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Francis Spellman

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Francis Spellman

His Eminence
Francis Joseph Spellman
Cardinal, Archbishop of New York
See New York
Appointed April 15, 1939
Installed May 23, 1939
Term ended December 2, 1967
Predecessor Patrick Joseph Hayes
Successor Terence Cooke
Other posts Cardinal-Priest of Ss. Giovanni e Paolo
Apostolic Vicar for the United States Armed Forces
Ordination May 14, 1916
by Giuseppe Ceppetelli
Consecration September 8, 1932
by Eugeno Pacelli
Created Cardinal February 18, 1946
by Pius XII
Rank Cardinal Priest
Personal details
Birth name Francis Joseph Spellman
Born (1889-05-04)May 4, 1889
Whitman, Massachusetts, United States
Died December 2, 1967(1967-12-02) (aged 78)
New York, New York,
United States
Buried St. Patrick's Cathedral, New York
Nationality United States
Parents William Spellman & Ellen Conway
Previous post
Alma mater Fordham University &
North American College
(Follow God)
Coat of arms }

Francis Joseph Spellman (May 4, 1889 – December 2, 1967) was an American archbishop of the Catholic Church. He was the sixth Archbishop of New York from 1939 to 1967, having previously served as an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Boston (1932–39). He was named a cardinal in 1946.

Early life and education

Francis Spellman was born in Whitman, Massachusetts, to William and Ellen (née Conway) Spellman. His father (1858–1957), whose own parents had immigrated to the United States from Clonmel and Leighlinbridge in Ireland, worked in shoemaking before becoming a grocer.[1] The eldest of five children, Francis had two brothers, Martin and John, and two sisters, Marian and Helene. As a child, he served as an altar boy at Holy Ghost Church.[2] He had a difficult relationship with his strict father, but was very attached to his mother.[1]

Spellman attended Whitman High School (now Whitman-Hanson Regional High School) because there was no local Catholic school. He enjoyed photography and baseball; he was a first baseman during his first year of high school until a hand injury forced him to stop playing, and later managed the team.[3] Following his high school graduation, Spellman entered Fordham University in New York City in 1907. He graduated in 1911 and decided to study for the priesthood. He was then sent by Archbishop William Henry O'Connell to study at the Pontifical North American College in Rome.[3]

During his years in Rome, Spellman befriended such figures as Domenico Tardini.[1] He suffered from pneumonia, however, leaving his state of health so poor that the seminary administration wanted to send him home.[1] He nevertheless remained and managed to complete his theological studies.[3]


Spellman was ordained a priest by Patriarch Giuseppe Ceppetelli on May 14, 1916.[4] Upon his return to the United States, he did pastoral work in the Archdiocese of Boston. Cardinal O'Connell, who had earlier sent Spellman to Rome, took an apparent dislike to the young priest.[1] O'Connell referred to him as a "little popinjay" and later said, "Francis epitomizes what happens to a bookkeeper when you teach him how to read."[5] Spellman served as a chaplain at St. Clement's Home, an institution for elderly women, before becoming a curate at All Saints Church in Roxbury.[1]

Following the United States' entry into [1] Spellman was made the first American attaché of the Vatican Secretariat of State in 1925.[4] He also worked with the Knights of Columbus in running children's playgrounds, and was raised to the rank of Privy Chamberlain on October 4, 1926, by Pope Pius XI.[4]

In 1927 Spellman established a lifelong friendship with Archbishop Eugenio Pacelli during a trip to Germany, where Pacelli was serving as Apostolic Nuncio.[3] He translated Pius XI's first broadcast over Vatican Radio in 1931.[6] Later that year, Spellman was charged with smuggling Non Abbiamo Bisogno, the papal encyclical condemning Benito Mussolini, out of Rome and to Paris, where he then delivered it to the press;[3][6][7] he was subsequently attacked by Italian newspapers.[1] He also served as secretary to Cardinal Lorenzo Lauri at the 1932 International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin, and helped reform the Vatican's press office, introducing mimeograph machines and issuing press releases.[1]

Episcopal career

Auxiliary Bishop of Boston

On July 30, 1932, Spellman was appointed co-consecrators, at St. Peter's Basilica. His was the first consecration of an American bishop ever held at St. Peter's.[7]

Entitled as a bishop to a coat of arms, Spellman designed a different depiction of Christopher Columbus's vessels: the Niña, Pinta, and Santa Maria. He had them depicted from behind, departing The Old World, versus the typical front view of their arrival in The New World. When a draft of these arms were unveiled to Pope Pius XI, he shouted to Spellman in excitement Sequere Deum, meaning "Follow God". Moved by this emotional display, Spellman adopted that papal exclamation as his episcopal motto.

After his return to the United States, Spellman resided at St. John's Seminary in Brighton, Massachusetts. He was later made pastor of Sacred Heart Church in Newton Centre; there he erased the church's $43,000 debt through different fundraising activities and the help of his many rich connections.[1] When his mother died in 1935, her funeral was attended by Governor James Curley, Lieutenant Governor Joseph Hurley, and many members of the clergy, with the exception of O'Connell.[1]

As late as June 1936, polls gave President Roosevelt at best a 50 percent chance of reelection, due largely to the nightly, national radio attacks by Father Charles Coughlin of Detroit. Spellman arranged with Joseph P. Kennedy to finance a visit by Pacelli, who sailed from Italy with a large entourage. Soon after arrival, Pacelli silenced Coughlin. Then, using a Douglas DC3 airliner hired by Kennedy, Spellman and Pacelli visited each major Catholic population center. The "landslide vote" for Roosevelt in November 1936 was, in major part, due to the effect of Pacelli. Americans understood that he was almost the guaranteed successor to Pope Pius XI. At the Roosevelt estate in Hyde Park, New York, on the day following electoral victory, Rose Kennedy bluntly asked Roosevelt to appoint her husband ambassador to England's Court of St. James. Pacelli requested appointment of a credentialed American ambassador to the Vatican. He was quietly outraged when Roosevelt said that the best he could do was appoint a "personal envoy". This affair had the small and hidden consequence for Spellman of gaining some political dominance over the man who in 1917 prevented him from becoming a U.S. Navy chaplain.

Archbishop of New York

Styles of
Francis Spellman
Reference style His Eminence
Spoken style Your Eminence
Informal style Cardinal
See New York

Following the death of Pope Pius XI, Pacelli was elected as Pope Pius XII, and one of his first acts was to appoint Spellman the sixth Archbishop of New York on April 15, 1939. He succeeded the late Cardinal Patrick Joseph Hayes, and was formally installed as Archbishop on the following May 23. He was painted twice in 1940 and again in 1941 by the prominent Roman Catholic Swiss-born American artist Adolfo Müller-Ury. In addition to his duties as diocesan bishop, he was named Apostolic Vicar for the U.S. Armed Forces on December 11, 1939. He spent many Christmases with American troops in Japan, Korea and Europe in this capacity.[2]

During his tenure in New York, Spellman's considerable national influence[9][10] in religious and political matters earned his residence the nickname of "the Powerhouse".[11] He hosted such prominent figures as Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr., Bernard Baruch, David I. Walsh, John William McCormack, and numerous other politicians, entertainers, and clergymen.[1] In 1945, he instituted the Al Smith Dinner, an annual white tie fundraiser for Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese which is attended by prominent national figures, including presidential nominees.

Following his promotion to New York, Spellman also became a close confidante of President Roosevelt.[1] During World War II, he was chosen by Roosevelt to act as the latter's agent and visit Europe, Africa, and the Middle East in 1943, visiting a total of 16 countries in four months.[12] As archbishop and military vicar, he would have greater freedom than official diplomats.[1] Spellman also acted as a liaison between Pope Pius XII and Roosevelt in the Pope's attempts to have Rome declared an open city, in order to save it from the relentless bombing other European capitals had suffered and potentially destroying Rome's historical sites and ruins, including Vatican City. In 1946, he received The Hundred Year Association of New York's Gold Medal Award "in recognition of outstanding contributions to the City of New York".


Pope Pius XII created him Cardinal-Priest of Santi Giovanni e Paolo in the consistory of February 18, 1946; his titular church was the same one held by Pius before his election to the papacy.

Vehemently anti-Communist, Spellman once said that "a true American can neither be a Communist nor a Communist condoner"[13] and that "the first loyalty of every American is vigilantly to weed out and counteract Communism and convert American Communists to Americanism".[13] He was a firm supporter of Joseph McCarthy.[1] In 1949, when gravediggers at Calvary Cemetery in Queens went on strike for a pay raise, the Cardinal accused them of being Communists and recruited seminarians of the Archdiocese from St. Joseph's Seminary as strikebreakers.[14] He described the actions of the gravediggers, who belonged to the Food, Tobacco, Agricultural, and Allied Workers Union of America, as "an unjustified and immoral strike against the innocent dead and their bereaved families, against their religion and human decency".[14] The strike was supported by such figures as the religious activist (now Servant of God) Dorothy Day and Ernest Hemingway, who wrote a scathing letter to Spellman.[1] Spellman defended Senator Joseph McCarthy's 1953 investigations of Communist subversives in the federal government, stating at an April 1954 breakfast attended by the Senator that McCarthy had "told us about the Communists and about Communist methods" and that he was "not only against communism—but ... against the methods of the Communists".[15]

Spellman denounced the efforts of Congressman Graham Arthur Barden to provide federal funding only to public schools as "a craven crusade of religious prejudice against Catholic children",[16] even calling Barden himself an "apostle of bigotry".[17] The Cardinal engaged later in a heated public dispute with former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt in 1949 when she expressed her opposition to providing federal funding to parochial schools in her column, My Day.[17] In response, Spellman accused her of anti-Catholicism and called her column a "[document] of discrimination unworthy of an American mother".[17] He eventually met with her at her Hyde Park home to quell the dispute.

Spellman frequently criticized films he perceived to be immoral or indecent. He described Two-Faced Woman as "an occasion of sin ... dangerous to public morals",[18] The Miracle (which led to Joseph Burstyn, Inc v. Wilson) as a "vile and harmful picture ... a despicable affront to every Christian",[19] and Baby Doll as "revolting" and "morally repellent".[20] His condemnation of Forever Amber caused producer William Perlberg to publicly refuse to "bowdlerize the film to placate the Roman Catholic Church".[1]

As archbishop Spellman assigned Ivan Illich as pastor to a Puerto Rican parish in Washington Heights, Manhattan, in 1951. He was instrumental in getting William Brennan appointed to the Supreme Court in 1956, but would later regret the decision. Justice William O. Douglas once said, "I came to know several Americans who I felt had greatly dishonored our American ideal. One was Cardinal Spellman."[1]

Spellman participated in the 1958 papal conclave, which elected Pope Saint John XXIII. He was considered dismissive of Pope John, and is reported to have said, "He's no Pope. He should be selling bananas."[1] In 1959, he served as papal delegate to the Eucharistic Congress in Guatemala; during his journey, he stopped in Nicaragua and, contrary to the Pope's orders, publicly appeared with dictator Anastasio Somoza Garcia.[1]

Although John F. Kennedy was a Catholic, Spellman supported Richard Nixon in the 1960 presidential election, due to Kennedy's opposition to federal aid for parochial schools and to appointing a U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See.[1] His support for Nixon ended a long partnership with Kennedy's father, Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr.[1] Spellman had previously presided over the weddings of Robert and Ted Kennedy.

In his years as a cardinal Spellman founded and created several parochial schools, as well as Cardinal Spellman High School in the Bronx. He also visited Ecuador where he founded three schools, Cardinal Spellman High School and Cardinal Spellman Girls' School, both in Quito; and Cardinal Spellman High School in Guayaquil. All of these school are still currently open.

Growing revolution

Spellman attended the Second Vatican Council from 1962 to 1965, and sat on its Board of Presidency.[4] A theological conservative, he was cautious of aggiornamento and, before departing to Rome, declared, "No change will get past the Statue of Liberty."[1] The Cardinal believed that predominantly liberal clergymen were being appointed to the Council's commissions, and opposed the introduction of vernacular into the Mass, saying, "The Latin language, which is truly the Catholic language, is unchangeable, is not vulgar, and has for many centuries been the guardian of the unity of the Western Church."[1]

Spellman, following the death of John XXIII, participated in the conclave of 1963, which resulted in the election of the Venerable Pope Paul VI. When The Deputy, a controversial play about Pius XII's actions during the Holocaust, opened on Broadway in 1964, Spellman condemned the play as "an outrageous desecration of the honor of a great and good man".[21] The play's producer, Herman Shumlin, responded by calling the Spellman's words a "calculated threat to really drive a wedge between Christians and Jews".[1]

Although he once expressed his personal opposition to civil rights demonstrations,[1] Spellman declined J. Edgar Hoover's requests to condemn Martin Luther King, Jr. and funded the trip of a group of New York priests and Religious Sisters to the Selma to Montgomery marches. He opposed racial discrimination in public housing[13] but also the social activism of such priests as Daniel Berrigan and his brother, Philip Berrigan, as well as a young Melkite priest, David Kirk.[1]

Lyndon Johnson and Vietnam

During the 1964 presidential election, Spellman supported Lyndon B. Johnson, whose Higher Education Facilities Act and Economic Opportunity Act had greatly benefited the Church.[1] The Cardinal later agreed to Johnson's requests to send priests to the Dominican Republic to defuse anti-American sentiments following the invasion of 1965.[1]

Spellman was an outspoken supporter of the Vietnam War, to the extent that the conflict became known as "Spelly's War" and the Cardinal as the "Bob Hope of the clergy".[1] He met Ngo Dinh Diem in 1950 and, favorably impressed by his strongly Catholic and anti-Communist views, promoted his career; however, he disassociated from Diem before the latter's assassination in 1963.[1] Fearful of Communist gains in Vietnam, Spellman had urged American intervention since late 1954,[1] but by the 1960s his views were strongly criticized by antiwar activists and even his fellow religious leaders.

When Pope Paul VI visited the United States in October 1965, he indirectly rebuked Spellman's hawkish stance by pleading for peace before the United Nations. A group of college students protested outside his residence in December 1965 for suppressing antiwar priests, and he later spent that year's Christmas with troops in South Vietnam.[1] While in Vietnam, Spellman quoted Stephen Decatur in declaring, "My country, may it always be right, but right or wrong, my country".[1] He also described Vietnam as a "war for civilization" and "Christ's war against the Vietcong and the people of North Vietnam".[1] One priest accused Spellman of "[blessing] the guns which the pope is begging us to put down".[13] In January 1967, antiwar protestors disrupted a Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral.[22] His support for Vietnam, along with his opposition to church reform, greatly undermined Spellman's clout within the church and country.[1]

Spellman was awarded the prestigious Sylvanus Thayer Award by the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, in 1967. Illustrator Edward Sorel designed a poster in 1967 titled Pass the Lord and Praise the Ammunition, showing Spellman carrying a rifle with bayonet, but the poster was never distributed because Spellman died right after it was printed.[23]

Later life

In 1966, Spellman offered his resignation to Pope Paul after the latter instituted a policy whereby bishops retire at age 75, but Paul asked him to remain in his post.[24] He led his archdiocese through an extensive period of building the Catholic infrastructure, particularly the construction of numerous churches, schools, and hospitals. He consolidated all parish building programs into his own hands, thereby getting better interest rates from bankers, and convinced Pius XII of the need to internationalize the Vatican's Italy-centered investments after World War II; for his financial skill, he was sometimes called "Cardinal Moneybags".[25]

Spellman died in New York at age 78, and was buried in the crypt under the main altar at St. Patrick's Cathedral. His funeral Mass was attended by President Johnson, Vice President Hubert Humphrey, Robert Kennedy, Jacob Javits, Nelson Rockefeller, John Lindsay, Arthur Goldberg, and Greek Orthodox Archbishop Iakovos (they also attended Robert Kennedy's funeral several months later)[26] To date, Spellman's twenty-eight year tenure as archbishop is the longest one in the history of the Archdiocese of New York.

Allegations of homosexuality

John Cooney, one of Spellman's biographers, cited four interviewees who stated that Spellman was homosexual. While Cooney's book offered no direct proof, Cooney was convinced of the veracity of the claims. "I talked to many priests who worked for Spellman and they were incensed, dismayed and angered by his conduct."[27]

The journalist Michelangelo Signorile, who describes Spellman as "one of the most notorious, powerful and sexually voracious homosexuals in the American Catholic Church's history",[28] reported that Cooney's manuscript, The American Pope, initially contained interviews with several people with personal knowledge of Spellman's homosexuality, including researcher and historian C. A. Tripp. According to Signorile, the Catholic Church pressured Cooney's publisher, Times Books, to reduce the four pages discussing Spellman's sexuality to a single paragraph.[28] Both Signorile and John Loughery[29] cite a story suggesting that Spellman was sexually active and carrying on a relationship with a male member of the chorus in the Broadway revue One Touch of Venus.[28] Monsignor Eugene V. Clark, Spellman's personal secretary of 15 years, later denied the allegations, calling them "utterly ridiculous and preposterous".[30]

A biographer of J. Edgar Hoover, Curt Gentry, says that Hoover's files had "numerous allegations that Spellman was a very active homosexual".[31]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak Cooney
  2. ^ a b TIME 1959
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Thornton
  4. ^ a b c d Miranda
  5. ^ TIME 1967
  6. ^ a b TIME August 15, 1932
  7. ^ a b TIME 1931
  8. ^ Catholic Hierarchy (unofficial Website)
  9. ^ Video: Christmas Brings Joy To Everyone, 1945/12/10 (1945).  
  10. ^ Coal Strike Ended, 1946/05/29 (1946).  
  11. ^ Quinn 2006
  12. ^ TIME June 7, 1943
  13. ^ a b c d O'Donnell 2009
  14. ^ a b TIME March 14, 1949
  15. ^ NYT November 8, 1954
  16. ^ Truman Library
  17. ^ a b c "My Day in the Lion's Mouth".  
  18. ^ "To See Is to Sin".  
  19. ^ "The Miracle".  
  20. ^ "The Trouble with Baby Doll".  
  21. ^ DeMarco 1998
  22. ^ For reminiscences by one protestor, see Epstein 2001
  23. ^ National Portrait Gallery Website, annotated image of the poster
  24. ^ "People: Oct. 21, 1966".  
  25. ^ "The Pastor-Executive".  
  26. ^ "Requiem for a Cardinal".  
  27. ^ John Cooney, The American Pope, First Edition, Crown Inc., 1984.
  28. ^ a b c Signorile 2002
  29. ^ John Loughery, The Other Side of Silence: Men's Lives & Gay Identities - A Twentieth-Century History, p. 152
  30. ^ NYT 1984
  31. ^ Curt Gentry, J. Edgar Hoover, The Man and the Secrets (NY: W. W. Norton, 1991), notes page 347.

Works cited

  • Cardinal Spellman High School. n.d. An Historical Sketch of Cardinal Spellman High School.
  • Catholic Hierarchy (unofficial Website). n.d. Francis Joseph Cardinal Spellman.
  • Cooney, John. The American Pope: The Life and Times of Francis Cardinal Spellman. New York Times Books 1984.
  • DeMarco, Donald. 800,000 Saved by Pius XII's 'Silence'. Catholic Register, May 18, 1998.
  • Epstein, Alessandra. 2001. Rebel With A Cause. 201 Magazine. Boston University, College of Communication.
  • National Portrait Gallery. Pass the Lord and Praise the Ammunition. Image of the satirical poster of Cardinal Spellman produced in 1967 by Edward Sorel.
  • Robert I. Gannon: The Cardinal Spellman Story. New York, 1962.
  • Loughery, John. 1998. The other side of silence: men's lives and gay identities : a twentieth century history. H. Holt.
  • Miranda, Salvador. n.d. The Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church. SPELLMAN, Francis Joseph.
  • New York Times. 1954-11-08. Huge Fund to Oust McCarthy Reported; PRIEST SEES MOVE TO OUST M'CARTHY".
  • New York Times. 1984, August 4. New book on Cardinal Spellman stirs controversy.
  • O'Donnell, Edward T. Spellman leads crusade against communism. Irish Echo Online, 82(44), November 4–10, 2009.
  • Quinn, Peter. New York's Catholic Century. (essay) The New York Times, 2006-06-04.
  • Signorile, Michelangelo. Cardinal Spellman's Dark Legacy. New York Press, 2002-05-07.
  • Thornton, Francis Beauchesne. 1963. .Our American princes: the story of the seventeen American cardinals Putnam. (chapter on Spellman pp. 201ff.)
  • TIME. 1931-07-13. Everything is Promised.
  • TIME. 1932-08-15. Boston's Bishop.
  • TIME. 1932-09-19. Crosier & Mitre.
  • TIME. 1943-06-07. Odyssey for the Millennium.
  • TIME. 1949-03-14. Strike in the Graveyard.
  • TIME. 1959-04-11. Cardinal's Birthday.
  • TIME. 1959-05-11. Cardinal's Birthday.
  • TIME. 1967-12-08. The Master Builder. (obituary of Cardinal Spellman)
  • Truman Library. Eleanor & Harry: The Correspondence of Eleanor Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman. 1949.

External links

  • Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA, official website
  • Archdiocese for the Military Services of the United States. Retrieved 2010-08-20.
  • FBI file on Cardinal Spellman
  • Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York Official Website

Episcopal succession

Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
See Created
Titular Bishop of Sila
July 30, 1932 - April 15, 1939
Succeeded by
Thomas Arthur Connolly
Preceded by
Patrick Joseph Hayes
Archbishop of New York
April 15, 1939 – December 2, 1967
Succeeded by
Terence Cooke
Apostolic Vicar for the Military Services
December 11, 1939 – December 2, 1967
Preceded by
Eugenio Pacelli
Cardinal-Priest of Santi Giovanni e Paolo
February 22, 1946 - December 2, 1967

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