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Life of Cardinal Gibbons, archbishop of Baltimore (Volume 1) online

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to this great truth, which the Catholic Church has never
ceased to maintain. Reason and experience are forcing
them to recognize that the only practical way to secure a
Christian people is to give the youth a Christian educa-
tion. The avowed enemies of Christianity in some Euro-
pean countries are banishing religion from the schools,
in order, gradually, to eliminate it from among the peo-
ple. In this they are logical, and we may well profit
by the lesson.

"Two objects, therefore, dear brethren, we have in
view — to multiply our schools, and to perfect them.
We must multiply them till every Catholic child in the
land shall have within its reach the means of education.
There is still much to do ere this be attained. There


are still thousands of Catholic children in the United
States deprived of the benefit of a Catholic school. Pas-
tors and parents should not rest till this defect is
remedied. No parish is complete till it has schools
adequate to the needs of its children, and the pastor and
people of such a parish should feel that they have not
accomplished their entire duty until the want is supplied.
"But, then, we must also perfect our schools. We
repudiate the idea that the Catholic school need be in
any respect inferior to any other school whatsoever. And
if hitherto, in some places, our people have acted on the
principle that it is better to have an imperfect Catholic
school than to have none, let them now push their praise-
worthy ambition still further, and not relax their efforts
till their schools be elevated to the highest educational
excellence. And we implore parents not to hasten to
take their children from school, but to give them all the
time and all the advantages by which they have the
capacity to profit, so that in after life their children may
'rise up and call them blessed.' "

The Council refused to condemn the public schools
and forbade any one, whether Bishop or priest, either by
act or by threat, to exclude from the sacraments as un-
worthy persons who chose to send their children to such
schools or the children themselves. Where there was no
Catholic school, or where the one available was little
fitted for giving the children an education in keeping with
their condition, the Council decreed that the public
schools might be attended with a safe conscience. In
such cases measures to provide for the religious instruc-
tion of the children were to be taken by the parish priest.
The Council urged, however, that parochial schools
should be increased in number until every Catholic child
might have the benefit of a Catholic education.


Another question upon which the Third Plenary
Council bestowed attention was that of secret societies.
Its ordinances in regard to them were the basis upon
which the momentous decision upon the toleration of the
Knights of Labor was soon to be made in response to
the urging of Gibbons. In America, with its compara-
tive absence of restriction of the individual, organiza-
tions of every kind had multiplied amazingly. The
Church was bound to legislate upon an issue which in
the days of the secret bands of "Know Nothing" plotters
had involved the gravest considerations for religious

There was, of course, no purpose to disturb any socie-
ties maintained for a lawful purpose that was not re-
pugnant to religion. It was only those whose aims were
hidden behind the screen of a mysterious oath which
excited the apprehensions of the prelates. The pastoral
letter of the Council set forth definitely that the Church
by no means wished to oppose the general tendency to
form groups. The main outlines of the attitude expressed
in it were :

"One of the most striking characteristics of our times
is the universal tendency to band together in societies
for all sorts of 'purposes. This tendency is the natural



outgrowth of an age of popular rights and representative
institutions. It is also in accordance with the spirit of
the Church, whose aim, as indicated by her name Catho-
lic, is to unite all mankind in brotherhood. It is con-
sonant also with the spirit of Christ, who came to break
down all walls of division, and to gather all in the one
family of the one Heavenly Father.

"From the hilltop of her Divine mission and her
world-wide experience, she sees events and their conse-
quences far more clearly than they who are down in the
tangled plain of daily life. She has seen associations
that were once praiseworthy become pernicious by change
of circumstances. She has seen others which won the
admiration of the world by their early achievements cor-
rupted by power or passion, or evil guidance, and she
has been forced to condemn them. She has beheld asso-
ciations which had their origin in the spirit of the ages
of faith transformed by lapse of time and loss of faith,
and the manipulation of designing leaders, into the open
or hidden enemies of religion and human weal.

"Thus our Holy Father, Leo XIII, has lately shown
that the Masonic and kindred societies — although the
offspring of the ancient Guilds, which aimed at sanctify-
ing trades and tradesmen with the blessings of religion;
and, although retaining, perhaps, in their 'rituals' much
that tells of the religiousness of their origin, and although
in some countries still professing entire friendliness
toward the Christian religion — have, nevertheless, al-
ready gone so far, in many countries, as to array them-
selves in avowed hostility against Christianity and
against the Catholic Church as its embodiment, so that
they virtually aim at substituting a world-wide fraternity
of their own for the universal brotherhood of Jesus
Christ, and at disseminating mere naturalism for the
supernatural revealed religion bestowed upon mankind
by the Savior of the world. He has shown, too, that


even in countries where they are as yet far from acknowl-
edging such purposes, they, nevertheless, have in them
the germs which, under favorable circumstances, would
inevitably blossom forth in similar results.

"The Church, consequently, forbids her children to
have any connection with such societies, because they are
either an open evil to be shunned, or a hidden danger to
be avoided. She would fail in her duty if she did not
speak the word of warning, and her children would
equally fail in theirs if they did not heed it.

"Whenever, therefore, the Church has spoken au-
thoritatively with regard to any society, her decision
ought to be final for every Catholic. He ought to know
that the Church has not acted hastily, or unwisely, or
mistakenly; he should be convinced that any worldly
advantages which he might derive from membership in
such a society would be a poor substitute for the mem-
bership, the sacraments and the blessings of the Church
of Christ; he should have the courage of his religious
convictions and stand firm to faith and conscience. But
if he be inclined or asked to join a society on which the
Church has passed no sentenc®, then let him, as a reason-
able and Christian man, examine into it carefully, and
not join the society until he is satisfied of its lawful

"There is one characteristic which is always a strong
presumption against a society, and that is secrecy. Our
Divine Lord Himself has laid down the rule: 'Every
one that doeth evil hateth the light and cometh not to
the light, that his works may not be reproved. But he
that doeth truth cometh to the light that his works may
be made manifest, because they are done in God.' When,
therefore, associations veil themselves in secrecy and
darkness, the presumption is against them, and it rests
with them to prove that there is nothing evil in them.

"If any society's obligation be such as to bind its mem-


bers to secrecy, even when rightly questioned by com-
petent authority, then such a society puts itself outside
the limits of approval; and no one can be a member of
it and at the same time be admitted to the sacraments
of the Catholic Church. The same is true of any organi-
zation that binds its members to a promise of blind obedi-
ence — to accept in advance and to obey whatsoever
orders, lawful or unlawful, may emanate from its chief
authorities; because such a promise is contrary both to
reason and conscience. And if a society works or plots,
either openly or in secret, against the Church, or against
lawful authorities, then to be a member of it is to be
excluded from the membership of the Catholic Church."

The Council overlooked no department of the Church's
activities in America. Time has amply attested the
soundness and permanency of its legislation. It intro-
duced in the United States, where priests had been re-
movable at the will of the Bishop, a modification of the
system of irremovable rectors which had been in use in
Europe. The Council enacted that every tenth rector
should be irremovable where the circumstances justified
it, being secure in his tenure except when guilty of speci-
fied offenses. It decreed that a parish, in order to have
an irremovable rector, must possess a proper church, a
school for boys and girls, and stable revenues for the
support of priest, church and school.

A candidate for such a post must have been in the
ministry ten years and have shown himself a satisfactory
administrator in spiritual and temporal affairs. The ex-
amination for irremovable rectorships must take place
before the Bishop or Vicar General and three examiners.
Each candidate was required to answer questions on


dogmatic and moral theology, liturgy and canon law,
and to give specimens of catechetical exposition and

Regulations were established for recommending candi-
dates for bishoprics and as to the appointment and duties
of diocesan consultors and episcopal tribunals. Warning
was given regarding abuses incident to such means of
raising money as picnics, fairs, and excursions, and balls
for religious purposes were prohibited. In all churches,
it was ordered, some seats must be provided for the poor.

The Council sent a letter of sympathy to the Bishops
of Germany, whose people were then groaning under
the May laws. The Archbishop of Cologne replied re-
counting the difficulties of the Church in his own country
and added :

"We congratulate you, venerable brethren in the Lord,
because in your republic the Church rejoices in the
fulness of liberty, so essential to her and her due by right

Complete harmony marked the end of the Council ; and
Archbishop Kenrick, of St. Louis, wept as he expressed
the thanks of the prelates to the Apostolic Delegate for
the manner in which he had presided over their delibera-
tions. He spoke of his presence at the First Plenary
Council, saying:

"I had never seen a more sublime sight; it was not
this grand old building, nor the gorgeous vestments, nor
the dulcet strains of the music that inspired me. It
was that assemblage of men from all parts of the coun-
try, with different ideas and sentiments, but with one
common end in view — the good of our Church.


"When Xerxes beheld his army of a million men stand-
ing in their martial strength before him, he wept on re-
flecting that not one of that mighty host would survive
a century, and so of us, venerable fathers, in half that
time death shall claim us all." ^

Archbishop Gibbons was naturally moved to his in-
most depths by the closing scene. As always in the
presence of a personal triumph, his modesty seemed to
be accentuated. In his reply he said:

"Whatever success has attended my part of the work,
I attribute, under God, to your kind forbearance and
uniform benevolence toward me. Mindful of the words
of the Apostle, you have not despised my youth. I have
witnessed the proceedings of the greatest deliberative
bodies in the world; I have listened to debates in the
House of Commons, the French Chambers and both
Houses of Congress. I have attended provincial, na-
tional and ecumenical councils; but never did I witness
more uniform courtesy in debate, more hearty acquies-
cence in the opinions of the majority than in the Third
Plenary Council of Baltimore.

"Venerable Fathers, we have met as Bishops of the
common faith; we part as brothers bound by the closest
ties of charity. Though differing in nationality, in lan-
guage, in habits, in tastes, in local interests, we have met
as members of the same immortal episcopate, having
*one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father
of all'; and if the Holy Father, whose portrait adorns
our Council chamber, could speak from the canvas, well
could he exclaim: 'Behold how good and how pleasant
a thing it is for brethren to dwell together in unity I'

"The words you have spoken in Council, like good
seed, are yet hidden from the eyes of men ; but they will

^Catholic Mirror, December 13, 1884.


one day arise and bring forth fruit of sanctification. The
decrees you have formulated will foster discipline and
piety; they will quicken the faith and cheer the hearts
of millions of Catholics. ,

"This is the last time that we shall assemble under
the dome of this venerable Cathedral with the portrait
of God's saints looking down upon us. The venerable
Archbishop has reminded us of our short tenure of life;
but we are immortal ! God grant that the scene of to-
day may be a presage of our future reunion in the temple
above not made with hands, in the company of God's
saints, where, clothed in white robes and with palms in
our hands, we shall sing benediction and honor and glory
to our God forever." ^

The decrees of the Council, signed by fourteen Arch-
bishops, sixty-one Bishops or their representatives, and
one general of a religious order, were taken to Rome by
Dr. O'Connell and several of the American Bishops.
They were approved and returned without substantial
changes. They seemed to have removed all doubt in the
mind of Leo XIII, if any existed, as to who was his right
arm in the western part of the world. In Archbishop
Gibbons he saw an enlightened thinker and an apostle
of the new democracy to which he was turning with hope
as the most fertile field for the Church's efforts. Now
that the Council had erased ecclesiastical complexities
due to the diversity of origin of the American people and
had given the Church in the United States a complete
and unified organization on which might be made the
impress of a truly national character, the field of oppor-
tunity immensely broadened. The assimilative power

'Memorial Volume, Third Plenary Council, pp. 65-67.


of the Church in America was to be tested no less than
that of the body politic; for both it was to be a time of

Leo and Gibbons asked for no favors from, sought no
entanglements with, the government of the United States.
They wished only a free and open opportunity to carry
the appeal of the Church to the hearts and consciences
of Americans and welcomed the advent of a new order
in which their plans might be fulfilled.

After the decrees of the Council had been tested by
time, Leo expressed his especial commendation of them
in his encyclical letter of January 6, 1895, on "Catho-
licity in the United States." He wrote :

"The love which we cherish toward the Catholics of
your nation moved us likewise to turn our attention at
the very beginning of our Pontificate to the convocation
of a Third Plenary Council of Baltimore. Subsequently
when the Archbishops, on our invitation, had come to
Rome, we diligently inquired of them what they deemed
most conducive to the common good. We finally, and
after mature deliberation, ratified by Apostolic authority
the decrees of the prelates assembled at Baltimore. In
truth, the event has proven, and still proves, that the
decrees of Baltimore were salutary and timely in the
extreme. Experience has demonstrated their power for
the maintenance of discipline; for stimulating the intelli-
gence and zeal of the clergy ; for defending and develop-
ing the Catholic education of youth.

"Wherefore, venerable brethren, if we make acknowl-
edgment of your activity in these matters, if we laud your
firmness tempered with prudence, we but pay tribute to
your merit; for we are fully sensible that so great a har-
vest of blessings could by no means have so swiftly


ripened to maturity had you not exerted yourselves each
to the utmost of his ability, sedulously and faithfully to
carry into effect the statutes you had wisely framed at
Baltimore." ^

'^Encyclical Longinque Oceani, translated by the Rev. John J. Wynne,
in The Great Encyclical Letters of Pope Leo XIII. pp. 326-327.


The golden age of the Catholic Church in America
was now at hand, the age of Gibbons, in which she
flourished to a degree as unexampled for her as was the
prosperity of the age of Augustus for ancient Rome; in
which she suddenly flowered forth with a marvelous in-
crease of her activities in all directions, tripling the num-
ber of her followers, doubling the number of her churches,
and more than quadrupling the number of her priests; ^
in which she stood accepted at last under the searching
gaze of public opinion as a staunch upholder of the civil
institutions of the country, a tremendous force for liberty
and law and order, shurming everywhere trespass upon
the civil functions of the State so that all could see her
stand, asking no favors but asserting her equality of
right; a prop and pillar, second to none, of all the just
aspirations that had throbbed in the bosoms of Ameri-
cans since the days of Washington.

The master spirit of the Church in America during
that period was Gibbons. Possessing ample authority

*The number of Catholics in the United States in 1877, when Gibbons
became Archbishop of Baltimore, was 6,000,000; at the beginning of
1921 it was 17,885,646, not counting the number in the insular posses-
sions. The churches increased from 8000 to 16,000 in the same period;
priests from 5000 to 21,000 and parochial schools from 1500 to 6000.
In the diocese of Baltimore, as we have already seen, the number of
Catholic churches was more than tripled.



and the full support of Leo XIII during the most critical
part of the time, he dominated also by the force of his
personality. In the eyes of Americans the Catholic
Church was embodied in Gibbons. He was her type
and exemplar when criticism reared its head, and his
life and works and words were the most effective answer
to criticism. His influence was felt as strongly in the
distant dioceses of the Pacific coast as in the shadow of
his own Cathedral in Baltimore.

The irresistible forces of enlightenment, missionary
effort and patriotic zeal which Gibbons set in motion
began to show all their maximum effects immediately
after the Third Plenary Council. In the public mind
their amplified scope soon became associated with his
promotion to the honor of being the only Cardinal in
America, which distinction he possessed for a quarter
of a century.

He was of a different type from McCloskey, who died
October lo, 1885, after having been a member of the
Church's most exalted Council for ten years. No better
perspective of this difference of temperament could be
given than in the words pronounced in the funeral ser-
mon over the first American Cardinal in St. Patrick's
Cathedral, New York, by him who was destined to be
the second, and who, comparing McCloskey with his
most famous predecessor in the See, said:

''McCloskey, meek, gentle, retiring from the world,
reminds us of Moses with uplifted hands praying on the
mountains; Hughes, active, bold, vigorous, aggressive,
was, as it were, another Joshua fighting in the valley,


armed with the Christian panoply of faith, truth,

The methods of Hughes were the methods of Gibbons,
as America and the world were soon to see. As he spoke
those words he stood on the brink of battle, for there
was opening for him a succession of struggles to realize
his aims which might have made faint the heart of the
boldest had they been perceived then in their full out-

It was evident that the Pope was not to leave America
without a Cardinal. Previous to the elevation of Mc-
Closkey, little personal preference in regard to the selec-
tion by Rome had been expressed; but now, overwhelm-
ingly evident in public opinion from one end of the coun-
try to the other and only less strong among non-Catholics
than Catholics, was the desire that the honor should fall
upon Gibbons. It was in effect a form of unconvoked
plebiscite in which his fellow countrymen registered their
choice by a majority so great that dissent seemed in-

True, here and there local preference for others found
voice. Friends of Archbishop Corrigan, who had been
raised from the bishopric of Newark to the See of New
York, hoped that he might receive the honor ; or that if a
red hat were bestowed elsewhere, the representation of
America in the Sacred College might be increased and
New York, the diocese embracing the greatest number
of Catholics in the world, might continue to have a resi-
dent Cardinal also. In Boston the wise and clear-sighted


Archbishop Williams was considered worthy of the
highest place in the gift of the Papacy.

Leo XIII, always especially keen to observe currents
of opinion in America, did not delay his choice long.
Archbishop Gibbons wrote in his journal:

"Feb. lo [1886]. I received from my kind friend,
Archbishop Corrigan, a telegram informing me that he
had authentic information from Rome that the Holy
Father had determined to raise me to the Cardinalatial
dignity and that the biglietto would reach me about the
22nd of this month. I have also received congratulatory
telegrams from Archbishop Williams, Mgr. Farley ^ and
Mr. Benziger ^ The news is not yet known in our city.
Should the report be verified, may God give me, as he
gave to his servant David, a humble heart that I may
bear the honor with becoming modesty and a profound
sense of my un worthiness ; 'suscitans de terra inopem et
de stercore erigens pauperem ut collocet eutn cum prin-
cipibus populz' The Archbishop of New York says that
the Cardinal Secretary of State mailed the biglietto on
the 8th.

"11. Telegrams and messages of congratulation are
pouring in from all parts of the country."

There is a break of nearly a month in the references
to the subject in his journal. They were thus resumed:

"March 9. A cablegram from Wardo, Count
Soderini, announces the Holy Father's intention to
create me Cardinal.

"17. The following cablegram is published in all the
American papers: 'Rome, March 16th. It is officially
announced that at the Consistory to be held on April

'Then secretary to Archbishop Corrigan.
*The Catholic publisher of New York.


12th the following dignitaries of the Church will be
made Cardinals: Archbishop Gibbons of Baltimore;
Archbishop Taschereau of Quebec ; Mgr. Feratti, Nuncio
at Venice; Mgr. de Rend, Nuncio at Paris; Mgr. Ram-
polla del Tindaro, Nuncio at Madrid and Mgr. Massella,
former Nuncio at Lisbon.'

"May 5. Received a cablegram from Dr. O'Connell
stating that the biglietto officially informing me of the
Holy Father's intention to raise me to the Cardinalate
was mailed in Rome May 3rd.

"6. Received from same a cablegram showing that
the Consistory would probably be held June 7th.

"7. The Holy Father was graciously pleased to ask
Dr. O'Connell to send me the following cablegram : 'The
Pope wishes to be the first to notify you.'

"18. Received from Cardinal Jacobini, Secretary of
State, the biglietto, an official document informing me
of the Holy Father's intention to raise me to the Cardi-
nalatial dignity at the next Consistory."

Cardinal Jacobini wrote:

"The Sovereign Pontiff wishes in a particular manner
to attest the high esteem and consideration he has for
the virtues which adorn your Grace and for the many
claims you already have on account of your merits as
well as to increase the lustre of the metropolitan See of
Baltimore, first among all the churches of the vast Re-
public of the United States, and on that account adorned
with the honorable title of primatial See." *

Online LibraryAllen Sinclair WillLife of Cardinal Gibbons, archbishop of Baltimore (Volume 1) → online text (page 20 of 41)