Tiny diary gives insight to Bishop Gallagher’s 1892 Rome trip

May 12, 2015

HOUSTON — A recent donation to the Archdiocesan Archives might not look all that interesting on the outside, but this gift from the Dominican Sisters of Houston is something unique. It is a small, palm-sized diary that chronicles a trip Bishop Nicholas Gallagher made to Rome in the summer of 1892, for his “Ad Limina Apostolorum” visit. 

As the Catholic Encyclopedia explains, the term “refers to a visit to the threshold, a pilgrimage to the tombs, of the Apostles Peter and Paul in Rome. It stands, in short, for the visits to Rome and the Apostolic See which all ordinaries of dioceses are required to make.”

These trips, which the bishops of the Roman Catholic Church have been making since at least the ninth century, are usually scheduled every five years. Traditionally they include a visit to the tombs of St. Peter and St. Paul, an audience with the Holy Father, and the presentation of a report on the state of their dioceses.

In January of 1892, Bishop Gallagher marked his tenth anniversary as administrator of the Diocese of Galveston. He didn’t have the title of “Bishop of Galveston,” which was still held by the second bishop, Most Rev. Claude Dubuis, long retired in France. In his Lenten letter that year, he wrote to remind the people of the diocese that “The Easter Collection is for the wants of the diocese, and expenses of the bishop.”

He reported that the previous year’s Easter Collection had netted $643.20 (around $17,000 in 2014 dollars). However, Bishop Gallagher announced that this year “I deem it my Duty to make the required visit Ad Limina Apostolorum.” It would be his second since coming to the diocese. 

He went on to add, “I trust therefore that each pastor will make a special effort to obtain a larger Easter collection than usual in order that I may have sufficient means to defray the expenses of my trip to Rome.” The pastors must have been persuasive, since the collection that year increased by more than $200 (the equivalent of an additional $4,000 in 2014).

The most recent Ad Limina visit that Daniel Cardinal DiNardo and then Bishop-elect George A. Sheltz made in March of 2012 took a week. Bishop Gallagher also spent a week in Rome in 1892, where he said Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica and had an audience with Pope Leo XIII on July 4. But while the Ad Limina visit itself was short, the travel to and from Rome took him from the diocese for more than three months. He spent almost six weeks in Ireland, where his family had its roots.

There was a practical reason for his visit: recruiting seminarians to be ordained for the Diocese of Galveston and sisters to serve in Texas. Bishop Gallagher also traveled through France, Italy and Germany, as well as spending several days in London. The brief penciled entries in his diary note highlights such as, “Said Mass at the tomb of St. Charles Borromeo and viewed his body in the solid silver tomb” in Milan (July 16). Four days later, he recorded, “Said Mass in the Grotto at Lourdes.”

Bishop Gallagher was at home again in the diocese in early September, when the diary entries cease. He made no note of his meetings in Rome, other than his audience with the Holy Father. But those meetings may have borne fruit later that year, on Dec. 16, when Bishop Claude Dubuis finally resigned the title of Bishop of Galveston. On that same day, Bishop Gallagher received the official title after more than 10 years of service as Ordinary in everything but name.

The Dominican Sisters have generously donated other items belonging to Bishop Gallagher, including a pectoral cross that he received when he was named a bishop in 1882. 

These items may have been left to his sister Julia, who became Dominican Sister Mary Ann in 1897, or to nieces who also joined the community. They may have been given more generally to the congregation, in whom the Bishop took a particular interest from the time that he brought them to the diocese, soon after his own arrival here. 

These donations to the Archives help document the life and ministry of this 19th-century bishop, whose impact can still be seen in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston today.