An Audience With Pius X – Rome, Italy

We arrived in Rome at three in the afternoon, with letters which ensured us an audience with the Pope. A friend, long resident in Rome, who advised us to present them at once, accompanied us to the Vatican. Passing through an interesting part of the city, including the St. Angelo Bridge across the Tiber, we soon found ourselves in the world-famous Colonnade of St. Peter’s. Ascending the steps leading to the Vatican, we passed the Swiss Guard in their famous uniforms designed by Michelangelo, and climbed what seemed like endless stairs, passing guards at almost every turn, who pointed out the way indicated by the address on our credentials.

Arriving at an anteroom, a priestly secretary, speaking excellent English, read our letter with what seemed to us, from the expression of his face, great interest and evident approval. Why should this not have been? Our letter was from the Apostolic Delegate then in Washington the Pope’s own representative in America. It was in Italian, in the highest official form, and conveyed the intelligence that we were traveling in Italy for a brief vacation, mentioned all four of us by name, and said that, while we were not Catholics, we respected the faith and would carefully observe all the forms prescribed for an audience. The monseigneur whom we were to see was at that time engaged with several bishops. Because of this, we were asked to present our-selves at the same hour on Saturday, meanwhile leaving our letter.

Promptly at the hour I was again at the door of the major domo, Monseigneur Bisleti, to he received again by the priestly secretary, by whom I was taken into the palatial rooms of the monseigneur. A moment here was sufficient to explain my errand and receive from the monseigneur the long-coveted permission, which I found had already been made out in due form for four persons. Our cards entitled. us to admission on the following day, which made necessary unexpected haste in arranging for the official costume of black. Fortunately we had all brought black veils and some of us either gowns or skirts. With help from others, we secured one or two necessary waists, and from our hostess obtained the rosaries I wished to have blest by the Pope. Our hostess then gave us a dress rehearsal, in order that we might fully understand what to us would be an imposing ceremony. An audience is a great function and the procedure accordingly is rigid.

On reaching the Vatican next day, we were directed by the Swiss Guard, not to the major domo’s apartments as before, but through a court and thence up the grandest of staircases in three long flights, the walls lined with beautiful marbles more wonderful than many pictures, the light coming through magnificent stained-glass windows. In every sense here was a palatial, an imperial, entrance. At the head of the stairway we were met by gorgeous chamberlains, the body servants of the Pope, clad in superb magenta brocaded velvet, with knee breeches, magenta silk stockings, and great silver buckles on their shoes. Streamers hanging from their arms at the back, added to the official appearance of these men in their gorgeous uniforms.

We were shown through a magnificent ante-chamber, and then into a series of reception rooms, through which we were motioned on, until we came to the fourth, where were just four chairs which seemed to be waiting for us four. Swiss guards patrolled the rooms, and others–chamberlains, I suppose. We had a full half hour in which to wait here, but we could use it to advantage, in watching the gathering company, and viewing the magnificent room, hung as it was with rich red moire silk, as were all others of the suite. The ladies in black garb became very, effective figures in this brilliant setting. There were many beautiful tapestries in the rooms, one room having a tapestried frieze. The furniture was massive, either of inlaid wood or heavy gilt, and the floors of beautiful inlaid marble. It is not possible to give any adequate idea of these stately rooms, nor of their exquisite appointments; nor yet of the gathering company, for many high officials of the church passed before us and through to rooms beyond, which added to the interest of the occasion and the splendor of the scene.

We learned soon that this was to be no ordinary audience, but a special one granted to alumni of the American College in Rome. A few days before we left New York, a large company of American priests, graduates of the American College, had sailed on a chartered steamer to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the college, from which they had received holy orders. This audience had been specially arranged for them. We were therefore more than favored in having an audience at the same time, a fact due probably to the credentials with which we had come provided. We now understood that the officials of the church who had entered this room were our own American bishops. With them had however come others of high rank. Over their priestly robes of black they wore rich purple silk capes, falling to the floor, and purple sashes. (There are, of course, technical terms for these garments, but I do not know them.) The special body guard of the Pope, three men chosen from the Palatine guard, and in soldier’s uniform, now passed through the room with a noble guard of the Knights of Malta and Count Moroni, also in uniform, with chapeau, feathered with plumes of black and white.

At exactly half after eleven, Monseigneur Bisleti, watch in hand, bustled through, followed by bishops and priests. We were at once on our knees, for His Holiness was seen to be approaching from rooms beyond. As he advanced we could see his small figure, clad in white, surrounded by court attendants, American bishops, an archbishop, the Palatine guard, Monseigneur Bisleti, and the Knight of Malta. Between us and the doorway through which he approached, stood a girl of twelve, in white garments and veil. She had come from her first communion. Near her was a Franciscan monk, who evidently had just returned from some mission field, for he was bronzed, and haggard, and worn as to his garments. As the Pope passed he gave a special word of blessing to the monk, and a smile to the child.

The ceremony of the audience itself was simple. The Pope walked past the kneeling people, giving to each his hand. This each one took, kissing his ring. Filling the center of the room, as we were kneeling around the sides, were the priestly courtiers, the Papal delegate, in gray robes, a prominent figure among them. The Pope passed on through several rooms filled with waiting priests. We were then all bidden to follow to the throne room, for a special ceremony. An audience generally ends when the Pope leaves the room in which he receives you, giving his blessing to all as he leaves.

In the throne room now the American alumni were to present their addresses to the Pope. As we entered, undergraduates of the college were discovered already there singing. Until the addresses were read, the singing was continued. It was all a magnificent sight, the little white father on his splendid throne, his court about him, his special body servant holding his red cape (to be used in case of drafts), and, as a background for all the colors of the court scene, several hundred black-robed priests.

Monseigneur Kennedy, rector of the college, read an address, as did Rev. Father Wall of Baltimore, president of the association. To these the Pope replied, reading from a manuscript. After this, be rose, mingled with his entourage, and chatted pleasantly with bishops and others. A picture was then taken of the court, the priests and students. These American priests and under-graduates were a fine company of men. The Pope finally gave his blessing to all who were assembled in the room, and the great function was over.