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Newspaper Accounts of the Death of Pope Pius XII

by Various

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  • Description:
    Newspaper articles that appeared in Washington, D.C. papers on October 9, 1958, reporting on the death of the Holy Father.
  • Publisher & Date:
    Various, October 9, 1958

This article from The Washington Daily News reported the details of the death of Pope Pius XII and reflected on the highlights of his 19-year reign as Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church. His last words were, "Pray," he said. "Pray that this regrettable situation for the church may end."

Tolling Bells Signal 9 Days Of Mourning

Castel Gandolfo, Italy, Oct. 9 (UPI) –The church bells of Rome signaled today the start of nine days of official mourning for Pope Pius XII who died peacefully this morning in his summer palace at the age of 82.

A few hours later, a plenary conference of cardinals elected Benedetto Cardinal Masella as camerlengo or Papal chamberlain.

In that role, he becomes acting temporal leader of the Roman Catholic Church until a new pope is chosen. He wields some of the powers of the Sacred College of Cardinals in its name until that time.

Resign

The election of a camerlengo was one of the first major moves by sorrowing dignitaries of the church to set in motion the age-old ritual leading to choice of a successor to Pius XII, the 82-year-old "Pope of Peace" who reigned for 19 years, seven months and seven days.

Signs of mourning were donned throughout the Catholic world. Messages of condolences poured in from political and religious leaders of all denominations, for the late Pope was not only the spiritual and temporal head of Roman Catholicism but a diplomat and statesman of universal standing.

Funeral

It now falls to the new camerlengo to take the responsibility for all the organization of the nine days of events leading up to the funeral of Pope Pius XII, the conclave and the eventual enthronement of the new pope.

The camerlengo was chosen by the 12 or so cardinals, now here, who had to act immediately under the guidance of Eugene Cardinal Tisserant, dean of the Sacred College. Meanwhile, most of the other of the world's 55 cardinals hastened toward Rome for the solemn conclave.

The body of the late Pope Pius XII, austere and kindly of face even in death, still lay in the room where he died at 3:52 a.m. (10:52 p.m. EDT) yesterday after a second stroke and heart and lung complications.

Later in the day, it was to be moved from the plain bedchamber on the second floor of the papal summer palace into the hall of the Swiss Guards. There Pius XII will lie in state until 2 p.m. (9 a.m. EDT) tomorrow when the body will be transported to Rome.

Vatican embalmers prepared the Pope's body for the nine days of solemn ceremony before it is laid to rest in the grottoes of St. Peter's Basilica close to the tomb of the first pope, St. Peter.

Cape

In the room where the Pope died, his body lay on a shiny brass bed. It was dressed in flowing white robes, topped by the ermine-lined scarlet "mozzetta" or cape. The top of the head was covered by a scarlet camauro, also trimmed with white ermine, which fitted closely around the ears and left only the face exposed.

In the Pope's hands, clasped on his breast, were the small crucifix and the rosary he held when he died.

Only the communists showed no regrets. He had fought them bitterly, and for hours Moscow Radio did not even mention his death. During the final hours of his illness Russia jammed news bulletins on his condition.

In Rome where the solemn ceremonies will be held bells tolled in pre-dawn darkness and the altars of the city's many churches were draped in purple, the sign of mourning. Italy declared three days of mourning and closed schools and places of entertainment.

Last Rites

The Pope had been unwell for a week and his final illness came at 8:30 a.m. Monday when he suffered a stroke, which left him paralyzed and weak. He received the last rites of the church but appeared to be making a recovery.

Then yesterday he was felled by a second stroke and the Vatican announced to the world there was little hope for his recovery. In mid-afternoon the doctors reported a grave cardio-pulmonary collapse. At 3 p.m. doctors abandoned hope. Just before sundown, pneumonia set in. Doctors brought in oxygen and blood plasma.

The end followed swiftly. Prof. Antonio Gasbarrini, one of the four doctors, signaled that death was near. All gathered at the bed--the family and the high papal officers. They recited prayers for the dying. There was a choked, rasping sound from the patient.

Water

Sister Pasquilina, the faithful housekeeper for more than two decades, gently wiped the unconscious Pope's lips with water during the recital of the prayers.

At one point she took the crucifix, which had been resting on the Pope's chest and put it near his mouth.

At 3:52 a.m. Prof. Gasbarrini put a stethoscope to the Pontiff's chest, felt the pulse, turned and said: "E morto"--he is dead.

Msgr. Tardini repeated the words: "E morto." And then in a break from tradition intoned the inspiring "Magnificat":

"My soul doth magnify the Lord.

"My spirit doth rejoice in Him…"

All present slowly filed past the Pope's deathbed – the noble guards, the Swiss guards and gendarmes on duty.

Msgr. Angelo Dell-Acqua, Vatican assistant Pro-Secretary of State, moved into the adjoining chapel and recited the first funeral Mass.

The Pope, a statesman and diplomat, was a man of many firsts. He was the first to use radio and television; the first to use a typewriter; the first to use a plane--he was known as the "Flying Cardinal" when he visited the United States 22 years ago.

His formal title was:

"Bishop of Rome

"Vicar of Christ.

"Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Patriarch of the West, Primate of Italy, Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Roman Province, Sovereign of The State of Vatican City."

Statesman

To Catholics he was the dauntless champion of mankind's spiritual glory. To non-Catholics he was a statesman, a world leader who sought to prevent World War II thru personal intervention, a man who fought against communism.

His death ended one of the most notable pontificates in the 19 centuries of the church. He was looked upon as a saint, and his early canonization was regarded as certain.

The church has reported that on the morning of Dec. 2, 1954, while suffering a serious illness, he saw "the sweet person of Jesus Christ at his bedside" while he was reciting the prayer, "Anima Christi." Another apparent miracle attributed to him was the vision of the revolving suns, which appeared to him in the Vatican gardens during the 1950 holy year--a vision said to be similar to the one of Fatima.

The Pope's last words before lapsing into unconsciousness showed that the church was foremost in his mind.

"Pray," he said. "Pray that this regrettable situation for the church may end."

Pope Pius XII was an implacable foe of communism, and the last half of his reign was devoted to a relentless struggle against its "cruel and bloody irony."

His life was devoted to the furtherance of peace and his personal motto was "peace, the work of justice." Communism, he believed, spawned wars and was the greatest threat to his dream of peace.

But he served thru an era that knew no peace, when the bloody World War II was succeeded by the "cold war," the development of the atomic and hydrogen bombs, and the persecution of Christianity by the communists.

Though saddened by this struggle, the Pope remained convinced of the eventual victory of good over evil.

The first serious illness of his reign came after the exhausting ceremonies of the consistory of Jan. 12, 1953. He suffered, on Jan. 22, a severe attack of bronchitis that kept him in his apartment for two months. But he recovered fully and had a vigorous year.

Early in 1954, he fell ill again from gastritis stemming from fatigue caused by overwork and concern over world conditions. The acute stage of his illness, accompanied by hiccups, started Jan. 25, 1954, and the following day he canceled all audiences. It was March 19 before he made a public appearance at a window of the Vatican Palace.

On Sept. 16, 1954, he suffered a brief recurrence of gastritis at his summer residence but refused to cancel public appearances.

On Dec. 2, 1954, the Pope suffered a near-fatal crisis just 12 hours after having a vision of Christ at his bedside at dawn. A team of five doctors struggled to save his life, feeding him intravenously. On Dec. 16, he had improved sufficiently to allow an X-ray examination showing he was suffering from gastritis and hernia of the esophagus. By Christmas Day, he was able to appear at a sickroom window to answer the cheers of pilgrims in St. Peter's Square.

Temporal Sphere

Despite the purges, the wholesale arrests of priests and nuns, the jailing of cardinals, the Catholic Church grew during his pontificate from 375,000,000 to 496,000,000. And although spiritual leader of so many, Pius was temporal sovereign of the world's smallest independent state, Vatican City, with an area of only 108.7 acres.

High scholars and ecclesiastics of the Roman Catholic Church are in accord that the major theological decision of his reign was the proclamation of the dogma of the Virgin Mary's bodily ascension to heaven.

The proclamation climaxed the 1950 jubilee holy year and was pronounced by the Pope in an open air ceremony in St. Peter's Square on Nov. 1, 1950, before an estimated 500,000 pilgrims from the four corners of the world.

A dogma is a truth proposed by the Catholic Church for the belief of the faithful as an article of divine revelation. His proclamation coincided with his report he had seen the "miracle of the sun" for three days at that time, and Catholics interpreted this as a sign of divine pleasure at the proclamation.

In 1950 he issued an encyclical letter, "Humani Generis," in which he made it clear the church had no objection to qualified research into Darwin's theory of evolution which had been denounced by many clergyman. He made it equally clear that evolution must be regarded as a still unproven theory on the origin of the human body alone and that "souls are immediately created by God."

Another major achievement of his reign was to restore the Sacred College of Cardinals to its full strength of 70 for the first time in 250 years. Earlier he had broadened the college so that for the first time Italians did not have a majority.

Toward the end of 1953 the Pope gave concrete shape to one of the ideas most dear to his heart by inaugurating the Roman Catholic Church's First Marian Year, or "Little Holy Year," devoted to the Virgin Mary who had always been the object of his special veneration.

Pius XII announced the Marian Year in his encyclical letter "Fulgens Corona" (radiant crown) dated Sept. 8.

Hundreds of thousands of Romans lined the route of the papal cortege when Pius XII, in one of his rare appearances in the streets of Rome, went to the Basilica of St. Mary Major to open the Marian Year on Dec. 8, 1953--the 99th anniversary of the proclaiming of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of Mary by Pope Pius IX.

Although the post-war years marked the greatest intensification of the communist persecution, the Pope had worked actively against communism many years before that. He first fought communism as the Vatican's secretary of state during the civil war in Spain.

But one by one in the post-war years the top-ranking Catholic prelates behind the Iron Curtain were arrested, sentenced to prison, confined to home arrest or deported. The Pope struck back with his most powerful spiritual weapon--excommunication of those responsible.

In addition to these retaliatory excommunications Pope Pius also issued a general decree of July 1, 1949, stating that any Catholic, in East or West, would incur excommunication by becoming a communist or by associating himself with communism.

In his speeches of 1953 Pope Pius took up positions on several problems of the times. He advocated an international penal code to enable punishment of war criminals and those who flee their homelands to escape justice. He reiterated the church's prohibition of birth control; urged doctors and specially psychiatrists to respect their patient's personality and warned against a civilization of machines which is depriving man of his individuality.

In his 1953 Christmas speech he appealed in strong terms for a united Europe.

Changes

In a bold move to modify "usages which may have once had a purpose but no longer have one today," the Pope encouraged modernizing of nun's dresses, slight modification in the dress of some orders, and encouraged stricter links between the various orders to fight the poverty conditions of some.

In other steps to bring the church in line with modern times Pius XII altered restrictions on the fasting that must be observed by Catholics before taking Holy Communion, and authorized the holding of afternoon Masses wherever required by special conditions.

The Pope was a frail man, with a high brow, delicate hands and skin that was almost transparent. His soft eyes burned with intensity; his gentle voice grew stern when he was denouncing atheism, communism, man's inhumanity to man, and social inequities.

He was born Eugenio Maria Giuseppe Giovanni Pacelli on March 2, 1876, the son of a patrician Roman family. His birthplace was a third-floor apartment almost within the shadow of the Vatican.

He was ordained a priest at the age of 23, became a monsignor at the age of 28, a cardinal on Dec. 16, 1929, Vatican secretary of state in 1930 and Pope on March 2, 1939, his 63rd anniversary.

He was one of the most traveled of popes and made his first visit abroad for the Vatican when he went to London for the coronation of King George V. in 1936, as secretary of state, he visited the United States and became the only pope to have done so.

He disclosed during his 1936 visit he had been offered the post of Professor of Roman Law at Catholic University in Washington, D.C., in 1906. But Pope Leo XIII who had congratulated him on the brilliance of his studies refused to let him go.


From: The Washington Daily News, Thursday, October 9, 1958

In this article, Andrew Tully of The Washington Daily News briefly recounts the events of Pope Pius XII's (then Cardinal Pacelli) trip to America in 1936. Tully adds, "Now Eugenio Pacelli is dead and history will record that he was born an Italian. Over here, people will add their own footnote--that he was American by adoption."

Pope's Visit To U.S. Charmed Reporters

By Andrew Tully

The Pope's death was mourned in a flood of formal statements from the world's great, but it could be that Eugenio Pacelli would have especially savored the slangy tribute of a veteran American newspaperman.

The reporter had been in the hall that day in 1936 when Eugenio Pacelli, then Papal Secretary of State, addressed--and charmed--members of the National Press Club. Remembering the occasion today, the newsman's comment was terse and all-embracing.

"He was," said the reporter respectfully, "a great guy."

Measured Up

From the moment he stepped off the Italian liner, Conte di Savoia, until he departed for Rome after an 8,000-mile airplane tour of the U.S., Eugenio Pacelli--then a Cardinal--measured up to the curious American standard for the great. To wit, wherever he went, he was down-to-earth without sacrificing the dignity of his office.

Aboard the plane, this papal statesman often dispense with the services of his secretary and typed his own speeches on a portable typewriter. He shaved himself with an electric razor and drew the pilot into conversation on the relative speed of American and Italian automobiles. He confessed he often started late on a motor trip so he'd have an excuse for telling his chauffeur to step on it.

Good Nature

Throughout his month's visit, Cardinal Pacelli showed an unfailing tact and good nature--and an amazing understanding of Americans. On his arrival he joked with newsmen and said he was quite willing to make a statement "as a sort of journalistic tax of entry into the United States." After visiting the late President Franklin D. Roosevelt he told reporters, with a broad grin, that, "I enjoyed lunching with a typical American family."

But perhaps his biggest triumph was diplomatic. When his visit to the U.S. was announced, the rumor spread he was coming here to put the quietus on the Rev. Charles E. Coughlin. Father Coughlin's radio speeches, the Vatican had been informed, were seriously endangering Catholic prestige in the United States.

See For Himself

Later, it was admitted Cardinal Pacelli had come here to see for himself. But whatever discussions he had about Father Coughlin, or whatever action was taken, the world never found out. Eugenio Pacelli's only report to Pope Pius XI on his return to Rome was one to comfort the Catholic hierarchy in the U.S.--Catholicism in the United States was strong enough to cope with its own problems without help.

Now Eugenio Pacelli is dead and history will record that he was born an Italian. Over here, people will add their own footnote--that he was American by adoption.


From: The Washington Post and Times Herald, Thursday, October 9, 1958

This article by Frank Brutto describes the nature of the ailments suffered by Pope Pius XII, which ultimately led to his death. He reports the arrangements to be made for the funeral and nine days of solemn mourning. Brutto also includes a look at some of the qualities, which have earned Pope Pius XII the nicknames "Pope of Peace" and the "Modern Pope."

Pope Pius XII Is Dead At 82

By Frank Brutto

Castel Gandolfo, Italy, Oct. 9 (Thursday) (AP) Pope Pius XII, for 19 troubled years the "Pope of Peace," died today in the papal summer castle here.

Two strokes, developing into a grave condition of the heart and lungs, carried him away under the weight of his 82 years.

The Vatican Radio said death occurred at 3:52 a.m. (10:52 p.m. EDT, Wednesday).

The announcement of death was made by a Jesuit priest, the Rev. Francesco Pellegrino, who had broadcast developments from an antechamber of the Pope's death room for the past two days.

Body Dressed In Robes

He said: "With soul profoundly saddened we give you now, at 3:56 a.m. the following announcement: The Holy Father, Pius XII, is dead. Pius XII, the man most esteemed and venerated in the world, one of the greatest pontiffs of the century, passed away in saintly manner at 3:52 today."

[An official of the Pontifical Court ushered everyone out of the room to allow the dressing of the Pope's body in his Pontifical robes, Reuters reported

[He was dressed in a white silk soutane with train. Over it a red velvet cape was put, trimmed with ermine and buttoned in front.

[A red silk skullcap was placed on his head and a red silk coverlet spread over the bed and drawn up to the chin with the Pope's arms outside.

[The hands were crossed over the breast, holding a crucifix and a rosary. A red silk veil was placed over the face.]

Eugenio Cardinal Tisserant, dean of the College of Cardinals, made the official recognition of the Pope's death.

He entered the death chamber, lifted the veil that covered the Pope's face, and announced to other cardinals present that Pius XII is dead. Then the fisherman's ring, symbol of papal power, was removed from the Pope's hand.

Usually the official recognition is made by the papal chamberlain. Pope Pius XII died without appointing a chamberlain.

About 30 persons were in the room when the Pope died. The group included relatives and the Pope's personal aides.

Outside in the cobbled square at the front of the palace some 50 townspeople were praying when the news came. The bells of Castel Gondolfo began tolling.

The body will be borne back to Vatican City, 18 miles from Castel Gandolfo, for the funeral rites.

He was the 261st Pope and the first to die outside Rome since the 18th century.

The new Pope will be designated by the College of Cardinals in an election expected to be held at the Vatican within the next two or three weeks--after a 9-day period of mourning.

All the Popes for the last 400 years have come from Italy. The feeling at the Vatican has been that this likely will be the case again even though Italians no longer command a majority in the College of Cardinals.

The Pope's heart finally gave way after a period of more than 12 hours in which doctors despaired of saving him.

In 1953 and 1954 his stamina had overcome serious illnesses, but this time his age and the two strokes affecting his circulatory system were too heavy a burden.

He had spent a strenuous summer at this papal summer estate.

Last week he had a recurrence of gastritis and hiccups, accompaniments of the illness that took him to the verge of death in December 1954.

The Pope showed some improvement, and last Friday warmly welcomed Francis Cardinal Spellman, heading a pilgrimage of 600 New Yorkers. Doctors continued to urge him to rest, and asked him to conserve his strength by not talking at one audience. He continued active, however, and held an audience Sunday.

That night, while being treated for his stomach ailment, he suddenly weakened. The first stroke came Monday morning.

Slowly he rallied. He emerged from a coma and shook off partial paralysis. Medical bulletins reflected his progress.

But another stroke yesterday morning, 47 hours after the first, wiped out the gains. A few hours later the physicians reported:

"The Pope is suffering a grave cardiac pulmonary collapse."

This meant he could no longer breathe effectively due to a breakdown of the functions of the heart and its circulatory system, with involvement of the lungs.

He lapsed into unconsciousness as the sun set last night and lay for four hours breathing heavily in the bare white sickroom.

A Mass for the dying was celebrated in a chapel next to the sickroom just after midnight and broadcast over Vatican Radio. The celebrant was Msgr. Domenico Tardi, Pro-Secretary of State at the Vatican.

Steadily, the Pope's blood pressure fell and his temperature rose. It was 102 degrees yesterday afternoon. Early today it reached 107.6.

Embassies and legations of about 50 nations accredited to the Vatican were immediately notified of the Pope's death.

So were cardinals throughout the world who must come to Rome for the conclave to elect the new Pope. The conclave ordinarily would start in two or three weeks, but it may be called sooner because of the speed of modern transportation.

Directed by their dean, French-born Eugene Cardinal Tisserant, cardinals in Rome will gather as soon as possible upon procedure for the "interregnum," the period from the death of the Pope to the election of a new pontiff.

One of their first tasks will be to arrange for the 9-day period of solemn mourning that will be followed by burial in the Vatican grottoes. The Pope's sepulcher will be near the spot where church records say St. Peter, considered by Roman Catholics as the first Pope, was buried.

The Pope who died today was in many respects one of the most remarkable men the 20th century has known. There is no doubt the Church will count him among its greatest Popes.

Many terms were used to describe him. He was "The Pope of Peace," a fighter for an end to war. He was the "Modern Pope," the first to use an airplane (when he was a Cardinal), the first to know the United States firsthand, the first to use a typewriter and an electric razor.

But first of all he was a Pope of the people. He was accessible as no other Pontiff before him, receiving more than 10 million persons in audience. Thousands of American Protestants as well as Catholics had seen him speak in English.

He spoke out forcefully and frequently on the world's problems, ranging from war to questions of family life.

He carried his hopes and enthusiasm into the final weeks of his life.

In July, when the threat of World War III hung for a time over the Middle East, the Pope issued one of his most fervent encyclicals. Observing that today's frightful armament can exterminate conquerors as well as the conquered, he asked prayers for peace.

Without naming communism, he said the institutions of men "inevitably are destined to fail when the authority of God is set aside, or not given its proper place or is directly suppressed."

A few weeks earlier he had called upon Catholics in Communist China to hold firm in their faith. He warned against an effort to separate China's Catholics from the Vatican by setting up of a separate Chinese church. He expressed horror at methods being used to discredit the clergy.

Despite its travail the Church claimed 50 million communicants behind the Iron Curtain. These, added to the 468 millions recently estimated by the Vatican for countries outside the Iron Curtain, bring the total to more than a half billion.


From: The Washington Post and Times Herald, October 9, 1958

This article is a collection of quotes from United States officials, including President Eisenhower and Vice President Richard Nixon, expressing great sorrow over the death of Pope Pius XII and praise for his character and achievements.

President Leads Praise Of Pope

President Eisenhower said last night the world is poorer because of the death of Pope Pius XII.

The President issued the following statement:

"The world is poorer because of the death tonight of Pope Pius XII. His was a full life of devotion to God and service to his fellow man.

"An informed and articulate foe of tyranny, he was a sympathetic friend and benefactor to those who were oppressed, and his helping hand was always quick to aid the unfortunate victims of war.

"Without fear of favor, he consistently championed the cause of a just peace among the nations of the earth. A man of profound vision, he kept peace with a rapidly changing universe, yet never lost sight of mankind's eternal destiny.

"I was privileged to know him personally. With men of good will everywhere, I mourn his passing."

Vice President Richard M. Nixon said the world lost "one of the foremost champions of human dignity, freedom and peace," and "millions of all faiths throughout the world will mourn the death."

"The wisdom of his counsels," Nixon said in Philadelphia, "will guide statesman for years to come.

"I had the great privilege of twice meeting and talking with him in Rome. I have never met a leader in any part of the world who had a keener and broader understanding of the great issues of our time than he had."

The Most Rev. Patrick A. O'Boyle, Archbishop of Washington, said the Pope's death had cost the world its foremost champion of peace and the Catholic world its chief shepherd.

"True to his name and his motto taken as Vicar of the Prince of Peace," the Archbishop continued, "Pope Pius XII gave his life for the establishment of the peace of Christ in the hearts of men and in the policies of nations.

"As the Chief Shepherd of the flock of Christ, he gave an unparalleled example of solicitude and accessibility to all.

"By every means of communication he kept in contact with the flock and instructed them--in the problems of the family, the factory, the courts, the Nation and the world.

"His broad erudition and vast experience from parish priest to Father of Christendom were placed at the service of each soul. His first encyclical, "The Function of the State in the Modern World," and his famous Christmas message of 1939 on peace were typical of his courageous and timely teaching throughout his entire pontificate.

"Pius XII was a true Pontiff--the bridge between God and man. May the good and merciful God to whom he brought so many souls, welcome him home."

The Most Rev. Amleto Giovanni Cigonani, Apostolic Delegate to the United States said: "The death of our beloved Holy Father brings universal mourning. Silenced forever is that comforting voice of father and teacher, which almost daily for close to 20 years pronounced words of goodness and wisdom…

"Now that voice is silent. There are, however, many volumes in which were registered the things spoken and taught by him, the causes and initiatives promoted, the deeds accomplished by him. All there is grandiose; all there is directed to the glory of God and the good of humanity.

"These are veritable monuments. Shining, therefore, in the annals of the Church and of civilization, will remain the memory of the gigantic figure of the Sovereign Pontiff, Pius XII."

The Most Rev. Francis P. Keough, Archbishop of Baltimore, said, "even the heartless guns of war" paused to note the Pope's passing.

"Those who yearn for peace in this somber hour of history will grieve, however selfishly, that one of their great champions has at length achieved his own eternal peace beyond all menacing," said the Archbishop, who is also chairman of the National Catholic Welfare Conference.

Sen. John Stennis (D. Miss.) said: "I regret the passing of a very illustrious man in the spiritual world who was a great advocate of the true principle of peace."

The Pontiff "had a wonderful influence on world affairs and an extraordinary intellectual capacity and great human traits," Stennis said.

Rep. Michael J. Kirwan (D. Ohio) said: "Like the rest of the world, I think he was the greatest man on earth. At this time when trouble is all over the world, we have lost a man whom the world loved."


From: The Washington Post and Times Herald, October 9, 1958

Edward T. Folliard of The Washington Post and Times Herald retells in detail the events, which took place during Pope Pius XII's trip to America in 1936 (then Cardinal Pacelli). "Pope Pius XII was the first Roman Pontiff who knew America at first hand."

‘As Cardinal Pacelli, The Pope Visited D.C., In 1936
A Lithe, Ascetic Church Envoy With A Benign Smile'

By Edward T. Folliard

Pope Pius XII was the first Roman Pontiff who knew America at first hand.

When news came that the Holy Father was dead, thousands of Washingtonians were able to recall his visit here in 1936. He was then Cardinal Pacelli, Secretary of State of the Vatican and sometimes referred to as "the Pope's Prime Minister." Ordinarily it is very difficult to look over the College of Cardinals and say that this one or that one will succeed to the Chair of St. Peter. However, such was Cardinal Pacelli's brilliance and prestige when he came to Washington that he was widely mentioned as a future Pope.

This reporter was assigned to cover Cardinal Pacelli's visit. On the night of October 21, 1936, along with other newsmen, I stood waiting in front of the Apostolic Delegation, then located at 1811 Biltmore St. NW. At 9 p.m. an eight-cylinder limousine drove up, and out stepped Cardinal Pacelli.

He turned out to be a lithe 6-footer with a long, ascetic face, keen glowing eyes behind silver-rimmed glasses, and a benign smile. He was attired in a black cassock trimmed with red, and had a golden cross dangling from his neck. In his entourage was Bishop Francis Spellman of Boston, who later was to become the Cardinal Archbishop of New York.

The limousine, in which the Prince of the Church arrived, had been lent to him by Mrs. Nicholas F. Brady, a wealthy Long Island widow and a Papal Duchess. Her chauffeur, George F. Jablonski, had driven the distinguished prelate to Boston, New Haven, Philadelphia and other cities before coming here.

"His Eminence has never once said drive fast or drive slow," Jablonski told us reporters. "He is the farthest thing from a back-seat driver I've ever had."

Cardinal Pacelli, the highest-ranking dignitary of the Catholic Church ever to visit America, spent that night in a simply furnished room at the Apostolic Delegation. Next morning he arose early, said Mass in the second-floor chapel, and then started out on a whirlwind tour of the city.

One of the highlights of his day was a visit to the National Press Club, where at a luncheon he made an impassioned plea for peace among the nations. Looking back on it, peace was not a very exciting subject in 1936, which was the year of the Roosevelt-Landon presidential race. True, Hitler and Mussolini were building up armies and talking tough, but not many Americans were thinking then of another great war.

Cardinal Pacelli, a striking figure with his zucchetto (scarlet skull cap), was addressing the first audience of laymen on his tour when he stood up before the 400 men gathered in the Press Club Auditorium. He spoke in English, one of the seven languages he had mastered, and used no notes.

"Glory belongs not only to those who triumph on battlefields," he said, "but even more to those who safeguard and foster public tranquility and peace.

"The Catholic Church and its august head desire greatly the protection of the peace--social peace among the nations. The daily prayer of the Holy Father is for the peace and prosperity of the world--a prayer in which I invite all of you to join."

He praised the American press for its ideals and accuracy in reporting events, and then gave his blessing to the assemblage.

Cardinal Pacelli visited three schools in the course of the day--Catholic University, the Convent of the Sacred Heart, then at 1719 Massachusetts Ave., and Georgetown University. At all of them he had the same happy message for the students: "I give you a holiday."

At Catholic University he was greeted by a colorful crowd made up of priests and nuns in the habits of their different orders, high-ranking prelates, and enthusiastic students.

In a talk in the gymnasium, Cardinal Pacelli disclosed that ha almost became a member of the teaching staff at CU, in his younger days.

"As I stand here in your midst," he said, "there comes to mind a recollection of my younger years when, at the invitation of the lamented former rector, Bishop Shahan, I was about to become a member of your staff of professors and to bring to the students of the New World a knowledge and love of one of the noblest products of the human mind, Roman Law.

"When I realize that only the fatherly prohibition of the saintly Pontiff, Pius X, kept me from accepting such an agreeable invitation, you will understand how this place, which was about to become for me a second home by adoption, does not seem entirely strange now that I am its guest, and how it its that the words of warm and heartfelt affection come readily to my lips…"

From Catholic University, Cardinal Pacelli went to the Library of Congress. There he lingered overtime studying the ancient Gutenberg Bible, the faded Constitution and other objects of interest, and, as a result, was late in arriving at the National Press Club.

From the Press Club, Cardinal Pacelli journeyed to Mount Vernon. On the way he saw Washington at its best, the Lincoln Memorial and other architectural glories bright in an autumn sun. He placed a wreath on the tomb of George Washington and strolled around the grounds of Mount Vernon.

A couple of honeymooners halted him outside of the mansion, knelt to kiss his Episcopal ring, and the bride said:

"Will you give us your blessing, Father?"

Cardinal Pacelli, properly addressed as "Your Eminence," made the sign of the cross, murmured a prayer, and the newlyweds moved on, eyes shining. A moment later another couple made the same request, and they, too, received a blessing.

The tall prelate was late in arriving at Georgetown University, but the incident that occasioned it was perhaps the most delightful of the day. This was his unheralded stop at the Convent of the Sacred Heart on Massachusetts Ave. The sight of the children, shepherded by the nuns, obviously gave him great joy, and he told them all how glad he was to see them.

In the end, he spoke the magic words: "I give you a holiday."

The youngsters must have wanted to shout; instead they said in a chorus: "Thank you, Your Eminence."

At Georgetown he was awarded the degree of doctor of canon and civil laws, the only individual other than Marshal Ferdinand Foch to be so honored. The students broke the solemnity of the occasion by roaring out a paraphrase of their football yell, the "Hoya, hoya, saxa."

Cardinal Pacelli reminded the assemblage that Georgetown's great seal bears the inscription, "Utraque Unum," proclaiming that there is no conflict between science and religion, the natural and supernatural.

"And," Cardinal Pacelli said, "there should be no conflict between love of God and love of country…

"Let science go hand in hand with religion, let love of country be motivated by love of God, let the value of the immortal be above all that is mortal, for only in this way can education be true and solid and lasting, only in this way can genuine patriotism thrive, only in this way can a country hope to enjoy true peace and prosperity."

Leaving Washington, Cardinal Pacelli toured the United States. He traveled in a transport plane and tapped out statements and correspondence on a portable typewriter as he flew. On November 5 he visited Hyde Park and had a luncheon with President Roosevelt.

There was speculation at the time that the President and the Cardinal had talked about something portentous. Indeed, some observers figured that this meeting was the object of the future Pope's visit. It turned out, however, that his trip was just what he had said it was--a vacation. He wanted to see and know America.

This item 3304 digitally provided courtesy of CatholicCulture.org

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