Archbishop Spellman and the “Soldier’s Medal”

by George Cuhaj

Francis Joseph Spellman (later Francis Cardinal Spellman, May 4, 1889-December 2, 1967) was the ninth bishop (sixth archbishop) of the Roman Catholic diocese of New York. Born in Whitman, Massachusetts, Spellman graduated from North American College in Rome, and was ordained a priest on May 14, 1916.

    Until 1918, Father Spellman did pastoral work when he was made Vice Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Boston. In 1922, he was appointed to be the editor of the Archdiocesan newspaper, the Boston Pilot. He considered this assignment the “backwater” of the diocese.


Archbishop Francis J. Spellman,
the Military Vicar of Catholic
Chaplains, considered
himself “one of the soldiers.”

   Then, in 1925, he received a transfer to act as an attaché for the Vatican Secretary of State, Eugene Cardinal Pacelli. He soon gained recognition as the translator of the papal radio addresses (into English).

During this time he became fast-friends with several up-and-coming Vatican insiders. He was appointed an Auxiliary Bishop of Boston on July 30, 1932, and was ordained by his friends Cardinal Pacelli as consecrator, and Giuseppe Cardinal Pizzardo and Francesco Cardina Borgongini Duca as co-consecrators. During Pacelli’s 1935 visit to the U.S., Spellman was called upon to be his escort on the tour. After Cardinal Pacelli was elected Pope in 1939, Spellman was appointed as the new Archbishop of New York, with the additional responsibilities of Military Vicar to the Armed Forces of the United States.


The obverse of the Spellman medal reads, “FRANC[iscus]
SPELLMAN ARCHIEP[iscipus] NEOEB[orcensis]
ORDINARIVS MIL[es] EXERCITVS FOEDERAT[orum]
AMERICAE CIVITATVM” which translates as: “Francis
Spellman Archbishop of New York, Regular Soldier of the
Army of the United States of America.” Two sizes are
known to exist: 32mm and 44mm.

VICAR SPELLMAN’S WWII TOUR
    During 1943-1945, Archbishop Spellman made several overseas tours to visit U.S. servicemen in Ireland, England, Italy, and the Philippines. To commemorate his visits, the Archbishop gave out books, rosaries, and medals.


The Latin legend on the reverse of the Spellman medal
reads, “CARITAS CHRISTI VRGET NOS” (“The love
of Christ compels us”). It is not known how many
examples were distributed by the Archbishop during
his military tours of 1944-1945.

SPELLMAN MEDAL
    It has long been a tradition of the papacy to have an annual medal made. Most of these feature a portrait on the obverse and the annual theme on the reverse. In the 1930s, the famed Italian medallist Aurielio Mistruzzi (1880-1960) designed many of these papal medals, as well as items for several cardinals and bishops. Thus, with Spellman’s association with Pope Pius XII (the former Cardinal Pacelli), an introduction to Mistruzzi could have easily been made.

    The Spellman medal was minted in bronze in two sizes, 32mm and 44mm. Often the smaller medal is found looped but there is no evidence that it was presented with a ribbon attached. It is only supposition, but it would appear that the larger medals were reserved as gifts to dignitaries and that the smaller medals were given to low-rank soldiers who assisted at Mass or with special arrangements for Spellman.

    Both versions show a high relief-profile of Spellman facing left in mass vestments wearing the Archbishop’s palladium over his shoulders and the zucchetto on his head. The Latin legend reads: “FRANC[iscus] SPELLMAN ARCHIEP[iscipus] NEOEB[orcensis] ORDINARIVS MIL[es] EXERCITVS FOEDERAT[orum] AMERICAE CIVITATVM” which translates as: “Francis Spellman Archbishop of New York, Regular Soldier of the Army of the United States of America.” The sculptor’s name, written  as “MISTRVZZI,” appears on the truncation of the bust. The reverse depicts the Archbishop’s coat-of-arms on the left and an American flag in a banner shape flying from a central staff surmounted by a cross; a globe is in the background. The Latin legend reads: “CARITAS CHRISTI VRGET NOS” (“The love of Christ compels us”).

    No records have been found to indicate how many Spellman medals were minted and actually presented to soldiers.

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More Images:

featuredImage
In 1945, Archbishop Spellman visited troops in the Pacific Theater. He is seen here posing with soldiers in Manila on September 29.
featuredImage
In this 1944 photo, Archbishop Spellman is shown shaking hands with Pfc. William F. Pennington, Jr., a fellow passenger on the Trans-Atlantic Air Transport Command which carried the Archbishop back to the United States following his three-month tour of the European war front.

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