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His Eminence 
Francis Joseph Spellman
Cardinal Archbishop of New York
See New York
Enthroned May 23, 1939
Reign ended December 2, 1967
Predecessor Patrick Joseph Hayes
Successor Terence Cooke
Ordination May 14, 1916
Consecration September 8, 1932
Created Cardinal February 18, 1946
Other Auxiliary Bishop of Boston (1932–39)
Personal details
Born May 4, 1889(1889-05-04)
Whitman, Massachusetts
Died December 2, 1967 (aged 78)
New York, New York
Buried St. Patrick's Cathedral, New York

Francis Joseph Spellman (May 4, 1889 – December 2, 1967) was an American Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church. In 1939 he was appointed both Archbishop of New York and "Apostolic Vicar" in charge of pastoral services to Roman Catholic members of the U.S. armed forces, posts which he held until his death 28 years later. He was promoted to Cardinal in 1946. In post World War II America, he was a fervent rightwing opinion leader: supporter of Joseph McCarthy, pioneering proponent of going to war in Vietnam, adversary against labor unionism among lay employees of the church, critic of sexual candor in mainstream American cinema. In church dogma and politics, he opposed the liberalizations of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), declaring, "No change will get past the Statue of Liberty". Among the reforms he opposed was recitation of Mass in languages other than Latin (vernacular Mass).

Early life and education

Francis Spellman was born in Whitman, Massachusetts, to William and Ellen (née Conway) Spellman. His father (1858–1957), whose own parents had immigrated to the United States from Clonmel and Leighlinbridge in Ireland, worked in shoemaking before becoming a grocer.[1] The eldest of five children, Francis had two brothers, Martin and John, and two sisters, Marian and Helene. As a child, he served as an altar boy at the Holy Ghost Church.[2] He had a difficult relationship with his strict father, but was very attached to his mother.[1]

Spellman attended Whitman High School because there was no local Catholic school. He enjoyed photography and baseball; he was a first baseman during his first year of high school until a hand injury forced him to stop playing, and later managed the team.[3] Following his high school graduation, Spellman entered Fordham University in New York in 1907. He graduated in 1911 and decided to study for the priesthood. He was then sent by Archbishop William Henry O'Connell to study at the Pontifical North American College in Rome.[3] During his years in Rome, Spellman befriended such figures as Gaetano Bisleti, Francesco Borgongini Duca, and Domenico Tardini.[1] He also suffered from pneumonia, leaving his state of health so poor that his superiors wanted him to leave the North American College.[1] He nevertheless remained and managed to complete his doctorate.[3]


Spellman was ordained a priest by Patriarch Giuseppe Ceppetelli on May 14, 1916.[4] Upon his return to the United States, he did pastoral work in the Archdiocese of Boston. Cardinal O'Connell, who had earlier sent Spellman to Rome, took an apparent dislike to the young priest.[1] O'Connell referred to him as a "little popinjay" and later said, "Francis epitomizes what happens to a bookkeeper when you teach him how to read."[5] Spellman served as a chaplain at St. Clement's Home, an institution for elderly women, before becoming a curate at All Saints Church in Roxbury.[1]

Following the United States' entry into World War I in 1917, he applied to become a military chaplain in the U.S. Army but could not meet the height requirement. Spellman's comparable application to the U.S. Navy was personally rejected, twice, by the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Franklin D. Roosevelt. Finally, Cardinal O'Connell assigned him to promote subscriptions for the archdiocesan newspaper, The Pilot instead.[3] He was named assistant chancellor (1918) and later archivist of the Archdiocese. After translating into English two books written by his friend Borgongini Duca,[1] Spellman was made the first American attaché of the Vatican Secretariat of State in 1925.[4] He also worked with the Knights of Columbus in running children's playgrounds, and was raised to the rank of Privy Chamberlain on October 4, 1926 by Pope Pius XI.[4]

In 1927, Spellman established a lifelong friendship with Archbishop Eugenio Pacelli during a trip to Germany, where Pacelli was serving as Apostolic Nuncio.[3] He translated Pius XI's first broadcast over Vatican Radio in 1931.[6] Later that year, Spellman was charged with smuggling Non Abbiamo Bisogno, the papal encyclical condemning Benito Mussolini, out of Rome and to Paris, where he then delivered it to the press;[3][6][7] he was subsequently attacked by Italian newspapers.[1] He also served as secretary to Lorenzo Cardinal Lauri at the 1932 International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin, and helped reform the Vatican's press office, introducing mimeograph machines and issuing press releases.[1]

Episcopal career

Auxiliary Bishop of Boston

On July 30, 1932, Spellman was appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Boston and Titular Bishop of Sila by Pius XI.[8] He had originally been considered for the bishoprics of Portland and Manchester.[1] He received his episcopal consecration on the following September 8 from Cardinal Pacelli (whose old vestments Spellman himself wore[3]), with Archbishops Giuseppe Pizzardo and Borgongini Duca serving as co-consecrators, at St. Peter's Basilica. His was the first consecration of an American bishop ever to be held at St. Peter's.[7] He was given as his episcopal motto: Sequere Deum, meaning, "Follow God."[9]

After his return to the United States, Spellman resided at St. John's Seminary in Brighton. He was later made pastor of Sacred Heart Church in Newton Center; he erased the church's $43,000 debt through different fundraising activities and the help of his many rich connections.[1] When his mother died in 1935, her funeral was attended by Governor James Curley, Lieutenant Governor Joseph Hurley, and many clergy, except for Cardinal O'Connell.[1]

As late as June 1936, polls gave President Roosevelt at best a 50 percent chance of reelection, due largely to the nightly, national radio attacks by Father Coughlin of Detroit. Spellman arranged with Joseph Kennedy to finance a visit by Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pacelli. Spellman and Pacelli visited each major Catholic population center. Cardinal Pacelli gagged Father Coughlin. The result of their efforts was the "landslide vote" for Roosevelt in November 1936. Rose Kennedy bluntly asked Roosevelt for Joe's appointment as ambassador to England's Court of St. James's. Pacelli requested a full American ambassador to the Vatican, but the best Roosevelt could do was a "personal envoy". Spellman, by this political maneuver, prevailed over the man who prevented him from becoming a U.S. Navy chaplain in 1917.

Archbishop of New York

Styles of
Francis Spellman
CardinalCoA PioM.svg
Reference style His Eminence
Spoken style Your Eminence
Informal style Cardinal
See New York

Following the death of Pius XI, Cardinal Pacelli was elected as Pope Pius XII, and one of his first acts was to appoint Spellman the sixth Archbishop of New York on April 15, 1939. He succeeded the late Cardinal Patrick Joseph Hayes, and was formally installed as Archbishop on the following May 23. In addition to his duties as diocesan bishop, he was named Apostolic Vicar for the U.S. Armed Forces on December 11, 1939. He spent many Christmases with U.S. troops in Japan, Korea, and Europe in this capacity.[2]

During his tenure in New York, Spellman's considerable national influence in religious and political matters earned his residence the nickname of "the Powerhouse".[10] He hosted such prominent figures as Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr., Bernard Baruch, David I. Walsh, John William McCormack, and numerous other politicians, entertainers, and clergymen.[1] In 1945, he instituted the Al Smith Dinner, an annual white tie fundraiser for Catholic Charities attended by prominent national figures, including presidential nominees.

Following his ascension to New York, Spellman also became a close confidante of President Roosevelt.[1] During World War II, he was chosen by Roosevelt to act as the latter's agent and visit Europe, Africa, and the Middle East in 1943, visiting a total of 16 countries in four months.[11] As archbishop and military vicar, he would have greater freedom than official diplomats.[1] Spellman also acted as a liaison between Pius XII and Roosevelt in the Pope's attempts to have Rome declared an open city and save it from the relentless bombing other European capitals suffered and risk potentially destroying Rome's historical sites and ruins, including Vatican City. In 1946, he received The Hundred Year Association of New York's Gold Medal Award "in recognition of outstanding contributions to the City of New York".


Pius XII created him Cardinal Priest of Santi Giovanni e Paolo, Rome in the consistory of February 18, 1946; his titular church was the same one held by Pius before he was elected to the papacy.

Vehemently anti-Communist, Spellman once said that "a true American can neither be a Communist nor a Communist condoner"[12] and that "the first loyalty of every American is vigilantly to weed out and counteract Communism and convert American Communists to Americanism".[12] He was firm supporter of Joseph McCarthy.[1] In 1949, when gravediggers at Calvary Cemetery in Queens went on strike for a pay raise, the Cardinal accused them of being Communists and recruited seminarians from St. Joseph's Seminary as strikebreakers.[13] He described the actions of the gravediggers, who belonged to the Food, Tobacco, Agricultural, and Allied Workers Union of America, as "an unjustified and immoral strike against the innocent dead and their bereaved families, against their religion and human decency".[13] The strike was supported by such figures as Dorothy Day and Ernest Hemingway, who wrote a scathing letter to Spellman.[1] Spellman defended Senator Joseph McCarthy's 1953 investigations of Communist subversives in the federal government, stating at an April 1954 breakfast attended by the Senator that McCarthy had "told us about the Communists and about Communist methods" and that he was "not only against communism—but ... against the methods of the Communists".[14]

Spellman denounced the efforts of Rep. Graham Barden to provide federal funding only to public schools as "a craven crusade of religious prejudice against Catholic children",[15] even calling Barden himself an "apostle of bigotry".[16] The Cardinal engaged later in a heated public dispute with former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt in 1949 when she expressed her opposition to providing federal funding to parochial schools in her column, My Day.[16] In response, Spellman accusing her of anti-Catholicism and called her column a "[document] of discrimination unworthy of an American mother".[16] He eventually met with her at her Hyde Park home to quell the dispute.

Spellman frequently criticized films he perceived to be immoral or indecent. He described Two-Faced Woman as "an occasion of sin ... dangerous to public morals",[17] The Miracle (which led to Joseph Burstyn, Inc v. Wilson) as a "vile and harmful picture ... a despicable affront to every Christian",[18] and Baby Doll as "revolting" and "morally repellent".[19] His condemnation of Forever Amber caused producer William Perlberg to publicly refuse to "bowdlerize the film to placate the Roman Catholic Church".[1]

As archbishop he assigned Ivan Illich as pastor to a Puerto Rican parish in Washington Heights, Manhattan, in 1951. He was instrumental in getting William Brennan appointed to the Supreme Court in 1956, but would later regret the decision. Justice William O. Douglas once said, "I came to know several Americans who I felt had greatly dishonored our American ideal. One was Cardinal Spellman."[1]

Spellman participated in the 1958 papal conclave, which elected Pope John XXIII. He was considered dismissive of Pope John, and is reported to have said, "He's no Pope. He should be selling bananas."[1] In 1959, he served as papal delegate to the Eucharistic Congress in Guatemala; during his journey, he stopped in Nicaragua and, contrary to the Pope's orders, publicly appeared with dictator Anastasio Somoza Garcia.[1]

Despite the fact that John F. Kennedy was a Catholic, Spellman supported Richard Nixon in the 1960 presidential election, due to Kennedy's opposition to federal aid for parochial schools and to appointing a U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See.[1] His support for Nixon ended a long partnership with Kennedy's father, Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr.[1] Spellman had previously presided over the weddings of Robert and Ted Kennedy.

Growing revolution

Spellman attended the Second Vatican Council from 1962 to 1965, and sat on its Board of Presidency.[4] A theological conservative, he was cautious of aggiornamento and, before departing to Rome, declared, "No change will get past the Statue of Liberty."[1] The Cardinal believed that predominantly liberal clergymen were being appointed to the Council's commissions, and opposed the introduction of vernacular into the Mass, saying, "The Latin language, which is truly the Catholic language, is unchangeable, is not vulgar, and has for many centuries been the guardian of the unity of the Western Church."[1]

Spellman, following the death of John XXIII, participated in the conclave of 1963, which resulted in the election of Pope Paul VI. When The Deputy, a controversial play about Pius XII's actions during the Holocaust, opened on Broadway in 1964, Spellman condemned the play as "an outrageous desecration of the honor of a great and good man".[20] The play's producer, Herman Shumlin, responded by calling the Cardinal's words a "calculated threat to really drive a wedge between Christians and Jews".[1] He also worked with Manhattan District Attorney Frank Hogan in targeting comedian Lenny Bruce, who often satirized Spellman and was convicted of obscenity after a widely publicized six-month trial in 1964.

Although he once expressed his personal opposition to civil rights demonstrations,[1] Spellman declined J. Edgar Hoover's requests to condemn Martin Luther King, Jr., and funded the trip of a group of New York priests and nuns to the Selma to Montgomery marches. He opposed racial discrimination in public housing[12] but also the social activism of such priests as David Kirk and the Berrigan brothers, Daniel and Philip Berrigan.[1]

LBJ and Vietnam

During the 1964 presidential election, Spellman supported Lyndon B. Johnson, whose Higher Education Facilities Act and Economic Opportunity Act had greatly benefited the Church.[1] The Cardinal later agreed to Johnson's requests to send priests to the Dominican Republic to defuse anti-American sentiments following the invasion of 1965.[1]

Spellman was an outspoken supporter of the Vietnam War, to the extent that the conflict became known as "Spelly's War" and the Cardinal as the "Bob Hope of the clergy".[1] He met Ngo Dinh Diem in 1950 and, favorably impressed by his strongly Catholic and anti-Communist views, promoted his career; however, he disassociated from Diem before the latter's assassination in 1963.[1] Fearful of Communist gains in Vietnam, Spellman had urged American intervention since late 1954,[1] but by the 1960s his views were strongly criticized by antiwar activists and even his fellow religious leaders.

When Paul VI visited the United States in October 1965, he indirectly rebuked Spellman's hawkish stance by pleading for peace before the United Nations. A group of college students protested outside his residence in December 1965 for suppressing antiwar priests, and he later spent that year's Christmas with troops in South Vietnam.[1] While in Vietnam, Spellman quoted Stephen Decatur in declaring, "My country, may it always be right, but right or wrong, my country".[1] He also described Vietnam as a "war for civilization" and "Christ's war against the Vietcong and the people of North Vietnam".[1] One priest accused Spellman of "[blessing] the guns which the pope is begging us to put down".[12] In January 1967, antiwar protestors disrupted a Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral.[21] His support for Vietnam, along with his opposition to Church reform, greatly undermined Spellman's clout within the Church and country.[1]

Spellman was awarded the prestigious Sylvanus Thayer Award by the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1967. Illustrator Edward Sorel designed a poster in 1967 titled Pass the Lord and Praise the Ammunition, showing the Cardinal carrying a rifle with bayonet, but the poster was never distributed because Spellman died right after it was printed.[22]

Later life

In 1966, Spellman offered his resignation to Pope Paul after the latter requested that bishops over 75 retire, but Paul asked him to remain in his post.[23] He led his archdiocese through an extensive period of building the Catholic infrastructure, particularly the construction of numerous churches, schools, and hospitals. He consolidated all parish building programs into his own hands, thereby getting better interest rates from bankers, and convinced Pius XII of the need to internationalize the Vatican's Italy-centered investments after World War II; for his financial skill, he was sometimes called "Cardinal Moneybags".[24]

Spellman died in New York at age 78, and was buried in the crypt under the altar at St. Patrick's Cathedral. His funeral Mass was attended by the likes of President Johnson, Vice President Hubert Humphrey, Robert Kennedy, Jacob Javits, Nelson Rockefeller, John Lindsay, Arthur Goldberg, and Archbishop Iakovos.[25] To date, Spellman's twenty-eight year tenure as Archbishop is the longest one in the history of the Archdiocese of New York.

Alleged homosexuality

John Cooney, one of Spellman's biographers, cited four interviewees who stated that Spellman was homosexual. While Cooney's book offered no direct proof, Cooney was convinced of the veracity of the claims. "I talked to many priests who worked for Spellman and they were incensed, dismayed and angered by his conduct."

Journalist Michelangelo Signorile, who describes Spellman as "one of the most notorious, powerful and sexually voracious homosexuals in the American Catholic Church's history",[26] reported that Cooney's manuscript, The American Pope, initially contained interviews with several people with personal knowledge of Spellman's homosexuality, including researcher and historian C. A. Tripp. According to Signorile, the church pressured Cooney's publisher, Times Books, to reduce the four pages discussing Spellman's sexuality to a single paragraph.[26] There is a report that during World War II Spellman was carrying on a relationship with a male member of the chorus in the Broadway revue One Touch of Venus.[27] Monsignor Eugene V. Clark, Spellman's personal secretary of 15 years, asserted that the allegations were "utterly ridiculous and preposterous."[28]

See also

  • List of notable cardinals


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 1.14 1.15 1.16 1.17 1.18 1.19 1.20 1.21 1.22 1.23 1.24 1.25 1.26 1.27 1.28 1.29 1.30 1.31 1.32 1.33 1.34 1.35 1.36 Cooney
  2. 2.0 2.1 TIME 1959
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 Thornton
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Miranda
  5. TIME 1967
  6. 6.0 6.1 TIME 1932-08-15
  7. 7.0 7.1 TIME 1931 Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "promised" defined multiple times with different content
  8. Catholic Hierarchy (unofficial Website)
  9. Cardinal Spellman High School
  10. Quinn 2006
  11. TIME 1943-06-07
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 O'Donnell 2009
  13. 13.0 13.1 TIME 1949-03-14
  14. NYT 1954-11-08
  15. Truman Library
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 "My Day in the Lion's Mouth". TIME Magazine. 1949-08-01.,9171,794889-1,00.html. 
  17. "To See Is to Sin". TIME Magazine. 1941-12-08.,9171,849670,00.html. 
  18. "The Miracle". TIME Magazine. 1951-02-19.,9171,814334,00.html. 
  19. "The Trouble with Baby Doll". TIME Magazine. 1956-01-14.,9171,824692,00.html. 
  20. DeMarco 1998
  21. For reminiscences by one protestor, see Epstein 2001
  22. National Portrait Gallery Website, annotated image of the poster
  23. TIME Magazine. 1966-10-21.,9171,836510-2,00.html. 
  24. "The Pastor-Executive". TIME Magazine. 1964-05-15.,9171,871039,00.html. 
  25. "Requiem for a Cardinal". TIME Magazine. 1967-12-15.,9171,837619,00.html. 
  26. 26.0 26.1 Signorile 2002
  27. Loughery, p. 152
  28. NYT 1984

Works cited

Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Patrick Cardinal Hayes
Archbishop of New York
1939 – 1967
Succeeded by
Terence Cooke
Preceded by
John Francis O'Hara
Archbishop for the Military Services
1939 – 1967


la:Franciscus Iosephus Spellman no:Francis Joseph Spellman zh:弗兰西斯·斯贝尔曼