They buried a friend of mine Friday in Rome and how I wished to fly over there for just the day to say farewell and thanks. Cardinal Roberto Tucci, SJ was and remains a man I deeply admire. I came to know him from the second (1987) and third (1993 World Youth Day) trips of Pope John Paul II to the United States.
In 1979 I came to know and become a close friend with the late Archbishop Paul C. Marcinkus, close enough to have been asked to preach his funeral homily at Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago. He was the Holy See’s organizer for papal trips outside of Rome from Pope Paul VI to Pope John Paul II. He was succeeded by Father Tucci. He even supported the choice of Father Tucci and his two conferrers, Monsignor Emil Paul Tscherrig (Now Archbishop and Apostolic Nuncio to Argentina) and Doctor Alberto Gasbarri (currently in charge of papal visits for Popes Benedict and Francis.)
There was a seismic shift in approach and personalities between Archbishop Marcinkus and Father Tucci, but the two admired and in a way deeply admired each other. Father Tucci, a Jesuit, born in Naples and baptized an Anglican, converted to Catholicism as a young man. He earned a doctorate in theology and was a peritus at the Second Vatican Council, having helped in the final drafting of two important conciliar documents. After the Council, the Jesuits placed him in charge of the important publication Civilta Catholica and later as manager of Vatican Radio. Even while planning and executing the many travels of John Paul II, he retained his position within the Vatican.
He had the largest set of eyebrows I have ever seen and when perplexed, he utilized them perfectly, non-verbally, to proclaim his bewilderment. When he was certain that something would not work, he would preface his response always with “dear boy”. A good listener always, with his team, they were models of patient endurance with the US Secret Service, all kinds of political leaders, episcopal conferences insisting on things which were impossible and the papal apartment, which meant largely working with Monsignor Stanislaw Dziwisz.
Father Tucci knew the limits of the Pope’s energy and was protective, particularly in later years. He had little patience for higher-up curial officials who were always pushing for pride of place at the pope’s side and earned occasional enmity for shoving some higher up so that some regular people who could never see the Pope could get close.
Word always had it that he was a runner-up to Father Hans Kolvenbach in the election which followed the resignation of Father Pedro Arrupe, S.J., the famous former Superior General. I remember Pope John Paul II saying to me on one occasion, looking at Father Tucci, “Poor Father Tucci, such a great theologian and now my travel agent.” I also remember Father Tucci at a meeting at the then high school seminary for the Los Angeles Archdiocese when four U.S. bishops addressed the Holy Father with four areas of concern here in the U.S., saying: “dear Archbishop Quinn has just taken the Pope to the theological mountaintop and the Holy Father could barely make it to the basecamp” (a clear comment on the inadequacy of the papal response).
Another great moment in planning the same trip was when Lew Wasserman, the CEO of all of Universal (the studios, the theme parks, the movies and TV) asked Father if the Pope while on the property of Universal in Los Angeles could be seen on the theme park ride which parts the Red Sea into two while one rides through it on a carriage. Father Tucci said to Wasserman, (dear boy, I don’t think so but we will ask him). Two weeks later I was in Rome and Father Tucci and his team and I were invited to pranzo (Lunch) with the Pope, and Father said, “Father Lynch, ask the Pope about Mr. Wasserman’s request.” I then described the “parting of the Red Sea” ride to which the Pope responded, “I don’t think so, Moses has already done that.”
There could be many more stories. Pope Benedict finally relieved him of his duties and made him a Cardinal when he was past eighty years old. He chose not to be ordained a bishop (as did his American Jesuit brother, Avery Dulles). It made no difference to him, he still lived in his small room at the Bellarmino and enjoyed being surrounded by the “company of Jesus” or the Jesuits. I have not seen him in over fifteen years but he and Archbishop Tscherrig and Dr. Gasbarri are ever with me even to today. They held a 50th birthday party for me in Rome on May 27, 1991 and in 1996 when I was made a bishop, the three of them presented me with a silver Council Ring which I still wear every Lent.
Having said all this, however, I loved the man for his elegant, gracious, patient presence in my life through two papal visits (he actually brought the Pope back two more times after I left the General Secretariat of the USCC-NCCB) and those who worked with me and with my successor, Archbishop Schnurr of Cincinnati would embrace without qualification everything which I have written here in his honor upon the news of his death.
If I make it to heaven, I know he will seek me out and say, “dear boy, where have you been?”