The Feast of Pope St. Pius X (#4) - An Audience with St. Pius X by an American Bishop

Source: District of the USA

Bishop John B. Delany - picture from Boston Globe article announcing his death in 1906

For the week leading up to the feast of our patron on September 3, we will revisit seven articles that each tell something different about Pope St. Pius X.  The following was originally published by The Angelus in its August, 2010 issue.

This brief historical essay gives an insight into the man who was St. Pius X. The first-hand account of an American bishop will be of special interest to American readers. It also gives some insight into the Church in early 20th-century America.


Bishop John Bernard Delany, D.D., (1864-1906) was appointed to the See of Manchester, comprising the State of New Hampshire, by Pope Pius X on April 18, 1904, as its second bishop, and was consecrated by Archbishop Diomede Falconio, Apostolic Delegate to the US on September 8, 1904. One month after his consecration, Bishop Delany sailed for Europe on a trip to Rome in response to an invitation of the Holy Father to assist at the ceremonies of the jubilee, at the tomb of the apostles, of the 50th anniversary of the definition of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception. He was accompanied by his two sisters and his secretary, Fr. Joseph Anderson (subsequently an auxiliary bishop of Boston).

Arriving in Rome, Bishop Delany had an appointment with Girolamo Cardinal Gotti, Cardinal Prefect of the Propaganda [now the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith], to be followed by a private audience with the Pope on the 30th of November 1904. What follows are extracts of his diary:

The Rome of Pope Pius X, 1904

I had fitted myself out au fait, in Roman costume; the great broad hat with its green tassels, such as is worn by bishops (the saturno or cappello romano; the little purple skull cap (zucchetto) worn under it at the same time; a silk purple feriola or mantle (the ferraiolo was mandatory for all papal audiences until 1969); cross and all; and I presented myself at the Propaganda to pay my respects to His Eminence Cardinal Gotti. I sent in my card and, after a little delay, was ushered into a beautiful reception room. There at a table sat a handsome old gentleman. He wore a red zucchetta and a large pectoral cross. I advanced towards him, made my best bow, saluted him as “Your Eminence,” and began to tell him how pleased and honored I was to meet him, when the personage in question rose and prevented me kissing his hand, said in the Queen’s own English, “Why, man alive, I am only a poor little bishop like yourself!” It was Bishop Brindle of Nottingham.

Well, I got out of the predicament as best I could by telling him he looked as fine and as venerable as any cardinal.

A few moments after, I was in the presence of the real cardinal. No mistaking him this time, so much he resembles his familiar picture. He has a face ever to be remembered. Intelligence and benignity are the dominant traits that strike one at first glance. His feature are regular, his forehead very high and ample, and his little scarlet skull cap covers a crown of snowy white. He wore a simple black cassock trimmed with red, and a plain pectoral cross. He spoke with the gentlest, sweetest voice, and sat me down beside him on a sofa. He is a man in whose presence anyone would feel at ease. After the usual exchange of courtesies, he inquired where I was stopping in Rome, how long I was to remain, and proffered to get me an audience with the Holy Father. I made a few requests, to which he listened with the greatest consideration and then asked me to put them in writing. He told me he would be pleased to see me at any time during my stay. I then introduced Fr. Anderson, my “secretaire provisor”–as the cardinal smilingly called him. After a few more words of good wishes and a pleasant visit, with a good night and an au revoir, we retired.

And this is the man who, after the Pope, bears the burden of the universal Church.

May God lighten his load! It were a pity to break so good, so gentle, so lovable a soul as his.

Audience with the Pope

November 30. This is a never-to-be-forgotten day for us, for this day we have seen the Pope. What a happy privilege! To come into the presence of the highest representative of Christ on earth, the very head and center of the Catholic Church, to talk with him whom hundreds of millions revere and love, to touch and kiss his ring, to hear from his lips words of affection, and to carry away with us his blessing for ourselves, our friends, and for all those who asked for a share in his prayers! This was our joy today.

That is really all there is to tell, but I know that every detail of the visit will be of surpassing interest to our friends at home, and so I will give the particulars of it all.

Courtesy demands that a bishop from a missionary country such as ours pay his first visit to the Cardinal Prefect of the Propaganda, and the second visit to the Holy Father. The audience is arranged by the Maistre di Camera, at present the affable Mgr. Bisletti, and notice is sent to one’s city address, usually the day before the one appointed for the reception. Mine came last evening. In it was stated that the Holy Father would receive me at 11:30 today and that I would be accompanied by my secretary and my two sisters. There was a little flurry of preparation. Etiquette requires ladies to wear black dresses and a black veil or mantle. We had many beads, crosses, pictures, to be blessed, and these had to be got in order. What we were to say, what we were to do–for it was a private audience that was accorded us–was a source of preoccupation all the evening previous. This at last was the end of our long travel; for this especially had we come; and now the long-looked-for event was at hand.

The morning was bright and crisp. It was the day of the opening of the Italian parliament. The streets were filled with soldiers. The procession looked like a medieval pageant. The carriages of the officials were rich, and ornamented with gold trappings; that of the king was drawn by six horses caparisoned and mounted by out riders in elaborate uniforms. On the carriage behind rode the footmen, in red, with white wigs and three-cornered hats. A double file of soldiers lined the streets from the Quirinal to the Parliament House, and between these, in a closed carriage, passed the king, bowing right and left. There was little enthusiasm. Hats were lifted as the king and queen passed, and that was all. We enjoyed the sight, but it was not for that we had come. It was to see a greater being that we were on our road this day.

Arrived at the Vatican, we passed through the various antechambers. These were rich and beautiful. The Swiss guards in their multi-colored uniforms and their long halberts, presented arms as we passed. Pages in red velvet attended to our wraps, and led the way. In the waiting chamber was a throne and a dais where the Pope receives in state.

Here were a number of bishops and priests from all parts of the world. An Irish bishop told me there were waiting with him a bishop from Norway, one from South Africa, and one from Patagonia. Here, too, were gathered in picturesque groups members of the Noble Guard, distinguished by their helmets and great horse-hair plumes; counts with their court costume of black and gold, and their decorations of many orders. In a few minutes our turn came. I was ushered alone into what seemed to be a private study or library of the Pope. The Holy Father was alone in the great room, and sat behind a desk near the door. As I entered, he arose and came toward me. He was all in white, from the white silk skull cap to the white slippers embroidered with gold. His face was as white as the cassock he wore, but his eyes beamed a warm, kindly welcome. Taking my hand in his after I had kissed it, he led me to a chair beside his own and bade me be seated. I spoke to him in Latin, told him who I was, that I had been consecrated on our Lady’s Nativity day, and had come to thank him for the honor he had conferred upon me in making me a bishop of the Church, and to assist at the great Feast of the Immaculate Conception. As I spoke my thanks, he raised his hand in protestation. I begged his blessing for myself, my family, my priests and religious, and my people. He forestalled my petition and said, oh so tenderly and devoutly: “I bless them all, and all to whom you shall bring my blessing.” He then asked me how many Catholics there are in my diocese. I told him, and added that their number is about one-third of the population.

“You must strive to make the remaining two-thirds Catholics also,” he said. He asked me the names of the religious communities in the diocese.

“Are your people good Catholics?” he pursued.

“Good Catholics, Holy Father,” I answered.

“And your priests?” he added.

“Faithful and devoted,” I assured him.

“Deo gratias,” he said devoutly.

He asked me my age. [Bishop Delany was 40 years old at this audience.] I told him I thought I was the youngest bishop in the United States, to which he replied “Forsitan in tota ecclesia – perhaps in the entire Church.”

I then asked His Holiness for some special blessings–for Trinity College, Washington, for the Carmelite Convent in Boston, for a few devoted friends of Fr. Anderson, who was with me, and then asked him to sign his name to his picture. This he did most graciously, adding a few words of prayer besides. Instead of using blotting paper, as we do at home, he used a little box of fine sand, which he sprinkled on the wet ink.

I then presented him with a bound volume of The Guidon, our diocesan magazine. I told him I was its founder, and its editor until my present appointment. He looked it over with interest, and exclaimed with a smile when he saw a picture of himself and the account of his coronation. I showed him our dear dead Bishop’s picture [Bishop Denis William Mary Bradley, first Bishop of Manchester, 1884-1903, and Bishop Delany’s mentor], that of the cathedral and residence, and, as I began again to ask his blessings, he again forestalled me, saying: “I bless the editor, the writers, the readers, and I pray God to prosper the work.”

I then begged our Holy Father to allow me to present Fr. Anderson and my sisters, who were waiting without. He said, “Assuredly,” and they came in. We all knelt. His Holiness arose again, and, giving his hand to each, said: “I bless you all, all that you have in your hands, all that you have in your hearts and in your minds.” Bidding us “Addio! Addio!” and bowing gently, he then brought our interview to an end.

Once outside the room, the first expression of all was–“How pale he looks, how tired, but how kind and gentle!” What wonder he should look weary and careworn with the weight he bears and the responsibility of the Church of the world upon him! Finis!

A Short Biography of Bishop Delany

John Bernard Delany was born on August 9, 1864, in Lowell, Massachusetts, to Thomas and Catherine Fox Delany. He was educated at Holy Cross College, Worcester, MA, and the Seminary of St. Sulpice, in Paris, France. He was ordained May 23, 1891, by Cardinal Richard, Archbishop of Paris. Fr. Delany was assigned to pastoral work in the Diocese of Manchester upon ordination until mid-1898 when Bishop Bradley appointed him as Chancellor of the Diocese and as his secretary. Fr. Delany was also founder-editor of the diocesan journal The Guidon and remained in these positions until Bishop Bradley’s death in December 1903.

He was appointed by Pope St. Pius X to be the second Bishop of the See of Manchester, New Hampshire, on April 18, 1904, and consecrated by Archbishop Falconio, Apostolic Delegate to the US on September 8, 1904. Early in his episcopacy, he made a visit to Rome and had a private audience with the future Saint, Pope Pius X, which thrilled him to no end. He was considered so capable that great things were expected of him, but it was not to be as he died of acute appendicitis. An incident from the time to be noted is that the diocese was split between two large groups of Irish-American and of French-Canadian families. Bishop Delany had thus appointed two personal physicians, one from each group, though it seems neither one could diagnose the problem as appendicitis until very late in the game. Eventually a specialist was called in from Boston who confirmed the correct diagnosis, but it was too late as peritonitis had set in. Bishop Delany died at age 42, on June 11, 1906, with only two years as Bishop.