Thursday, February 9, 2012

What It was Like Meeting Cardinal Pacelli by Rose Kennedy

"Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, who was then the Vatican Secretary of State - and later became Pope Pius XII - was visiting this country and before returning to Rome wanted to consult with President Roosevelt. Bishop (later Cardinal) Spellman, who was a close friend of Cardinal Pacelli's, and Joe worked out an arrangement for him to do so, informally, at Hyde Park, since the United States did not recognize the Vatican as an independent state and had no diplomatic relations with it.

The president invited Joe, as one of the nation's leading Catholic laymen, and me to join Cardinal Pacelli's entourage in New York and ride up to Hyde Park in the private railway car. On the car we were presented to His Eminence. I was struck by his appearance. He was a tall thin man of rather dark and sallow complexion and dark eyes behind rimmed spectacles set on a Roman nose. He was not a handsome man, yet his eyes shone with such intensity and compassion, in his bearing there was an unearthly sense of important purpose that I truly felt I was in the presence of a mortal who was very close to God.

At Hyde Park there were cars waiting to take us the additional few miles to the President's home. This was early November, and it was one of those flawless autumn days, crisp and bright and fair, with the sky blue and most of the colorful foliage still on the trees. Suddenly, about half way there, there were hundreds of children - from local and nearby parochial schools - lining the road, all rosy cheeked and excited and waving their little U.S. and papal flags. The cardinal could have waved and smiled and passed by; but instead that humane and godly man stopped our caravan, left his car and - with the red robes of his cardinalate moving with the shift of the autumn breezes - passed among the children, smiling and patting heads, and with his right hand making the Sign of the Cross or raised in a gesture of benediction. I shall never forget the future Pope Pius XII striding in his robes among those children on a rural roadside near the Hudson River in apple-and-pine tree country in New York State. It was such a happy and spontaneous gesture.

There were quite a few people at the Roosevelt house at Hyde Park. Eleanor Roosevelt was not there. I remember that FDR's mother, Sara Delano Roosevelt, was quite an imposing person, a handsome and impressive grande dame, whose appearance and attitude clearly demonstrated that she was in charge of the household.

On the way back to New York City the cardinal left his special railway car and came to take tea with us at our house in Bronxville [the home was later torn down in the 1950s and the lot was subdivided]. It was a most unusual gesture on his part. The visual memory that stays most clearly in my mind is of His Eminence sitting on the sofa in our living room, and of Teddy - then four years old - being deeply interested, and liking him very much, and finally going over to sit on his lap. Whereupon, of course, Teddy got a good, close look at the pectoral cross the cardinal wore on a long chain and was fascinated, took it and gazed at it, and turned it around and gazed some more. The cardinal accepted all that with smiles and complete understanding; he had a wonderful way with little children, and he loved them, I believe, as Jesus did. I have regretted that we didn't have a camera in the house at that time to record the scene. But I have kept that sofa ever since, through many moves and changes, and it is now to this day - along with so many other souvenirs of our lives - in our house at Hyannis Port [she even had a commemorative plaque fixed to the sofa]."

-Times to Remember by Rose Kennedy (her 1974 memoirs).


  1. I have a plastic Scapular Medal blessed by Pius XII. It was given to all the children of our parish by a great priest Father William Witt (Immaculate Conception Church in Youngstown, OH).

    I cherish that medal and wear it to this day.

    Pius XII was my hero since boyhood and we also share the same birthday March 2.

  2. Teddy writes of the Bronxville home in his autobiography (built around 1920).