Sunday, November 25, 2012

Well, Back to Bill O'Connell and His Sad and Sordid Tale

Cardinal O'Connell enthroned
in state in his cathedral--
somewhat reminiscent of
Cardinal Burke's visits to the
"Canons" of Gricigliano

I have a tendency that some of my readers have let me know is most disconcerting—I break off in the middle of a topic to switch to an entirely new topic without any promise of returning to the original conversation.  I currently have doubled that in as that I left the “Revisioning God” series to take up “his Pomposity,” Cardinal O’Connell (with implications for Cardinal Burke) only to break off from the sordid story of that nasty prelate to talk of the political overtones in the historical development of the devotion for Christ the King.   And now a number of potential new topics have broken—Benedict’s admonition to the new Cardinals to forgo the temptations of power, the discovery of the presumed remains of Richard III and the question about which rites should be employed for his reinternment,  and a quote of Andrew Carnegie that I think has some interesting potential for understanding the anti-social justice prejudices of the Catholic Right.   But all that in time.  For now, back to our errant Cardinal of Boston—O’Connell that is, not Law.
One of my favorite stories about William O’Connell is that when he was a student studying for the priesthood he was expelled from Saint John’s Seminary by the Sulpician Fathers who ran the seminary and who found the young man “unfit” for the priesthood.  Perhaps they had uncovered his homosexuality that was to play a role in his later undoing—we don’t know the specifics of their reason for his expulsion.  Whatever the crisis, it didn’t derail his determination to become a priest.  In any event after having been expelled from Saint John’s he went on to study in Baltimore and then to the Pontifical North American College in Rome.  Years later when O’Connell returned to Boston as Archbishop, he had his ghoulish revenge on the Sulpicians.  He ordered them to leave the Archdiocese and to “take your dead with you,” requiring the Sulpicians to exhume their deceased confreres from their cemetery and move the bodies to rest elsewhere. 
Now I know Karma is not a Christian belief but sometimes you have to wonder.  O’Connell built a magnificent Italianate villa on the seminary grounds where he and his successors were to live in princely splendor.  His current successor, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, OFM Cap—a man of far more humble tastes as befits a son of Saint Francis—sold the palace to Boston College in order to pay some of the archdiocesan debts incurred in the sex-abuse scandal under his predecessor—and O’Connell’s successor but three, the disreputable Cardinal Bernard Law.  The problem arose of what to do with O’Connell’s remains which were interred in a mausoleum in the palace grounds.  (O’Connell had disdained the idea of being interred in a vault in the Cathedral as is the normal custom with a diocesan ordinary and wished to remain near his much-loved villa.)   Boston College, however, had no desire to have the remains of this prelate on campus.  The O’Connell family, challenged the removal but eventually had to accede and the dust and ashes that were once the mighty prelate have been moved to the adjoining grounds of Saint John’s Seminary. 
In popular lore, the Cardinal was depicted in the 1963 Otto Preminger film The Cardinal as Lawrence Cardinal Glennon by actor/director John Huston who played him as a gruff but benevolent pastoral prelate: such the license to depart from truth that is given to art.    
My favorite description of the Cardinal is that of the waspish Miss Ella B. Edes—an American old maid convert to Catholicism who had amazingly wormed her way into Vatican employment in the days when only men held access to such positions.  Edes was an agent of Archbishop Corrigan of New York, a figure who has always reminded me of Archbishop Lori even as O'Connell reminds me of Cardinal Burke.  I would love to know more about Ms. Edes as she seems to be a fascinating cross between a cobra and a comedienne whose drily venomous humor savaged some of the most prominent American Churchmen of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.  Edes is the one who named O’Connell as “Monsignor Pomposity” and said of him:    
“Monsignor Pomposity…is so invariably rude, ill-bred, and disobliging…I suppose he does not know better, being low-born and common, pitch-forked, suddenly to a position which has turned his head.  Like all ill-bred Paddies, I am not, in his eyes, sufficiently rich, or fashionable to be treated with even ordinary courtesy.”  Well, as they say “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”

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