Page 5, 24th May 1957

24th May 1957
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Locations: Rome, Modernism, London


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Will the 'London' Cardinal be Canonised?

He Wanted to Work in England


WILL Pope Pius XII who canonised St. Pius X soon beatify this predecessor's great friend and Cardinal Secretary of State, English-born Cardinal Merry del Val ? The Apostolic Process of the Cardinal who had the conversion of England so much at heart and who even composed (for Pope Leo) the prayer we still say during Benediction, is now well advanced. So now is the ideal time for this new biography * of the Cardinal treading painstakingly as it does through his life with an accurate and lively narrative style arid bringing to younger people perhaps for the first time the fascinating picture of a great Prince of the Church, diplomat, simple priest and hurnourist who died only a generation ago. Rafael Merry del Val was born at 33 Portman Square, London W. His father. a Spaniard, was Secretary at the Spanish Legation. He went to school in Slough, Bournemouth, Belgium, and later became the "Merry Devil" of Ushaw—the "dear old place he loved all his life where he received Minor Orders.

POPE LEO SAYS 'NO' HE hoped to follow his great friend John Ross (Don Felice) to the Scots College. "Not to the Scots College", said LeoXM, "but to the Academy for Noble Ecclesiastics." This was the first step leading away from Rafael's ambition, to be a simple parish priest in England. "I feel I am called to work in England, for Souls, Felice, only for souls." he told his friend. While not yet a sebdeacon special missions and honours went his way. In 1887 the Pope appointed him a Monsignor, sending him to London as a member of the Papal Delegation offering the Holy Father's congratulations to Queen Victoria on her golden jubilee.

He was ordained for the Westminster diocese after Christmas in 1888.

One of the Cardinal's little known interests started at this time was his long association with the Boys' Club in Trastevere one of the toughest and poorest quarters of Rome, This club grew to be a model of its kind, and even in his busiest days as Secretary of State the Cardinal always found time daily to visit his boys. He became to them director, advisor, patron, secret benefactor, playmate and father.


DIPLOMATIC missions in plenty followed. The Monsignor was appointed a Private Chamberlain to the Pope. He accompanied Leo XIII on his daily walks—not always relaxing as when the Holy Father, then over 90, might take to walking along a high and narrow bridge, or feed his pet lions. Towards the end of the century to his lot fell the diplomatic ''gobetween" in the agitating question of Anglican reunion and Anglican Orders v.hich eventually led to the Encyclical De liniiate of 1896. Grave trouble in Canada followed. Mgr. Merry del Val was made a Domestic Prelate and appointed Apostolic Delegate to investigate the schools question there. He was just 32. "1 beg for prayers," he wrote "I consider myself more than incompetent .." But the journey was successful and conciliation accepted. In 1898 the Pope sent him to inspect premises of the English College as a preliminary to setting up the Beda College for late vocations. Years later he became protector of the College.


nN the Feast of the Patronage of St. Joseph in 1900, the boys of Trastevere crammed the Spanish Church together with Bishops, aristocracy and diplomats for the consecration of "their Monsignor", after which he gave a dinner to 200 of the poor of Rome.

"I don't know a bit how to be an Archbishop," he wrote a few

weeks later. " I have ordained my first priest." When in 1902 he was sent to London as the Pope's representative at the coronation of King Edward VII, he went with his usual alacrity, but heard of the rumour that Cardinal Vaughan hoped he would succeed him as Archbishop of Westminster. "The report is . . . too utterly silly . • . I should always he branded as an alien however much I may be English to all intents and purposes." he remarked. (He once admitted that he "dreamed in English".) A very remarkable feature of Miss Fluehrle's book are the numerous letters quoted. Careful instructive, sympathetic letters to Anglican clergymen and other prospective converts, and during the 1914 war to boys in the forces. They show his tremendous zeal and the care he took with each correspondent. In the summer of 1903 Pope Leo lay dying, Mgr. Volponi who would become Secretary of the Conclave immediately on the death of the Pope, died suddenly in the adjoining room. Mgr. Merry del Val, young, and a nonItalian, succeeded him, the unprecedented choice of the Cardinals for his dignity, efficiency, diplomacy and command of foreign languages.


AFEW months passed and Archbishop Merry del Val wrote to Don Felice "We have a saintly Pope". Pope Pius X wrote of his new secretary: "I choose him. because he is a polyglot: Born in England educated in Belgium, of Spanish Nationality. and living in Italy; the son of a diplomat and himself a diplomat. he is acquainted with the problems of all countries. He is very modest. he is a saint."

The same year the Holy Father made him a Cardinal. For the next 11 years he was solid and rocklike at the side of the Pope. Theie were problems in plenty— France, (Separation of Church and State). the Roman Question, Modernism, Spain, anti-clericalism in Italy. On the sudden death in 1914 of Cardinal Rampoila, the Secretary was appointed Archpriest of St. Peter's, a position he held until his death. He was a parish priest at last—but his parish was "the mother church of the whole Catholic world."

In August the new Archpriest buried his beloved Pope Pius X. He moved to the Palaazina and wrote to a friend at Umhaw "I have Ushaw in my bedroom . . the pictures I brought away in 1885. I have a Westminster clock in my room and the chimes remind me of London and old days .. . " "On the upper floor lived a simple priest dedicated to poverty and sacrifice," writes Miss Buehrle. The lower floor was fine nished in a manner suitable to receiving persons of rank. The Cardinal ordained more than 400 priests and consecrated 50 Bishops. Pope Pius XI followed Benedict to the See of Peter in 1922. The following year the Archpriest showed King George V and Queen Mary around St. Peter's.


ON May 8 in the jubilee year `e1925, he celebrated Mass at the altar of the Chair of Peter for 1.200 Englieh pilgrims— among them Cardinal Bourne and Mgr. HinsIcy whom he later consecrated as Bishop. He visited England for the last time 'n 1927 when the Papal flag was flown from the masthead at Ushaw. He dedicated the chapel of St. Philip Merl at the Birmingham Oratory and visited Buckfast. So rightly does Miss Buehrle remark that "More and more as the tempestous events of the reign of Pope Pius X recede into the background, did erstwhile critics see things in their true perspective. Justice emerged from the shadows and for many. the figure of the Cardinal became the symbol of something great that had been done," On February 20, 1930, Cardinal Merry del Val died during an operation which was at first thought to be simple. His last wish was to be buried "as near as possible to my beloved father and Pontiff Pius X of holy memory ..''

But Pius X has been taken away —his tomb moved up to the altar of St. Peter's where all the world may see him. Perhaps soon the friend of a Saint may himself be canonised.

Rafael Cardinal Merry del Val, by Marie Cecilia Buehrie (Sands, 18s.).

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