bill; if it did pass while Taft was in the White House, it would certainly be vetoed. The incoming president, it was true, was supposed to be in favor of it because of the pledge of his party platform, but, said the cardinal, "he recently told a friend of mine that soon after his inauguration, he would call me in conference on the subject."
One who expressed himself as pained by the Gibbons interview was Manuel L. Quezon, resident commissioner of the Philippine Islands in Washington. He was only reluctantly led to believe, he said, that the interview really represented the cardinal's views. He recalled how the Spanish friars had lost prestige by working against a liberalizing regime in the islands; there was a danger, said Quezon, that American churchmen would now suffer a similar loss of standing with the people. The entire letter breathed an air of hurt surprise, and Quezon concluded by drawing attention to a clipping showing a group of Filipino priests writing to President-elect Wilson asking for independence for their country.
The opposition of the Cardinal of Baltimore played a part in temporarily checking the Wilson administration from pushing the bill in Congress. Even more important, his experience in dealing with the problems created by America's empire prepared him for the larger role he was destined to fill during and after World War I.
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