Archbishop Cushing's 1948 pilgrimage to Lourdes and Rome -- Part II

This is the second of two articles to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Boston Pilgrimage to Lourdes and Rome that took place between Aug. 13 and Sept. 13, 1948.

On Aug. 23, 1948, more than 500 pilgrims peered out the windows of their train cars as the illuminated cross on the Basilica of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception at Lourdes came into view. It was nearly 10 p.m., and they were excited to finally reach their destination after a grueling 14-hour journey from Paris.

Lourdes, nestled in the foothills of the Pyrenees Mountains in southwestern France, was the site of a series of Marian apparitions between February and July 1858, when the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to 14-year-old Bernadette Soubirous. The apparition identified herself to Bernadette on March 15, 1858, as "the Immaculate Conception," affirming the dogma of the Immaculate Conception that had been proclaimed by Pope Pius IX only four years earlier in "Ineffabilis Deus." As a result of Bernadette's visions, which were confirmed as authentic by the Church in 1862, Lourdes became one of the most popular Marian pilgrimage sites in the world, and the waters of its spring became associated with dozens of Church-recognized miraculous cures.

As the pilgrims disembarked from their train, they were greeted by Bishop Pierre-Marie Theas of Tarbes and Lourdes, who was famous for having been a significant figure in Catholic resistance to Nazism during World War II. They proceeded to the Lourdes Grotto, where they knelt in prayer and drank from the spring before retiring to their hotels for the evening.

The pilgrims had a full schedule at Lourdes on Aug. 24, with an early Mass at the Grotto followed by a 10:30 a.m. Solemn Pontifical High Mass at the Basilica celebrated by Archbishop Richard J. Cushing. At the end of Mass, the assembled crowd of 2,500 was amazed when Bishop John J. Wright announced that the doctors at Lourdes had just attested to a new miraculous cure, the cure of blindness in a seven-year-old French boy, Gerard Baillie. (In the years that followed, Church authorities would refuse to confirm the cure because it was incomplete rather than total.)

After the Mass, Archbishop Cushing led a eucharistic procession to the square outside of the basilica, where hundreds waited on stretchers and in wheelchairs for a blessing. The archbishop, who was celebrating his 53rd birthday, then proceeded to a reception given by Bishop Theas in his honor. At 3:30 p.m., Bishop Edwin V. O'Hara of Kansas City, Missouri, led the pilgrims in the Way of the Cross. In the evening, the whole party formed a candlelit procession around the Basilica as Bishop Edward F. Ryan of Burlington, Vermont, led the rosary.

On the morning of Aug. 25, the pilgrims awoke before sunrise to attend Mass. Msgr. Charles A. "Zip" Finn celebrated Mass at the former home of St. Bernadette; Bishop Wright and Archbishop Cushing each celebrated Mass at the Lourdes Grotto, with Cushing's 5 a.m. Mass offered for the people of the Archdiocese of Boston. The pilgrims departed for Rome at 6 a.m., boarding two special trains that would take them to Nice in southeastern France, where they would spend the night before heading to Rome via Rapallo, Italy.

On Aug. 28, the pilgrimage finally arrived in the Eternal City to great fanfare. As they disembarked from the train, they were serenaded by war orphans from the Don Orione Institute of Rome, who played the Star Spangled Banner over and over again in greeting to the Americans. The children were expressing their gratitude for a shipment of warm clothing that the Sisters of Charity of Boston had sent over the previous winter. Archbishop Cushing and his party were greeted by representatives of the North American College and the Vatican Secretary of State.

The following morning, the pilgrims paid tribute to the late Cardinal William H. O'Connell, Archbishop Cushing's predecessor, touring the Basilica of St. John Lateran, where O'Connell received his episcopal consecration in 1901. They went on to pray at the Basilica of St. Clement, which had been the cardinal's titular church, before moving on to the American Church in Rome, Santa Susanna. This was Archbishop Cushing's first visit to Santa Susanna, the church that he would become Cardinal-Priest of a decade later in 1958.

On the afternoon of Aug. 29, Archbishop Cushing broke away from the group to deliver a "Salute from Rome to the people of New England," broadcast via Boston's Yankee Network. In a 10-minute talk, the archbishop spoke of the overwhelming sights and splendor of Lourdes and Rome (the latter, he confessed, left him "rather bewildered but happy") and of the pilgrims' upcoming private audience with Pope Pius XII, slated for Aug. 31.

The day before the papal audience, the Boston party began the day with a 9 a.m. Mass celebrated in the tomb of Pope Pius X by Cardinal Nicola Canali, president of the Pontifical Commission for Vatican City State. "We welcome you to Rome," Cardinal Canali said in his greeting, "But not as foreigners. For you are 'home' to your father, the pope, and your mother, the Church. I am sure the Holy Father will welcome you with a generous heart."

The Holy Father did just that. On Aug. 31, all 535 of the pilgrims were welcomed at the pope's summer residence, the Apostolic Palace of Castel Gandolfo, 18 miles from Rome. In a half hour address, Pope Pius XII praised "the inspiring leadership of Boston's zealous archbishop" and implored the pilgrims to continue to pray for peace in Europe and throughout the world. After addressing the group as a whole, the pope received private audiences of several smaller groups, including a group of reporters traveling with the pilgrimage. Archbishop Cushing was granted a one-on-one audience with the Holy Father lasting 25 minutes.

To conclude the unforgettable visit, Bishop Wright presented Pope Pius XII with a spiritual bouquet from 22,888,406 American Catholics, calling for the beatification of Pope Pius X. The Holy Father received the petition graciously, and then imparted a special apostolic blessing upon the pilgrims.

The pilgrims from Boston would spend several additional days in Italy, touring Rome, Florence, and Assisi, before sailing for home on Sept. 9.