Seminarians in Rome during Vatican II, 1962-65

Seminarians  in Rome during Vatican II, 1962-65

By Harry E. Winter, OMI.


The word went around the seminaries in Rome on Nov. 25, 1962 that an American Protestant theologian, who in those days we called a heretic, would be speaking in one of the several Carmelite seminaries concerning the first five weeks of the first session of the Second Vatican Council. It is difficult today to remember our defensive posture at that time. When someone like myself, one of whose parents was not Catholic, applied to a religious order to study for the priesthood, a special dispensation had to be obtained.1 And the featured speaker was not only a Protestant, but the academic dean of one of the most famous Protestant seminaries, Princeton (New Jersey) Seminary:  the Presbyterian, James Hastings Nichols.

The room was crammed with about 100 seminarians, a few having to stand. I was with Julian Williamson OMI(1938-96), a South African a year ahead of me. As we entered, people pointed out Fr. Georges Tavard, AA, who would act as moderator if necessary, for what was one of the first, if not the first presentation given in English by an observer at Vatican II. As soon as I returned to our scholasticate, I wrote up the presentation, and questions which followed.  One of Dr. Nichols remarks which I shall never forget, was when he said, with a catch in his voice “I never thought I would see in my lifetime the renewal in the Catholic Church which I am witnessing.”2 (When I was sent to the University of Pennsylvania to earn a doctorate from a non-Catholic university,  so our Washington, DC scholasticate could receive a stronger accreditation, Dr. Nichols became the much appreciated  first reader for my thesis).

It is certain that the Second Vatican Council profoundly influenced the seminarians studying in Rome at that time.  It is also true, as I hope to show in this article, that in our humble way, we influenced the Council too.  Much has been written about the role of the “experts” (periti), observers, and of course the bishops themselves.  But little, to my knowledge, has been written about the impact of the several thousand seminarians,3 and several hundred priests 4 studying in Rome during the four sessions of the Council.  By the third session, the bishops had become aware of the role of women.  An Oblate, Armand Reuter OMI, was already teaching at the sister’s university, Regina Mundi.5 But there were almost no women studying at the religious universities in Rome where the men studied, until after the Council closed in 1965.  So we will limit our focus to the seminarians from 1962-65. (For the four Oblates who contributed  the most to Vatican II [Archbishop Denis Hurley, Very Rev. Leo Deschatelets, and Fathers Andre Seumois and John King], see my article “The Four Oblates Who Had the Most Influence on Vatican II,” appearing in the November issue of Oblatio).

There would have been a small number of seminarians in Rome during the First Vatican Council (1869-70); the Jesuit Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, for example, had been training priests since St. Ignatius founded it in 1551 (hereafter the Greg). But for sheer numbers and universality, seminarians studying in Rome peaked about 1963.  We shall see that they exercised an important, subtle and real influence on the Council Fathers and experts.

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

Trip to Rome; Death of Pope Pius XII; Election of Blessed Pope John XXIII

The Oblate Constitutions and Rules in force in 1966 reflected the insight of “Romanita.”  “Having consulted the Provincials concerned, the Superior General may call to his own side young Oblates so that living near him they may imbibe more fully the spirit of the Congregation and of the Church at its source, and thereby impart greater life to the whole body” (#174).6 In September, 1958, when my classmates and I began our seven year course, the atmosphere was more open in the International (Roman) Scholasticate than many suspected in the various countries from which we came. Part of this was due to having about 92 young men, ages 20-27, from at least 18 different countries living under the same roof. Part of this was due to choosing young men who were very open and able to learn several languages and appreciate other cultures. And part of this was due to having a staff which appreciated the necessity of having both a strong national identity, and openness to other cultures.

I left New York Harbor on September 26, 1958 on the S.S. Independence and immediately met two very interesting and different people.  One was a Trappist priest, Romanus Ginn, OCSO (1925-2008), from Thomas Merton’s Gethsemane Abbey, KY, who was travelling to Rome to study for a degree in Scripture.  He very frankly told me about the suicides or nervous breakdowns of some Trappist candidates who had entered after serving in World War II, and had not counted on the strictness of Trappist life.  Our religious leaders were certainly not hiding from us the challenges we would face.

The second person was a seminarian in the Ukrainian rite religious order of St. Basil, from Western Canada, Andray Roman Kocwich. Although I was vaguely aware that we Catholics who then celebrated Mass in Latin were not the only Catholics, meeting Andray and later attending his ordination on March 25, 1962, in the Ukrainian rite, helped me begin to understand the richness and complexity of world-wide Catholicism. (In the late 1800’s, an Oblate priest, Albert Lacombe [1827-1911] had been instrumental in finding Eastern rite clergy for Catholics in Western Canada).

The S.S. Independence arrived in Naples on October 6, 1958.  I was met at the dock by the newly ordained Richard Hanley OMI, (in 1972 he became our first superior general who was a native of the USA).  We spent that night at the International Scholasticate on Via Vittorino da Feltre, in downtown Rome within sight of the Coliseum, and then headed to the summer house in Roviano, near the Abruzzi Mountains beyond Tivoli.7 Two days later, on Oct. 9, Pope Pius XII died at the papal summer residence of Castel Gondolfo,  and we returned to Rome to witness his burial, and the election of the pope who would summon Vatican II.

Pius’ body was brought back to Rome in a solemn procession; as it passed the Coliseum, we were about 50 yards away, looking down on the cortege from the end of our little street. The Coliseum itself, and many of the public monuments in the city, were decorated in long black drapes and curtains.  The cortege was going from the Cathedral of St. John Lateran to St. Peter’s Basilica, and we observed “a half hour (4:15-4:45) of clerics of all male orders, followed by the hearse, and many Cardinals.  The Coliseum and Forum stood mute as the conqueror of Rome was carried past.”8

It is most important to note that Pius had pushed renewal movements such as that of the liturgy, renewing especially the worship of Holy Week.  As an altar server, I had taken part in the Easter Vigil and the lighting of the new fire, which, until Pius renewed it, was early on Holy Saturday morning, with Easter time beginning at noon. Pius had planned to do much more, but as an important meeting of liturgists occurred at Assisi in 1956, his health began to fail.9 We learned later that until that time, Pius had considered summoning an ecumenical council.  (His predecessor, Pius XI, had also considered it).10

Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, Cardinal of Venice, was elected pope on Oct. 28, 1958, after the second longest conclave for the 9 popes of the 20thcentury.11 To be in Rome for the election, and then to experience his entire pontificate, was an unforeseen grace for my class of 12.  I wrote in my diary:

“5:15 pm: Arrived in St. Peter’s Square.  The last wisps of grayish smoke were drifting off.  No one knew whether it was white or black.  People kept pouring into the square.  Brother L. Morin and I were on the right, about 10 ft. from the barricade.  About 5:50, the Carabinieri Band began its march down the colonnade, and we knew something was up.  The huge curtain across the central window drew back, the crowd roared, and tiny cardinals stepped onto the balcony.  In a voice strained by emotion and age, Cardinal Canali announced: “Nuntio vobis gaudium magnum—Habemus papam!”  It was 6 pm.  At 6:15 pm, in a strong, clear voice, John XXIII pronounced his first blessing.12

Immediately a pun by John XXIII spread around Rome.  The cardinals had selected him to be a transitory pope, un papa passagiero.  John is supposed to have demurred:  no, a traveling pope, un papa passeggiando.  He left the Vatican almost immediately to travel about the city of Rome and even once outside Rome, something his predecessor did only to go to the Castel Gondolfo summer residence, and twice to visit areas of Rome bombed during World War II.

When  Pope John’s background was published, the fact of his being raised in a family of sharecroppers in  Bergamo, Italy, then  after ordination (1904)serving as secretary to its very progressive bishop Giacomo Radini-Tedeschi caught the attention of a few.  He spent three days in Cremona, Italy in June, 1908, visiting the bishop there, Geremia Bonomelli. Bonomelli was the only Catholic bishop to send a long and supportive letter to the World Missionary Conference, Edinburgh, Scotland, in October, 1910.  According to missionary ecumenist Sister Joan Delaney, MM, it was Bonomelli who suggested the need for an ecumenical council to Roncalli.13

When Roncalli was papal representative (apostolic delegate) to Bulgaria (1926-34) and Turkey/Greece (1935-44), he dealt wisely and extensively with the Eastern Orthodox Church.  During World War II, he issued baptismal certificates to Jewish families, so they could escape the concentration camps. A complex figure, his autobiography Journal of a Soul (1965) shows a very traditional spirituality. He loved to project the figure of coming from a humble, close family.  His Vatican colleagues soon realized he was dumb like a fox.

First Visit to the Catacombs, Dec. 11.

Most who visit Rome are stunned by the catacombs.  Several of our priests had become recognized guides, and they encouraged us to consider spending time guiding groups through the public catacombs.  My diary noted:  “At 1:45 all the new brothers are given the opportunity of a trip thru the Catacomb of Priscilla.  This catacomb, one of the smaller ones, contains so many tombs we had time only for a fast 2 hour trip thru the first level, where there are many priceless first century Christian paintings.  The place is alive with the faith of the early martyrs and saints—all their symbols and pictures show their strong living faith in God.”14

Our summer residence at Roviano had four chapels off the large sacristy.  These chapels had been marvelously decorated with replicas of the catacomb frescoes.  During the months from late June to early October, we were serving daily Mass there, surrounded again by the art and spirituality of the first Christians in Rome.

Christmas, 1958

Classes were shortened on the final day before Christmas. In 1958, on Dec. 23, “The huge Aula Magna (main auditorium) was dominated by a Christmas tree decorated with actual (lighted) candles.  Each college put on some Christmas hymns or carols:  the North American featured a barbershop quartet, the Greek College caroled us (it was all Greek!), and the Oblates of course bi-lingual, with the English one ‘Deck the Halls.’  We then left to return home, for Pope John’s Christmas message.”15 It should be noted that Blessed John XXIII’s first Christmas message was mainly a summary of the 19 Christmas messages Pope Pius XII delivered to a war-torn Europe.16

The description of Christmas continued:  “At breakfast, I learned of the opportunity to go to St. Peter’s, where the Pope was celebrating a Low Mass, at his altar, at 11 am.  With Brother Juptner, from the German Province (he was three years ahead of me), we immediately set out.  …we walked all the way up to the front, and then climbed up to the wooden balcony (the Longinus Pier, the lower right of the four around the main altar), one of the choice seats in the Basilica.  We had a clear view of the Papal altar, at which only the Pope or someone delegated by him says mass. …

The Pope said the third Mass (for Christmas), and all his words were distinctly audible over the loudspeaker, but would probably have been heard by us without it, for we were so close.  The Mass was a dialogue Mass with all the people” (pp. 1-2).

While all other Latin rite Masses at this time were said with the priest’s back to the people, the papal altar faced the people.  Pope John, I believe, deliberately opted for one of simplest of Masses possible that Christmas Day.  He was staking out a papacy famous for two almost contradictory positions:  continuity with some of the traditions of Pius XII, and a radical simplicity and approachability.

The French Connection

The official language of the International Scholasticate was French; the daily schedule was posted in French, and the daily half hour lecture by the superior or his designate was in French.  Two very important magazines were read during the lunch or evening meal:  L’Information Catholique, and La Documentation Catholique.  These weekly magazines were full of articles describing the various movements of renewal, especially liturgy and ecumenism.

Teillard de Chardin’s works had to be kept under lock and key, according to the directives which restricted the reading of his works.  But anyone asking permission at our seminary was readily granted access.  One French seminarian a year ahead of me, Jean- Marie Malassis (1938-78) practically lived in the restricted book area, devouring de Chardin.

We did have visitors who presented their conferences in English.  One of the first during my time occurred on Jan. 10, 1959, and was the Louisiana Cajun author Father (later Monsignor) Joseph Gremillion (1919-94), author of Journal of a Southern Pastor.  Gremillion’s talk did highlight many French sources:  Jacques Maritain, Cardinal Joseph Suhard, etc. He presented us with a list of renewal movements, and recommended that we become familiar with the 16 volumes of Pius XII’s works.17

“Preparing the Sunday Mass”

It is also difficult to remember the way Sunday Mass was celebrated, or to use the parlance of the 1950s, “offered.”  With the entire Mass in Latin, except when the priest repeated the Epistle and Gospel in the vernacular (and preached a sermon not always related to the texts), most people either prayed the rosary, had their heads buried in Latin-vernacular hand missals, or day dreamed.  Since our Sunday Mass was usually a sung Mass, we rehearsed the sung parts every Saturday evening.  We did become very aware of the differences between Advent, Christmas, etc as regards the various seasons.  Even more importantly, there were two language groups of students (English and French) who usually met each week to discuss the meaning of the Sunday Latin texts.  We became very quickly aware of the liturgical movement growing in importance, and that the Benedictines of Collegeville, Minnesota, were among those advocating change.18

January 25, 1959 Announcement

Many of us were still in the dining room on Sunday, Jan. 25, 1959, when some of our classmates who had gone to the papal Mass at St. Paul’s Basilica, burst into the dining area with the news of the pope’s announcement that an ecumenical council would be held.   We learned quickly that also planned was a Synod for the Diocese of Rome, and a new edition of the 1917 Code of Canon Law. The process of the synod would show Pope John in all of his traditional leanings, or perhaps his glum acceptance of the way things were done in the Vatican.  The revision of the Code would be delayed by Vatican II, and the new Code of 1983 would be very, very different from the 1917 Code.

Many have commented on the thunderous silence from Vatican officials when Pope John announced the council.19 An Oblate who did much of the heavy lifting on the Commission of Theology and the Commission of Doctrine, Leo Laberge, OMI, tells us that part of the silence was due to administrators who had barely been keeping their heads above water, now realizing that a massive flood was going to hit them.20

My letter of Jan. 29, 1959 to my family stated “One of the biggest pieces of news here is that the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople requested Pope John to summon a council of the Church to discuss the conditions for the reunion of the Orthodox with us.”21 The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, held from Jan. 18-25 each year, was a serious event for the seminaries in Rome.  On Jan. 22, the Maronite bishop from across the Via Vittorino held the Divine Liturgy for us, and on Jan. 29 three priests from the Russicum held the Divine Liturgy in the Byzantine Russian Rite.22 Many have noted how John XXIII’s decision to announce the council during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity was an indication that our relationship with the other Christian Churches would be a major part of the council.  Most of us were still using the Graymoor (1908) formula of the return of the other Christian Churches, but Abbe Paul Couturier’s formula was beginning to make itself felt:  The unity of the Church which Christ wills.

Legionaries of Christ, Spring 1959

On June 3, 2011, Bishop Brian Farrell, L.C., Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, delivered  Pope Benedict’s greetings to the World Missionary Conference 100th Anniversary, Edinburgh, Scotland.23 A brother of Farrell, also trained by the Legionaries, Kevin Joseph Farrell, is Bishop of Dallas, Texas..24 Founded only in 1941, the order grew to over 800 priests by 2010. To have two bishops from such a young order shows the positive side of this controversial group.

A former member summed up the negative side:  “It is no exaggeration to say that [Legion of Christ founder] Marcial Maciel was by far the most despicable character in the twentieth century Catholic Church, inflicting more damage on her reputation and evangelizing mission than any other single Church leader.”25 Maciel broke every profile, abusing not only seminarians, but his own sons whom he fathered from several mistresses.26

It was probably in late winter or early spring of 1959 that several Legionary seminarians approached my French-Canadian classmate, Guy Cyr, OMI, (1938-2011) and myself, to see if we would meet with them during one of the three fifteen minute class breaks we had most days, to polish their French and English. Our superior at the time was somewhat surprised at the request, since the Legionaires had a reputation for being very closed.  But he gave us the necessary permission.  So for six and a half years, I met at least several times a week with several different Legionaires.  I found them to be sociable and inspiring. Guy and I were invited to their seminary; as we shall see below, they visited ours. I concluded that jealousy was playing a part in the attitude of others toward this religious order.  When we first met them, they consisted mainly of Mexican and Spanish seminarians; by the time we were ordained, they were attracting Irish and American seminarians, growing faster than most other diocesan and religious order seminaries.

I shall never forget the two with whom I met the most:  Javier Orozco Camarena and Fernando Martinez Suarez.  Their ordination, on Dec. 24, 1964, a few days after mine on Dec. 16, 1964, is an event whose joy no amount of evil can remove.

Many Pre-Vatican II Leaders, Feb-April, 1959

A very modern lay group, the Young Christian Workers (JOC, French), attracted several of us to hear its international president, Romeo Maione, at the Greg on Feb. 26, 1959. “The YCW is primarily an organization among the workers, especially the younger ones, and is very strong in Belgium, where it  originated and seems to be one of the best instruments for winning back the working classes in France.”27Maione stressed a joyful Christianity and startled us with the observation that you can tell the state of a person by the type of songs he sings.28

Three of us went to the Lateran University on March 13, 1959, where we heard the founder of the Better World Movement, Ricardo Lombardi SJ, speak about the Scriptural basis of his work.29 The former Eastern USA Province would soon train one of its members, Roland Bennett OMI in the movement, and the retreat he organized with the Washington, DC seminary community in May, 1966 would show the renewal of Vatican II in all its complexity.

The founder of one of the few lay-led missionary groups of this time, the Legion of Mary, spoke to the seminarians of Rome (a packed house) at Propagation of the Faith College on March 21. Frank Duff’s presentation was “clear, sincere, simple, forceful, on the marvels of the Legion of Mary.”30 The Belgian Cardinal, Leo Joseph Suenens,  who was the great theologian of this movement, would be a forceful voice during the Council.

At our own residence, we heard a comprehensive lecture in English during the last week of April on the history of the papacy from its modern low point in 1770-80, to its height of respect today.  E.E.Y. Hales  reminded us that popes are judged for three qualities:  holiness of life, administrative ability, and intelligence of what is occurring in the world.  He claimed that collectively, the popes from Pius VII (1800-23) until our time have surpassed any other group of popes.  He noted that this was one reason the presidency of the Congress of Vienna (1814-15) was offered to the cardinal secretary of state of the time.31

On the 24th, Monsignor Luigi Ligutti (see below, FAO) presented the Communist convert, Douglas Hyde, to a packed house of seminarians at Propagation of the Faith College, “who holds us spellbound for over an hour.”32

American Apostolate, 1959-65

Europeans joke that Americans love organization so much that when two of us meet in a foreign country, we immediately form a committee and choose one to be chair.  Certainly the American seminarians in Rome felt the need to meet, and to keep up with what was happening in the USA.  I attended my first meeting of the “American Apostolate” in late April 1959, at the Blessed Sacrament Fathers Seminary. The speaker was an American assistant general of the Society of the Divine Word, whose seminary in Bay St. Louis, MS, had been the first, and only for many years, to accept African-American seminarians.  He stunned us for several hours with the stories of discrimination by American clergy and nuns against Catholic African-Americans.  The fact that it was the Vatican which insisted that American bishops accept African-American seminarians showed the progressive side of the papacy.33

Presentations were offered about four times a year, at different residences where there were American seminarians, and each one explored a connection with new developments in the USA.

Armenians and Melkite Basilians, Summer 1959-March 1966

As we began our summer vacation in the Abruzzi in 1959, we discovered that eight seminarians from the Armenian Church in union with Rome, under the leadership of their Patriarch, Cardinal Gregory-Peter Agagianian, would be living with us for the summer, and several subsequent summers. Most spoke fluent French in addition to Armenian.  Some spoke Arabic, with at least one, from Argentina, also speaking Spanish.  Two in my class were both from Egypt, but of very different backgrounds.  Pierre Sacroug was actually Latin Rite, but Armenian heritage.  Pierre Tazza was fully Armenian, but as Sacroug fluent in Arabic.  Fr. Alexander Tache, OMI recently told me that Tazza is now the Patriarch of the Armenians, taking the name Nerses Bedros XIX Tarmouni.  We glimpsed each other at the Gregorian University for the next six years, both graduating in the Licentiate (Masters) program in June, 1965.

Our superior general was in frequent contact with the Armenian Patriarch, because Cardinal Agagianian was in charge of the Congregation of the Propagation of the Faith, which oversees all the Catholic Church’s missionary work. The Armenian Seminary in Rome had no summer house, so our hospitality was offered.  We discovered that the Armenians were great hikers, and we were required to spend all day Thursday out of the summer house.  We were encouraged to take overnight hikes, which could last three nights.  I remember particularly one of the visiting American Oblate priests, who was used to hiking under the cover of forests.  Most of our hikes were in the open, and one of the Armenians carried the heavy knapsack of this priest for at least the day’s return.  They were also gifted chess players, and few of us could match them.

Most importantly, when the Basilian Order of the Greek Melkite Church wanted to have their seminarians from Lebanon and Syria introduced to missionary work, Cardinal Agagianian asked Fr. Deschatelets if they could live with us. The presence of the Armenian seminarians helped the Basilians become accustomed to Italian and international customs when they arrived at the summer house in August, 1959. We had a “soiree de famille” at the end of each summer, and the Armenians and Basilians teamed up to form a camel and took full part in the festivities.  We discovered the breadth of the Roman Catholic Church, by having these non-Latin rite Catholics live with us.  Especially during the Second Vatican Council, the Melkite Patriarch, Maximos IV Saigh, attracted much attention by his outspoken reminders that the Roman Catholic Church included much more than those of us of the Latin Rite.

When we returned to Rome in early October, it was a bit of a surprise for our staff to learn that the Basilians would not be worshipping regularly with us.  A young Basilian priest, Lufti Laham, was studying for a graduate degree in Rome. He asked for a room to offer Divine Liturgy for the seven students who had arrived for this academic year.  The chapel was quickly furnished, even though we already were at full capacity in our old and ancient building.  I got to know Said (Joe) Abboud very well; we ended up in the same class and kept in touch until his tragic death in Lebanon in the 1980’s, during one of the violent periods there.  At least three more Basilians joined the others over the next several years.  Unfortunately, attempts to discover why they stopped coming to our scholasticate, and what happened to all except Laham and Abboud, have failed. Father Laham is now the Patriarch of the Melkites,  Gregorios III Laham.34

It gradually dawned on most of us that our first impression of the Melkites was too simple.  Yes, they came from what seemed to us agricultural areas, but the towns and cities of Lebanon and Syria in which they lived had a long and glorious patrimony.  Most were serious bridge players, and as they slapped their cards down and shouted at each other in Arabic, we wondered if World War III was about to break out.

Subiaco Hike, Sept. 17, 1959

At the end of each summer, the entire community gathered in the Sacro Speco (the Holy Cave) above the city of Subiaco where St. Benedict spent three years alone. Most of the seminarians hiked the 35 miles round trip. We learned of the great development in Christianity of Western Monasticism by St. Benedict, and were stunned by the 13th century frescoes. My particular group of ten included three Armenians.35

International Movies

On October 18, 1959, a group of us went to the Flemish Culture Center to see a movie on the Eskimos made by an Oblate missionary.36 One of the interesting features of the International Scholasticate was the access to the films at many cultural centers, especially the British and the French.  Some of these we viewed at our seminary.  Le Defroque, about a French priest leaving the priesthood; Dialogues des Carmelites; L’Uomo del Ricshaw (the ricksaw man) were just a few which left lasting impressions.  La Strada, with Anthony Quinn, left a long memory because it was filmed near the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, which we often visited. During the summers at Roviano, we viewed films on the flat roof of the summer house, films from the nearby town cinema.  A favorite were the cape and sword Italian films of the romances during the Middle Ages.  As the Vatican Council progressed, and the seminaries became more open, we were allowed to attend commercial theaters.  I will never forget going to To Kill a Mockingbird, with a seminarian from Zaire, Clement Kifu.  As we left the theater, he asked me why the African-Americans didn’t come back to Africa, where they would not be discriminated against.  It wasn’t an easy question to answer.

Matricola, Nov. 26, 1959

Each year in late November, the Gregorian University presented awards and held an assembly for all its students.  Music was presented, and some of our seminarians who were attending the Dominican seminary, the Angelicum, would accompany us.  Louis Jolicoeur (1936-2006), from Western Canada, asked to join me for this matricola, and I noted “jazz of (North) American College was sensational.”37


Many of the seminarians trained in Rome would serve in Third World countries.  So the Vatican was anxious to have the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), whose headquarters was in Rome, very visible to the seminaries.  A legendary monsignor originally from Iowa,  Luigi Ligutti (1895-1983) had been appointed  in 1948 as Vatican observer at FAO, and he invited seminarians each year to an afternoon meeting  to acquaint us with issues involving food, water, cooperatives, etc.  On Jan. 14, 1960, a number of Oblates attended, where we met Armenian Pierre Sacroug, and caught up on news since the summer.

Ligutti is considered responsible for several of the paragraphs in Vatican II’s “The Church in the Modern World.” He founded Agrimissio in 1971, and this organization was mentioned at the Oblate General Chapter of 1972.

Synod of Rome, January 20-31, 1960

Seminarians living in Rome were invited to a special prayer service on Jan. 20 at St. Mary Major (just a 15 minute walk east from our scholasticate).  The following day, our Thursday community Mass day, we walked 15 minutes southeast to the pope’s cathedral, St. John Lateran, where our Mass had the special intention of the success of the synod. The following Thursday, Jan. 28, at 3:50 pm, a smiling Pope John XXIII talked at St. Ignatius Church to all the seminarians of Rome about the synod and the priesthood.  On the 31st, at 4 pm, the pope solemnly closed the synod, and many of us attended “a wonderful talk, followed by Benediction (at St. Peter’s).  The Boy Scouts put on a torchlight demonstration after, around the obelisk and on the Janiculum, for which the Pope appears at his window and blesses us anew.”38 There seemed to be little discussion of the synod’s decisions; the impression was all had been cut and dried before the actual meeting.  Not an accurate forecast of how the ecumenical council would be different.

Oblate Missiologist; Joseph Folliet (1903-72); Foyer Unitas, February, 1960

On Feb. 10, our evening conference was given by one of our leading experts in Missiology, the newly appointed provincial of the Province of France North, Joseph D’Haeyere.  As a member of the National French Committee for Missions to the Interior, he presented us with the spectrum of efforts to re-Christianize France, an effort which Pope John XXIII had dealt with in the worker priest movement.39

Our conference on Feb. 19 was given by one of the most outspoken French Catholic laymen, Joseph Folliet. “What does the laity expect from the priest?  An adult interested in their cares and problems, humble. A man of prayer, distributing the sacraments as if he believed in them.”40 Folliet was  appointed an expert for Vatican II; he was later ordained a priest (1968).

Foyer Unitas had been founded at Pius XII’s request to give hospitality to non-Catholic Christians visiting  Rome. Three of us attended a Pallotine priest Ansgario Faller SAC’s Feb. 21, 1960 conference there on Lutheranism in Germany.  I wrote to my family:  “The work in Germany between the Catholics and the Lutherans has been immense, and perhaps in the future, we will see even more amazing steps towards a closer union.”41

Eastern Churches; Thursday Community Masses

The Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Churches were briefly united at the Ecumenical Council of Florence (1431-45?), described by Joseph Gill SJ, lecturing at the Pontifical Oriental Institute on March 6, 1960, as “A Success that Failed.”42 A week later, March 13, P. Stephanou SJ spoke at the Oriental Institute on Constantinople’s Patriarch Athenagoras and his attitude towards the R.C. Church.43

On April 11, 1960, our awareness of our Greek heritage received another boost when our community Mass was held in the ancient Church of St. Prassede.  This, and the nearby Churches of St. Prisca (where we had our community Mass on April 12) and St. Pudentiana, are the oldest in Rome.  Prassede and Pudentiana feature priceless mosaics in the Byzantine tradition.44

Our residence for the first four years (Via Vittorino da Feltre), was in the heart of old Rome; we almost looked down on the Coliseum, and were within a twenty minute walk of most of the historic churches.  There were no classes on Thursdays (Saturdays instead), so our morning community Mass was held on many Thursdays (and other days during vacation times), in one of the nearby historic churches.  The aromas from the little bakery stores were delightful as we passed them; the Eucharistic fast was still from midnight, so we were walking to and from the churches on an empty stomach.  There were plenty of cats and chickens visible.45

How to Explain the Faith, Nov. 1960-May, 1961

On Nov. 15, one of the leading experts in catechetics, Canon Brien of the Catechetical Institute of Paris, presented our evening conference.  He related how during World War II, he discovered the shallowness of faith in many people.  He defined catechism as “the teaching of the Mystery of the Crucifixion and Paschal—from the fact to the mystery of the ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ taught by Jesus.”  He then presented some very valuable insights about the ‘crise de liberte’ of adolescents.46

Canon Brien was followed on Nov. 19 by one of the leading theologians of the day, Henri du Lubac SJ, who made the science of explaining the Bible (exegesis) in the twelfth century a very interesting topic.47 Another very noted theologian, the Louvain Scripture scholar Lucien Cerfaux, gave us the evening conference on May 8, 1961: “simple, learned and goodness shining through.” 48

Liturgists Bugnini and Braga during Holy Week, March 26-April 1, 1961

For several years, our students had helped with the Holy Week services at a convent at Via Dei Gracchi.  We never dreamed that the two Vincentian priests who led these services, and who were known as progressive liturgists, Annibale Bugnini CM and Carlo Braga CM would become so important at Vatican II, and during the revision of liturgy. Bugnini especially is the subject of much controversy.

It was a long bus trip, and on Palm Sunday, March 26, part of our group, including myself, missed the 6:30 am bus and never arrived. However, we did fully help with the Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Vigil services, having figured out the bus schedule. It struck me later, as I led Holy Week services myself, that our liturgists needed to plan for late-comers and many normal, family oriented problems.  Devising the liturgy from a convent or seminary didn’t always work for parishes.

Scholasticate Moves, Sept. 1961

When we returned to Rome from the summer house in early October, 1961, we moved into a wing of the General House on Via Aurelia, about a half hour walk from the Vatican (all down-hill).  We were now in what was considered temporary quarters while the new scholasticate was being built at Via Pineta Sachetti, a task which required five years.  We could no longer visit the historic station churches during Lent, and join Pope John XXIII as he revived this ancient custom, nor could we walk to the Greg and Angelicum for our classes.  However, the noise level, which had bothered so many of us, decreased, and the new quarters were far easier to clean.49 We were also closer to all the visitors from all over the world who came to our General House, and would be housed there during the Council.

Ecumenist/Missiologist Johannes Witte SJ, Oct. 1961-May, 1972

As I began the four year theology course in October, 1961, I was privileged to take an elective on Ecumenism, where the professor stressed the missionary and evangelization dimension of Christian Unity.  Johannes Witte SJ had been present at the formation meeting of the World Council of Churches, Amsterdam, 1948, not as a theologian, since Pius XII had forbidden Catholics to attend.  He participated as a journalist. During my second year of theology, I took his required course on Protestant Theology.  Since I knew by the end of my four course that I would be teaching Ecumenism at our seminary in Washington, DC, I met with Witte to obtain from him a list of books on ecumenism in French and Italian which would not be readily available in the USA.  He was most cordial.

During the 1972 Oblate General Chapter, Witte agreed most graciously to meet with William Cagney, our Oblate director of the Office of Mission and Unity, and myself.  Witte gave us some valuable advice about ecumenism and mission for our use at the chapter.


Lest one think our days in Rome were pure paradise, the death of a parent or sibling brought home quickly the insight that religious orders were too strict in the days leading up to Vatican II. Not even the Italians were allowed to go home for a family death.  We had come down too hard on the flight from the world, and forgot the contrasting truth about transforming the world.  Vatican II would soon change that.

Time-line Problem

To meet limits of both time and space, I have omitted many events from Nov. 1960-Oct. 1962.  See the “Supplement” of note 1 above for a little more.

Xavier Rynne, Lunch, May 13, 1962

Frequently we seminarians were asked to guide either visiting Oblates, or sometimes complete strangers (but family or friends of older Oblates) through Rome.  On May 12, the superior asked me to take the next day a visiting American Oblate, who was serving as superior of our Oblates in Japan, Robert Gill, to meet with a close friend of his, the Redemptorist patristic moral theologian, Francis Xavier Murphy.  Since travel from our residence on Via Aurelia, to the Piazza di Spagna and the restaurant where we were to meet Murphy, was a little chancy, I asked if a young Oblate priest studying Church History, Clarence Menard, could accompany us and use an available car.  So we took Gill to visit the piazza, and then to meet his friend at the nearby restaurant of the Scoglio di Frisio, on the via Merulana.  Little did we know that Murphy would turn out to be the infamous author of the Letters from the Vatican City.50During the lunch, Menard and I sat silently and in amazement as Murphy told us how he could teach anything he wanted about morality as explained in the Church Fathers, since he was the only one in the field.When many years later he admitted to being Xavier Rynne, Menard and I felt he certainly had the nerve to have written the books oversimplifying the tensions at Vatican II.

The State of Theology in the Roman Universities as the Council Opened, Oct. 1962

It is interesting to remember what Blessed John Henry Newman wrote when he studied during the academic year 1846-47in Rome, as he left the Anglican Church to become a Roman Catholic priest.  He agreed with the statement “There is no theology taught or known in Rome.”51

Things were a little better in Oct. 1962.  The more progressive universities for the study of theology were the Louvain in Belgium, the Saulchoir (Dominicans) in France, and Innsbruck (Jesuits) in Austria.  The Vatican had silenced several Jesuits during the early days of Pope John’s administration, including the Scripture scholar Stanislas Lyonnet SJ, who taught at the Biblicum just across the small Piazza della Pilotta from the Greg, and the moral theologian Josef Fuchs SJ, who taught at the Greg.52

Pope John initially agreed with the silencing, as an American priest from Philadelphia experienced:  “Pope John, jolly and gracious as always, greeted Bill (Leahy) and asked him what he was studying.  When Bill answered in Italian, ‘Sacred Scripture, Holy Father,’ John instantly became upset, to the point where he almost started crying. ‘Oh my! What are they teaching you there (at the Pontifical Biblical Institute where the professors had been fired). What are they doing?  They took away Adam and Eve! Now they’re taking away the Magi!  What are we going to teach the children?’”53

James Allen OMI, has related the condition of theology at the Angelicum during Vatican II.54 One of our favorite pastimes at our residence was for the students at the Greg and Angelicum to compare our professors.  As Allen mentions, his professors of Scripture at the Angelicum were above average, and we at the Greg readily admitted ours were not quite up to the level of the Dominicans.  However, we felt that overall, the professors of Systematic Theology and Church History were better at the Greg.

Most of the professors at the Greg used the best in modern Biblical theology for their courses, taking from Protestant scholars and giving them credit.  During the initial course on the Church, for example, the Swiss Protestant Oscar Cullmann’s work on Peter was a main staple.55 Fuchs was allowed to teach moral theology again as the Council opened, and received a resounding ovation, beginning with the Jesuit seminarians, as his course began.

Immediate Preparation, October, 1962

The annual pilgrimage of the community to Subiaco was held a little early this year, on Oct. 4, so we could return to Rome in time for the Oct. 11th opening of the Council.  Just as Pope John had left Rome (the first time in a century that the pope was not in Rome) to place the Council on the agenda of the two shrines he visited (The Holy House of Loreto, and St. Francis’ city of Assisi), so we placed the Council at the foot of the founder of Western Monasticism, St. Benedict. Then on Oct. 7, the community took part in the morning in a solemn Mass and procession from the Roviano parish church for the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary.  In the afternoon we returned for an hour of prayer specifically for the Council, “magnificent initiative of the scholastics to unite the Roviano population to the Church praying and doing vigil for the Council.”56

The Russians Arrive and the Council Opens, Oct. 11, 1962

As we walked down the hill to the Vatican from our residence on the morning of Oct. 11, word was spreading like wild-fire through Rome that Monsignor (later Cardinal) Jan Willebrands of the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity, had just arrived with two Russian Orthodox bishops in tow.  The Vatican has thus broken the boycott that the Eastern Orthodox, especially the Greeks, had imposed on the Patriarch of Constantinople against accepting the invitation to attend as observers. (One Greek layman, Dr. Nikos Nissiotis, had already arrived in a World Council of Churches slot. We shall meet him below at Bossey in the summer of 1964).  By the second session, many Orthodox would be attending as observers.

However, this action of the Secretariate did not please all the Council Fathers.  Rome had been hosting for several days already the “Mostra della Chiesa del Silenzio,” (Exhibition of the Church of Silence) with large black banners very visible on the buildings around the Greg and Biblicum. It is hard for us today to remember the agony of seeing Cardinal Jozsef Mindszenty of Hungary, tortured and brainwashed, appearing before a Communist court. The early 1960’s featured a Soviet Union and Communist Eastern Europe very hostile to religion, and a Catholic Church dealing somewhat severely with the situation.

“Of Poland’s 64 bishops, 36 reportedly applied to the regime for travel permits and 17 received them.” 57. It seems the Communist government dared not deny the application of the primate, Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski; the other 16 were bishops whom the Communists felt they could manipulate.  Among them was the young Karol Wojtyla.

As I stood with Leroy Ehle OMI and thousands of others in St. Peter’s Square that morning, watching the long row of bishops entering the Basilica of St. Peter’s, beginning at 8:40 am and ending at about 10 am, many wondered if the reports that this would be like the Roman Synod were true.  Some of the bishops came expecting to be given documents to sign, which they quickly would, and by Christmas at the latest all would be home and finished.  Leroy had been in Rome two years, and I four, with our classes all in Latin.  We understood perfectly the amazing opening speech of Pope John, and you could almost hear our gasps of amazement as John attacked the “prophets of gloom” near him, and as he stated “The substance of the ancient doctrine of the deposit of faith is one thing, and the way in which it is presented is another.”58 No modern pope had ever publicly criticized those who worked with him; even Pius XII, who had worked to renew Biblical studies, the liturgy, etc., had not publicly put the need for renewal so bluntly.

That evening, the public buildings near the Vatican and along the Tiber had lighted candles in their windows.  We gathered in the Square again, to listen to Pope John’s chat to his Romans, mentioning the full  moon and asking the mothers to take his caress home to their children.  More Boy Scouts than ever formed a torchlight cross in the square. We were allowed to stay in the city until 10 pm.59As we climbed back up the hill to our residence, it seemed more and more evident that this might not be a simple Council.

(Two more installments are planned, one in early September, 2013, just before the 50th anniversary of the opening of the second session of Vatican II, and one in early September 2014, just before the 50th anniversary of the opening of the third session).

Sources:  Personal Written Documents:  Vatican aerogrammes to family:  49, allowed every two weeks, arrived in 4-6 days.  I usually typed them and they consisted of one full sheet, with another half sheet available around the address when folded.  These, and the letters below, were saved by my mother.

Letters to family:  39 sent between the aerogrammes, arrived in three weeks by ship.  Handwritten, many several pages.

No aerogrammes or letters survived for 1962; one for 1963, only a few for 1964, more for 1965.

1958 Desk Diary, used until Dec. 8, 1964.

Roman Journal, Notes, Impressions , January-August, 1959, 30 handwritten pages.

Compositions, hardcover notebook of personal reflections,  Aug. 31, 1958-Dec. 7, 1962.

Quaderno, softcover notebook of personal reflections, Feb. 1959-Jan. 1976.


1. Code of Canon Law, 1917, #987.  My thanks to canon lawyer Bill Woestman, OMI, who          observed “these impediments are not included in the 1983 code; they were thus abrogated” (e-mail of Jan. 9, 2012).  For more information on my experience at Vatican II, see “Supplement, Seminarians in Rome during Vatican II.”

2. Harry E. Winter, “Notes on Dr. Nichols Nov. 27, 1962 Presentation,” copy at Presbyterian Historical Society, Philadelphia, PA.

3. It is probable that one thousand newly ordained priests left Rome in early summer during   each year 1963-66.  Only in 1969 did the 26 national colleges of diocesan seminarians, and 100 colleges of religious men form an organization which would have the accurate numbers (see Alexandre Tache, OMI, “La Pineta Sacchetti (1966-1972),” Vie Oblate Life 64 (2005, #3).  Tache’s article, and earlier ones by Al Kedl, OMI, gives the history of our international residence.  The 1965 Orbis in Urbe Yearbook for the Greg gave the names and home country addresses of 232 of us taking the Licentiate exam in theology in June, 1965; when one remembers that some did not submit this information, the number is closer to 300 just for that department.

4. An Oblate priest Jim Pillar, OMI, who was studying Church history in Rome during the first session has a journal which could be very useful.

5.  The Pontifical Institute Regina Mundi opened in October, 1954.

6.  For the current Constitutions and Rules (approved 1982 and 1999, printed 2000), see Rule 137c.

7.  For Roviano, see James Allen, O.M.I., “Roviano nei ricordi di un religioso americano,” Acqua 39 (Oct. 2009): 74-78.  I have only this Italian version; for the English original, contact Allen.  The article, complete with photos, captures  the 1959 arrival of Allen, the subsequent 7 years of his summers there, and the changes over 50 years of a beautiful small city on the edge of the Abruzzi.

8.  HEW, 1958 Desk Diary, Oct. 10 (see Sources above).

9. See the internet items by Keith Pecklers, SJ, on the importance of Pius XII and the Assisi 1956 meeting.

10. John M. Samaha, SM, “Vatican II:  50 Years and Still Challenging,” Sophia 42 (Spring, 2012, #2):35.  The statement by Desmond Fisher that in his 19 years of papacy “Pius had not thought it necessary to summon an ecumenical council” is misleading: “Curial horror greeted John XXIII’s announcement of ecumenical council,” National Catholic Reporter, Jan. 25, 2012.

11.  Wikepedia gives the number of ballots for each of the 9:  Pius XI required 14; John XXIII, 11.  The next closest was John Paul II, at 8.

12.  HEW, 1958 Desk Diary, Oct. 28, 1958.

13. Sr. Joan Delaney, MM, “From Cremona to Edinburgh:  Bishop

Bonomelli and the World Missionary Conference of 1910,” Ecumenical Review (July, 2000):420.

14.  HEW, Desk Diary 1958, Dec. 11.  Earlier that day we had celebrated Mass in the Church of St. Lawrence in Damaso, where the martyr pope and promoter of the cult of the martyrs, Damasus is buried.

15.  HEW, Letter, Dec. 25, 1958, p. 1

16. Acta Apostolicae Sedis LI, 1959, pp. 6-12; Italian text on Vatican website, Blessed John XXIII, Dec. 25, 1958.

17.  HEW, Roman Journal, Jan. 10, 1958, 2 pages of notes. Gremillion was Secretary of the Vatican’s Pontifical Commission on Peace and Justice from 1966—74.

18.  Rev. Godfrey Diekmann, OSB (1908-2002) was editing Worship magazine from Collegeville (then known by its Latin name Orate Fratres); Dom Prosper Gueranger, OSB (1805-75)’s The Liturgical Year was a great source for us.

19.  Anthony “Tony” Massimini, who was there as a young priest from Philadelphia, PA, describes it on his blog as “cool silence”: www.the 21stcentury  Desmond Fisher calls the reaction from the curia “amazement” and “horror”:  National Catholic Reporter, 1/27/12.

20.  Leo Laberge, OMI, “Theologiens a Vatican II.  Notes et Carnets, Temoins de l’experience vecue a la Commission doctrinale,” Vatican II:  Experiences Canadiennes/Canadian Experiences (Ottawa, Canada:  University of Ottawa Press, 2011), especially pp. 383-85.

21. HEW, Letter, Jan. 29, 1959, p. 2; “Roman Journal,” Jan. 22, 1959, adding that the main language was Syriac, with the words of consecration in Hebrew.

22. HEW, Letter, Jan. 29, 1959, p. 3; my Roman Journal for Jan. 29, 1959 adds that a number of seminarians from the German College accompanied the priests.

23.  Bishop Brian Farrell, L.C., “Mission in the Catholic Perspective,” available on the internet.

24.  Bishop Kevin Farrell left the Legionaries after six years of priesthood and was incardinated into the Archdiocese of Washington, DC, serving there as an auxiliary bishop before being named to Dallas in 2007.

25. Father Richard Gill, cited in “The Legion of Christ:  Operation Rescue,” New Oxford Review 78 (April, 2011,3):17.

26.  ibid, pp. 17-18

27.  HEW, Aerogramme, March 7, 1959.

28.  HEW, Roman Journal, Feb. 26, 1959.

29.  HEW, Roman Journal, March 13, 1959.

30.  HEW, 1958 Desk Diary, March 21, 1959.

31.  HEW, Aerogramme, April 30, 1959.

32.  HEW, 1958 Desk Diary, March 24, 1959.  I have extensive notes on the conferences he gave at the Angelicum on March 15 and 18, 1961:  HEW, Quaderno, pp. 56-57; 58-59.

33.  HEW, Letter, April 23, 1959, pp. 2-3.

34. I’m grateful to Alexandre Tache for this information; Tache met Laham at St. Paul’s University, Ottawa, Canada. The names of the seminarians are posted on the Oblate ecumenical website:  Help is welcomed in tracing these Melkites.

35.  HEW, 1958 Desk Diary, Sept. 17; Letter, Sept. 20, 1959.

36.  HEW, Letter, Oct. 18, 1959, p. 4.

37.  HEW, 1958 Desk Diary , Nov. 26, 1959.

38.  HEW, 1958 Desk Diary 1958, Jan. 20, 21, 28, 31, 1960.

39.  HEW, Compositions, Feb. 10, 1960.

40.  HEW, 1958 Desk Diary, Feb. 19, 1960.

41.  HEW, Aerogramme, Feb. 22, 1960.

42.  HEW, 1958 Desk Diary, March 6, 1960.

43. HEW, `1958 Desk Diary, March 13, 1960.

44. HEW, 1958 Desk Diary, April 11 and 12, 1960.

45.  HEW, Aerogramme, April 30, 1959.

46.  HEW, Compositions, Nov. 15, 1960.

47.  HEW, 1958 Desk Diary, Nov. 19, 1960.

48.  HEW, 1958 Desk Diary, May 8, 1961.

49.  A Danish-Greenlander, Finn Lynge, became almost a symbol of the difficult noise level.  He moved to our scholasticate at Pine Hills, MS after two years (1957-59) in Rome; since leaving the Oblates, he has become one of the leading experts in the European Union on Greenland.

50. 1958 Desk Diary, May 13, 1962; Murphy first published his articles “Letters from the Vatican City” in 1963 in The New Yorker magazine; then they were printed as four volumes, Letters from the Vatican City, Vatican II Council, one for each session.  In 1999, he wrote a fascinating new introduction for a one volume summary:  Letters from the Vatican City (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis), available on the internet.

51.  Blessed John Henry Newman, Letters and Diaries XI, “To J.D. Dalgairns,” 22 Nov. 1846 (Oxford:  Clarenden Press, 1973), p. 279.

52.  For Lyonnet, see John R. Donohue SJ, “Biblical Scholarship 50 Years after Divino Afflante Spiritu, America, Sept 1893, archived; for Fuchs, see  James F. Keenan SJ, “Champion of Conscience,” America, April 4, 2005, archived

53.  Tony Massimini, www.the

54.  James Allen OMI, “Remembering the Council,” pp. 4-5.

55.  Oscar Cullmann, Peter: Disciple, Apostle and Martyr (London: SCM Press, 1953; rev. 1962).

56.  Alexandre Tache, “Codex Historicus, International Scholasticate,” October, 1962.  I’m indebted to Tache for obtaining a copy of this from our archivist Maciej Michalski OMI  (thanks to Maciej for sharing it).  Translation mine from Tache’s French.  Tache also shared with me his “Le Concile Vatican II—Preparation et oeuverture (2 pp); 1965-4e session (1p).”

57.  Placid Jordan OSB, “”49 Bishops at Council from Red-Ruled Countries,” Council Daybook, Sessions 1-2 (Washington, DC:  National Catholic Welfare Council, 1965), p. 48.

58.  Pope John XXIII, “Opening Speech to the Council,” Documents of Vatican II , ed. Walter M. Abbott SJ (NY: Crossroad, 1989), pp. 712, 715.  His Dec. 25, 1961 speech officially convoking the Council began the process of rejecting “Distrustful souls [who] see only darkness burdening the face of the earth,” p. 704.

59.  HEW, Quaderno , pp. 65-67; Tache, “Codex Historicus.”

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).


Appendix Two:  Masses Especially on Thursday in Historic Churches, and Visits to Catacombs, Monasteries, etc. (entire community unless noted by class).

Nov. 13, 1958, the Mamertine Prison, just a few blocks from Via Vittorino, “in the hole in which St. Peter and St. Paul were chained,”  Diary 1958.

Dec. 11, 1958, St. Lawrence in Damaso, Diary, 1958.

Dec. 29, 1958 (Monday), “at 6 am we left the house in the foggy pre-dawn, and walked to the Catacombs of St. Callixtus.  Fr. Chenier said Mass for us in the chamber where St. Cecelia’s body was found….We then walked down the old Appian Way, past tombs and monuments of the ancient Romans, past Ciampino, Rome’s huge airport, to the Trappist Monastery of Frattocchie, where we enjoyed a generous dinner in the guest room and where the prior showed us all through the monastery—refectory, chapel,cells, etc,” Diary 1958; Letter, Dec. 30, 1958, with a long description of the  monastery   pp. 2-3.

Feb. 5, 1959, by class, St. Mary Major, Borghese Chapel, Roman Journal.

Feb. 10, 1959, hike to the Shrine of Divine Love (Sanctuario del Divino Amore), Letter, Feb. 12, 1959, pp. 2-4; Roman Journal, Feb. 10, both noting that the seminarians from the College of the Propagation of the Faith were at the Shrine, representing so many mission countries and races.

Feb. 11, 1959, Sts. Marcellus and Peter, Desk Diary, 1958.

Feb. 15, 1959, David O’Brien OMI and I attend the closing of the Lourdes Year at St. Mary Major’s, led by Pope John XXIII, Roman Journal.

March 5, 1959, by class at St. Ignatius, altar of St. Aloysius Gonzaga.

March ?, 1959, St. Lawrence Outside the Walls, Aerogramme, March 7, 1959.

March 7, 1959, Sancta Maria Sopra Minerva, Aerogramme; Roman Journal, both March 7, 1959.

March 17, 1959, St. Agatha di Monti, with many of the Irish studying in Rome, Roman Journal, March 17, 1959.

March 19, 1959, Parish of St. Joseph, via Urbana, Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, procession (with a band), four of us in my first lively parish celebration of its patron, Roman Journal, March 19, 1979.

Nov. 19, 1959, by class, Church of the Gesu, altar of St. Francis Xavier, 1958 Desk Diary

Feb. 9, 1961, by class, St. Clement, 1958 Desk Diary

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