Francis married Miss Ogden -- eight years his senior -- on January 4, 1898, a few weeks before his thirty-fifth birthday. Within a year Mrs. MacNutt voluntarily entered the Catholic Church, perhaps moved to do so after meeting a number of her husband's friends in Rome, and taking account of his responsibilities. For it was to Rome they went after a tour.
Soon after their arrival they were received in private audience by Pope Leo XIII. His Holiness reminded Francis he had been appointed a Papal Chamberlain, suggested that he remain in Rome to serve the
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Church, and proposed a meeting with Cardinal Rampolla, Secretary of State. Señor Merry del Val, Spanish Ambassador to Austria and father of the Monsignor, urged his younger friend to accept the Pope's suggestion as a command. Madame Merry del Val also urged the need of a house where distinguished visiting Catholics from abroad could meet what then was called the Black society of Rome. She intimated that the MacNutts might help usefully by setting up an establishment for brilliant entertaining.
After Italy had gained freedom and the House of Savoy had assumed government in Rome in 1870, the Pope had lost his temporal power. A number of aristocratic Roman families had remained faithful, politically, to the Pope, refusing acceptance of the Italian government, abstaining from voting and holding office, and boycotting the court socially. This was the Black society. Ultimately it became a losing game as the royal court grew in influence and attracted more and more of the aristocratic families. Black society still held aloof; Madame Merry del Val assured the MacNutts it was disintegrating; that it would cease to exist unless something were done to revive it. The chief families originally had received their titles, palaces, and fortunes as gifts from earlier Popes, who liked to do handsomely for their kin.
Perceiving that even the Pope himself might wish it, and liking the role proposed for them, the MacNutts took a long lease on the Palazzo Pamphili, located on the Piazza Navona not far from St. Peter's. This palace, built in 1646-7 by Pope Innocent X for use of his brother, Prince of Valmontone, and his ambitious wife, had long been in a state of decline when Francis MacNutt leased it from Prince Doria. It had been divided for use by a wholesale cloth merchant, by the Palestrina Society, and by tenants of at least fifteen small apartments.
For the work of restoration, Prince Doria supplied the labor and the MacNutts the materials. With the palace cleared of tenants, the great rooms were brought back to their former glory, and the frescoes by famous artists were cleaned and repaired. When all had been finished, and draperies and furniture had been installed, Francis and his wife congratulated themselves on having one of the finest palaces in Rome.
All of this required more than two years of time, before the palace could be thrown open for the great functions intended. Meanwhile, the MacNutts lived in a part of it that had been first restored, and spent a summer in the Tyrol with the Schönbergs. At Brixen they presently were to buy the Schloss Ratzötz as a summer retreat.
When the Palazzo Pamphili was ready, Mrs. MacNutt began receiving regularly on Thursday afternoons. Her salons became the fashion
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in Black society, and often as many as 150 persons attended. Twice each year a great ball was given, in a gallery half the size of that at Versailles, with a fine orchestra. At least once each winter an evening reception brought Cardinals, foreign dignitaries, and the diplomatic corps attached to the Vatican. These receptions must have made rather splendid spectacles, with all the men wearing their decorations, and the women dressed in their finest. Luncheons and dinner parties, with guests always limited to sixteen, were given throughout the season for the entertainment of visiting royalty, churchmen, and persons of wealth and social distinction from the United States, England, and all the Catholic countries.
The MacNutts were doing their part and doing it well, according to the wishes of the Vatican. Their function was to provide a bright social center and meeting place for resident aristocracy, Cardinals and other churchmen, and foreign visitors. They did not regard it possible to rebuild Black society, although they may have reanimated it for a while. The cause of those who waited and hoped for the restoration of the Pope's temporal power, lost in 1870, now seemed to have less than a dim chance.
What of the personal satisfactions gained from association with the glittering personages who came, received entertainment, and went? Francis MacNutt wrote near the end of his life:
"With the great majority of these passing acquaintances our relations were, and necessarily remained, superficial. Many of them we might be said hardly to know; it was enough that we knew who and what they were and why they were in Rome; for the rest, just the time necessary for closer relations was wanting. Of very many, I have forgotten even their names, as they doubtless have forgotten mine."
Very soon after returning to Rome Francis MacNutt went seriously about his duties as a Papal Chamberlain. The Chamberlains were of three classes: the first numbered only four, and in 1898 two were Romans, one was a German, and one a Belgian; the second class included all the others regularly active at the court; members of the third class were honorary appointees including many important and titled men from all over Europe, who often served temporarily while in Rome.
Francis entered the second class, and because of his knowledge of modern languages he was given the first vacancy in the first class. This advancement over the heads of several others, he related afterward, caused the beginning of lasting jealousies.
The active Chamberlains wore uniforms of black velvet, with plumed hats or bonnets of the same material; around the neck was worn a white ruff; a staff of office was carried. The Chamberlains were attendants of
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the Pope; they escorted visitors, and served as ushers at formal ceremonies. They formed part of the pageantry at the Vatican, along with the Noble Guards, the Swiss Guards, and the ecclesiastics who had special duties at the court. "The lay element," Francis afterward related, "was completely separated from the ecclesiastics, who were in the majority, were of superior importance and held themselves aloof behind barriers of etiquet and formal politeness, than which nothing is more effectual." Francis may have felt chilly at times.
The pages of the autobiography are packed with the names of great figures who came and went in Rome in those days, and who visited the Papal court. "No court is comparable in majesty and sheer beauty with the pontifical," MacNutt wrote. "It is the perfect product of the best thought of the greatest artists. The court costumes and the uniforms have undergone but insignificant modifications since the days when they were designed by Michael Angelo, Rafael, and other lords of beauty, in the palmiest days of the Renaissance."
One of the visitors was King Edward VII of Great Britain, who rode in the elevator because he was too heavy to climb the great staircase in the Vatican. A brilliant procession escorted him into the Throne Room as Francis MacNutt watched from his post at the door of the secret antecamera. Francis' undeniable quality as a writer is seen in his characterizations:
His squat, corpulent body seemed literally bursting within the Field Marshal's uniform into which it was tightly laced. Above the stiff collar, too high for his short, fat throat, rose a flabby, sensual face with mottled cheeks, pendulous under-lip and watery eyes that drooped sleepily under bagging eyelids. He was entirely bald, and his scalp was blotched with unwholesome red patches. Breathing stertorously, the majesty of England passed before me and, as I raised my head from the profound obeisance with which I saluted him, my eyes beheld a truly startling tableau, typifying Spirit and Matter, this world and the other.Not a great while after the visit of Edward VII, the venerable Pope came to the end of his days. Cardinal Sarto was elected to succeed him; he took the name of Pius X. A complete change in the Vatican household
In the center of the secret antecamera stood the diaphanous figure of Leo XIII, about whose ascetic form the dead-white robes fell in stately folds to the floor. On one pallid hand blazed a huge sapphire. On his white breast, the pectoral cross of stupendous diamonds, presented in 1888 by the Republic of Colombia, seemed to catch all the light in the room, sending back prismatic rays of resplendent brilliancy. Hardly less brilliant were the Pontiff's black eyes that gleamed like somber jewels set in the face of an ancient ivory idol, framed in locks of silvery white hair. What an unforgettable picture!
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was to be expected on the accession of a new Pope, but Francis MacNutt was asked to continue as Chamberlain.
Bellamy Storer, Ambassador in Vienna, was sent by President Theodore Roosevelt to Rome to negotiate a matter relating to the Church in the United States. He was unsuccessful, and wrote the President that as long as MacNutt remained at the Vatican, nothing could be accomplished. "The President raged. Who was I to stand in the way of plans he was promoting?" Francis' attitude toward the Vatican and the President of the United States, and the character of his loyalties, are expressed in this remarkable paragraph:
"Be he otherwise what be may, a President of the United States is, politically, the chief of a successful party representing, possibly by a mere fraction, the majority of voters in a given election. He occupies for a fleeting period of years a lofty and responsible office. But to the personal wishes of such an ephemeral ruler, the Vatican, of which even the temporal policies deal with eternity, would give little serious heed."
That the President of the United States also may be the instrument of a great tradition and an eternal institution, Francis MacNutt could not perceive.
On the death of Leo XIII, Rome had hoped for the elevation of Cardinal Rampolla, a very distinguished man who would have been expected to maintain the formal traditions of immediate predecessors. The adverse vote of a Polish Cardinal, representing the veto power of Austria, had brought about the election of Pius X, described by Francis as a man of peasant origins, with simpler ideas. Very early the new Pontiff set about making peace with the House of Savoy, and re-establishing relations with the estranged Roman aristocracy. This portended the end of the attenuated Black society, and implied vanishing need for the social activities of the Palazzo Pamphili.
The dinner parties continued for a while, until things became uncomfortable for the Chamberlain. Now that the atmosphere of the Vatican was changing with a new regime, and the favor of Leo XIII no longer protected him, Francis MacNutt found he had made enemies. No matter how much he may have tried to cover himself with the veneer of a bland aristocracy, Francis was unable to divest himself of those strong inborn characteristics that marked him indelibly. He spoke his mind plainly, like so many of the rest of us.
So he resigned as Chamberlain at the Papal court, and there is no evidence that any protest was made in any official quarter. Many friends rose to console him, but his bright days in Rome were ended. Reflecting on the close of this chapter in his life he later wrote: "A sense of humor
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does much to tide a man over life's troubles and I was fortunate in having one. As an offset to that worst of handicaps, a too keen sense of the ridiculous, I needed it."
The Palazzo Pamphili presently was surrendered to Prince Doria, and with it reverted all the improvements Mrs. MacNutt's money had made possible. Francis and his wife went home to the United States. It was not a very happy return, because the scrappy Theodore Roosevelt and the State Department were stirring the embers over Francis' part in the affair of the Protestant missionaries in the Carolines. David Ogden, Francis' brother-in-law, organized a board of lawyers to investigate the charges, but the President was unwilling to allow access to the State Department files. Mr. Roosevelt was hostile; he said: "you may tell MacNutt from me that if he thinks he can use my government to whitewash his character, he is mistaken. I won't have it."
So the board of investigating lawyers received no official recognition. It got at the State Department files, which showed nothing discreditable. It obtained a denial from Francis' former chief in Madrid that he had ever made damaging accusations, and declarations from former President Cleveland and his Secretary of State, John Foster, that they remembered nothing of any blameworthy action. John E. Parsons, president of the Bar Association and chairman of the investigating board, and his associates drew up a statement of findings that exonerated Francis MacNutt. The statement was circulated in the MacNutt social circle and among Catholics abroad.
William Dudley Foulke, like Francis from Richmond, Indiana, assured his friend the President that he had been misled and misinformed about MacNutt. Mr. Roosevelt then asked the Apostolic Delegate to inform the Pope that a message he had sent to the Vatican had been based upon information he had later discovered to be false, and that he wished to withdraw it.
Francis had resigned his post at the Vatican early in 1906 after active service as Chamberlain for nearly eight years; after his return to the United States a year was required to get his vindication. Then in the summer of 1907 he returned with his wife to their castle at Brixen in the Austrian Tyrol. He was without occupation now, but in looking through papers in his library he found work to do: his unfinished manuscript translation of the letter of Cortes to Charles V, begun many years before, now invited completion.
So he assembled books on his subject, and after visits to Rome and Cannes, he was in London early in 1908, where he could work in the library of the British Museum. Putnams undertook publication of the
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work, which appeared that year in two volumes. Invited to do a short life of Cortes, Francis complied; the book was published by Putnams before 1908 was over. Subsequent works included De Orbe Novo, of Peter Martyr, translated from the Latin, and Bartholomew De Las Casas, published by Putnams; Three Plays, published by Laurence J. Gomme, and Four Plays, privately printed in Austria in wartime.
It was while at work in London that Francis MacNutt met again an old friend: Father Kenelm Vaughan, whose Work of Expiation had been deemed unrealizable by Cardinal Manning. Father Vaughan's unquenchable spirit was unchanged; in his house in Hatfield Francis found a number of the bizarre Latin-American paintings he had seen before, and noted that the walls of his sleeping room were painted black. His bed was a coffin. After hearing the full story of Francis' career as Chamberlain and host at the Palazzo Pamphili, ending sorrowfully in his resignation, Father Vaughan assured him he had been shown the folly and vanity of his life in Rome. Now he must perceive he still had a high spiritual destiny to work out. But Francis could not be convinced.
The early autumn season of 1908 was spent by Mrs. MacNutt at Bar Harbor and Newport; nowhere else in the world, Francis previously had decided, were people so spontaneously, so genuinely hospitable as in Newport. Perhaps his heart was still sore from disappointments; perhaps the controversy over his loyalties had disaffected former friends; instead of going to the places he had once enjoyed, Francis traveled alone to Mexico and the ruined ancient cities in Yucatan. Then he made the hurried trip to Nova Scotia previously mentioned. In this general period he joined some patriotic organizations: the Society of the Colonial Wars, the Sons of the American Revolution, and the Loyal Legion. Learned societies admitted him to membership: the American Historical Society, the Hispanic Society of America, and the Virginia Historical Society. He was looking for compensations, no doubt. Then followed several peaceful years of travel and social contacts: summers spent in motoring about Europe, and one winter in New York while De Orbe Novo was being completed.
When war broke out in the summer of 1914 the MacNutts were in Austria. Francis felt even more neutral in spirit than President Wilson asked, and so he remained until the end. His sympathies were with Austria, where he had many friends and where he found life delightful. In the spring of 1915 Francis conducted his wife to Genoa and put her on a steamer bound for home; they had decided one of them must look after their interests in the United States while the other remained with Schloss Ratzötz.
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Pope Pius X had died in 1914. During his reign the Canon Law had been recodified, Church music had been restored to the function of interpreting the liturgy, and the Pontiff's wish for a deeper spiritual life had led him to attack modernism as heretical. Pius X also had abolished the use of the veto in the election by Cardinals of future Popes; he himself had been elected over Cardinal Rampolla because of the veto exercised for Austria by Cardinal Mathieu of Poland.
Cardinal Giacomo della Chiesa, Archbishop of Bologna, was chosen to succeed Pius X; he took the name of Benedict XV. Francis MacNutt had known him years before in Madrid when he was secretary to the Nuncio, Archbishop Rampolla, and afterward in Rome when Cardinal Rampolla was Secretary of State and Monsignor della Chiesa was his under secretary. Of the new Pope, somewhat remote in manner and essentially a lonely man, Francis wrote in his autobiography:
"In person he was undersized, of a sallow, bilious complexion; he had an impenetrable mat of thick, coarse, black hair, prominent teeth, and everything about him was crooked: nose, mouth, eyes, shoulders -- all were out of drawing. Despite these blemishes his bearing was dignified, his manners courtly though a trifle stiff, and he could never be mistaken for other than what he was -- a gentleman. . . . My relations with him were unbrokenly good."
Returned to Austria from the Genoa trip with Mrs. MacNutt, Francis learned from a friend close to the Vatican that Pope Benedict had asked while the two were walking together in the garden: "And MacNutt, where is he? Why does he not come to Rome? " To this the friend had replied that MacNutt would be happy to come if he knew he would be welcome. "Tell him to come!" the Pontiff urged.
It was impossible to go directly from Austria to Rome, so Francis went by way of Switzerland, arriving two days after Italy had entered the war on the side of the Allies. He was bidden to assist at the Holy Father's Mass on the Feast of SS. Peter and Paul on June 29, 1915, and invited to a private audience at 4:30 in the afternoon. As he ascended the broad stairs leading to the Sala Clementina in the Vatican he heard a word of command, and a sound of rattling, as the Swiss Guards sprang to attention to present arms. This was like the old days! After the Mass, for which he had been seated in the second row from the altar rail, Francis left the chapel and the building. On the way out, the Swiss Guards again presented arms. Why this mark of respect?
Returning for the audience at 4:30, MacNutt was escorted into the Pope's library, and found Benedict standing only a few paces within the door. Offering both his hands in welcome, the Pope led his visitor by
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the arm to a sofa, saying: "Well, well, MacNutt, old friend, how are you?" When they were seated he continued: "Do you remember our first meeting?" "Yes," Francis replied, "in Madrid, in 1885."
Pope Benedict continued: "So many are dead since then, I was thinking just before you came that there is now almost nobody in the world whom I have known as long as I have known you." Then he went on to indicate he had given orders for the salutes by the Swiss Guards as the first sign of new recognition in Rome, and said that on the next visit, another step would be taken.
"But I do not intend ever to come to Rome again," Francis replied, evidently still smarting in spirit from the slights and insults that had caused him to resign as Chamberlain.
"You will return within a year," the Pope insisted, "because I tell you to do so, and I expect you to obey me." Then the conversation turned to other matters, and the Pope presently was recalling the old days at the Palazzo Pamphili, where he had been entertained. He thought the MacNutts should return, reopen a grand house, and resume their former life. Nothing could induce him to do that, Francis assured him.
On his return to Brixen, MacNutt found German troops established in the community. As the entrance of the United States into the war came nearer, Francis eventually found his movements becoming more restricted. Through 1915 he had no trouble. Planning another visit to Rome before sailing for America early in 1916, he busied himself with a project to bring about a reconciliation between the Holy See and the Italian government. He did not write of the details of his plan in his autobiography, but it is evident he proposed restoration to the Pope of a symbol of the old temporal power, by which the Pope had ruled several Papal States in former days. He did not remain to see the project realized, but after Benito Mussolini came to power in Italy, a concordat was reached by which the aim was accomplished. Vatican City was set up as an independent small state, over which the Popes were to be rulers thereafter.
Whatever his plan may have been, Francis gained Austrian approval for it. In Rome again, he called upon Monsignor Samper, Maestro di Camera at the Vatican, who promised to let him know when he could have another audience. The Pope, he said, had told Cardinals Gasquet and Vannutelli as well as himself that he proposed the MacNutts should return to Rome, reopen their house and resume their former life; he believed that little by little everything would come right. But Francis had to explain again he wouldn't consider it, and to beg that the subject remain unmentioned at the audience.
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On the evening of January 6 Francis was received again by Pope Benedict, who seemed worn by the problems of war and the pressures that had been brought upon him. He listened attentively to the plan for a reconciliation with the civil government of Italy, and agreed that it sounded genial, and possibly feasible. Francis was satisfied with the impression he gained of the effect of his plan upon the Pope's mind. During the audience of forty minutes the subject of the return of the MacNutts to Rome was not mentioned.
After a few months in New York, Francis was back in Austria. Invited by the Duchess of Parma to the Palace of Schwarzau, he spent a number of weeks there in the autumn as a guest, enjoying friendly relations with members of the Austrian royal family. He returned by invitation for Christmas. The American Ambassador, Frederick Penfield, came with his wife for a brief visit. Penfield and Francis were old friends, from their days in Cairo. A little later the Ambassador was able to sell to MacNutt a carload of provisions not needed by diplomatic and consular representatives and their families, from a cargo shipped from home for their supply. These provisions MacNutt brought to Brixen and used in feeding the poor.
The German military police were bent upon interning Francis as an enemy alien, but local opposition was too strong. The town council passed unanimously a resolution accepting responsibility for him, and the Prince Bishop independently sent notice to the Germans that the diocese would provide guarantees.
Toward the end of 1917 an Austrian Foreign Office representative came to Francis at Schwarzau and told him that a declaration of war by the United States against Austria might come any day; that he was free to remain if he liked without danger of internment, but that if he chose to go, the Foreign Office would arrange for his safe departure. He decided to leave on December 3 for Switzerland. He was not to see the Tyrol and the Schloss Ratzötz again for nearly three years.
His friend Baron Schönberg promised to look after the property, and Francis left with him something more than 70,000 crowns to be used for the purpose.
For more than two years MacNutt remained in Switzerland, much of the time in Berne, and part of it in great country houses. He mixed in the tangle of international politics at the capital, and attended weddings of royal personages who had sought refuge in Switzerland. When it became known that the Allies had promised South Tyrol to the Italians, Francis represented the United States, at the direction of the Legation, to work with Lord Acton for the British and Monsignor
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Brulay des Varannes for the French in conferring with a Tyrolese delegation wishing to get protests before the coming peace conference.
President Wilson was of the opinion that the South Tyrol was populated mostly by Italians. Actually, the majority were Austrians. But Italy wanted the territory and eventually gained it. So that would diminish the pleasure of the MacNutts in their Schloss Ratzötz; they would no longer be living in Austria.
Mrs. MacNutt came over to Europe in 1919 and rejoined her husband; they stayed a while in Paris and then went to Cannes for the winter. For three summers they stayed at Brixen, but things were greatly changed. Old Austrian friends had died or become impoverished by the war; others did not care to cross the border. Rome was in the past now, and so were Bar Harbor and Newport, so far as Francis was concerned. Baron Schönberg had been degraded by detection in scandalous conduct. Francis still felt comfortable in Virginia when he visited there one winter. But life on the whole was sadly changed and dimmed.
Near the middle of the 1920s I had an exchange of correspondence with Francis MacNutt. He wrote as a frustrated man who seemed convinced his life had been a failure. Moreover, he thought none of his clan ever had come to much or accomplished anything worth mentioning. What was the matter with us? The pessimistic things he wrote to me were repeated in the opening pages of his autobiography; doubtless he had written them already.
He sent me a copy of his Four Plays, which he had printed privately at Meran in Austria during the war. I tried to read the plays; they seemed foreign in style and quite unrealistic; I judged them to be the work of a dilettante. They were related to events in Austria in 1809, during the course of the Napoleonic wars.
What I did not know was that Francis MacNutt was suffering from intestinal cancer, and refusing relief in opiates. He lived until December 30, 1927, and died with the feeling that his life had been of little use; that he had failed in great undertakings. His last interest had been the completion of Six Decades of My Life, to appear in two thick quarto volumes, privately printed in Austria in only forty sets. His last satisfaction was in scanning bound copies placed in his hands a few days before he died.
Though he did not realize it, his autobiography was to provide refutation of his conviction of failure, for despite excessively numerous typographical errors of printers unfamiliar with English, it is a work of literary art. Sometimes a single book may justify a life. For though we may regard a large part of the work as the self-made patrician's
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chronicle of social activities akin to what may be found in court memoirs, and doubt the wisdom of his course in early life and as an expatriate, we find that he had a vivid career, crammed with interesting experiences. His story is written in a style so excellent that we cannot escape the conviction he could have been a successful author had he begun early and devoted himself to subjects of interest to a wide field of readers.
If only he had been "poor and diligent"! Then, as his music teacher had said in his boyhood, he could have gone far as an artist, for he was ambitious and had a good mind.
The Rev. John J. Donovan, then Procurator for St. Joseph's Seminary at Dunwoodie, New York, a good friend, saw in the privately-printed autobiography a work he thought should be read and enjoyed by as many Catholics as possible. He talked of it with Cardinal Hayes, Archbishop of New York, who agreed. Arrangements were made with Longmans, Green & Co. to publish a somewhat abridged edition for the Catholic Book Club, handsomely illustrated, printed and bound. Cardinal Hayes provided a foreword, Gilbert K. Chesterton wrote the preface, and the Rev. Father Donovan contributed an editor's note, in which he said:
Francis Augustus MacNutt was that multiple "man of letters, manners, morals, parts," whose genius invited the admiration and won the friendship of three Popes, Prelates, Kings, and Princes. An intellectually versatile, irresistible person of the greatest possible charm, who could talk entertainingly in several languages on almost any subject, he could just as naturally kneel before "the everlasting light" and meditate on the days when he had hoped, as a priest, "to kindle his spirit at that supernatural flame."The book was published in 1936 with the title: A Papal Chamberlain: The Personal Chronicle of Francis Augustus MacNutt. Its generous editor in effect pronounced a benediction on the closing of a singular life. Like Chesterton, Francis is valued because he forsook the faith of his fathers to turn to Rome.
At the outset of this account it was said that Francis was a figure worthy of a novelist, and it cannot be surprising that a fictionized account of his life appeared in September 1950. The author is the Rev. Father John Louis Bonn, S.J., a graduate of Boston College and a teacher there. The book was published by Doubleday & Co. for the Catholic Book Club.
Father Bonn never met Francis MacNutt. For factual material he relied upon the Decades and some unidentified sources, but neglected information supplied by J. Scott MacNutt, nephew of Francis. He drew
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upon his own knowledge of Church history, and information gained from research.
The title of the novel, House on the Sands, foreshadows some of the author's conclusions about the manner of life his subject lived. In general, the story contains a considerable part of the detail narrated in my four chapters. A reader who cares to study closely the life of Francis MacNutt would do well to look up A Papal Chamberlain in a library, and obtain also a copy of House on the Sands. It will be evident that Father Bonn, in using the novelist's prerogative, heightened colors in dealing with some phases of his subject's life, and softened or omitted entirely certain other aspects.
The central figure in House on the Sands most admired by the author appears to be Father Kenelm Vaughan -- "the only person in his life, he [Francis] knew, whom he had ever loved." The strange innovator of the Work of Expiation is described as a figure of beauty, with "innocent and saintlike eyes. . . . . . over which drooped long hyaline lashes"; he had "rather long silken hair," and "delicate precision of the lines of chin and cheekbones."
It will be recalled from the earlier narrative that Father Vaughan had a remarkable fascination for Francis, and that the two sat in a pit together at Fanjeux in France while reciting the lamentations of the prophet Jeremiah. In the novel, Father Bonn has Père Doussot join in these exercises in the pit, though actually the two sat alone together. One wonders why Père Doussot is added to the party.
Abbé Fischer, remembered in Mexico as a lonely old man with his life's work closed, welcomed Francis as a pupil. Francis related in the Decades that Abbé Fischer advised him against joining Father Vaughan in the Work of Expiation, perceiving he had no vocation for the priesthood, and encouraged him to become a writer of history. In the novel, Father Bonn pictures the Abbé as a sinister figure with harmful schemes likely to endanger Francis' future.
One senses that the author thinks ill of those who tried to keep Francis away from Father Vaughan. In London, Cardinal Manning closed out the Work of Expiation and arranged to have Francis become a student at the Accademia Ecclesiastica in Rome. When Francis eventually gave up training for the priesthood and returned to London, the Cardinal told him it was well; that he had been kept from worse hands by his studies in Rome. That is, the hands of Father Vaughan. The author of House on the Sands regards all this with disapproval, and indicates distaste for Cardinal Manning who, it is implied, used Francis as a tool and spy in London. An impartial reader of Francis' autobiography may
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have a different view of the Cardinal, and regard him as one of the kindest and sincerest of all the friends Francis ever had, as well as one of the greatest and most spiritual of the high churchmen he knew.
MacNutt seemed indifferent to marriage. In the novel he is quoted as saying: "I hate children!" The Schönbergs thought he could better his position by taking a wife, and in House on the Sands we read that the Baron prepared for him a list of forty rich eligibles. Every name was scratched off the list but that of Margaret Ogden, with whom Francis was not then acquainted. Subsequently he met and married her.
Roman dowagers encountered in the novel discuss Francis as of good family but a terrible snob. The dowagers, however, were glad to attend the receptions and dinners in the Palazzo Pamphili. It is made to appear that Francis was coldly indifferent to working people and social inferiors.
Francis' downfall as a social leader and man of position in Rome, it will be recalled, followed the death of Leo XIII and the accession of Pius X. The new Pope sought peace with the House of Savoy, thus dooming the Black society. Also he simplified the music at the Vatican by returning to earlier forms. This change was a blow to composers and it threw musicians out of work. Without the favor of Leo XIII, and with entertainments at the Palazzo Pamphili no longer needed, Francis was open without protection to the sneers and slurs of those who previously had controlled their dislike.
In the preparation of his novel, Father Bonn appears to have made thorough research to discover the manner in which things went wrong with Francis in his days of decline.
Musicians out of work formed a mob and demonstrated outside the Vatican. Members of the Palestrina Society remembered they had been turned out of the Palazzo Pamphili to make room for the MacNutts. Due to the simplification of music, a Roman music publisher had refused to go on with recent compositions, and threatened to discontinue publishing breviaries. The MacNutts were rich. Let them supply the cash to take the compositions off the hands of the Roman publisher, who then might continue with the breviaries. Their money could cure every hardship resulting from the changes made by Pius X.
In the novel, Francis encounters Cardinal Satolli at a reception, and it is evident the Cardinal is displeased because Francis has not already unsheathed his checkbook. He coldly asks the Chamberlain:
"But don't you admit that it's a common accusation that Americans are only interested in amassing wealth?"
At this, Francis becomes again an American and a McNaught, and retorts:
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"In America, Your Eminence, amassing wealth is an ambition, but in Italy it is a passion."
Whereupon the Cardinal stalks out of the party, creating a scene. Father Bonn has Baron Schönberg say to Francis: "You have made a very bad enemy, Franz."
Another reason for Francis' loss of favor is attributed to his amused recital in company of someone else's remark about the late Leo XIII. Francis had a story that a comment on the Pope's sprightliness even in old age had elicited from another person this rejoinder: "Oh yes. He reminded me of a white rabbit on vacation." The effect of repetition was to pin upon Francis the authorship of the remark he had only quoted. It was considered bad form for him to be so cutting about the Pope who had befriended him in life.
The novel introduces other examples of Francis' bits of mordant wit during his later period in Rome, when his temper was fraying in adversity and he was approaching the time when in despair he must resign as Chamberlain. The novel helps us to perceive why Francis refused so positively eight years later to return to Rome and resume his former position when Benedict XV, his old friend as Monsignor della Chiesa, so kindly urged him to do so in recollection of past friendship. Bitter was the realization he had been used in Rome because of his wife's money.
We read in House on the Sands that Francis was tempted by an Austrian proposal that he give up his American citizenship to become a subject of Austria, and to be rewarded by advancement to the rank of Baron von und zu Brixen. His good wife talked him out of that idea, we are informed. Nothing in Francis' writings confirms, this story. In spite of numbers of passages that show Francis in a poor light, the total effect of the novel is to shed a great deal more romantic glitter over his life and actions than we can accept as probable, even though he lived much in glamor.
The novel deals a bit unkindly with Andrew Scott, the indulgent grandfather who supplied Francis with money until he married a wealthy woman, and who left him a sixth of his estate. The MacNutt autobiography relates that Francis' paternal grandfather, John Murray Upham McNutt, accepted as a lawyer's fee a tract of wild land in Michigan. Everyone forgot about the land in the passing of years until Andrew Scott received a bill for delinquent taxes. As executor of the estate of Joseph McNutt, Scott sold the land and divided the proceeds between Joseph's sons: Francis and Albert. From his share, $10,000 was invested for Francis; the rest he used for current spending. The novel tells the story otherwise.
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The Michigan tract becomes an entire township, and Andrew Scott is shown as a grasping old party who managed the lands to his own advantage. A great city had grown up on the forgotten land, and while the property yielded $10,000 a year to Francis, it also was made to provide Grandfather Scott with "enough to live on for the rest of his days." This is manifestly unfair to the honest old Presbyterian banker.
My present readers may reach this conclusion about Francis MacNutt: try as he would he could not escape from his rugged ancestry. His natural heritage and traits were at war with the artificial life of show and ceremony he had chosen, and in Rome he was living amid scenes where the malicious would gladly have destroyed him. The blood and spirit of the Galloway rebels were still in him, however much he might try to disguise his origins, and under painful pressure the old Scot in him came to the surface and spoke out sharply. He would have fared better in far different enterprises in his native land, no doubt. If only his mother had lived to warm and guide his youth! She might have spared him in childhood from listening to so many sermons. A sound Presbyterian sermon is the product of a fine, sinewy intelligence, and may seem formidable to childish minds.
In his dying hours as described in the novel, Francis is made to confess to his wife Margaret that he has built only a house on the sands. His dying thought, we are told, was of the distantly absent Father Kenelm Vaughan, to whom "his last words were said. . . . 'I want to receive Holy Communion once more.'" How can a novelist know the last thought of an actual person? That the greatest attachment of his whole life centered upon Father Kenelm Vaughan is an assumption with which members of Francis' family may wish not to agree.
The author of the novel concludes that there was One Who took the house built on the sands and set it firm upon a rock. For toward the end Francis had performed a great service; he had made the plan that led to the creation of Vatican City through a concordat agreed upon with Premier Mussolini. Thus was restored the symbol of temporal power to the Holy See, and with the restoration of this dignity, the Pope was released from the necessity of considering himself a prisoner in the Vatican.
Many others had their part in bringing about the concordat, but we can perceive that the initiative of Francis MacNutt in this matter so highly important to the Church won for him the gratitude that Father Bonn makes evident in House on the Sands. To Catholics this was the crowning achievement of his life, and a great one.
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