Friday, July 21


More on the Ghastly Cardinal O'Connell of Boston

Following up once again on Andy's post, Rocco has posted a picture of the late and apparently unlamented Cardinal's rather grand residence (at least by American standards), owned by successive archbishops of Boston until the Capuchin Cardinal O'Malley sold it off in 2004 to Boston College, which may turn it into a club. Being both an architect, an ultramontane triumphalist and, yes, mea maxima, a bit of a snob, I don't mind a proper episcopal palace, but what strikes me about the structure in question is not its palatial, institutional grandeur, but the fact it has so very little of it.

This is not a proper bishop's palace. In appearance, if not in reality, it looks like a luxurious, comfortable grand house for one man, not the central headquarters for one of Christ's representatives on earth. (In reality, there are offices and meeting rooms as well as residential quarters, but it doesn't really convey that on the outside.) The famous bishop's residence in Astorga has a Gothic majesty to it which makes it more than just a house for a single, anonymous bishop, and even the hideously inappropriate but quite splendid prince-bishop's Residenz in Würzburg points to something bigger than itself. These were both places where, if the bishop had so desired (I have no idea if he did), he could live in outward splendor but, like Charles Borromeo, could sleep on the floor at night just as easily. Not so in Boston, a place which suggests not the Apostolic Palace but the Vanderbilts. There is a difference between luxury and grandeur, and if we could rediscover that difference today, the world would be a far richer and more interesting place.

Incidentally, does anyone know if O'Connell is the model for the much more morally upright, though gruff and even paranoid, Archbishop Glennon in the novel The Cardinal? The time period's right, as is the lingering presence of the saintly Merry del Valle in the background. I should be quite sad if that's the case as I always rather liked the character.

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