Edward Cardinal Mooney added a bit of tragic drama to the Conclave of 1958. Born in 1882 in Mount Savage, Maryland, the seventh child in his family, he moved with them to Youngstown, Ohio at the age of 5. His father was a tube mill worker and died in the early 1890’s. His mother opened a small baking shop to support the family, and George and his brothers and sisters delivered the goods to customers. He began his studies for the priesthood at Saint Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore and concluded them at the North American pontifical college. Ordained in 1909, he taught dogmatic theology at Saint Mary’s Seminary in Cleveland until 1916. He was the founding principal of the Cathedral Latin School in Cleveland from 1916-1922.
Made the spiritual director of the North American Pontifical College in Rome in 1923, he received the unique assignment of being the Apostolic Delegate to India and made a Titular Archbishop. In India he helped found 15 missions and three parishes. In 1931 he was made Apostolic Delegate to Japan. In 1933 he was made fourth Bishop of Rochester with the personal title of Archbishop. In 1937 he was named the first Archbishop of Detroit, receiving a Cardinal’s cap from Pope Pius XII in 1946.
Like most Catholic clergy of his generation, he was very pro-labor unions which stood him in good stead in the heavily unionized Detroit. He immediately clashed heads with Father Charles Coughlin, the fiery controversial radio priest who operated from Royal Oak, Michigan. The clashes continued until Father Coughlin agreed to end his radio program in 1942.
During World War II he was a strong supporter of the war effort viewing Nazi Germany as a mortal adversary of Christianity.
At the Conclave of 1958 he had a massive heart attack in Rome and died at age 70 just three hours before the Conclave began. The more deranged sedevacantists claim that Mooney was murdered to help deny Cardinal Siri the papal throne, which is pure, unadulterated one hundred percent bunk.
If Cardinal Mooney had not died before the Conclave, the Conclave might have killed him. It lasted four days and 11 ballots before the election of Angelo Roncalli, Patriarch of Venice, was elected as a compromise candidate. No one was more surprised than the 77 year old Roncalli at his election. He had purchased a round trip ticket and hoped that the Conclave would be a short one so that he could get home quickly. He decided to reign as Pope John XXIII.
Roncalli was born in 1881 to a family of peasants, the fourth child and first son, in a family that would grow to 13 kids. He was ordained a priest in 1904. In 1905 he became secretary to the Bishop of Bergamo, working in that capacity until 1915 while lecturing at the local seminary. He served in the Italian Army during World War I as a sergeant, assigned as a stretcher bearer and a chaplain. Of his experiences during the War he wrote: “I thank God that I served as a sergeant and army chaplain in the First World War. How much I learned about the human heart during this time, how much experience I gained, what grace I received.”
After the War he was appointed spiritual director of the seminary in Bergamo. In 1921 Pope Benedict named him the director of the Italian society for the propagation of the faith. In 1925 Pope Pius XI made him Apostolic Visitor for Bulgaria where he served for a decade. His perpetual sunny demeanor behind which a very shrewd mind lurked made him a natural diplomat. In 1935 he was made Apostolic Delegate to Greece and Turkey. During the war he saved thousands of lives of those, especially Jews, under threat from the Nazis. One of his tactics was to issue “baptismal certificates of convenience” to priests to fill out to falsely assert that Jews were actually baptized Catholics. When he was praised for his activity after the War he said that all praise should be directed towards Pope Pius XII who made it clear that the lives of innocents suffering persecution were to be saved.
In 1953 the Pope made him cardinal and Patriarch of Venice. No doubt at his age Cardinal Roncalli assumed that he reached the pinnacle of his career and only retirement awaited.
After his election as Pope, John XXIII charmed the world with his pronounced sense of humor, warmth and his obvious love for all of humanity. His five year papacy of course was dominated by his calling Vatican II. How one looks at the Council can’t help but determine how one looks at Pope John. Of course John did not live to implement the Council or even to see its end, dying stoically of stomach cancer in 1963. Pope John was a man of traditional Catholic spirituality. I can’t help but think he would have been appalled at much of the implementation of Vatican II. How he would have reacted to it if he had lived is one of the great “what ifs” of modern Church history.