John Cardinal Carberry was one of the men who had the unique experience of attending two Papal Conclaves within little more than a month of each other in 1978. He was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1904, the youngest of ten children. He enrolled at Cathedral College in 1915, where he displayed a love for the priesthood, playing the violin and baseball. Like many men who become Cardinals in the Church in America, he studied at the North American Pontifical College and was ordained in 1929.
He served as a curate at Saint Peter’s in Glen Cove, New York. Obtaining a doctorate of canon law from Catholic University of America in 1934. From 1935-1940 he served as secretary to the Bishop and Assistant Chancellor of the diocese of Trenton, New Jersey. (One of the hallmarks of Carberry’s career was a broad range of experience around the country rather than remaining in one diocese his entire life.)
From 1941-1945 he served as professor of canon law at Immaculate Conception Seminary in Huntington, New York. From 1945-1956 he was Chief Judge of the diocese of Brooklyn. In 1956 he was appointed Coadjutor Bishop of Lafayette, Indiana. He succeeded as second Bishop of Lafayette in 1957.
He attended all the sessions of Vatican II and was an active participant. In 1965 he was named seventh Bishop of Columbus, Ohio. At Columbus he gave active support both to the civil rights movement and ecumenicalism.
In 1968 he was appointed the fifth Archbishop of Saint Louis. By this time the chaos within the Church that followed in the aftermath of Vatican II was well underway and Carberry did his best to oppose it. He celebrated Humanae Vitae and established the Archdiocesan Pro-Life Commission, giving an early impetus to the pro-life movement in Saint Louis. He opposed Communion in the hand until 1977, fearing that it was irreverent and would lead to hosts being stolen for use in Black Masses. He spoke out loudly against the sitcom Maude, one of Norman Lear’s television vehicles to preach liberalism to what he perceived as the great unwashed, which celebrated contraception and abortion. He was one of the American prelates in the vanguard against the activities of the liberal Archbishop Jean Jadot, Apostolic Delegate to the United States from 1974-1980, whose influence on the Church in America was almost entirely pernicious.
Reaching the mandatory retirement age of 75, he retired in 1979 and passed away in 1998.
The first Conclave of 1978 was quick, two days, August 25-26, with only four ballots. (Conclaves often are briefer when they are not unexpected. Pope Paul VI had been in poor health for years and his death was anticipated.) Albino Luciani, Patriarch of Venice, was chosen as a compromise candidate, and not a very willing one. When elected his first response was, “May God forgive you for what you have done.” He chose to reign as John Paul, honoring John XXIII and Pope Paul VI.
Reigning only thirty-three days, one of the briefest Pontificates, John Paul I would be fated to be a forgotten Pope, but for his successor adopting the name of John Paul II. Albino Luciani was born in 1912, the eldest in a family of five children, to a bricklayer and his wife. He began attending a minor seminary in 1923 at Feltre and was no doubt mischievous as many boys can be as his superiors found him “too lively”. At the major seminary he attended in Belluno, he attempted to join the Jesuits but was denied by the local Bishop. After ordination in 1935 he served as a professor and vice Rector at the seminary. He obtained a doctorate in theology, magna cum laude from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome after receiving a papal dispensation, requested by his superiors, that allowed him to continue teaching at the seminary while pursuing the doctorate.
In 1947 he was made Vicar General of the diocese of Belluno.
He was made Bishop of Vittorio Veneto by Pope John in 1958. In 1969 he was made Patriarch of Venice. In 1973 he received his cardinal’s cap.
Of his papacy there is sadly very little to say. Publicly he was noted as the Pope of smiles, as that expression rarely left his face in public. However, he was also seen weeping in the Papal gardens. He was a charming writer as I can attest from having read his Illustrissimi, fictional letters to historical characters in which he deftly expressed Catholic teaching. Conspiracy nuts of course had a field day with his sudden death from a heart attack in bed. His short reign demonstrates that perhaps the truest words that we can ever say about God were uttered by Abraham Lincoln in his Second Inaugural: The Almighty has His own purposes.