Mooney may have been on path to papacy in 1958
Cardinal Mooney was relied upon for quiet and swift solution to urgent problems.
YOUNGSTOWN -- Had he not died just hours before the conclave of cardinals was to meet and select a new pontiff in 1958, would Cardinal Edward Mooney, who was reared in Youngstown, been seriously considered as a candidate for the papacy?
"We had heard that, but we doubted there would be an American elected. But Uncle Ed was considered quite a diplomat," recalled his grandniece, Sara (Mehler) Stephenson, 77, of Hermitage, Pa.
"It seemed like the higher he got in rank, the more humble. He had such a virtue of humility," she said.
The thought of Cardinal Mooney's consideration was, however, swirling around in the mind of at least one writer -- long before the death of the still-healthy and energetic Pope Pius XII.
John P. Leacacos, writing for the Cleveland Plain Dealer on Oct. 21, 1947, promoted the idea. He wrote that Cardinal Francis Spellman of New York most often mentioned that Cardinal Mooney, one of four American cardinals at the time, had a great deal of credibility in Rome as a possible American candidate to be chosen as pope one day.
Leacacos wrote, "But high as the respect for Cardinal Spellman is in the Vatican, it was surprising to discover that the 'credito,' to employ the Vatican phrase, of Cardinal Edward Mooney of Detroit was in many quarters even higher."
He added, "Cardinal Mooney's counsel, according to reports received from the apostolic delegation in Washington, was said to be the most heavily relied upon for quiet and swift solution of urgent problems of the church in the United States."
An untimely demise
The prospect of Cardinal Mooney's even having the opportunity to have the college of cardinals put his name on the secret ballot, however, was dashed when he unexpectedly died of a heart attack on Oct. 25 at age 76.
Stephenson said she clearly remembers the events immediately after the death of Pope Pius XII.
"My mother, who was his niece, and I happened to be in Youngstown for the weekend. It was a Friday, I believe," she said. "The cardinal called to say that he was going to leave by ship to go to Rome. He knew his heart condition would deter him from being over there for all the discussions [but] he said, 'I have to go, it's my duty.'"
The cardinal knew he was sick, would have "little, minor attacks" and was taking medication, she recalled.
Reports from Associated Press and United Press International noted that Cardinal Mooney had had lunch with Cardinal Francis Spellman and Cardinal James Francis McIntyre of Los Angeles in the North American College on Janiculum Hill in Rome.
Afterward, Cardinal Mooney was reported to have taken a short nap. When his private secretary, Monsignor Joseph Breitenbeck, went to awaken him, he had been stricken and was dying.
"He had said to Monsignor Breitenbeck, 'I'm going to lie down for a half-hour, and I'll set my watch,'" Stephenson said. "Monsignor Breitenbeck knew that his condition was serious enough, and he just had an uneasy feeling about it. He didn't feel right about waiting a half-hour.
"When he went in, Uncle Ed had already had a heart attack and was in the process of saying the prayers for the dying himself. His death was very sudden."
Upon news of his condition, Cardinals Spellman and McIntyre arrived at Cardinal Mooney's bedside to give the last rites of the church.
Bearers of bad news
The UPI story stated, "Moments later, the two saddened American churchmen joined the procession leading into the sacred conclave. Cardinal Spellman was in tears as he reported the news of Cardinal Mooney's death to his colleagues."
The report also said the dean of the sacred college, Cardinal Eugene Tisserant of France, received word of Cardinal Mooney's death just minutes before the conclave was to begin.
The UPI account stated, "Swiss Papal Guards tried to prevent church officials from entering to tell Tisserant the news because it was time for the historic meeting to start, but Vatican authorities ordered the guards to stand aside."
A funeral Mass was held the day after his death at the North American College in Rome, where his body lay in state.
Stephenson recalled that her family went to Detroit when the body was brought back from Rome.
Cardinal Mooney was the second cardinal to die in Rome since the death of Pope Pius XII on Oct. 9. The 82-year-old Cardinal Celso Constantini of Italy had died on Oct. 17 during the official Vatican mourning period.
On Oct. 28, left with only 51 members of the sacred college and on the 12th ballot, they elected Cardinal Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli -- Pope John XXIII.