Baltimore Evening Sun (21 September 1911): 6.
The one Baltimorean whom every other Baltimorean recognizes at sight is Cardinal Gibbons. He has been a familiar figure in our good old town for more than a generation. His tall hat is as much a part of Charles street as the Washington monument. Every one of us has met him at some time or other, intimately or distantly, and heard the sound of his voice. Born on Gay street, near Fayette, in 1834, he has lived here for 50 of his 77 years, and continuously since 1877. No man could be more the Baltimorean.
And yet he remains–to most of us, at any rate–a rather vague and mysterious figure. We know that he is the ranking ecclesiastic in the New World, and yet we are a bit uncertain as to the nature and prerogatives of his rank. We know that he has played an important role in his day, not only in the drama of church politics and in the national affairs of the United States, but also in the dealings of nation with nation–and yet not many of us could describe that role. We recall, somewhat dimly, that he had to do with the great Knights of Labor dispute of 1887, that he once startled Rome with a patriotic speech, that Cleveland, Harrison and McKinley sought his counsel, that he fought and vanquished the A. P. A., that Leo XIII trusted him and depended upon his judgment in matters of vast moment–and yet many of these things grow shadowy, for years have passed since they engaged the world, and the memory of facts tends to become the mere memory of memories.
So the need has arisen for a serious biography of the Cardinal–a book telling the story of his life and work in detail, a book explaining clearly all of the great events in which he has taken a hand–and out of that need the book itself now emerges. It is “The Life of Cardinal Gibbons,” by Allen S. Will, just issued by the Catholic publishing house of Murphy–a painstaking and excellent piece of writing, in which the accurate presentation of facts is joined to a style of great clarity and charm.
Mr. Will, himself a Protestant, has been a friend to the Cardinal for years, and his collection and examination of materials has been long in progress. The result is a biography which leaves nothing to be desired, for it not only presents an exact chronicle of the man’s public career, but it also offers a lifelike and attractive picture of the man. Rising from it, one carries away a definite image of a great churchman and a greater American–a leader who has brought church and state out of the shadow of conflict and made each the stronger for it.
That service is described is detail in Mr. Will’s book, and every step is clearly traced. The Cardinal’s work began when he was sent to North Carolina in 1868, the youngest bishop in the hierarchy. The church there was weak and under suspicion. The people of the State regarded it as an invader, anti-American, even anti-repubitcan. It was the young bishop’s task to destroy that prejudice, to show that a man might be a Catholic and yet a sound American, to prove that the separation or church and State was real.
And ever since then that has been the the chief effort of his life. Not only here among the American people, but also at Rome, he has engaged in an unceasing campaign of pacification and enlightenment. His influence at the Vatican, indeed, has done even more than his influence at home. If today no more is heard of the Know-Nothings and other such crusaders of day before yesterday–if organized labor is the friend of the church instead of its sworn foe–if the old, un-American agitation for a church divided along racial lines is dead–if the public school question is out of politics--then the patriotism and good sense of Cardinal Gibbons may be given much of the credit for these releases from old conflicts.
Mr. Will is full of curious stories about the Cardinal’s early experiences as priest and bishop. When young Father Gibbons was sent to St. Briget’s, at Canton, in 1861, Canton was half country and tramps were numerous. One night, returning from Baltimore, the young priest found a soldier–apparently a wanderer from the Baltimare garrison–asleep in his rectory yard. On being awakened, the man grabbed a broken fence rail and made at Father Gibbons with great ferocity. The latter, at the start, beat a discreet retreat, but the soldier pursued him, yelling for his blood. Suddenly the young priest stopped, put up his fists and delivered one quick blow--and the soldier went down and out. Imagine the frail Cardinal Gibbons as a gladiator!
On another occasion, arriving at the rectory late at night, he met his devoted housekeeper on the doorstep and in tears. A crazy man, she told him, was inside and refusing to go. When Father Gibbons entered he found that the visitor was of herculean size–and stark naked. There was no weapon at hand–none, that is, save an umbrella. With this the invader was given such a sound trouncing that he quickly agreed to dress and leave the house.
Soon after going to Canton Father Gibbons was also given charge of St. Lawrence’s Church, on Locust Point, and so he had to make frequent trips across the river. In summer the journey was pleasant enough, but in winter it was often dangerous, and sometimes almost impossible. The young priest would leave Canton on Sunday mornings at 6 o’clock, hear confessions at St. Lawrence’s, say mass, preach, baptise and make sick calls, and then return to Canton to celebrate high mass and preach again. It was usually 1 o’clock in the afternoon before he got his breakfast, for a Catholic priest must fast until after his last mass.
Forty-two years later the youthful pastor of St. Bridget’s, now a prince of the church, took part in the election of a Pope, and, as Mr. Will shows, it was largely due to his effort that Mgr. Sarto was chosen. Sarto, when he received 21 votes on the third ballot, was greatly distressed and begged the Cardinals to vote for him no more. He was so plainly sincere that many of them decided to heed his plea. The result was a deadlock, for Cardinal Rampolla had been vetoed by Austria and no other candidate showed strength.
Then it was that Cardinal Gibbons induced Cardinal Satolli to go to Sarto, his fellow-countryman, and implore him to yield. Satolli agreed, and at the next meting of the conclave he arose in his place with a joyful “Annuit” (he has consented).
Such are a few stray pages from a book of interest and importance, a biography fairly and accurately written, without either the absurdity of overpraise or a too exacting spirit of criticism. It does credit to the Cardinal and it does credit to its author.