Meyer, Albert Gregory

views updated


Cardinal; b. Milwaukee, Wisconsin, March 9, 1903;d. Chicago, Illinois, April 9, 1965. He was the fourth of five children of Peter James and Mathilda (Thelen) Meyer, who were of German Catholic ancestry. At 14 he entered St. Francis Seminary, Milwaukee, where he completed his secondary education and two years of college before being sent to Rome (1921) to study philosophy and theology at the Urban College of the Propaganda while residing at the American College. On July 11, 1926, he was ordained by Cardinal Basilio Pompilj. After taking the doctorate in theology in 1927, he became a student at the Pontifical Biblical Institute, where he received the licentiate degree and the certificate of a doctoral candidate in Sacred Scripture. Throughout his life he continued to deepen his knowledge of the Bible; he was later invited to translate the Epistles of St. john for the edition of the New Testament published by the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine.

After he returned to his diocese in 1930, he served as assistant pastor of St. Joseph's parish, Waukesha; in the autumn of 1931 he was appointed to the faculty of St. Francis Seminary. He also ministered to a number of Italian families, for whom a mission chapel was soon erected. In 1937 he was appointed rector of the seminary by Abp. Samuel A. Stritch and the following year, was made a domestic prelate.

Early Episcopal Career. On Feb. 18, 1946, Meyer was appointed bishop of Superior, Wisconsin, and was consecrated in St. John's Cathedral, Milwaukee, by Abp. Moses Kiley on April 11. After Kiley's death, Meyer was promoted to the metropolitan See of Milwaukee on July 21, 1953, and was installed by the Apostolic Delegate, Amleto Cicognani.

Being methodical in his work, he developed a quiet but effective and very orderly system of administration on all levels. Although he did not abolish national parishes, in appointing priests he overcame the outmoded divisions based on descent, especially in the case of those of Slavic origin. He also fostered the growth of organizations for laymen such as the Serra Club, the Holy Name Society, the Archdiocesan Council of Catholic Men, and the Catholic Youth Organization; and he encouraged the work of the Catholic Church Extension Society, of which he automatically became a member of the board of governors. He was a member of the american board of catholic missions (from 1953) and served as president general (195657) of the national catholic educational association. In 1956 he was elected by his colleagues in the hierarchy to the administrative board of the National Catholic Welfare Conference, and he assumed the chairmanship (195659) of the education department. He was also chairman of the ad hoc episcopal committee for the revision of the English version of the ritual (Collectio Rituum ), which was published in 1961.

Cardinal Archbishop of Chicago. Meyer was chosen as archbishop of Chicago, Illinois, on Sept. 19, 1958, by pius xii. In the consistory of Dec. 14, 1959, he was created cardinal priest of the title of St. Cecilia by john xxiii and was made a member of the Congregation of the Propagation of the Faith, of Seminaries and Universities, and of the Fabric of St. Peter's. In January 1962 he was appointed to the Pontifical Commission for Biblical Studies, and in November 1963 he was added to the papal commission for the revision of the Code of Canon Law; a year later he was attached to the Supreme Congregation of the Holy Office, being one of the first two cardinals not resident in Rome ever to become members of that body. In June 1963 he took part in the conclave in which paul vi was elected.

For the education of the future priests of the archdiocese he built Quigley Preparatory Seminary South and opened a junior college division of the major seminary, St. Mary of the Lake, at Niles. In addition to his close attention to the temporal affairs of his archdiocese, Meyer put the greatest emphasis on his spiritual duties of teaching and sanctifying. He wrote learned and lengthy pastoral and other letters in which he demonstrated his intimate familiarity with the Bible and with papal pronouncements. The most distinguished of his Lenten pastorals was that of 1964, entitled "Ecumenism: The Spirit of Christian Unity." He fostered the revival of emphasis among Catholics on the Bible, urging his priests through clergy conferences and summer study weeks to bring their knowledge of the Sacred Scriptures up-to-date and to apply it to their own spiritual lives and to their pastoral ministry. He also wrote the preface to the Catholic edition of the New Testament of the Revised Standard Version (1965).

Vatican Council II. In October 1961 the cardinal was appointed by John XXIII a member of the Central Preparatory Commission for the Council, and he attended several meetings of that body in Rome. Before the council convened, he was appointed a member of the Secretariat de Concilii negotiis extra ordinem (for business not on the agenda); and when this body was abolished by Paul VI, he was appointed one of the 12 presidents of the council. When the original schema on the sources of revelation was rejected by the council, he was made a member of the special mixed commission that drafted a new schema, and he presided over the subcommittee for the chapter on the Old Testament.

In the first session (1962) he spoke twice on the liturgy, advocating the use of the vernacular in general not merely under the regulation of the episcopal conference but also at the discretion of the local bishop (6th gen. cong., Oct. 24) and particularly in the private recitation of the Divine Office for the sake of greater devotion (15th gen. cong., Nov. 9); he spoke also on the sources of revelation, demanding that a new schema be drafted in a positive spirit with due recognition of the contributions of contemporary exegetes in order to win the unanimous consent of the fathers (22d gen. cong., Nov. 19). In the second session (1963) he spoke twice on the Church, proving the collegiality of the apostles and their successors from the New Testament (42d gen. cong., Oct. 7) and showing realistically that the ever-present sinfulness and weakness of the People of God meet forgiveness and strength in the house of the Father of mercies (52d gen. cong., Oct. 21). He addressed the session also on the subjects of national episcopal conferences, in the name of more than 120 bishops of the U.S. whose signatures he had personally solicited, in favor of a cautious, reserved position on the binding force of collective decisions (65th gen. cong., Nov. 12); and of ecumenism, praising the inclusion of the chapters on the Jews and religious liberty (71st gen. cong., Nov. 20).

In the third session (1964) he spoke on religious liberty in the name of the American bishops, arguing for the necessity of this declaration for a fruitful dialogue with non-Catholics and for a successful apostolate (86th gen. cong., Sept. 23); on the Jews and non-Christians, recommending the restoration to the text of the strong parts that had been deleted, such as an explicit condemnation of all forms of anti-Semitism and the refutation of the charge of deicide (89th gen. cong., Sept. 28). He discoursed twice on divine revelation, presenting tradition in a broad sense as something living and dynamic, subject to limits and defects, and therefore needful of being reformed in the light of the Scriptures (91st gen. cong., Sept. 30), and describing inspiration in terms of the Word of God as a personal communication to men (94th gen. cong., Oct. 5). He spoke also on the life and ministry of priests, criticizing the schema (which was afterward sent back to the responsible commission for complete revision) for its unbecoming brevity, incompleteness, lack of balance, and obscurity of purpose (100th gen. cong., Oct.13); on the Church in the modern world, elucidating from a Biblical and theological point of view the place of the material universe in the economy of salvation (105th gen. cong., Oct. 20); and on the education of priests, offering suggestions for improvement drawn from the unity of their mediatory function and the variety of their apostolate and from the fundamental requirements of the qualities and virtues of a good man and a good Christian (121st gen. cong., Nov. 12).

On Nov. 19, 1964, after Cardinal Eugene Tisserant, acting as head of the board of presidents but without consulting Meyer, announced that the preliminary vote on the schema on religious liberty would be postponed until the fourth session, Meyer, accompanied by Cardinals Joseph Ritter of St. Louis, Missouri, and Paul-Émile lÉger of Montreal, Canada, and supported by the signatures of nearly 1,000 bishops, immediately appealed to Paul VI in person, but failed to induce him to reverse the decision. By the end of the third session Meyer had addressed the Council more often than any other American bishop and had emerged as the unrivaled intellectual leader of the hierarchy of the U.S.

After the third session the cardinal showed signs of physical fatigue and malaise; he entered Mercy Hospital, Chicago, on Feb. 17, 1965, and eight days later, after receiving the Anointing of the Sick, he underwent intracranial surgery. He never recovered normal responsiveness and eventually lost consciousness for longer and longer periods until he died on April 9. After the solemn funeral, which was held in Holy Name Cathedral on April 13, conducted in the revitalized form of the liturgy and attended by six cardinals and more than 60 bishops, he was buried in the little cemetery of St. Mary of the Lake Seminary at Mundelein.

Bibliography: g. n. shuster, Albert Gregory Cardinal Meyer (The Men Who Make the Council, ed. m. novak, Ser. 11; Notre Dame, Ind. 1964).

[r. f. trisco]

About this article

Meyer, Albert Gregory

Updated About content Print Article