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Back Story: Cardinals who visited Baltimore later became pope

Three included Pius XII, who came to the city in 1936

By Frederick N. Rasmussen, The Baltimore Sun

10:15 AM EST, March 1, 2013

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As 11 American Roman Catholic cardinals join with their colleagues in Rome to elect the successor to Pope Benedict XVI, it is interesting to note that three cardinals who visited Baltimore during the last century were eventually elected pope.

The first to visit Baltimore was Cardinal Eugenio Maria Giuseppe Giovanni Pacelli, who was then Papal secretary of state. The future Pope Pius XII paid what The Baltimore Sun called a "fleeting visit" on Oct. 21, 1936.

"The occasion marked the first time a Papal Secretary of State ever has visited the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Prime See of the United States," reported the newspaper.

He was escorted by the Most Rev. Amleto Giovanni Cicognani, apostolic delegate to this country, and the Most Rev. Francis J. Spellman, then an auxiliary bishop in Boston, later archbishop of New York and eventually a cardinal. Pacelli stepped off a Pennsylvania Railroad train at Penn Station to commence a one-hour visit to the city.

After being greeted by Archbishop Michael J. Curley and a gathering of Baltimore clergy, he went immediately to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, where they knelt in prayer at the main altar for several minutes and then visited the crypt of Cardinal James Gibbons.

Pacelli then traveled, by automobile with a motorcycle escort, to St. Mary's Seminary in Roland Park, where a choir sang "Oremus Pro Pontifee" and "Ecce Sacredes Magnus" as he stepped from his car.

After making a brief address to the assembled priests and 500 seminarians and pronouncing an apostolic blessing, he returned to Penn Station and resumed his journey to Washington.

As Pope Pius XII, he served from 1939 until his death in 1958. A bronze plaque in the Basilica unveiled several years later commemorates his visit: "His Holiness Pius XII, here knelt in prayer."

In 1960, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Enrico Antonio Maria Montini, who was then archbishop of Milan and later became Pope Paul VI, visited the new Roman Catholic Cathedral of Mary Our Queen that had opened a year earlier.

The cardinal paused for 45 minutes on June 10, 1960, while en route to New York, to tour the new cathedral. Speaking in French, he said, "This is a great monument, modern, in fine taste which is everything American," The Baltimore Sun reported.

He then blessed the cathedral statue of St. Charles Borromeo, who was one of his predecessors as archbishop of Milan in the 16th century.

His papacy lasted 15 years until his death in 1978.

The last to visit the city was Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, archbishop of Krakow, who led a delegation of Polish bishops in 1976. He returned in 1995 as Pope PauI II.

In August 1976, Wojtyla visited Holy Rosary Roman Catholic Church in Upper Fells Point, where he concelebrated Mass and later ate lunch at the parish school.

During his visit to Baltimore on Oct. 8, 1995, he celebrated an outdoor Mass at Camden Yards, lunched at a downtown soup kitchen, rode in a motorcade through the city, made an appearance at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, and visited St. Mary's Seminary & University before leaving Baltimore.

Pope John Paul II's papacy spanned 27 years and ended with his death in 2005.

The last Baltimore cardinal to participate in a papal conclave was William Keeler, who was a member of the body that chose Benedict.

J. Francis Stafford — a Baltimore native, Loyola High School graduate and auxiliary bishop in Baltimore who was elevated to cardinal after later assignments in Memphis, Denver and Rome — also participated in that 2005 conclave.

Former Baltimore Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien, who was elevated to cardinal last year after leaving Baltimore in 2011, will join the conclave that will pick Benedict's successor.

A century ago, one Baltimore cardinal missed an opportunity to choose a pope.

A day after learning of the death of Pius X in August 1914, Gibbons sailed from New York with Cardinal O'Connell of Boston aboard the White Star liner Canopic.

The voyage was slow and the two men reached Rome too late to attend the conclave that elected Benedict XV, who was coronated Sept. 6.

The cardinals were received by the new pope in a private audience later that day.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com