Tomorrow is the 90th anniversary of Good Pope John (now St Pope John) being ordained Bishop as titular Archbishop of Areopolis consequent upon his appointment as Apostolic Visitor to Bulgaria. Contrary to what is often said abut this, it was NOT the usual practice at that time to invest those delegated as Apostolic Visitors with archiepiscopal character. Indeed, Pope Pius XI, who was sending Don Angelo to Bulgaria, was not himself made an archbishop when he was sent as Apostolic Visitor to Poland and Lithuania on April 25, 1918. Naming Don Angelo archbishop may well have been prompted by his own disgraceful treatment when he was barred from entering the room where the Polish Bishops were meeting at the monastery of Częstochowa by the prelate acting as secretary for the meeting. He was pointedly told: “Polish bishops don’t need a Vatican priest to advise them”.
Fr Ratti soon got his revenge. The prelate concerned was the prince bishop of Cracow, Adam Stefan Sapieha. His two predecessors as Bishop of Cracow had been made cardinals — Albin Cardinal Dunajewski after 11 years; Jan Maurycy Pawel Cardinal Puzyna z Kosielsko after 6 — but by the time he might have expected the gallero rosso, Ratti was Pope. Sapieha had to wait until 1946 and new Pope’s first consistory.
But, surely, there must be more to it than that? Indeed, there is It must be remembered that although Don Angelo was, perhaps, not all that well known in some parts of the Vatican, he was very well known in the rooms that matter in the Apostolic Palace. Pope Pius XI knew him well, having first met him when Don Angelo was appointed secretary to his best friend, Mgr Giacomo Mari Radini-Tedeschi, when he was made bishop of Bergamo.
Bishop Radini-Tedeschi was an alumnus of the Academia, Class of 1890, and he, too, had gone on to serve, not in the Congregation for the Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs of the Holy See. Indeed, in that same year that he entered the Academia, 1890, he was appointed an assistant in that Secretariat (things were done a bit differently then). It is important to note that the Cardinal Secretary of State at that time was Mariano Cardinal Rampolla, whose candidacy at the conclave in 1903 was vetoed by Jan Cardinal Puzyna on the orders of the Austro-Hungarian Emperor, Franz Josef I. More importantly, the Cardinal Secretary of State’s personal secretary/office chief was Fr Giacomo della Chiesa, the future Pope Benedict XV.
In 1891, Fr Radini-Tedeschi was chosen as “ablegate” to convey the “gallero rosso”, the doubly 15-tasselled cardinal’s hat of old, to Austria-Hungary, for it to be presented to Mgr Anton Joseph Gruscha, prince-archbishop of Vienna, by the Emperor, Franz Josef I. Then, in 1893, he was assigned the same role to convey the cardinal’s hats to Paris, so that the y might be presented by President Marie François Sadi Carnot to Mgrs Victor-Lucien-Sulpice Lecot, archbishop of Bordeaux, and Joseph-Christian-Ernest Bourret, bishop of Rodez. This was a highly important mission as it was part of Pope Leo XIII’s attempt to woo the French Third Republic and these two ecclesiastics were very important allies in that regard.
As was the practice at the time, Fr Radini-Tedeschi was allowed to invite a priest friend to accompany him on these missions. He invited his best friend from his days at the Pontifical Lombard Seminary in Rome (and I believe they were in fact friends before this), Fr Achille Ratti, the future Pope Pius XI.
PS: The choice of titular See for the new Archbishop Roncalli is interesting. As is well known, the Good Pope John hailed from Bergamo. The See of Areopolis had just become available (you can’t really say “vacant”) as the previous holder of it had died during the preceding month, on Tuesday, February 10. That previous owner was Archbishop Paolo Emio Bergamaschi. I think I am right in saying that that family name can be translated as meaning “from Bergamo”!