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From Boston to Rome to New York


Cardinal Francis Joseph Spellman Pilot file photo

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The centennial of the naming of William Henry O'Connell to the College of Cardinals on Nov. 11, 1911 provides The Pilot a chance to recall and celebrate that historic event. Brief biographies will appear in this series about Boston's cardinals, native sons, or seminary alumni who received the "Red Hat" in the course of their lives.

Francis Joseph Spellman was born on May 4, 1889 in Whitman, in the Archdiocese of Boston, the son of William and Ellen (Conway) Spellman. He was the oldest of five children. He had two brothers, John and Martin, and two sisters, Marian and Helene. His family were parishioners of Holy Ghost Parish in Whitman.

Due to the lack of a parish school, young Francis attended Whitman High School. In 1907, he began his college studies at Fordham University in New York City, graduating in 1911. Upon graduation, he informed his parents that he had decided to study for the priesthood. He applied for and was accepted as a candidate for the Archdiocese of Boston and was chosen to study in Rome. Residing at the Pontifical North American College, he attended classes at the Urban College De Propaganda Fide, receiving a doctorate in Sacred Theology. He was ordained a priest in Rome in the Church of Sant' Apollinare on May 14, 1916 by the Most Rev. Giuseppe Ceppetelli, Latin Patriarch of Constantinople and Vice gerent of Rome.

Upon his return to Boston, Father Spellman engaged in pastoral ministry and served as an associate at All Saints Church in Roxbury. Shortly thereafter, he began his association with The Pilot, being assigned the task of visiting the parishes of the archdiocese to solicit subscriptions. He also served as vice chancellor and later as archivist.

During his time in Rome, Father Spellman had formed many life-long friendships. One of his Roman friends was Msgr. Francesco Borgongini Duca who served in several dicasteries of the Roman Curia. Father Spellman translated two of his friend's books into English: ''The Word of God'' (1920) and ''In the Footsteps of the Master'' (1924). Soon thereafter, he was appointed an attache in the Secretariat of State, the first American to hold such a position. He served in the Secretariat of State from 1925 until his nomination as auxiliary bishop of Boson in 1932.

Not long after arriving in Rome, papal honors were bestowed on Father Spellman. He was made a papal chamberlain on Oct. 4, 1926 by Pope Pius XI. His second sojourn in Rome provided him with the opportunity to form additional friendships, the most important being that with then Archbishop Eugenio Pacelli, Apostolic Nuncio to Germany, who would in 1930 become cardinal secretary of state and in 1939 Pope Pius XII.

During his seven years in Rome, Msgr. Spellman had many duties. The Knights of Columbus were financing the building of playgrounds for the children of Rome and Msgr. Spellman was charged with their supervision. In 1931, he was given the responsibility for smuggling Pius XI's encyclical Non Abbiamo Bisogno, which condemned Benito Mussolini, out of Italy. Arriving in Paris, he released the encyclical to the press. He served as a point of contact for many wealthy Americans visiting Rome and obtained charitable donations from them for the Holy See. In June 1932, he accompanied the papal legate, Lorenzo Cardinal Lauri, to the International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin, serving as his secretary.

Msgr. Francis Joseph Spellman was appointed Titular Bishop of Sila and Auxiliary Bishop of Boston on July 30, 1932. He was ordained bishop on Sept. 8, 1932 in St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City, by Eugenio Cardinal Pacelli, Secretary of State of His Holiness, assisted by Giuseppe Pizzardo, Titular Archbishop of Nicaea and Secretary of the Sacred Congregation for Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs, and his old friend Francesco Borgongini Duca, Titular Archbishop of Heraclea in Europa and Apostolic Nuncio to Italy. Bishop Spellman chose Sequere Deum (Follow God) as his episcopal motto.

Upon his return to Boston, Bishop Spellman immediately began assisting with confirmations. Early in 1933, he requested that Cardinal O'Connell appoint him parish priest of Sacred Heart Church in Roslindale. Instead, he was appointed parish priest of Sacred Heart Church in Newton Center. During his pastorate, he was able to liquidate the parish's substantial indebtedness. Bishop Spellman cheerfully fulfilled all assignments given to him by Cardinal O'Connell. It was at Newton that Bishop Spellman hosted Cardinal Pacelli on his tour of the United States.

Pope Pius XII promoted Bishop Spellman to the Metropolitan See of New York on April 15, 1939 and named him military vicar for the United States on December 11, 1939. He was installed as Archbishop of New York on May 23, 1939. On March 12, 1940, Cardinal O'Connell imposed the pallium on Archbishop Spellman during a solemn Mass celebrated in St. Patrick Cathedral in New York by New York Auxiliary Bishop Stephen J. Donahue.

During the Second World War, Archbishop Spellman maintained a channel of communication between Pope Pius XII and President Franklin D. Roosevelt. He was instrumental in having Rome declared an open city, saving it from the bombing which destroyed so many other European cities.

Archbishop Spellman was one of thirty two new cardinals created by Pope Pius XII in the consistory of Feb. 18, 1946. He received the red hat in the consistory of Feb. 21, 1946 and in a consistory on the following day he received the presbyteral title of Ss. Giovanni e Paolo. He took possession of his titular church on Feb. 25, 1946.

Cardinal Spellman was well known for the parishes, schools, and other ecclesiastical institutions founded during his service as Archbishop of New York. He exerted a strong influence on New York and national politics, fearlessly criticizing politicians, entertainers, motion pictures, and other media which he believed were endangering the morals or loyalty of Americans. The New York chancery came to be known as the Powerhouse.

On Sept. 8, 1957, Cardinal Spellman was named first military ordinary of the United States. He was noted for his love, care and concern for members of the U.S. military and often spent Christmas with the armed forces who were stationed overseas.

After his nomination to New York, he published several works including ''The Road to Victory'' (1944), ''The Risen Soldier'' (1944), ''No Greater Love'' (1945), ''The Foundling'' (1951), and ''Cardinal Spellman's Prayer Book'' (1951).

He was appointed papal legate to the National Eucharistic Congress in Manila (1956) and the Central American Eucharistic Congress in Guatemala (1959). Cardinal Spellman took part in the 1958 conclave which elected Blessed Pope John XXIII and in the 1963 conclave which elected Pope Paul VI. He participated in all four sessions of the Second Vatican Council (1962 to 1965).

Between 1940 and 1967, Cardinal Spellman ordained 32 bishops including five future cardinals: John Francis O'Hara, CSC; James Francis McIntyre; Patrick Aloysius O'Boyle; Luis Aponte Martinez, and Terence James Cooke. Among the dozens of priests he ordained, two became cardinals: Terence James Cooke and Theodore Edgar McCarrick.

Cardinal Spellman took ill on the morning of Dec. 2, 1967 and was taken to St. Vincent Hospital in Manhattan where he died. He lay in state in St. Patrick Cathedral for five days. By the time of his funeral Mass, hundreds of thousands of the faithful had paid their respects to this towering figure of 20th century Catholicism. Prominent federal, state, and local political leaders attended the funeral, headed by President Lyndon B. Johnson. After the funeral, the cardinal was entombed in the crypt of his metropolitan cathedral.

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