Seminarians in Rome during Vatican II

Supplement, Seminarians in Rome during Vatican II, 1962-65

PART ONE, SEPT. 26, 1958-OCT. 11, 1962

There were many seminarians travelling in third class.  I was the only one in second or cabin class, a twenty year old sharing a cabin with three priests.  The Oblates, it seemed, preferred our scholastics  to travel this way. Among the many adventures I experienced in this great adventure of travel by ship to Naples, were two very important ones.  First, I ate at the table of the Superior General of the LaSalette Fathers, Very Rev. J.A. Dutil, MS.  He was a huge man, with a doctorate in Mariology, but whose boast was that he headed the team which loaded the most wagons of hay at their house in New Hampshire.  He was also a true missionary.  He discovered that there was a family with several small children who never attended the Masses  offered on board, not even on Sundays.  He went to work on them.  One evening, as I walked the deck, he came down the deck, towed by two little girls, and said to me with some urgency “Please join me for Scrabble with them.”

The Monsignor who designed the crypt of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington, DC, Bernard McKenna (1876-1960), was reliving his trip on a sailing/steamer ship as he traveled the Mediterranean in the early 1900’s, looking at the design of historic churches. He was unsteady walking, so he obtained permission for me to serve his morning Mass, which meant I could cross the barrier between cabin class and first class.  He asked if I could accompany him in Barcelona, Spain, during our scheduled stopover on Oct. 4, to visit the very historic Basilica of Montserrat and the Black Madonna, which it was a privilege to do (1958 Diary).

Oct. 9, “At 3:52 this morning, Pius XII passed to his eternal reward.  We chanted the Office of the Dead, at 6:30, and Father Superior celebrated a Solemn High Requiem Mass for him. Later, when I accompanied Father Kirwin, bound for the ‘vescovessa’ (an educator who ran a school for girls and had permission to keep the Blessed Sacrament in the chapel, in the nearby town of Arsoli) to distribute Holy Communion, we talked of the Pope, and the coming events” (1958 Diary).

“We saw the Pope today as he lay in state in St. Peter’s.  It took us from 4:15-4:45 to pass through the Basilica—a quiet, but ever pressing crowd of rich and poor, lay and religious filled the Church” (1958 Diary, Oct. 11).  On Oct. 19: “Last of 9 Solemn High Masses for Pope Pius XII, at St. Peter’s.  Counted 38 cardinals; Sistine Choir in fine voice.  Cardinal Agagianian celebrates—we see Father McCarthy, SJ, the (papal) astronomer at whose brother’s  (first) Mass we assisted (at Tewksbury, MA State Hospital) during the novitiate” (1958 Diary).
In a letter of Oct. 20 to a family friend, preserved by my mother, I mentioned attending the last of the nine Masses and concluded:  “The period of official mourning is now over, but the thought here is that the Cardinal who is elected to succeed Pius XII will go into mourning immediately after his election, for it will be very hard to fill his shoes.  It is certain that no one is anxious to be Pius’ successor!”

In a letter to my family, Oct. 23:  “We were very surprised to hear of Cardinal Mooney’s death yesterday (Cardinal from Detroit, MI who died in Rome less than three hours before the conclave).  The consistory started last night; the first set of ballots is this morning, and the second this p.m. I think I’ll try to see how close I can get this afternoon.  Father (Gilles) Marchand, who is stationed here and was at the election in 1939, told how the Piazza was filled, and streets jammed as far back as the New Church of St. Philip Neri, fully a mile from the Vatican, at that election.  It will probably be over by the time you receive this, but let’s make a prediction.  If anyone is elected this evening, it will be Cardinal Agagianian; tomorrow, either he or Archbishop Montini; if it lasts into Tuesday, it won’t be either!  There is a saying you have probably heard:  he who goes into the Consistory Pope, comes out Cardinal.”

On Sunday, Oct. 12, chaperoned by two older seminarians from the Eastern USA Province, Leo Dionne and Don Blackwell, I visited Msgr. McKenna, who had just come from a meeting with Cardinal Fumisoni Biondi and several other cardinals.  Talk, of course, was about the coming conclave. Then Dionne and Blackwell took me to the obligatory visit for newcomers, to the Capuchin Church and its gruesome cemetery (1958 Diary).

My aunt, Joan Winter, had a friendship with a very learned Franciscan priest, Raphael Huber OFM Conv.  He was visiting Rome during October, and on Monday, Oct. 20, I took him to lunch with money sent by my aunt (Surface letter, Oct. 23, 1958; 1958 Diary). He had interesting stories both about Oblates and the coming consistory.

Later we were told that Blackwell had played a joke on the Italians near him in St. Peter’s Square, jumping up and down at the announcement of the name Roncalli, which many Italians didn’t recognize, and shouting “Spellman, Spellman, they chose Spellman!”  

First Consistory: On Dec. 18, I turned 21.  Besides noting that, I wrote in the 1958 Diary:  “At 8:15 we leave for the public consistory of the conferring of the red hat on 24 new cardinals, Their Eminences Cardinals Cushing, O’Hara and Montini among them.  We were close to the middle aisle; it was also the first time we had seen St. Peter’s ablaze with thousands of lights—breathtaking.  The Palatine Guard snapped to attention and “Present Arms” as the procession, led by noblemen in black and purple “middle ages” style, led the procession of cardinals, and finally, seated in the sedia gestoria Pope John XXIII.  The trumpeters were playing an inspiring march, and the clapping and cheering was racing down the Basilica. We had a bad view from the point of view of the ceremony itself, but a very good view of the procession out.  The whole ceremony and scene was a meditation on the universality of the Church.  There were laymen there from all countries and walks of life—young and old, rich and poor.  And the religious orders—nuns, priests, and brothers in every habit and color imaginable.  We talked to a middle aged couple from Hawaii who wandered into St. Peter’s purely by accident.”

The French Connection

Monsignor Joseph Gremillion had a priest friend and close associate, Monsignor Marvin Bordelon(1923-2009). Bordelon, who left the priesthood in 1972 and obtained laicization, was a very good friend of Oblate Father Tissa Balisuriya, and visited him when Balisuriya stayed at our Washington, DC, seminary.

Christmas, 1958

1958 Diary, Dec. 31, Wednesday:  “Our first general audience with His Holiness, John XXIII.  Some 6-7,000 of us crowded into the Hall of Benedictions (the number may be too large), where the Pope talked for about an hour, very rapidly, in Italian, using no reference.  His subject was angels, occasioned perhaps by the many nuns there, of the Order of Angels; he also mentioned the Queen of Angels, and praised the nuns who were there.

He was very relaxed, often provoking laughter.  He spoke later in French, and then two monsignors gave his greeting in English, German, and Spanish.  At the close His Holiness gave his blessing and was carried out in the sedia as he had come in.”

Legionaries of Christ

As this is written in 2012, one hears almost nothing positive about Maciel’s spiritual life.  Yet the North American College Manual of Prayer contained this prayer by him:  “Holy Spirit, inspire me to think as I ought; to speak as I ought; to keep silent when I ought; to act as I ought; to work as I ought for the good of my brothers and sisters, the fulfillment of my mission and the triumph of the Kingdom of Christ. Amen” (p. 236).