FROM OUR ROME CORRESPONDENT THE Church has lost one of her most colourful and picturesque princes and one of her staunchest, yet independently minded stalwarts with the death on Monday of Cardinal Eugene Tisserant, aged 87.
Cardinal Tisserant was a familiar figure at many of the higher councils of the Catholic Church. He was an educator par excellence, equally proficient in Pontifical Latin, colloquial Italian, a dozen languages of the Biblical and modern Middle East as in his native French.
As Dean of the College of Cardinals from 1951 to his death, the Cardinal had supervised the elections of the late Pope John XXIII and Pope Paul VI, whom he had also consecrated as Archbishop of Milan in 1954, and he had served as president of the 12man Council of Presidency of the Second Vatican Council.
Despite the high honours heaped on him by Church and nations alike—he was named a member of the French Academy, taking the seat once held by the physicist Andre Marie Ampere, in 1961— Cardinal Tisserant never lost the "common touch." He was as much at home sharing a desert meal with a camel-driver as he was in ecclesiastical and social hierarchies.
VOCATION Born at Nancy on March 24, 1884, to a family of millers— almost the same year his father moved into veterinary medicine — Cardinal Tisserant was the oldest of six children.
Chatting with this correspondent during the Vatican Council, the Cardinal said: "I first became enthralled with education when bedridden at the age of five with whooping cough. I had nothing to do but read."
And he added that he had first felt a vocation when he was I I. "I was praying to the Blessed Virgin on the eve of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception when I suddenly knew I would be a priest."
Abbot Ruch, who headed his seminary, encouraged his interest in Oriental languages and soon the young seminarian was travelling and studying through the Middle East.
Ordained in 1907, he was called to Rome by Pope Pius X first as Professor of Assyrian in the Apollinarius and then as Curator of Oriental Manuscripts in the Vatican Library.
FIGHTING SOLDIER The Cardinal took a leave of absence from his priestly duties when the First World War erupted and enlisted as a fighting soldier in the French Army. He saw service in the Dardenelles and Middle East, was wounded and decorated with the Croix de Guerre for valour.
Returning to the Vatican after the war, Cardinal Tisserant was named a Cardinal by Pope Pius XI in June, 1936, and consecrated a bishop in 1937 to take up duties as Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches—a post he held until 1959 when he became honorary president and archivist of the Vatican Library.
Cardinal Tisserant was a bearded, veritable mountain of a man who automatically dominated whatever assembly he attended, not only by his huge physique and robust yet chiselled features but by his moral stature, ready wit and effervescent temperament.
Despite his age, he indefatigably accompanied Pope Paul on all but one of his voyages. In the Holy Land, in 1964 this correspondent saw him sweep down the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem.
LIBRARIAN To a soldier who said: "The Pope is in the Holy Sepulchre, You cannot go in," Cardinal Tisserant roared: "I know, and I am the Cardinal who presides dyer the Pope's elections."
When Cardinal Tisserant summoned the Conclave which followed the death of Pope Pius XII in 1958, there were many who said he would be presiding over his own election as Pontiff. But a little-known Venetian named Angelo Roncalli was elected instead, and the Dean of the College of Cardinals quietly went on serving the new Pope John XXIII as chief librarian of the Vatican.
Pope Paul VI, who visited Cardinal Tisserant at the clinic last summer, sent another Frenchman, Cardinal Jean Villot, Papal Secretary of State, to the dying man's bedside on Monday carrying the Papal blessing.
Cardinal Tisserant's death reduces to 119 the number of cardinals. It has also removed one of the foremost opponents of Pope Paul's efforts to remove elderly men from power in the Vatican.
Cardinal Tisserant vocally opposed the Pope's decree issued in 1970 removing Cardinals past the age of 80 from High Vatican office and denying them the right to vote in Papal elections. He waited four months before resigning his librarianship on his 87th birthday on March 24 last year.