Tribute by Canon Anthony P. Dolan, Archivist of the Diocese of Nottingham – Pont. Collegio Filippino, Rome – 21 November 2014
There are so many distinguished people here this morning that it would take a long time to greet them all. So I will just say, as Pope Francis always does, “cari fratelli e sorelle” – and that includes everybody!
Yesterday at lunch I made a big mistake: I sat next to Cardinal Tagle, who told me that he didn’t know Cardinal Marchisano personally but had been asked to preside at this Memorial Mass for him. Rather unwisely, I said: “I knew the late Cardinal for more than twenty years.” And at 10.00 o ‘clock last night, Fr. Rector rang me in my room and asked me if I would give the homily at today’s Mass. I was too tired to say ‘no.’ So here I am.
My first contact with Cardinal Marchisano was in 1993, when he came to England to give a talk at the Annual Conference of the Catholic Archives Society of Great Britain and Ireland. Not long before this he had been appointed the first President of the Pontifical Council for the Cultural Heritage of the Church, and some of the members of the Catholic Archives Society had met him here in Rome and had invited him to come to England. I remember very clearly how the Cardinal began his talk. He told us that, several years after his ordination for the Archdiocese of Turin, his archbishop had asked him to come to Rome to work in one of the dicasteries. On his arrival here, he had been shown into a big room and had been told: “Father, this is your parish.” For almost sixty years, various other rooms and departments in Rome were to be his parish. In the twenty years I knew Don Francesco – as I prefer to call him – had the same attitude of service to God and to the Church that he had had on that day he first arrived here.
It is perhaps appropriate that we celebrate this Memorial Mass on a feast of Our Lady, the supreme example of an ‘ancilla Domini.’ Don Francesco was totally a ‘servus Domini,’ all his sixty-two years of priestly life. Those of us who were privileged to know him can testify to this from our own experience. He was always unassuming, modest, gentle. I could give many examples of this. One stands out in my mind. The year was 2006, and I was on the ‘sagrato’ in front of St. Peter’s for the Wednesday General Audience. Swiss guards in their uniforms, ushers in formal morning dress, cardinals and bishops in ‘’abito piano”, and so on. The main door of the basilica was open and an elderly man in a grey suit and clerical collar came out, had a look round, saw that everything was going to plan, and went quietly back into the basilica. Most people didn’t recognize His Eminence, Cardinal Francesco Marchisano, Archpriest of the Vatican Basilica. That was how he preferred it, not drawing attention to himself but simply getting on with his work, quietly and methodically. Most people were unaware of his many academic qualifications and distinctions. On one of my many visits to Rome, I said to Don Francesco that I would be honoured to be able to celebrate Mass in his titular church of S. Lucia del Gonfalone. When I got to the church the next morning, the parish priest welcomed me and said: “We knew you were coming. Cardinal Marchisano telephoned us yesterday.” That was typical of him, thinking always of other people.
Cardinal Marchisano came to England again in 2003 to give another talk to the Catholic Archives Society, and I was asked to introduce him formally (although we all knew him). I began by listing all his responsibilities and titles – eight of them. Even the Pope has only nine titles! Yet in all this, Don Francesco remained simple, unassuming. In later years, when he had retired from his various responsibilities, I used to visit him in his modest apartment in the Palazzo San Calisto. Unless he had some official function to attend, he was not wearing a clerical collar but simply an ordinary shirt and pullover. Each day he would put on his hat and scarf and coat and go out to buy his daily newspaper like any ordinary human being. He told me once how he was gradually listing and packing his very many books which were going to be given to his home town of Racconigi, where he is now buried.
I last saw Don Francesco in January this year. It was afternoon, and he was resting on his bed because he was very tired. His mind was beginning to fade; but as I talked to him, he smiled from time to time as he recognized some of the memories I recalled. I realized he was not going to be with us much longer. But it was a shock when, on the morning of Sunday 27 July, I saw on the Vatican website that Cardinal Marchisano had died that morning. It was a sadness to me that I was unable to attend his funeral. But it was a great joy when, at the beginning of last week, I received an email from his close collaborator and travelling companion, Dottoressa Cristina Carlo-Stella, inviting me to attend this Memorial Mass. It was an even greater joy that I was able to come here, although I have to return to my parish in England this evening. And it has been a great honour for me to be able to pay this public tribute to a “great high priest, who in his days pleased God, and was found to be worthy.” May he rest in peace!