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Though Cardinal Gibbons lived past his eighty-sixth birthday, his health had never been robust. Slight of build, a little less than average height, he quickly felt any severe strain. From the early days of his priesthood, he suffered from a sensitive stomach and consequent periods of nervous exhaustion. When as an old man he was asked the formula to attain great age, he replied: "Acquire an incurable ailment in your youth." As a result of this condition he always confined his diet to the simplest dishes. Stewed chicken, corncakes, and smearcase or cottage cheese were among his favorites; he liked a little straight whisky before his meals and often enjoyed "bonny clabber," chilled milk that had begun to ferment. Even when dining out Great Britain adhered strictly to his simple diet. On one occasion his hostess had gone to considerable trouble to secure fresh crabs for a Friday dinner only to have the cardinal request a boiled egg!
The regularity of Gibbons' life helped to preserve his health. He rose at six o'clock each morning, took about a half hour for his toilet and for setting‑up exercises, and then devoted about fifteen minutes to prayers at the prie-dieu in his room for preparation for his daily Mass, which he always said punctually at seven o'clock. Following Mass he made a thanksgiving of fifteen or twenty minutes at his kneeler in the cathedral sanctuary and then took a light breakfast at eight, read the Baltimore Sun and a part of his breviary. From nine to about noon of each day he either received callers or attended to his correspondence and other business. Around noon the cardinal changed from his house cassock to civilian attire and, with cane in hand, took a brisk walk through the neighborhood. A leisurely dinner about one o'clock was his principal meal; Gibbons was always intent that the conversation at table remain free from business matters.
p182 Following dinner, the cardinal smoked a cigar and always took a siesta of a half hour, which, he claimed, enabled him to rise refreshed for renewed work. After further reading in his breviary he was ready for more business. About four-thirty or five o'clock each afternoon, weather permitting, he stepped forth into Charles Street for a second and longer walk. Returning to his residence about five-thirty, he then recited his rosary walking up and down the corridor. A modest supper about six‑thirty was followed by another cigar during recreation. After that he recited Matins and Lauds from the breviary in anticipation of the following day. By nine o'clock each evening, unless he had gone out for dinner, the cardinal usually retired to his room where he read and worked at his high rolltop desk before night prayers, which were recited in time for him to be in bed at ten o'clock.
As a Baltimorean, Gibbons loved the city of his birth devotedly. By necessity absent from home for long periods of time, he was always happiest when he returned to Baltimore. While Gibbons was always attentive to his duties in the District of Columbia, nowhere in Washington did he feel the same contentment that he experienced in the old mansion at 408 North Charles Street. For the first twenty years of his administration, he had no auxiliary bishop, and thus through the repeated confirmation tours to all parts of his jurisdiction, he came to know the priests and people very well. He delighted in the rich historical traditions of certain rural sections where the people had preserved the faith planted by the English Catholics 250 years before.
Almost every year he spent several weeks around the beginning of Lent with his brother John and his sisters Mary and Bridget in New Orleans. Each summer Gibbons took a holiday of several weeks at the seashore, in the earlier years at Cape May, New Jersey, or Southampton, Long Island, and in his last years at Spring Lake, New Jersey. His favorite refuge was always with the Shrivers of Union Mills, Maryland, a rural settlement •about seven miles from Westminster. In the simple and dignified atmosphere of this Catholic family Cardinal Gibbons felt thoroughly at home. He frequently remarked that he knew of no finer Catholic family than the Shrivers. At Union Mills, as in the city, a definite program was followed: time apportioned for Mass and prayers, for reading the papers and answering the mail, for walks through the countryside or an occasional p183 game of horseshoes or quoits in the summer and sledding in the winter. In the evening he was exceedingly fond of euchre. He did not play auction bridge since he disliked sitting out as dummy. The euchre games, the long walks, and the sociable habits at Union Mills never displaced his customary devotions, and each evening after supper Gibbons led the Shriver family in reciting the rosary as he walked up and down the porch in the summer and strode through the long parlor in the winter. The Shriver girls served him as temporary secretaries and prepared the dishes he relished, while their brothers drove him back and forth to the city, discussed current baseball or horse-racing news, and sometimes accompanied him on his walks or afforded him opposition at horseshoes. The life at Union Mills was simple, but everything about Cardinal Gibbons was simple, and that is one reason why it appealed to him so strongly.
To one of the simple temperament of Cardinal Gibbons even the suggestion of armed conflict between nations was abhorrent, and he never lost an opportunity to speak out in behalf of peaceful measures when he felt that his words might prove useful. In 1913 he lent his support to an arbitration treaty between the United States and Great Britain as a device that would serve not only the principals but the whole civilized world. The United States and Great Britain had been more successful in reconciling legitimate authority with personal liberty than any other countries in the world, he said; therefore,
Let Britannia and Columbia join hands across the Atlantic and their outstretched arms will form a sacred arch of peace which will excite the admiration of the nations, and will proclaim to the world the hope that with God's help the earth shall never more be deluged with blood shed in fratricidal war.
To his regret, no satisfactory arbitration treaty with England emerged.
Far more serious problems were inherited from the Taft administration. Ever since the overthrow of President Porfirio Diaz of Mexico in May, 1911, internal revolution gravely threatened thousands of American residents and millions of dollars of property owned by American business firms. Moreover, the fall of the Diaz regime brought on a persecution of the Catholic Church that grew in intensity as one revolutionary junta succeeded another at Mexico City. As American lives and property were lost, sentiment mounted in the United States for armed intervention, and by the spring of 1914 war hysteria was sweeping the nation.
p184 Cardinal Gibbons both deplored the prospect of war and regretted the suffering of the Church in Mexico. On the occasion of his eightieth birthday, he gave an interview in which he emphatically denounced Venustiano Carranza and his rival, Francisco Villa, for their depredations against the clergy. The interview brought a quick response from Washington. Two days after it appeared, Senator Blair Lee of Maryland called on the cardinal at the request of President Wilson and Secretary Bryan. Lee brought a copy of a dispatch that the American government had sent to Carranza and Villa regarding the persecution of the Church. "The President and the Secretary of State," said an accompanying memorandum, "desire to advise that they feel reasonably sure of being able to prevent any objectionable recurrence." Wilson's dispatch led Carranza to instruct his Washington agent to assure the cardinal's representative in the capital that the rights of the Church in Mexico would be protected. All this information the cardinal relayed to the papal secretary of state, Cardinal Merry del Val.
Two days after his letter to Merry del Val the cardinal received a call from Hubert L. Hall of the Department of State. Hall, who had lived for some years in Mexico, informed Gibbons that Carranza had repudiated and condemned Villa's conduct toward the Church and had promised to carry out Wilson's instructions about the protection of its interests. The cardinal was willing enough to credit Carranza with sincerity, at least from self-interest, but he was not at all sure that Carranza could keep Villa and other rebellious agencies in check. He asked Hall to tell Secretary Bryan that if the rulers in Mexico behaved toward the Church there with the justice and charity that marked the conduct of the government of the United States, they would find their best support in the Catholic religion and in the hierarchy.
Meanwhile Cardinal Gibbons cautioned the Maryland provincial of the Jesuits that America, the Jesuit weekly, should mute its apprehensions over Carranza's arrival in Mexico City. He felt it would please the administration in Washington if the representatives of the Church would now abstain from harsh criticism, follow what he called "a benevolent though vigilant attitude," and give Carranza an opportunity to fulfill his promises.
At this juncture Gibbons' attention was distracted from the Mexican troubles by the death on August 20, 1914, of Pope Pius X. p185 The cardinal had just returned from Rome five weeks before. After having taken care of the work that had accumulated in his absence, the cardinal had left Baltimore on August 19 for Spring Lake. Within a few hours his vacation was cut short. The old cardinal was reluctant to make the long journey again. But his chancellor, Father Louis R. Stickney, persuaded him that as the dean of the American hierarchy he should be present at the conclave. Stickney arranged to have the Canopic, which was sailing from Boston the day with Cardinal O'Connell aboard, come to New York to pick up the Cardinal of Baltimore. On August 21, therefore, the day after the Pope's death, the two American cardinals set out. Cardinal Farley, who happened to be in Switzerland at the time, was in advance of his fellow countrymen.
The outbreak of World War I less than a month before heightened the dramatic character of the trip on the Canopic. The law governing a papal conclave stipulated that the cardinals begin their sessions ten days after the death of the Pope. In ordinary circumstances the timing would have been very close, but with an allied ship calculating the hazards from German submarines, the chances of arriving on time were further reduced. Gibbons and his companions landed at Naples on September 3. The conclave had opened on August 31, and on the morning of September 3, the choice had fallen on Giacomo Cardinal della Chiesa, archbishop of Bologna. When Gibbons reached the Eternal City, therefore, he found the crowds rejoicing in the election of the new Pope, Benedict XV. Gibbons rushed to the Vatican where he and O'Connell had the distinction of having the first audience granted by the new Pontiff.
Gibbons remained in Rome for nine days to participate in the ceremonies that inaugurated the new reign. He also used the occasion of a subsequent audience with Benedict XV to request a red hat for Archbishop Ireland. Gibbons recounted to the new Pope all that Ireland had done for the Church, and, as he himself said, he took the bull by the horns in expressing the wish that some great recognition be made of these eminent services. When Ireland heard of this incident, he was deeply grateful, but not surprised; he said he had known Gibbons too long and too well to be surprised at any act of affectionate kindness that Gibbons might perform in his behalf. But the red hat never came to St. Paul.
After Gibbons arrived home, he continued his policy of watchful p186 waiting on Mexico, convinced that annoying attacks upon the president, in the guise of petitions and resolutions, "might possibly result, not in securing any assistance in our cause, but in setting the entire Administration against us." Though he denounced the lawlessness of Carranza and Villa, he refused to embarrass President Wilson even when Carranza received de facto recognition in 1915. By 1917, when the new Mexican constitution contained serious violations of religious liberty and of the freedom to educate in religious schools, the increasing gravity of American relations with Germany prompted the president to support Carranza. Amid the clamor of World War I the voices of protest raised by Catholics were drowned out. Thus the Mexican revolution continued to run its course.
The inevitable suffering caused by the European war soon brought appeals for relief. In the early winter of 1914 the cardinal received an urgent cablegram from the Netherlands in behalf of the starving Belgians. "A word from Your Eminence to the American people," it said, "will touch the hearts and open pockets of thousands, who if they knew the terrible devastation and desolation of innocent Belgians, would for humanity's sake give freely." Gibbons acted at once, and $2,500 from the Archdiocese of Baltimore was turned over to the Maryland Committee for Belgian Relief.
When the American Jewish Relief Committee appealed for the vast numbers of Jewish people in dire straits, Gibbons instructed his secretary to inform the committee that he was confident the Catholic people of the United States would respond generously to this latest appeal. Late in the war Benedict XV asked Gibbons to appeal to President Wilson to get American Red Cross aid in to the starving Serbians. The difficulties were many, for the promises of the enemy powers to transmit and distribute relief could not be relied upon. "But you may be sure," said Wilson, "that if any way can be found, I shall be glad to find it."
Before World War I was a year old the Germans resorted to submarine warfare with the consequence that American lives were lost in increasing numbers. Resentment naturally heightened, and when the Lusitania was sunk off the Irish coast on May 7, 1915, with the loss of 128 American citizens, the press rang with denunciations. Gibbons, after expressing sorrow for the families of the victims and asking for prayers for the president, urged Americans to be calm p187 and prudent. "Popular sentiment," he said, "is not a standard to be followed too hastily."
A week later, the apostolic delegate communicated to Gibbons the opinion of the papal secretary of state that the threat of revolutionary disturbances in Italy made its advisable that the American College be placed under the official protection of the United States. The cardinal got in touch immediately with Secretary Bryan who, in turn, cabled Ambassador Thomas Nelson Page at Rome to place the college under American protection if that should prove necessary.
When a German submarine commander violated his instructions and, on August 19, 1915, sank the Arabic, a British ship, with the loss of two American lives, the danger of a diplomatic break between the United States and Germany was for some days frighteningly real. Pietro Cardinal Gasparri cabled a request from Rome that Gibbons inform President Wilson that the Holy See had advised Germany to settle the question over the Arabic in a friendly manner and to refrain from sinking similar ships in the future. The cardinal was instructed to carry out his mission in a strictly confidential way. Four days later Gibbons called at the White House and read Wilson the Pope's dispatch. The President expressed his pleasure and requested the cardinal to convey his thanks to Benedict XV. Robert Lansing, the new secretary of state, also praised the Pope's dispatch; he later told Gibbons that it probably had much influence in the amicable decision that the German government had made.
Once more the press went astray, reporting that Gibbons had carried a message from the Pope asking the president to tender his good offices to the belligerents to bring about an armistice. The cardinal refused to disclose the purposes of his visit, other than to acknowledge that he had brought a message from Benedict XV to Wilson and that it had an "indirect bearing" on peace between the warring nations. In spite of the care with which Gibbons chose his words, the Baltimore Sun, the New York Times, and other papers continued to speculate on the possibilities of an armistice through the concerted action of the Vatican and the White House. The cardinal was unable to clear up the confusion, for the Holy See notified him by cablegram that he should not make any public statement about his visit to the White House.
The growing danger of involvement in the European conflict p188 touched off a variety of schemes for averting the menace to American peace. In the days before Henry Ford's ill‑starred peace ship sailed for Scandinavia in the hope of bringing about an armistice through the neutral nations, Gibbons was quoted as seeing no hope in Ford's scheme. When a petition against Wilson's preparedness campaign was circulated by the Reverend Frederick Lynch, secretary of the Church Peace Union, Gibbons declined to give his signature; he would take no step that might embarrass the president in "his conscientious efforts to make reasonably secure the honor of our country." But the League to Enforce Peace, which had been organized in June, 1915, with William Howard Taft as its president, was a group to which the cardinal could give his wholehearted approval. The platform of the league advocated arbitration of disputes between nations, but it left room for a nation to resort to war if necessary.
At few periods in Cardinal Gibbons' long life did his extraordinary qualities of leadership show to better advantage than during the years of World War I. In the steadily deepening crisis, his voice was heard with a respect accorded to few, if any, Americans outside official circles. Americans of every creed and walk of life had come to admire his wisdom, his patriotism, and his moral leadership. The Baltimore Sun of June 8, 1916, was not exaggerating when it hailed Gibbons on the thirtieth anniversary of his cardinalate in an enthusiastic editorial called "A Great American":
We doubt whether anywhere in the world-wide territory in which his Church has raised the cross there can be found any other Cardinal or any other priest who touches humanity at so many points, who exercises such an influence among persons of every class and condition, believers and unbelievers, Catholics and Protestants, Jews and Gentiles. To all he seems to speak in their own tongues by some Pentecostal power, or by some subtle affinity that makes nothing human foreign to him. . . .
By the close of that year Gibbons had become the senior bishop of the Catholic world, But the deference shown to him was not because of age, but rather because of the gentle and kindly manner, the sound judgment, and the expansive affection with which he seemed to embrace all his fellow citizens.
The cardinal was willing to risk his prestige in unpopular causes. In the summer of 1916, for example, he favored the movement for universal military service. Gibbons believed that military discipline p189 would help to develop young men's character and to improve their physical condition, as well as to instill in them the idea of obedience to lawful authority. The cardinal said he was persuaded that the president's preparedness campaign would make for peace rather than for war. Any nation thinking of an attack would be deterred, he said, "by recognition of the fact that our country is prepared for every emergency." This stand won the prompt gratitude of President Roosevelt, who stated that he wished as an American to thank Gibbons for the pronouncement. The following year Roosevelt added this striking testimonial: "Taking your life as a whole, I think you now occupy the position of being the most respected, and venerated, and useful citizen of our country."
By the beginning of 1917, hopes for peace vanished. After the German announcement of unrestricted submarine warfare, the United States severed diplomatic relations on February 3. On March 16 and 17, three American ships, homeward bound, were attacked without warning and sunk by German submarines. On April 2 the president delivered his war message, and four days later war was declared on Germany. Cardinal Gibbons rose to the occasion. In a prepared statement for the press, he said:
In the present emergency it behooves every American citizen to do his duty, and to uphold the hands of the President and the Legislative department in the solemn obligations that confront us.
The primary duty of a citizen is loyalty to country. This loyalty is manifested more by acts than by words; by solemn service rather than by empty declaration. It is exhibited by an absolute and unreserved obedience to his country's call.
Both Houses of Congress with the Executive are charged and sworn to frame those laws that are demanded by the present crisis. Whatever, therefore, Congress may decide should be unequivocally complied with by every patriotic citizen. The members of both Houses of Congress are the instruments of God in guiding us in our civic duties. It behooves all of us, therefore, to pray that the Lord of Hosts may inspire our national legislature and Executive to frame such laws in the present crisis as will redound to the glory of our country, to righteousness of conduct and to the permanent peace of the nations of the world.
The cardinal's statement was widely publicized and elicited favorable comment. Theodore Roosevelt wired from Oyster Bay: "With all my heart I thank you as an American for your noble and patriotic appeal."
p190 As the war progressed, Gibbons was as good as his word about implementing one's loyalty to country. In May, 1917, he directed a pastoral letter to the priests and people of the Archdiocese of Baltimore in which he urged that they subscribe to the liberty-loan drive. "Let it not be said that we were weighed in the balance of patriotism and found wanting," said the cardinal. Late in the same month cardinal's strong endorsement of the Red Cross was given to the press, and when Herbert C. Hoover came to Baltimore, he won Gibbons' assistance for the food-conservation drive, though Gibbons opposed the "bone‑dry" amendment in the food administration bill. A few days after Hoover's visit the cardinal addressed another pastoral letter to his people, in which he confidently called on them to cooperate fully in the government's endeavors to conserve food.
The cardinal's desire to help the government did not cause him to neglect the Church's best interests. In June, 1916, Newton D. Baker, secretary of war, had given his approval to the distribution of army chaplaincies on the basis of the strength of the various denominations. A year later, however, this decision was reversed in favor of the old basis of to the Catholics 16⁄67 of the total. When this news reached Gibbons he informed Baker of his disappointment, stated that Catholics had not been given their just proportion, and alluded to the unfortunate timing of this decision when Catholics were manifesting so fine a spirit of loyalty. The cardinal said there would be a heartier response to every sacrifice demanded of American Catholic boys, if they felt that their government was doing its utmost to furnish them the spiritual and moral helps they needed in the camp and in the field.
Cardinal Gibbons also kept in touch with the war efforts of private Catholic groups. He took time to write his congratulations to the Knights of Columbus for their plans to aid the servicemen. Later in the summer of 1917 the cardinal fully endorsed the meeting held on August 11‑12 at the Catholic University of America under the chairmanship of John J. Burke, C. S. P., of the Chaplains' Aid Association of New York, to organize Catholic war efforts on a more unified scale. In November Gibbons addressed a letter to the American hierarchy, in which he asked the bishops if they would consent to the formation of a National Catholic War Council by the metropolitans. The response to Gibbons' appeal was generally p191 favorable, and some weeks later the cardinal invited four bishops to act as an administrative committee to direct all Catholic activities in support of the war. Those selected were Peter J. Muldoon of Rockford, Joseph Schrembs of Toledo, William T. Russell of Charleston, and Patrick J. Hayes, Auxiliary Bishop of New York. In January, 1918, the committee met at the Catholic University of America with Bishop Muldoon as chairman and John F. Fenlon, S. S., as secretary. From that time to the close of the war the difficult problems that beset the committee were canvassed at regular intervals with Cardinal Gibbons and the other archbishops of the country.
As the embattled peoples of the world neared the end of the third year of fighting, sentiment for peace ran fairly high in all countries. Shortly after the failure of the Austrian peace proposals carried on through Prince Sixtus of Bourbon, Pope Benedict XV made his famous attempt to end the war on August 1, 1917. After soundings in Berlin and the allied capitals, the Pontiff proposed a definite set of points on which peace might be made: disarmament, arbitration of disputes, freedom of the seas, evacuation and restoration of occupied territories, renunciation of indemnities, and conciliatory examination of conflicting claims such as those relating to Alsace-Lorraine and the Trentino. After Gibbons took some measure of public opinion, he issued a full statement on the individual points raised by Benedict XV and sought to meet the principal criticism leveled against the papal proposals, namely, that they favored Germany. "If anybody calls this a pro‑German document they must use words without meaning," he said, "for they include the destruction of Germany's military power, and subjection of her in future to a board of arbitration which would be able to coerce her if she tried to evade her obligations. . . ." He granted that the Pope's effort might be called noble idealism, which might or might not be realizable in fact, but the cardinal thought the principles laid down by Pontiff offered the only hope for permanent peace.
But the allied governments were determined to abolish the German imperial government before they would end the war, and the well-intentioned effort of Benedict XV came to naught.
The growing antiwar feeling led in October, 1917, to the organization by a group of nationally known citizens into a League of National Unity. The cardinal was made honorary chairman. The group intended to arouse Americans of all creeds, classes, and occupations p192 to the need for prosecuting the war to a successful finish. As Gibbons told the president:
We are working to the end that our countrymen may see the folly and grave disobedience of unjust and ill‑tempered criticism of national policies. We are bending the efforts to point out to our fellowmen that they in all probability see the present situation from only one angle, whereas the Government sees it from every viewpoint, and is therefore alone in the position to judge of the expediency of national affairs.
Wilson replied that he appreciated Gibbons' consenting to preside over the influential group that had so generously undertaken to support the administration's efforts to make the character of the war clear to the American people.
The designation by President Wilson of Sunday, October 28, 1917, as a day of prayer for the success of American arms was, of course, the sort of thing that met with a warm response from Gibbons. He preached on the occasion in his cathedral, insisting upon the citizens' paramount duty of obedience to their government, and their obligation in wartime to criticize its policies cautiously. The cardinal had no doubts about the endurance of the republic. But, said Gibbons, if the United States was to endure, it must rest on a stronger foundation than the genius of statesmen, the patriotism of the people, and the wisdom of the law. It must be based on a devout recognition of the overruling Providence who directed the affairs of nations and of men. "We have no union between church and state," the cardinal stated, "but this does not imply any antagonism between the two powers. Church and state amicably move in parallel lines, helping one another in their respective field of labor."
When in November, 1917, the Bolshevik government published the secret treaties binding the Allies, Gibbons joined in the clamor against the new evidence of the active hostility of the Italian government against the Vatican. By Article XV of the Secret Treaty of London of April 26, 1915, France, Great Britain, and Russia had agreed to "support such opposition as Italy may make to any proposal in the direction of introducing a representative of the Holy See in any peace negotiations or negotiations for the settlement of questions raised by the present war." The Vatican resented this unfair discrimination. As Gibbons became aware of pressures on the allies to ignore the clause, he arranged an interview in Washington p193 with Lord Rufus Reading, the British ambassador, in February, 1918. In this conference, Gibbons urged that the clause excluding the Pope from the peace conference be eliminated. He pointed to the favorable effect that elimination would have on Catholic opinion both in the United States and in the British Empire. Furthermore, he warned that the American archbishops at their Easter meeting in 1918 might protest against this implied insult to the Holy See; this protest might lead to counterprotests that would produce a division of opinion better avoided during the war. Gibbons pointed to his own persistent policy of fostering good feeling toward the allies among the American people. "I firmly believe," he concluded, "that I am asking for what is best for the future welfare and relations of England and the United States."
Lord Reading informed the cardinal the following month that the British government had never contemplated and would never contemplate binding itself to a foreign government to obstruct what Reading called "any activities which the Holy See may wish to initiate on any subject connected with Peace or War." Yet Reading's reply made it clear that the British government would not sponsor the admission of the Pope's representative at the peace conference.
In June Cardinal Gasparri stated that when Gibbons would next see Wilson, he should tell him that Article 15 was insulting not only to the Holy See but to the Catholic hierarchy and people as well. All difficulty would be removed if Wilson would tell the Italian foreign minister that Article 15 should be either suppressed entirely, or at least modified. "Only the President of the United States," he said, can say a friendly and at the same time an efficacious word to the Italian government."
Although the cardinal approached Wilson several times between mid‑August and the close of the war on the question of an armistice, he apparently did not raise the issue of papal representation at the peace conference. By the early autumn of 1918 it must have become evident to even the most sanguine officials at the Vatican that nothing would be done to modify Article 15. Even when Gibbons, under prodding from Cardinal Gasparri, tried to get the territorial sovereignty of the Pope onto the agenda of the Paris peace conference in January, 1919, his efforts proved ineffectual against the hostility of the Italian delegation and the opposition or indifference of the other great powers.
p194 In spite of all that Gibbons and his fellow Catholics in the United States and the other belligerent countries did to place the position of the Church and the true neutrality of the Holy See before the public, insinuations and unfair charges continued to be made. So persistent were the criticisms of the Holy See that Cardinal Gibbons undertook to answer them in an article entitled "The War Policy of the Pope," published in America, February 23, 1918. He first paid tribute to the fair-mindedness of Americans in listening to both sides of a question, and then judging it on its merits. He then outlined the extremely delicate position of the Pontiff as the common spiritual father of so many children at war with one another. The cardinal met the charge of papal silence by citing the numerous occasions on which Benedict had spoken for peace, in behalf of prisoners of war, and against the cruelties perpetrated against noncombatants. He cited the expressions of sympathy for the Belgians, whose sufferings the Pope had been accused of overlooking. As evidence of the feeling about papal policy in the camp of the enemy, he quoted the statement in the Hamburg Fremdenblatt of January 29, 1917, that the one belligerent power against which the Vatican had spoken was Germany. Speaking of the terrible ordeal through which the Pope was passing, Gibbons remarked: "Every act of his is watched, scrutinized by jealous, critical, hostile eyes, only too ready to find fault and to register blame." In closing, the cardinal expressed confidence that the people would continue to support the President in a spirit that would be "an earnest of complete victory and of a return of the happy peace for which he and the Holy Father are earnestly laboring, each in his own sphere."
Gibbons' article was widely reprinted in American and in European newspapers. According to an Associated Press dispatch to the Philadelphia Public Ledger on March 21, the Holy Father ordered the article to be translated and distributed, considering it to be "the most able exposition that had been given of the circumstances of his unique and difficult position."
The closing months of the war offered no surcease to the demands made upon the energy of the Cardinal of Baltimore. As the date approached for the Philadelphia convention of the League to Enforce Peace, Gibbons stated that he would recommend active participation on the part of the Catholic clergy. "Personally I feel," said the cardinal to ex‑President Taft, "that the inauguration of such p195 a league as you plan is essential at this stage of the world's history, otherwise we are likely to see retrogression instead of further progress in human affairs."
By the fall of 1918 it was evident that the end of the war was not far off. On October 4, Germany and Austria-Hungary appealed to Wilson for an armistice on the basis of his Fourteen Points. News of the armistice negotiations was transmitted officially to the Holy See by the Austrian government, and the Pope cabled an appeal to the president begging Wilson to hasten the end of the ruthless scourge that had too long afflicted humanity. Cardinal Gibbons was requested to see the president and to urge him to consider the Austrian appeal and thus to have the glory of bringing a speedy end to the conflict. The cardinal chose to write a letter instead of calling personally at the White House since, as he said, he did not wish to trespass on Wilson's valuable time, nor did he wish to offer "any occasion for comment which would likely be caused by my calling on you personally."
The President was grateful for the consideration of his time, although, as he said, "I must say that even amidst the rush of these days it would have been a welcome relief to have the pleasure of seeing you in person once more." He had every inclination of the heart to respond to the suggestion of Benedict XV and he hoped the Pope did not doubt that. But American relations with Austria-Hungary had become greatly complicated since his address on the Fourteen Points the previous January; the recognition of Czechoslovakia on September 3 and of the national aspirations of the peoples of Yugoslavia created obligations in honor toward them. Consequently Wilson concluded with the hope that Gibbons would convey to the Pope his great appreciation for the message and for the spirit that had prompted it.
The exhausting ordeal of World War I was at last brought to a close with the armistice of November 11. The Cardinal of Baltimore ordered his priests to substitute the prayer of thanksgiving in the Mass in place of the prayer for peace. To make certain that the victory would be celebrated in a fitting manner he gave instructions that a solemn service be held in all the churches of the archdiocese on Thanksgiving Day, November 28, at which the Church's official prayer of jubilation, the Te Deum, should be sung.
The era of World War I brought out more strikingly than ever p196 before the unique position that Cardinal Gibbons had come to occupy in American public affairs. His influence far transcended the boundaries of his own archdiocese or even of his own country. In 1919 the celebration of Gibbons' fifty years in the episcopacy signalized this unique position. Pope Benedict XV told him that he had won the esteem of all Americans in so illustrious a manner that it was hardly surprising that men of every order should now join in paying him honor. President Wilson headed a large group of distinguished citizens who sent their good wishes, and Bishop William T. Manning of the Protestant Episcopal Church and Rabbi William Rosenau were among those who bespoke the high regard in which Gibbons was held by American religious leaders of other faiths. Henry Noble MacCracken, president of Vassar College, stated: "Upon the roll which history will set up as those whom she delights to honor because they lived American idealism up to the measure of her opportunity, your name, Sir, will surely stand among the very first." Alphonse A. DeWachter, Auxiliary Bishop of Malines, speaking from London in the name of the Belgian hierarchy who were not yet free to communicate on account of war conditions, told Gibbons that the whole Catholic world was in admiration of his long and fruitful career. On October 16, Jules Jusserand, French ambassador to the United States, extended the congratulations of his government:
The fame and respect which Your Eminence enjoys in your native country are not restricted to her boundaries. The same are felt for you in France, where your great influence, ever exercised in favor of noble causes, and in these latter years in favor of the noblest of all, that of the reign of justice in this world, have won for you the admiration of everyone.
The actual date of the celebration in Baltimore found the city and the nation in the grip of a devastating influenza epidemic, so the principal commemoration took place on February 20, 1919, at Washington. On that date there assembled at the Franciscan monastery for the pontifical Mass, Gibbons, two other cardinals, O'Connell and Louis Begin of Quebec; the special envoy of Pope Benedict XV, Archbishop Bonaventura Cerretti; the apostolic delegate, ten other archbishops, fifty-eight bishops, along with a large gathering of clergy and laity. Their kindness on this occasion was accompanied p197 by a large purse that they presented to him at the dinner that followed at the university. Taken by surprise by this generous gesture, the old cardinal forgot to thank them publicly. He endeavored to make amends, therefore, by writing to them his gratitude for the gift, but still more, for their warm sentiments of esteem and affection.
If the victory over Spain in 1898 had made the United States a world power, the defeat of Germany and Austria-Hungary twenty years later projected American leadership into responsibilities of a much graver character. The Catholic Church appreciated the enhanced position of the United States and its president, and during the next two years the Pope and his secretary of state sought American assistance in the postwar problems that faced the Church in Europe. For any approach on the part of the Holy See to the American government, the Cardinal of Baltimore continued to be, of course, the ideal medium.
Immediately after the war petitions for food to prevent starvation were received with increasing urgency by the Holy See, and Cardinal Gasparri cabled asking Gibbons to intercede with the president in behalf of the victims of the famine in Germany. The president, not unmindful of the conditions in Europe, assured Gibbons that the papal request would receive the most considerate attention possible in the circumstances.
The needs that Hoover surveyed during his visit to Europe late in 1918 proved to be far beyond the original calculations. A year later, therefore, he appealed through Gibbons for a letter from Benedict XV to relieve in particular the plight of over three million children. "Remembering the enormous stabilizing value of the letter sent you by his Holiness in 1916," said Hoover, "I feel sure you will recognize the importance of help from such an authoritative source." Gibbons acted at once. The Holy Father promptly forwarded a warm recommendation of Hoover's efforts in appealing to the generosity of all Americans irrespective of creed or party. Gibbons adopted a similar tone in the United States, supporting the Jewish War Relief Committee and the Salvation Army, along with the Catholic agencies. He often made personal contributions as well. When Archbishop Cerretti was returning to Rome in the spring of 1919, Gibbons sent the Pontiff a sum of $5,000 for his charities. Belgium and its Catholic University of Louvain seemed to have a p198 special appeal for the charity of Cardinal Gibbons, partly because of the plucky stand that the little country had made through the war years, and partly because of the noble bearing of Désiré Joseph Cardinal Mercier, Archbishop of Malines, whose fearless resistance to the German invaders had won worldwide fame long before the war had ended. At Gibbons' invitation, Mercier came to the United States in the fall of 1919. Following his visit to Baltimore, Mercier was received by the president. Thereafter the Belgian cardinal visited a number of cities throughout the country, where enthusiastic throngs gathered to pay tribute to his peerless leadership.
Some time before the departure of the president for Europe, Gibbons, "as an American as well as a Catholic, as one who is bound to you by the bonds of patriotism as I am bound to the Holy Father in the bonds of religion," requested Wilson to visit the Pope:
I ask you to do this not only because it will be a great consolation to the Holy Father who so admires and trusts you, not only because it will bind the hearts of Catholics forever, but because it will delight the hearts of all good men, who whether they agree with the Holy Father in religion or not, at least recognize him as the representative of the greatest moral authority left in the world, and because you, Mr. President, in the opinion of all men, are the one who raised the late war from the plane of national jealousies into the plane of idealism and made it a conflict and a struggle for justice, for righteousness, for liberty and for nothing else.
Wilson in fact did visit Benedict XV on January 4, at the end of his stay in Rome, and later the same day the Pontiff paid a high tribute to the American chief executive.
After the Treaty of Versailles was signed and the American president submitted the treaty embodying the covenant of the League of Nations to the United States Senate, Under-Secretary of State Frank L. Polk asked a Washington pastor to ascertain if the cardinal would issue a statement for publication in favor of the League of Nations. Gibbons was reminded that some bishops had come out against the League because Ireland had failed to win self-determination while other bishops had insinuated that religious prejudice had deprived the Irish cause of a hearing at Paris. Polk feared that religious prejudice might be introduced into the coming congressional elections. For that reason, he thought "that if your Eminence would publicly say a word in defense of the League, the testimony would p199 be used as an offset to any anti-League agitation because of Catholicity." Gibbons' response came in the form of an interview to the press on his eighty-fifth birthday:
It is my firm conviction that after thorough and honest discussion in both houses of Congress, both parties will finally arrive at a common agreement, based upon a just and sincere league of nations that will give us a reasonable guarantee against the horrors of war in the future as well as well-grounded assurance of lasting peace without in any way impairing American sovereignty or surrendering any American right and without involving us in entangling alliances. I am sure that an early adoption of the league of nations will infuse intense joy throughout the United States without distinction of party and will be hailed with satisfaction by the allied powers of Europe.
After reading the statement of the cardinal in the Washington Post, the president wrote him as follows:
You have perceived, as is habitual with you, the really profound interests of humanity and of Christianity which are involved in the issue of the adoption of the League Covenant, and it is with profound pleasure that I find myself aligned alongside of you in this great cause, to which the anxious and prayerful thought of every Christian man, it seems to me, must turn with hope that will permit no denial.
Cardinal Gibbons continued to the close of his life to try to convince his fellow countrymen of the wisdom of entering the League of Nations. In the winter of 1919 he joined a group of distinguished Americans in petitioning the president to accept the amendments offered by Senator Henry Cabot Lodge to the Treaty of Versailles, in order that the League of Nations might not be entirely lost. But neither Wilson nor Lodge would yield, the treaty failed to pass, and the United States remained outside the League.
Gibbons' ideas met defeat on domestic legislation as well. Since the Cleveland administration, presidents had resisted legislation to apply a literacy text to immigrants. The cardinal, as the ranking dignitary of a Church that was made up so largely of immigrants and as the son of immigrant parents, naturally commended their stand. The reappearance of the proposed legislation in the Wilson administration found Gibbons again in the camp of the opposition. What would the United States have amounted to as a nation, he asked, if after the Revolution its founders had closed its portals to p200 honest but illiterate immigrants? Gibbons cherished the hope that his country might remain the refuge of virtuous men who conscientiously believed their native lands did not afford them the advantages that good men craved. Although Wilson vetoed the bill embodying a literacy test, it was enacted into law over the president's head in 1917.
Another defeat for Gibbons' position on a public question involved the ratification in January, 1919, of the eighteenth amendment to the Constitution. The cardinal was aware of the abuses of intemperance; his remedy was not national prohibition, but a strict licensing system. To cure the evil of excessive drinking he approved local option, giving voters in a community the right to forbid the sale of intoxicating liquor. At the time the United States entered World War I the prohibitionists redoubled their efforts and put the campaign on the basis of a war measure. The New York Times of April 29, 1917, carried a feature article on the question, in which it quoted Gibbons as saying: "I would regard the passage of a Federal prohibition law as a national catastrophe, little short of a crime against the spiritual and physical well-being of the American people." As the prospect of a constitutional amendment drew closer he stepped up his opposition. On February 6, 1918, the New York Times published the cardinal's statement that the state legislatures should not bow to fanaticism. He predicted that if prohibition became a law, illicit stills, making low‑grade whisky, would spring up all over the land. Once more he characterized the enactment of such a law as a calamity. "Those favoring it," he said, "won't be satisfied and will try to impose other obnoxious laws until our liberty will be worth little."
Gibbons also opposed the constitutional amendment that guaranteed women's suffrage. The insistence on woman's participation in politics, the cardinal said, was calculated to rob her of all that was amiable and gentle and to give her nothing in return but masculine boldness and effrontery. Moreover, this insistence habitually emphasized women's rights without a word about her responsibilities. The result was that women were distracted from their true vocation, the home and the cultivation of the domestic vocations of love for their husbands and children. Because women did not vote, it did not follow that they were deprived of the right of suffrage by proxy. So powerful was the influence of a sensible matron over her p201 husband and sons, he maintained, that they would often follow their counsel. Woman was queen indeed, said the cardinal, but her empire was the domestic kingdom. Though she was debarred from voting, it was she who brought into the world the nation's future citizens; it was she who molded the characters of its future statesmen.
But the views of Gibbons and the opposition failed to gain the ascendancy, and on August 26, 1920, the nineteenth amendment to the Constitution granting the vote to women was declared ratified. On September 20 he gave out an extended statement which was published in most of the Catholic papers of the country. At the outset he remarked:
While I have always been opposed to Woman's Suffrage because I felt that political activities would tend to withdraw women from the more delicate and sacred pursuits of home life, now however, that the vote is theirs, I strongly urge upon all of them the exercise of suffrage, not only as a right but as a strict social duty.
He added that it behooved Catholic women to take their new social duty seriously in the hope that they could minimize the evil forces that might menace the family and the home, the most essential factors in Christian civilization.
One of the most important problems facing the American Church upon the return of peace was the future status of the National Catholic War Council. Some opposition to the N. C. W. C. had arisen within the ranks of the hierarchy, and when Gibbons asked Muldoon to cooperate with the League to Enforce Peace, the bishop replied that he feared the program was too expensive and would involve too many hands. Then he added: "Some of the Bishops, as you know, do not look any too kindly on the National Catholic War Council and might be very willing to take our approval of the League as indicating that we were over-stepping our charter." Nevertheless, at the formal celebration of Gibbons' golden jubilee in 1919, Archbishop Cerretti expressed the Pontiff's wish that the American bishops join him in his efforts for a just and lasting peace and for the adjustment along the lines of Christian ethics of the many difficulties in the world of education and of labor. Later the same day a committee was appointed by the cardinal to investigate the best means of carrying out the Pope's desires. On the following day this committee recommended that in the future the entire p202 hierarchy assemble in an annual meeting and that a standing committee of five bishops be appointed by Gibbons to supervise Catholic activities. The report was unanimously adopted. Two months later Benedict XV gave the new project his full approval.
After the appointment of the provisional committee, Gibbons communicated with his fellow metropolitans. Hitherto, he said, because of the courtesy of his colleagues in the hierarchy and because of the presence of the national capital within the limits of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the burden of the Church's general interests had in great measure rested on him. "My experience has made me feel keenly," said Gibbons, "the necessity of such a committee which with adequate authority and the aid of subcommittees could accomplish more than any individual, however able or willing he might be." All recognized that the Catholic Church in the United States, partly through defective organization, was not exerting an influence proportionate to its numbers and to the individual prominence of many American Catholics. Diocesan units were well organized, but the American Church as a whole was suffering from "the lack of a unified force that might be directed to the furthering of those general policies which are vital to all." Gibbons then sketched his ideas of how a permanent committee, chosen by secret ballot at the meeting of the entire hierarchy, might represent the interests of the Church at large as well as the various sections of the country. To the bishops of the executive committee, Gibbons said he regarded the suggestion for their committee as a divine call. He believed that the formation of the committee would launch a new epoch in the Church of the United States.
On September 24, 1919, 92 of the 101 ordinaries of the United States gathered at the Catholic University of America. At the opening session Cardinal Gibbons once more stated his conviction that their present assembly held an extraordinary significance for the future of American Catholicism. The meeting then heard the report of Bishop Muldoon on the proposed departments — missions, education, press and literature, social service, Catholic societies and lay activities — and proceeded to discuss the question. Only one serious objection arose. Bishop Charles E. McDonnell of Brooklyn believed that such an organization would conflict with the constitution of the Church, according to which no bishop could exercise p203 jurisdiction in another diocese without delegation from the Holy See.
The discussion of the first morning session produced a discouraging effect upon Gibbons: he feared nothing worthwhile would be accomplished. But Muldoon told him not to worry, that affairs would take a turn for the better, and that with the possible exception of the budget, the entire program would be finally accepted. As the bishop said later: "This seemed to cheer his good old heart."
After further talk, Bishop J. F. Regis Canevin of Pittsburgh moved that Muldoon's report be accepted, Archbishop Keane of Dubuque seconded the motion, and it carried. On the following day the hierarchy elected the administrative committee of the N. C. W. C. by secret ballot. Soon thereafter Father Burke, chairman of the Committee on Special War Activities of the old National Catholic War Council, was unanimously elected executive secretary to preside over the headquarters of the National Catholic Welfare Council in Washington. Cardinal Gibbons was able to win from the Paulist superior-general permission for Father Burke to devote his full time to the N. C. W. C.
By the time the country prepared for the presidential election campaign of 1920, the Cardinal of Baltimore was nearing his eighty-sixth birthday. By coincidence he was schedule to be in Chicago the second week of June, 1920, the same week in which the Republicans gathered for their nominating convention. Gibbons was invited by the convention committee to offer the opening prayer on June 10, and he accepted the invitation. The nomination of Warren G. Harding that followed soon thereafter drew the cardinal's congratulations to the candidate. In the autumn of that year the cardinal told his brother privately that he favored Harding. But when he preached in the cathedral two days before the election, his preference of candidates was carefully concealed. Gibbons had prayed over the Democrats in Baltimore in 1912 and over the Republicans in Chicago in 1920, but to neither party did he make any public commitment, and those who might have been curious about his political faith could only indulge their imaginations.
After Harding's election, the president-elect expressed the hope that among the first whom it would be his privilege to receive in the White House would be the cardinal. But by the day of Harding's inauguration on March 4, 1921, the cardinal was less than p204 three weeks removed from death, and he was thus denied the pleasure of seeing his candidate as the occupant of the executive mansion.
As the years went on, Gibbons never lost his zeal for the university, and in the last summer of his life he was still rallying the American hierarchy to the university's support. In the final letter that he wrote in preparation for the annual collection he remarked:
The years of my earthly life are drawing to a close, and in the way of nature I must ere long appear before my judge. I could have no greater happiness in these remaining years than to know that the Catholic University of America was placed on a solid basis for the present, in keeping with its admitted needs, with its encouraging growth and progress, and with the educational interest of our Catholic people.
Six months before he died Cardinal Gibbons presided for the last time as president of the university's board of trustees. He was encouraged by the rector's report that the annual collection of the year before had amounted to $150,000, that generous donations had been received for the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on the university campus, that the faculty now numbered eighty-seven, and that, be the end of the war, there was an increase of 336 students over the previous year. Two days later Gibbons laid the cornerstone for the great church recently begun on the campus. It was the last important function over which the aged chancellor presided at the university.
At the annual meeting of the hierarchy in 1920, Gibbons had to deal one more time with the thorny problem of national loyalties within the Church. As time had passed, the acute character of the German problem had passed with it; but the new century, with its greatly accelerated immigration from eastern Europe, created new difficulties for Gibbons. Archbishop Giovanni Bonzano, the new apostolic delegate, had sent him a group of documents that revealed that the Polish minister to the Holy See had intervened at the Vatican in behalf of the appointment of bishops of Polish descent to the American hierarchy. In replying, the cardinal told Bonzano he would bring the matter to the attention of the bishops' meeting about to convene, but, as for himself, he had always followed the practice of recommending to vacant sees the most suitable candidates without consideration of nationality. At the meeting of the p205 hierarchy Gibbons delivered a strong speech against recognition of any national groups within American Church. "Ours is the American Church," said the cardinal, "and not Irish, German, Italian or Polish — and we will keep it American." One bishop who was present later wrote of Gibbons' remarks: "He was at his best, and seemed only about fifty years [of age]."
Two months later the Archbishop of Baltimore forwarded to Cardinal Gasparri a very strongly worded protest against the action of the Polish legation at the Holy See. Gibbons quoted the two pertinent resolutions, passed unanimously at the meeting of the American hierarchy in September, that condemned the interference of any foreign government in the affairs of the Church of the United States and the conduct of any body of clergy who would appeal to laymen or to a foreign government to coerce the episcopate in the selection of candidates for vacant sees. He stigmatized the move for Polish bishops as a step toward isolating the Polish Catholics from the rest of their coreligionists, and he branded the attempt to preserve a distinct Polish nationality in the United States as "absolutely injurious both to the Church and to the Country." Thus did the aged cardinal deal in his last days with what John Gilmary Shea had called "a canker eating away the life of the Church in the United States."
Late in the year 1920 symptoms of a break in the cardinal's normal health appeared. On November 7 he had an engagement to administer confirmation at St. Patrick's Church in Havre de Grace, Maryland. In the course of a sermon Gibbons suddenly faltered and almost fell down. Yet after a few moments he steadied himself and finished the sermon from a chair with his accustomed earnestness. He later confirmed a class of over 100 children and adults, and before the day was out held two receptions. Upon his return to Baltimore, the old churchman continued to suffer periodic recurrences of labored breathing, difficulty in ascending the stairs, and momentary losses of consciousness. But his general appearance offered reassurance to his close associates.
The following month his physician, Dr. Charles O'Donovan, attributed the condition of the cardinal to nothing except the increasing physical weakness of one of advanced age. This general debilitation continued at Union Mills, and on December 9 Gibbons said Mass for the last time in the Shriver oratory. Soon he was unable to leave p206 his bed unaided, and on December 17 the cardinal was anointed. Once more he rallied, and he was able to assist at Christmas Midnight Mass in his bedroom. It was the first Christmas in fifty‑two years that James Gibbons had not celebrated a pontifical Mass.
In the closing days of 1920 Cardinal Gibbons gave the final interview of his life to Bruce Barton, then a reporter for the American Magazine. He told Barton that he liked young men, and when the reporter commented on the youthful appearance of the priests of his household, Gibbons replied: Until you are forty, seek the companionship of men who are older. After that, keep a vital contact with those who are younger." He said that until his recent illness he used to walk every afternoon from five to six o'clock with one or more of the students from St. Mary's Seminary. "And do you want to know what I say to them?" he asked. "I say, 'Young man, expect great things! Of God, your fellow men, yourself, and America.' "
The reporter then inquired what program of life the cardinal would recommend for success. Gibbons replied: work, patience, and thrift. Theodore Roosevelt was, to his mind, a man who owed much of his success to his tireless labor, and in Abraham Lincoln, Gibbons found a prototype for patience. As for thrift, he confessed that to urge it might sound trite. It was trite, but he had no apology to make in offering it as a necessary quality for the success in life. "The law of God is the law of thrift," he remarked, "and no man transgresses that law, either in his personal or business affairs, without incurring a penalty."
The cardinal knew the conditions in the business world that made it so difficult for young men at that time to find employment and to get established. He then quoted the Biblical verse, "Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth." He admitted that it was a very hard verse, indeed, for American youth to learn. But those who were old like himself knew its meaning, for the chastening of adversity was an act of God's love, not of His punishment, since human nature was not fitted to stand the strain of unremitting prosperity. What the world needed most, according to Gibbons, were men of character and ideals, like the hero of Tom Brown's School Days who knelt down and offered up his prayers in the dormitory at Rugby in spite of all taunts; it needed men who had the courage to stick to virtue, truth, p207 and high thinking through adversity and prosperity alike. Such men were not made by easy times alone; they came only through the molding and hardening of trial, disappointment, and difficulty.
Barton had told Gibbons that the interview would appear around the time of Easter. That led the cardinal to a brief review of our Lord's exaltation on Palm Sunday and the dreadful fate that He suffered on Good Friday. The thought prompted the old man to say:
This is the message of Easter — the message of eternal Faith. At the darkest hour the stone of discouragement is rolled away; despair is lost in glory. And only those whose hope has died, a martyr to their doubts, fail to share in the splendor of the resurrection.
The Barton interview was an annually buoyant message from an enfeebled old man in his eighty-sixth year who was then only about three months removed from death.
Early the next year, the last article that the cardinal wrote was published in the Catholic Review of Baltimore. "As the years go by," he said, "I am more than ever convinced that the Constitution of the United States is the greatest instrument of government that ever issued from the hand of man." He emphasized that personal liberties that had found protection in the document, and he instanced especially that of religious freedom. Other features of the Constitution that earned his praise were the autonomy enjoyed by the several states and the sacred privilege of the ballot.
It was appropriate that the last article from Gibbons' pen should have been devoted to this subject. He had spoken many times of the sacred character of the Constitution, but probably none was more eloquent than this final summary.
Gibbons understood the gravity of his illness, and as the year 1920 drew to a close, he begged to return to Baltimore so that he could die in his own home. After the doctors had given their consent, arrangements were made to convey the invalid to the city. On January 3 he left Union Mills. Back again in the beloved environment of the old mansion where he had lived for over forty-three years, Gibbons' strength picked up somewhat, and although he was no longer equal to his customary walks, he was well enough through the next two and a half months to take frequent automobile rides through the city.
p208 After his customary ride on Sunday, March 20, the Bon Secours Sister who was nursing the cardinal noticed a sudden change and summoned the priests. The following morning he received Holy Communion for the last time, having previously been anointed and made the profession of faith prescribed for a dying bishop. The cardinal became unconscious on Tuesday evening and remained in that condition through most of the next day. Near midnight of Wednesday he woke and told Father Stickney, rector of the cathedral, that he would die on the morrow. In the absence of his regular confessor he requested Stickney to hear his confession, and soon thereafter he lapsed into unconsciousness until death took him on the morning of Holy Thursday, March 24, at 11:30 o'clock.
Hardly had the news of the cardinal's death been flashed to the country and the world when a stream of cables, telegrams, and letters from men and women in every walk of life began flowing into the episcopal residence. Cardinal Gasparri cabled, in the name of Pope Benedict XV: "The august Pontiff has learned with profound sorrow of the death of His Eminence Cardinal Gibbons. He offered up prayers for the soul of the worthy prelate and sends heartfelt condolences to Your Lordship, to the clergy and to the faithful of the Archdiocese." Within a few hours after the cardinal's death President Warren G. Harding sent the following telegram:
In common with all our people I mourn the death of Cardinal Gibbons. His long and most notable service to country and to church makes us all his debtors. He was ever ready to lend his encouragement to any movement for the betterment of his fellowmen. He was the very finest type of citizen and I held him in the highest esteem and veneration. His death is a distinct loss to the country, but it brings to fuller appreciation a great and admirable life.
Practically all the leading secular papers from the Atlantic to the Pacific gave generous space to Gibbons' history and expressed their glowing appreciation of the significance of his life to the Church and to the nation. The New York Times on March 25 said that for many years his name had been one that "had the majesty of ecclesiastical, moral, and intellectual authority, the dignity, influence and power of a great nature and mind." To the Times, "He was one of the wisest men in the world." The New York Herald of the same day declared:
p209 In the sense that Francis of Assisi is everybody's saint, James Gibbons was everybody's Cardinal. No matter what their religious beliefs, Americans who knew him held him in the highest respect and esteem.
Because the cardinal's death had occurred in Holy Week, his remains were not brought to the cathedral until Monday, March 28. There the body lay in state before the high altar, his red hat resting against the foot of the casket and his numerous decorations from foreign governments and from civic organizations displayed nearby. It was estimated that over 200,000 people were admitted to the cathedral during those three days and nights. Long lines that formed a block away on Mulberry Street slowly moved forward to view for the last time the face of one whom they had learned to love in life.
By the morning of March 31 there had arrived in Baltimore two of Gibbons' fellow members of the College of Cardinals, O'Connell of Boston and Begin of Quebec, along with Archbishop Bonzano who as apostolic delegate to the United States was to celebrate the pontifical requiem, nine other archbishops, and forty-three bishops. The President of the United States was represented at the funeral by Postmaster General Will H. Hays. Among the mourners were Chief Justice White, the governors of Maryland and Ohio, members from the two houses of Congress, the envoys of a dozen foreign nations, and a score of Protestant and Jewish clergymen, together with a vast throng of minor prelates and priests from Baltimore and other cities. The cathedral was filled to capacity. The funeral sermon was preached by Archbishop Glennon of St. Louis. At the end of the funeral Mass the customary absolutions were performed by four of the late cardinal's suffragans. With that the long ceremony came to a close and the distinguished assemblage dispersed. Later in the day the body of the cardinal was carried from the cathedral to the crypt amid the tolling of the bells of the city's Catholic churches. There, beneath the cathedral he had loved so dearly, the mortal remains of James Gibbons were laid away beside the tombs of six of his predecessors in the See of Baltimore as Bishop Corrigan gave the final absolution and the assembled clergy chanted the solemn tones of the De profundis.
The secret wellsprings of Cardinal Gibbons' greatness, which the leading figures of the Church and State proclaimed in so unprecedented p210 a way, lay hidden deep in those subtle and intangible qualities that men call character. The character of Gibbons was not a complex one; in fact, his dominant characteristic was simplicity. All the living witnesses of his career agree that the simplicity of his manner, tastes, habits, entertainments, and style of writing and preaching was his distinguishing attractive feature. Extolled as perhaps no churchman in modern times has ever been, he never lost his graceful simplicity; the gentle dignity and quiet self-respect with which he bore his exalted rank as a prince of the Church rested serenely upon the conscious certainty that his high office neither needed nor suffered any self-assertion.
The simplicity of the man was conveyed in a hundred different ways. He never owned a horse and carriage, nor later an automobile. He always walked whenever that was possible, even in Rome where tradition dictated that cardinals should move about the city in carriages. The same held true for the entertainments that amused the cardinal during his hours of relaxation. Any man who could pass an entire evening playing euchre with his friends, while away an hour at horseshoes or quoits, or show a fondness for old and familiar music like "Lead, Kindly Light," had, indeed, a great deal of the common touch about him. Men especially felt at ease with the great churchman when he would light up a cigar after dinner and sit down among them for a friendly chat. Gibbons liked baseball, and he followed the game closely enough to discuss it intelligently. Horse racing was also a sport in which he showed a keen interest. Now and then he would place a modest bet on a horse through one of the Shriver boys, and one occasion in New Orleans the cardinal attended the races. Gibbons took delight in dining out with friends. "I dine out," he once said, "because Christ dined out."
This simplicity of manner and taste sprang in part from the cardinal's intense interest in people, not in their stations in life nor in the wealth or prestige that attached to their names. He had a truly remarkable memory for names and faces which, of course, proved exceedingly flattering to those whom he met. Everyone seemed to hold some kind of interest for Gibbons, and he once remarked that he had never met anyone from whom he had not learned something. On his visits to Rome, he never failed to see his students from the Archdiocese of Baltimore. His priests were at liberty to call to see him without appointment at any time, and even children p211 felt free to ring the doorbell at 408 N. Charles Street and to ask for His Eminence.
His reputation for approachability occasionally involved Gibbons in situations that afforded opportunity for the exercise of his well-known tact. The cardinal once met a woman at social gathering whose curiosity exceeded her discretion; she made bold to ask him how far he thought that the infallibility of the Pope extended. With the faintest smile he replied, "Madame, that is not an easy question. All I can say is that a few months ago in Rome His Holinesscalled me, 'Jibbons.' " As one who overheard the exchange later wrote, "The subtlety of this reply was probably lost on the inquirer." The delicacy with which Gibbons invariably governed his personal relations was partly motivated by the dread he always entertained of hurting the feelings of another person. One afternoon some children called on Gibbons to present the cardinal with a few trifling mementoes of their handiwork. Their chaperon deprecated the value of the gifts but emphasized the children's motive. Immediately the children's faces revealed their hurt. Gibbons sensed their feelings at once, rose from his chair, went to the table, and picked up the trinkets, and as he looked them over carefully he exclaimed several times, as if to himself, "Aren't they wonderful!" He then turned and passed them around to the priests and others in the parlor, and by that time the faces of the children were again wreathed in smiles.
Another outstanding characteristic of the man was his sympathy and generosity to those in distress. Hardly a month passed without some new manifestations of the cardinal's fulfilling the priestly role of healing and consoling, of comforting and providing for the unfortunate. When Bishop Messmer of Green Bay asked if Gibbons would take a priest who had compromised his usefulness in Green Bay by intemperance, the cardinal replied that, although he had no vacant chaplaincies, he had given instructions to the Sisters at St. Agnes Hospital to provide a room for the priest for a year at Gibbons' expense.
Gibbons' consideration for all persons and his generosity toward those in trouble were more than matched by his fidelity to close friends. Archbishop Ireland acknowledged more than once what it had meant to have the cardinal defend him against unjust attack; Denis O'Connell was a notable example of Gibbons' fidelity when a friend had fallen into disfavor; John Keane's perplexities in moments p212 of trial were calmed in no small measure by Gibbons' sympathetic counsel. Bishop Shahan, a special favorite in the last years of Gibbons' life, was not only supported in his administration of the university but sustained as well in his more ambitious projects like the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
But whatever may be said of the winning characteristics of the Cardinal of Baltimore, it was the priestly quality of his daily life that most attracted those who came into frequent contact with him and who found spiritual encouragement by the otherworldly temper of his mind. That quality gave meaning to his kindness toward others. Priestly he was in every word and action of his life; yet there was nothing particularly striking about the cardinal's piety. Unlike Newman and Manning, Gibbons left no intimate journals of his inner spiritual life. He was not given to speculation; there was little of the ascetic or mystic about him. The cardinal was rather a man of action with an intensely practical turn of mind. Yet the fidelity with which he observed all the religious devotions of his priestly office gave a tone to his daily living and established him in the minds of others as a true man of God. Without much apparent soul-searching, James Gibbons went serenely on his way. This priestly bearing was always with him at the altar, in the pulpit, and in his confessional near the sanctuary railing where in his more vigorous years he heard confessions on Saturday afternoons and after his morning Mass whenever a request was made of him. He had a keen sense of the ecclesiastical proprieties. It was no mere accident that St. Francis de Sales was Gibbons' favorite saint, for there was a sweetness and kindliness of manner about the Cardinal of Baltimore that suggested the great Bishop of Geneva. His was a spiritual greatness resting upon a foundation of natural benignity that precluded harsh treatment or mean expression about anyone. Monsignor Stickney, the cardinal's house companion for thirteen years, and Bishop Shahan, who had known him well from 1891 to his death, both stated that they had never heard him utter an uncharitable word about any man.
The motto on the coat of arms of Cardinal Gibbons was "Emitte Spiritum Tuum." Rarely did a churchman carry out with more consistency his role as an agent for sending forth the divine spirit among men. Not alone by his books, sermons, and help to organized movements did Gibbons exercise his zeal for the spread of God's p213 word, but by his daily contact with men, by his bearing, by the cast of his thoughts, and even by his choice of words in ordinary conversation. One friend noted his alterness to inject a spiritual note into mundane matters; but "it is exercised in such a benign, dispassionate, evangelical manner that it never shocks the different religious sentiment or the agnostic indifference of the interlocutor. He is always a missionary who speaks to convince educated people and not to intimidate uncultivated people."
Yet Cardinal Gibbons was no exception to the universal law of human frailty. A certain observable vanity, although it escaped the more unpleasant features of strong pride, manifested itself in inoffensive ways, such as his desire to win at cards, his love for the splendor of ecclesiastical processions wherein he was arrayed in his scarlet robes, and his skill in drawing to himself a table conversation that showed signs of straying into other channels. Yet his vain little foibles, guileless and transparent as they were, were never allowed to develop into an exhibition of pride that gave serious offense to his equals and repelled those of lower rank.
More serious, perhaps, was the cardinal's tendency at times to shift his ground in unpleasant situations. On occasion, his failure to face up strongly to a problem caused embarrassment to his associates: in 1886, for example, when he wavered in his support of a national university and called forth a rebuke from Bishop Keane. A number of instances made apparent his deep aversion to giving offense; but, as Keane reminded him, at times his effort to please everyone jeopardized the prospect of his pleasing anyone.
But to magnify these few cases of temporizing to the point of implying cowardice would be to miss the true measure of his moral courage. No man who staked his reputation before the highest tribunals in the Church as Gibbons did in the case of the Knights of Labor, or in his masterful speech at Rome in March, 1887, on the relations of Church and State in the United States, could be said to lack courage. Neither was it the conduct of a weak man to defend with all the power he could summon the policies of Archbishop Ireland in regard to the schools, and the American Church itself against the charges of a heretical Americanism. Nor was it weakness that prompted Gibbons to persist to the end against placing Henry George's Progress and Poverty on the Index of Forbidden Books, when in doing so he experienced the pain of alienation from Archbishop p214 Corrigan who for years had been a close friend and counselor. Nor was it weakness at Milwaukee in August, 1891, when he gave his bold sermon against the evils of excessive nationalism within the Church. In the process of arriving at a final decision, it is true, he resorted on occasions to stratagems that bolder spirits like Ireland and McQuaid would have scorned. Yet who will say that his conciliatory way of meeting trouble was not at times the better way? If there were times when Gibbons' mildness restrained him when he might better have gone forward, there were also times when that peaceable spirit guided his steps into the path of true wisdom and redounded to the advantage of the Church.
Allied to this tendency to avoid unpleasant issues was his desire to put the best construction on disagreeable events. The effusive letter that he wrote to Pope Leo XIII in January, 1893, after the latter had established the Apostolic Delegation in Washington, was one example of this trait. His generous heart likewise betrayed him into unwise judgments in regard to his close friends; the heart almost certainly overruled the head in his support of some men for the episcopacy.
Apart entirely from these minor moral faults, Gibbons revealed deficiencies of another nature. He was quite unoriginal. No great project came from his personal initiative. The Third Plenary Council of 1884 arose at the suggestion of the bishops of the Middle West, and the defense of the Knights of Labor probably owed as much in origin to Keane and Ireland as it did to Gibbons. The same lack of originality appeared in his sermons and writings, none of which showed evidence of the gifted researcher, orator, or prose writer. In the field of administration, Gibbons' long tenure of the See of Baltimore yielded few striking accomplishments. As he grew older, he was lax in initiating new parishes and in advancing parochial schools. A young vigorous coadjutor might have remedied these deficiencies; but Gibbons' attachment to old ways and reluctance to have close at hand an archbishop with whom he would have to share his authority made the plan unattractive.
Yet the failure to find brilliance of mind, depth of learning, mastery of administrative detail, resourceful and fighting qualities of leadership, powerful oratory, and majestic diction did not mean that Cardinal Gibbons was not a singularly gifted man. His prudence, discretion, and delicacy of perception — gifts of an altogether uncommon p215 order — were employed to the utmost advantage in his dealings with others. Men are not easily led unless leadership is strengthened by love and high respect. The profound love that the cardinal engendered for his person enabled him to accomplish wonders where more gifted men would have failed. As one who knew him well said after he was gone: "Cardinal Gibbons was powerful because he was simple, and his simplicity invited love. It never demanded service."
Beyond simplicity the cardinal possessed to a marked degree what St. Thomas Aquinas considered the chief virtue of those who govern, the sense of reasonable proportion in all his judgments. That quality raised the execution of policies by the simple and unpretentious cardinal to the lofty level of statesmanship.
Eleven years after the death of Cardinal Gibbons the Knights of Columbus erected a handsome bronze statue of the great prelate in a prominent spot facing down 16th Street in Washington. On Sunday, August 14, 1932, President Herbert Hoover accepted the statue in the name of the United States as a gift from the Knights. Hoover spoke of his acquaintance with the cardinal during the days of World War I and of the high regard that he had shared with all Americans for the radiant sweetness of Gibbons' spirit and the kindliness of his wisdom. The cardinal's life, Hoover said, had been a remarkable demonstration of the power of a quietly noble personality to spread its influence to those who lived far beyond the range of his physical presence. And in seeking to express the spirit and the depth of the love and influence that the cardinal had on his fellowmen, the president came close to the secret of Gibbons' greatness when he said:
He loved God, and to a degree that is seldom equaled he succeeded in carrying into the minds of other people the feeling that the truths of religion are really their primary aids in solving the perplexities of every day living.
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