John Cardinal Farley of the Archdiocese of New York, was the only American cardinal to arrive in Rome in time to participate in the Conclave of 1914, making him the second American to participate in a conclave. Born in 1842 in Ireland he was orphaned at the age of 7. An uncle took him under his wing and saw to his education. He emigrated to the United States in 1864, and in 1865 after graduating from Saint John’s College in New York City, he began his study for the priesthood at Saint Joseph’s Provincial Seminary and completed them at the North American Pontifical College in Rome.
Ordained in 1870, he became secretary to Archbishop John McCloskey in 1872. From 1884-1902 he served as pastor of Saint Gabriel’s in Manhattan, while also serving as Vicar General of the Archdiocese from 1891-1902. In 1895 he was made Auxiliary Bishop of New York. In 1902 he was made Archbishop of New York. Pope Pius X gave him a Cardinal’s cap in 1911. In 1914 he was already in Europe at the time of the death of the Pope Pius X and was the only American cardinal to participate in the Conclave. During World War I he annoyed many of the Irish in New York for his pro-Allied stance, his contempt for Prussian militarism overcoming his ancestral antipathy for the English. Like most Irish emigrants to America he wore his patriotism on his sleeve and helped rally Catholics to support the war effort after the US entered the War in 1917. He did not live to see the Allied victory in the Great War, dying on September 17, 1918.
The Conclave assembled on August 31, 1914 in the Sistine Chapel. World War I had just commenced, although Italy was still neutral, and it was obvious to all that this War would probably be one of the major challenges confronting the new Pope. There were three recognized front runners for the papal throne: Domenico Serafini, assessor of the Holy Office, Pietro Maffi, Archbishop of Milan and Giacomo Paolo Giovanni Battista della Chiesa, Archbishop of Bologna. As Conclaves go, it was fairly contentious, lasting four days and taking ten ballots before the election of the Archbishop of Bologna who assumed the name of Benedict. He was elected on the last ballot by a single vote. Cardinal Rafael Merry del Val, the brilliant half English and half Spanish Secretary of State under Pius, demanded that the ballots be scrutinized to make certain that Benedict had not voted for himself, which would have been a violation of Conclave rules. He had not. In a story that I very much hope is true Benedict murmured when Merry del Val came before him to pay his respects: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.”, a quotation from Psalm 117 and a reference to the unfriendliness that Merry del Val had shown to him when he served under Merry del Val in the Vatican Secretariat of State. The quick witted Merry del Val supposedly immediately responded with the next verse from the Psalm: “This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.” Merry del Val was not kept on as Secretary of State by Benedict, but was put in charge of the Holy Office.
Poor Giacomo Paolo Giovanni Battista della Chiesa, I am sure the last thing he ever wanted was to be Pope during a conflagration like World War I, but his entire papacy was consumed by World War I and its aftermath. Born on November 21, 1854, he early wished to become a priest, but his father insisted on him becoming a lawyer. (Foolish, foolish father!) He obtained a doctorate of law at the age of 21. Now being of legal age to make his own decisions about his future, he still sought his father’s blessing to become a priest and forsake the legal trade. His father reluctantly agreed.
Studying in Rome he was ordained to the priesthood on December 21, 1878. From 1878-1883 he studied at the Papal Academy in Rome, obviously destined for rapid advancement in the Church. Here he came to the notice of Mariano Cardinal Rampolla, Secretary of the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith. Recognizing the very keen mind of the young priest, Rampolla facilitated his entry into the Vatican diplomatic service. Rampolla became Vatican Secretary of State and made Father Chiesa his private secretary. His mother being extremely ambitious for her son complained to Rampolla that her boy was not getting the advancement that he deserved. Rampolla supposedly replied that her son would take only a few steps but that they would be great ones. He became under-secretary of state in 1901. When Rafael Cardinal Merry del Val became Secretary of State, one of the most effective in the history of the Papacy in my estimation, under Pope Pius X, he kept Father Chiesa on as under-secretary.
In 1907 Pope Pius elevated Chiesa to be Archbishop of Bologna. As Archbishop, Chiesa emphasized pilgrimages to Lourdes and Loretto, cleanliness in churches and saving money in Church operations and giving the savings to the poor. On May 25, 1914, on the cusp of World War I, he was elevated to the Cardinalate. On September 3, 1914 he was elected Pope, his years of diplomatic experience considered a plus as Europe plunged into the abyss of war.
Pope Benedict viewed World War I as the suicide of Europe. He proclaimed the neutrality of the Vatican, called for a Christmas truce in 1914, and was ceaseless in working for a negotiated peace throughout the War. He nearly bankrupted the Vatican in humanitarian relief efforts during the War which saved millions of lives, especially those of children who were of special concern to him. He hammered out agreements between the warring powers allowing for exchanges of prisoners of war, better treatment for prisoners of war, and the evacuation of some civilians living in occupied territories. On August 1, 1917 he proposed a seven point peace plan which may be read here. Great Britain, which enjoyed excellent relations with the Vatican, responded favorably. Imperial Germany, which had no formal diplomatic relations with the Vatican, rejected it out of hand. President Wilson also rejected it, stating that although he had great respect for the proposal of the Pope he thought that there was no prospect for peace until the present German government was overthrown. Wilson’s later 14 point proposal to end the war made in 1918 demonstrates much borrowing from the Pope’s proposal.
Pope Benedict died on January 22, 1922, his papacy always being identified with a War he so much deplored.