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Beards for Bishops Campaign: Rome Edition

In the fall of 1997, I remember standing at the door to the Basilica of the Sacred Heart at Notre Dame, as I was congratulated several times on my appointment as auxiliary bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend.


A.J. Boyd, Bishop Daniel Jenky, 1997

Of course, it was not me, but Daniel Jenky, CSC, rector of the basilica who had been so nominated. I was merely serving as vimpa for Bishop John D’Arcy, who was on hand to make the announcement. I was also jokingly referred to among the other servers and basilica staff as Fr. Jenky’s body double, so alike we looked with beard and glasses. Vested in alb and vimp veil, it is no surprise I was mistaken for the bishop-elect on more than one occasion that day.

We decided to dub his excellency as poster-bishop for our newly founded “Beards for Bishops” campaign. We – seminarians, servers, and theology students – felt it was high time for the lingering prejudice against hirsute hierarchs in the Latin church to come to an end.

When differences become polarized divisions, extreme positions are taken in reaction to “the other” that would not be considered in an objective, balanced mindset. Thus Reformed churches become iconoclastic and whitewashed, while Catholic churches spew baroque excess, each extreme fueling an even more extreme reaction. Similarly, as Eastern and Oriental churches maintained and promoted a manful and manly beardliness for its clergy. in the wake of division, the Latin west insisted on the clean shaven route. Perhaps in the wake of that move, clean-shavenness was purported to be too effeminate for the orders of the East, and so on.

In law, starting in the twelfth century, Latin clergy were discouraged and sometimes forbidden from growing their beards. The Council of Toulouse, in 1119, apparently threatened excommunication for those whos facial hair grew (or merely grew unruly, it is not clear), and Pope Alexander III (1159-81) ordered his archdeacon (think vicar general/chief of staff) to ensure that all Roman deacons and presbyters were clean shaven, by force if necessary. Gregory IX incorporated Alexander’s decree into canon law, and there it remained into the twentieth century. In 1866, the second plenary council of Baltimore explicitly outlawed beards for clergy in the U.S. The 1917 Code of Canon Law said merely to keep a simple hair style (CIC 136 §1), so the local law and cultural taboo remained. No legislation regarding facial hair remains in the 1983 code, Deo gratias.


Innocent XII

It was not a consistent ban, despite the attitude and cultural assumptions during the Pian papacies of the 19th and 20th century. The popes from Clement VII (1523) to Inocent XII (d.1700) certainly had beards (as did, if the mosaics at San Paolo fuori le Mura are to be believed, most bishops of Rome from Peter through the first millennium  In fact, it was 800 years before we had the first beardless pontiff, in the person of Pope Valentine).

Nevertheless, the late pre-conciliar climate had ossified the  ban on barbarous appearance, and even after the apparent change with Vatican II, a bearded bishops was still barely to be found in the western Catholic church. From those humble beginnings in 1997, the Beards for Bishops campaign is now even more humble, and ready to tackle the next challenge: a bearded bishop of Rome.

Quod non fecerunt Barberini fecerunt barbari, anyone?

A sadly small number of cardinal electors willingly wear wisdom-witnessing whiskers:

  • George Allencherry, 69,
    Major Archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church
  • Moran Mor Baselios Cleemis, 53,
    Major Archbishop of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church
  • Reinhard Marx, 59,
    Archbishop of Munich
  • Antonius I Nagueb, 77,
    Patriarch emeritus of the Coptic Catholic Church
  • Sean O’Malley, 68,
    Archbishop of Boston

One could add to that the hairier heads of the other Catholic Churches sui iuris, whether patriarch or major archbishop, given their office as heads of churches, and whether created cardinal or not, equivalent (at least) to the cardinal-bishops in dignity:

  • Ibrahim Isaac Sidrak, 57,
    Patriarch of Alexandria for the Coptic Catholic Church
  • Gregory III Laham, 79,
    Patriarch of Antioch for the Greek-Melkite Catholic Church
  • Mar Ignatius Joseph III Younan, 68,
    Patriarch of Antioch for the Syrian Catholic Church
  • Nerses Bedros XIX Tarmouni, 73,
    Patriarch of Cilicia of the Armenian Catholic Church
  • Sviatoslav Shevchuk, 42,
    Major Archbishop of Kyiv–Halyč of the Ukranian Catholic Church

(Their Beatitudes, Patriarchs Bechara Boutrous al-Rahi of the Maronites and Raphael I Louis Sako of the Chaldeans are clean-shaven; rumors of Latinization have neither been confirmed, nor denied.)

Of these ten, then, who is papabile? The retired Coptic patriarch is already a patriarch emeritus and unlikely to succeed another. The Antiochene may be seen as too old. The Ukranian major archbishop, de facto patriarch of the second largest of the Catholic Churches (after the Roman), is seen as the most likely of the non-cardinals, but as more than a decade younger than the youngest cardinal, it is still a long shot. And, the idea of electing an eastern patriarch as bishop of Rome may still be too great a change for too great a number of cardinal-electors, though there is a sort of precedent (thirteen Greeks, four Syrians, and two from modern day Israel/Palestine, if you count Peter himself).

Though I might personally welcome such a move, let us assume it is unlikely. That leaves only two villous vescovi among the princes of the Roman Church.

ImageArchbishop Reinhard Marx of München serves on the pontifical council for peace and justice and the congregation for catholic education, and is president of the German bishops’ conference Committee for Social Issues. He was elected a year ago as President of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences in the European Union. He has published books on Catholic Social Teaching, and has been a bishop since 1996. When he was appointed, German news agency Deutsche-Press Agentur, described him as “left of center” in general, but “moderately conservative” on doctrinal issues. There have been seven or eight German popes, depending on whether you count Stephen IX, born in Lorraine (now France).

ImageArchbishop Seán Patrick O’Malley of Boston is an Irish American Capuchin, with a record of cleaning up dioceses damaged by the sex abuse scandal (and the bigger scandal of their cover-ups by bishops). He was born in Lakewood, OH (where I lived for all of three months in the wake of the abuse scandal-induced hiring freeze on the diocese there in 2002). His doctorate is in Spanish and Portuguese literature and he was the first cardinal to start a personal blog and podcast, in 2006. He serves on the Congregations for Clergy and Consecrated Life, and on the Council for Family. There has never been a capuchin pope, an American pope, or indeed, a genuinely Western pope (that is, a pope from the western hemisphere!)

Could one of these two men be elected bishop of Rome later this week? If so, the Beards for Bishops Campaign will rejoice in the return of the razorless pontificate after centuries of suppression.  Join us in prayer, invoking the patron saints of facial hair, St. Brendan the Navigator and St. Wilgefortis the bearded virgin and martyr.


The Golden Ring

The Gospel reading of the day reminded me of a column i had written as a college senior for our campus newspaper, The Observer, as part of what was called the “Inside Column” – a chance for the editorial staff to say whatever they wanted. It is interesting to read something i wrote over a decade ago and see how my style has changed… and where it has not.

It has also come up on occasion here in Rome, since so many people have commented on my Notre Dame ring. The class ring is not a common practice over here, and several of my classmates have admitted wondering if i was a bishop incognito when they first saw it! I have been promising a rediscovery of this article for some time:

We take pride in no symbol of our status as Notre Dame students and alumni than our class rings. No other school in the country has alumni as fanatic about proving their school pride so blatantly as our fellow Domers, and rightly so, for ours is a tradition of unparalleled family and excellence. But, as with all symbols, its meaning is polyvalent and there is much more to my class ring than simply showing off my bachelor of arts.

First, it is a sign that, at some point in my life, I had around $600* to shell out on a piece of jewelry. For myself; not as a gift or as a donation to someone who needed the money for food or clothing, but for a pretty piece of gold to sit on my finger.

It is a sign that I have literally bought into the very disease that I railed against when I first saw it permeating the ostensibly Catholic character of this institution. It is a malign corruption of life known as materialism, the cure for which is harder to find than “for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle.”

There are times when I feel the weight of my ring on my right hand and am forced to think of the chains that Marley wears in his visit to Ebeneezer Scrooge. It seems I have forged the first link in my own chains of eternal bondage, and I fear it is larger than most. Worse, I find no comfort in the idea that comes from a fundamental reading of Matthew 25:29 that reads: “For to one who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” It is an idea that seems to be incorporated into the mission statement of both financial aid and development offices.

Although I have only had my ring since July, I have already noticed several dings and imperfections. At first I was overwhelmed with what people would think when they saw how ugly my ring had become. I worried that I had not been able to keep it aesthetically perfect. Then I realized that its condition was a perfect allegory of Notre Dame itself.

When you’re here long enough to learn to care for the place and the people here, you pay attention to everything and you begin to see the dings and imperfections. For people of a good heart and a righteous soul, it is easy to become obsessed with these, discouraged that they exist and cynical that anyone could see beauty in something so horribly flawed.

But then you realize that despite a discoloration here or a small dent there, the whole of the ring is still gold, and to anyone who meets you and doesn’t inspect it with an overcritical eye, it may as well be unblemished.

Much the same can be said of the Notre Dame experience. Despite what corruption or frustrations you may find, in time (though usually not until after you graduate), you will learn to see again the gold of the whole and not just the damage of one small area.

Finally, it is a symbol of the office of Notre Dame Alumnus (or Alumna), which carries a unique power and responsibility. It is a sign of our education and our commitment to service. It is a sign that we can accomplish great things against formidable odds. It is a sign that will allow us unhindered passage into positions at any number of corporations, firms and grad schools. It is above all a reminder that “Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more!” (Luke 12.48)

*That was in 1999. Inflation and rising gold costs have nearly doubled the cost for today’s students and alumni.

Original publication:

ND Class Ring website:

St. André Bessette and company

Saints banners on St. Peter's

Six new saints were declared by Pope Benedict XVI during the weekend of 17 October, but one in particular stands out. Brother Andre Bessetté, CSC has been a familiar name to me since Notre Dame, and his story I had known something about even before then. In fact, throughout my four years of service on the altar at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, the Litany of Saints always concluded with a robust “Blessed Brother André… Pray for Us!”

Those years of prayer are ‘paid off’ today, in the official recognition of the Congregation of Holy Cross’ first saint – though rumour is the cause of CSC founder, Father Basil Moreau may be ready as early as 2012. Brother Andre is also the first native-born male saint of North America, having been born and raised in Canada.

Notre Dame pilgrims for canonizations

He was a simple porter, a door-keeper, not educated enough for presbyteral ordination, but a man gifted with healing and a particular devotion to St. Joseph in a time when Marian piety defined Catholic spirituality. One man’s simple prayer to see a small shrine to Our Lord’s earthly father near the school where he served lead eventually to the impressive St. Joseph Oratory of Mount Royal, in Montreal, Quebec. The oratory offers a biography of the new saint here.

A delegation of Holy Cross brothers and priests, Notre Dame students, alumni, and faculty converged on Rome along with thousands of Canadians and others devoted to Brother André. About two dozen of us participated in a program offered by ND’s Center for Social Concerns. On the eve of the canonization day, these pilgrims filled the church of St. Andrea della Valle to standing-room capacity, about five thousand by estimates I have seen.

One of the Domer alumns from the states was my friend and classmate Julie Fritsch, who i literally picked up from Leonardo DaVinci airport as i dropped off Simone. From pro-life marches in D.C. to canonizations in Rome, it is nice to know you can share the journey with friends over the course of decades!

We got to participate in the vigil at Sant’Andrea della Valle, the canonization mass at St. Peter’s, the premier of Salt and Light’s  documentary of his life, “God’s Doorkeeper”, and a presentation by ND Professor Kathleen Sprows Cummings on the process of canonization.

Julie and I on Ponte Sant'Angelo

Leading up to the weekend, the only names of the soon-to-be saints i knew were Brother André and Australia’s first saint, Sr. Mary MacKillop, founder of an order of women religious and contemporary of St. André.  The program on the morning of the liturgy described the six thus: One priest (Stanisław Kazimierczyk, Polish, 15th cent.), one religious (Br. Andre), and four “virgins”. IN addition to Mary MacKillop, there were two Italian sisters Giulia Salzano and Camilla Battista da Varano and Spanish nun Candida Maria of Jesus.

Why the four women were not identified as religious, as sisters, or even the three as founders of orders, i do not know. While chaste virginity can be holy (as can chaste marriage or celibacy) it seems to mischaracterize their vocations. After all, none were consecrated virgins, so much as religious and founders. Giulia and Candida were educators and catechists, Camilla was a princess turned nun, an example of the wealthy giving up materialism for service to the poor. Mary has been championed by some as an example for those persecuted by ecclesiastical authority for remaining true to the Gospel rather than “obedience” to abusive leaders.

Four of the six were all born in the 1840’s: André, Mary, Giulia and Candida. The other two were born mid-15th century.

Past and Present in Rome – una bella ospita

Simone's first cappuccino

Simone’s first cappuccino

Almost exactly 14 years ago, in my freshman year at Notre Dame, I met a spunky grad student in the medieval institute while serving at the altar of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart. In the decade since my graduation, I have not seen Simone until she arrived in Rome on October 1. In fact, there was a period of several years where I had lost complete contact with her (I am sad to say a common situation with some of my best friends from those days). It was no surprise then that one of her first observations was along the lines of, “Well, AJ, you are not 18 anymore!”

Dr. Simone Brosig received her PhD from the medieval institute at Notre Dame and now serves as Director of Liturgy for the Diocese of Calgary, Alberta. As blessed as I was to have almost two weeks to reconnect with a good friend, I think I can safely say she was a blessing to the whole Lay Centre community while she was with us – and certainly our Oasis in the City provided her a welcome refuge from the chaos of Rome.

Via della Pace

Over the next 12 days I made sure we visited all the familiar sites in the historic center: the four major basilicas, the fori imperiali, the pantheon, piazza navona, trevi fountain, the Gregorian and the Angelicum, and others. Given her Byzantine interests, we made a point to spend time in Santa Maria in Domnica, Santa Maria in Trastevere, San Clemente and Santa Praessede. We also managed a decent amount of gelato and genuine Roman pizza dinner on the Via della Pace, a classic Roman outdoor street scene if ever there was one.

Among a few new places for me were a day trip to Ostia Antica, a sizeable town in ruins that was the ancient seaport and military outpost for the Roman Republic and later Empire. We visited the Musei Borghese within the vast Villa Borghese at the north end of Rome – an elaborate estate once home to Scipione Borghese, the cardinal nephew of Pius V who precisely embodies the ecclesiastical nepotism of the period. (The word for nephew in Italian is in fact, nepote).

We also spent a day in Trastevere, discovering parts of the neighborhood I had not before, including Santa Cecelia and the little church home of the Heralds of the Gospel in Rome, San Benedetto in Piscinula, which houses a cell said to have been occupied by St. Benedict of Norcia when he came to Rome.

On a Sunday after introducing Simone to one of the best gellateria in Rome, the Gelateria del Teatro, we sat on the steps of a nearby church to eat the creative indulgence. San Salvatore in Lauro, as it turns out, was just about to celebrate the Eucharist with the auxiliary bishop responsible for the centro storico, Most Rev. Ernesto Mandara, presiding. It was one of the most authentically, local Roman liturgies I have been to, and concluded with the opportunity to be blessed with a second-class relic of Padre Pio (his habit). Not something I would have sought out, but truly Italian!

Also thanks to her visit I discovered that there are guided tours of the Vatican Gardens (which I will have to try), plenty of places to go dress and shoe shopping in Rome (which I will not be trying), and that one of her former professors is given a stately burial in the crypt of San Clemente, under the 4th century basilica.

The highlight of Simone’s visit was herself, of course, but a close second was Divine Liturgy on the 10th with the Melkite Catholics at Santa Maria in Cosmedin. Celebrating the Eucharist in Arabic, Greek, and Italian the small community follows the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom like most of the Byzantine rite churches, but somewhat simplified compared to the Slavic iterations. With the Synod of Bishops for the Middle East, the following week would see the Patriarch and most of the bishops worshiping with the small community – ‘unfortunately’ I was to be at the canonizations at St. Peter’s instead.

Santa Maria in Cosmedin

Angelicum Leads the Way in Rome for Eucharistic Adoration

Rome Reports is an English-language news program based in Rome, and broadcasting to several countries. They recently did a feature of the Angelicum, apparently the only Pontifical Univeristy in Rome with daily Eucharistic Adoration, including interviews with familiar faces: Benedict Croell, OP; Matthew John Paul Tan, PhD (another Russell Berrie Fellow); and Jill Alexy, M.Div. (fellow Notre Dame alumn).

You can watch the clip here:

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