Cardinals gather at 'mother church' Gathering: American cardinals concelebrate Mass at historic Basilica of the Assumption before fund-raising dinner.


Six princes of the Roman Catholic Church gathered yesterday in Baltimore to raise money for Catholic University and to recall this city's key role in its founding.

The American cardinals, who lead the nation's major archdioceses, concelebrated Mass at the Basilica of the Assumption before attending the $1,000-a-plate American Cardinals Dinner at the Baltimore Convention Center.

The fund-raiser, which was attended by more than 1,200 people, raised more than $1 million for scholarships at the Catholic University -- the 6,000-student liberal arts institution in Washington.

At the historic Basilica of the Assumption, the first cathedral in the United States, the cardinals entered in procession wearing blue and white vestments and miters, the pointed cap that is a sign of their office. Baltimore's Cardinal William H. Keeler brought up the rear, holding the crozier, or shepherd's staff, that was used by Ambrose Marechal, the third archbishop of Baltimore, when he dedicated the first cathedral in 1821. He wore the pectoral cross that belonged to John Carroll, the first archbishop of Baltimore.

Keeler welcomed five of his brethren, among the most influential men in the Catholic Church: Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston, Cardinal James A. Hickey of Washington, Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles, Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua of Philadelphia, and Cardinal Adam J. Maida of Detroit.

Cardinal John J. O'Connor of New York became ill and canceled at the last moment, and newly appointed Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago had an engagement he had booked before his appointment.

In his sermon, Keeler noted that many of his colleagues' predecessors were ordained bishop in Baltimore in the last century, including those from Boston, New York, Chicago and Detroit. "The Archdiocese of Washington could claim this church as its cathedral for a century and a half until 1940, when it became an archdiocese and gained its own Cathedral of St. Matthew."

Coming to Baltimore "gives us a sense of our roots," Law said before the Mass. "So we feel as though we're coming home."

Historic roots in city

The American Cardinals Dinner is held each year in an archdiocese led by one of the cardinals.

"It's very appropriate that it comes to Baltimore because the idea of a Catholic university was officially born here," Keeler said in an interview before the festivities.

"At the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore in 1884, Archbishop [James] Gibbons presided at the council, and he was directed to form a committee which would consider the establishment of what in time became the Catholic University," Keeler said. "The bishops of the United States met here in 1889 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the formal establishing of the Catholic Church, and at the close of their meeting went to Washington for the formal inauguration of the new university.

"From that date until his death in 1921, Cardinal Gibbons was its chancellor and took a very active part in board meetings and other events relating to its early development.

"For this reason, it's really appropriate that we do our bit to continue to support it," he said.

Baltimore school benefits

Catholic University was not the only beneficiary of last night's largess. SS. James and John Elementary School in East Baltimore received the Cardinals Encouragement Award, which comes with a $10,000 cash prize.

Principal LaUanah King-Cassell said the money will come in handy for the first phase of updating the school's computer lab.

"It's a blessing," she said. "Right now we have little Apple IIEs, which really don't do anything."

The 150-year-old school has 269 students. "About 50 percent of our students are very low income, and many parents have to sacrifice to send their children here," she said. "I think SS. James and John school has been a beacon of hope for the people of East Baltimore."

Last night, a convention center ballroom was transformed into an elegant banquet hall as the Catholic University orchestra provided soft background music while guests dined on filet mignon, leg of lamb and crab cakes.

"We are very proud that our American cardinals could come here to join us this evening in what Cardinal Law has called the mother church," Keeler said.

"With this event, we add a bright new chapter to the history of the church and to the history of this city."

Pub Date: 5/02/98

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