The Loyolas and the Cabots

Chapter 28

Salvation again came into the headlines when Doris Coulombe and Tom Sennott were refused marriage in the Catholic Church. The New York Times, Saturday, May 28, 1949, reported the story:

Priest Bars Bridal
In ‘Heresy’ Dispute

Engaged Woman Student Quit
Her College in Protest on
Church ‘Salvation’ Case

By John H. Fenton

“Cambridge, Mass., May 27 — The Rev. Leonard Feeney, S.J., publicly deprived of his priestly duties a month ago in the Boston College ‘heresy’ case, said today that he had appealed to the Most Rev. Amleto Cicognani, Apostolic Delegate to the United States, in a new incident involving a student at Emmanuel College, a woman’s institution.

“The Rev. Thomas Dwyer, a curate at the Church of the Immaculate Conception, Everett, Mass., refused permission for the student, Miss Doris M. Coulombe, 22 years old, to marry.

“She and a classmate, Miss Evelyn J. Uberti, also 22, of Waltham, Mass., had resigned from the college, saying they could not accept degrees from a Roman Catholic institution that held to the doctrine that there could be salvation outside the church. Both were seniors and scheduled to be graduated in two weeks.

“Miss Coulombe and her fiancé, Thomas H. Sennott, of Arlington, laid their case before Father Feeney, who promised his support…

St. Benedict Center had, on the afternoon Doris was refused, sent a night letter to the Apostolic Delegate:

Cambridge, Massachusetts,
May 26, 1949

His Excellency, Most Rev. Amleto G. Cicognani, D.D.,
3339 Massachusetts Ave., N.W.,
Washington, D.C.

Local ecclesiastical authorities once more refused matrimony to two members of St. Benedict Center School. We request your personal intervention to remove this outrage against justice and this act of persecution against those who profess doctrines of the Catholic Faith and the necessity of loyalty to the Holy Father for salvation. Popular indignation is high. Request speed in responding to our pleas.

(signed) The Members of St. Benedict Center.

During the week following their visit to Doris’ parish rectory, Tom and Doris tried frantically to do everything in their power to secure the publishing of their marriage banns in their churches. It is a rule of the Church that banns of marriage must be read at Mass for three Sundays before a marriage takes place, both in the parish church of the bride and in the church of the bridegroom. The New York Herald Tribune for June 2, 1949, reported at length on the visit of Tom and Doris to the Chancellor of the Archdiocese.

“Boston, May 31 (AP) — A young Roman Catholic ex-G.I. student who has taken sides against the Boston archdiocesan authorities in a controversy on church doctrine said Tuesday that the chancellor of the archdiocese had denied him and his intended bride permission to wed with the church’s blessing.

“Thomas H. Sennott, 26, said he and his fiancée, Miss Doris M. Coulombe, 22, accompanied by James R. Walsh, ex-Boston College teacher, went to the Chancery office to request church rites for their marriage…

“There, according to Mr. Sennott, Miss Coulombe and Mr. Walsh discussed the issue with Monsignor Walter J. Furlong, the Chancellor.

“‘Unless you sever your connection with St. Benedict Center you cannot be married,’ Mr. Sennott stated his fiancée and Mr. Walsh were told by the priest.

“‘Of course,’ Mr. Sennott added, ‘we have no intention of doing that.’

“Monsignor Furlong withheld comment. No church official has made any comment on the subject.

“The couple said they would not be married outside the Church…

“After the conference with Monsignor Furlong Tuesday, Mr. Walsh said his group was resisting what he contended was an attempt by diocesan leaders to divide the controversy into two issues, doctrinal and disciplinary.

“Mr. Walsh said the disciplinary question ‘sprang directly from the doctrinal question and is a part of it.’

“He said his group was confident that the highest church authorities in Rome would support the group here in its contention that there was no salvation outside the church.

“Thus far, he contended, Pope Pius XII had rendered no decision on the question. The only reported Vatican utterance on the Boston controversy, he said, had been that of an unofficial Vatican spokesman who was reported to have said such cases of dispute are within the jurisdiction of local ecclesiastical authorities.”

Doris Coulombe is slender, soft-voiced and gentle; and very lovely to look upon. As her wedding day approached, with no word from the Apostolic Delegate, she grew very wistful. Tom Sennott, her fiancé had won highest award as the honor student of his year at Boston College. He had a distinguished record in the army, and after the war had been studying architecture at the Institute of Design at Chicago. Tom became every day more indignant at the treatment he and Doris were receiving.

When finally July 2nd arrived, Tom and Doris went out to see the Archbishop. They had an idea that if they told him it was their wedding morning. as they had planned it a long time ago, he might relent. At least, they thought, the Archbishop on this day of days would listen to them, if only for a few moments, while they told him how they felt about the doctrine of the Church. They were sure that when they had explained everything to him, he would understand and things would be all right.

It has always been the strictest rule of the Church never to prevent marriage between two people when there is no diriment impediment. Even in proscribed countries, like Czechoslovakia, the Pope would not refuse to let a Catholic girl and a Communist boy marry, when whole sections were under interdict at the order of the Holy Father, himself. Monsignor Furlong, the Chancellor of the Boston Archdiocese, had been empowered by the Archbishop of Boston to hold, over one group of loyal Catholics in the United States, the most arbitrary powers, extending even to marriage.

As Tom and Doris stood waiting in the entrance hall of Archbishop’s House, they saw His Excellency at the end of the corridor. Impulsively, they went to him. They found he was alone, and gratefully and hurriedly they began to pour out their story. His Excellency stopped them, and refused to listen. They were to leave at once, he said angrily. “You started your business at the Chancery office”, he said, “and you’ll have to finish it over there.”

They came back to the Center. Earlier in the week they had obtained their marriage license and a five day waiver in the hope that the Archbishop would allow them to marry on their appointed day. Saint Benedict Center, knowing that they could not give up the doctrine, and desperately desiring the happiness of two of their members, telephoned the Archbishop, and were told that he had left for an appointment. They received the same report all through the afternoon, and finally, at dinner time, they set out in several cars, taking Tom and Doris with them, for Archbishop’s House. They were again informed that His Excellency was not at home, and it was suggested that they go to the Chancery. Unsuccessful once more at the Chancery, they returned to the Archbishop’s residence. It was quiet and cool and very beautiful in front of Archbishop’s House. A long, green lawn sloped down front the rise of ground on which stood a life-size statue of the Sacred Heart, with outstretched arms. The faculty and students of the Center told the person who answered the door for them that they had decided to wait for the Archbishop’s return. They went over to the statue and knelt around it, and began to say the rosary.

The Center members remained there, for almost three hours. There speeded up to the door of Archbishop’s House, after the prayers had been going on for a few minutes, a police cruising car and a police motorcycle. A police sergeant, hands on hips, stepped in front of the kneeling figures, and began alternately to threaten and importune. Officers took positions around the group. The Center continued to recite the rosary, heedless of what went on around them. After a little time had gone by, two of the officers removed their hats, and stood reverentially as the prayers went on. One of them remarked. “These kids aren’t getting a very good deal.”

The Center had been praying for over two hours when the Boston Police Commissioner, Mr. Sullivan, arrived and was admitted to the house. The Boston Globe cameraman and reporters from the local newspapers had been there for the whole evening. After holding a conference, apparently with members of the Archbishop’s household, Mr. Sullivan finally came out and told reporters that he would permit the group “to pray all night if they wanted to”. A short time after this a priest announced that the Archbishop would not return that evening.

The word was brought to Tom and Doris. The Archbishop would not come out.

“It’s a big disappointment, not being able to go through with our marriage today,” said Doris Coulombe, her voice and face showing signs of strain and fatigue, “but the biggest disappointment is that the Archbishop is not stating the true doctrine of the Church. He is dodging the issue.”

“And he will not face us, his children”, said Jim Walsh.

It was five minutes before ten. The thirty-six members of St. Benedict Center formed a column, two abreast, and walked down the long driveway to the street, entered their cars, and drove to the Center.

Three weeks later, Doris Coulombe and Tom Sennott wrote to the Rota:

July 26, 1949.

Very Rev. Monsignor Andrew Jullien,
The Sacred Roman Rota,
Palazzo della Dataria,
Citta del Vaticano, Italy.

Dear Monsignor Jullien,

We the undersigned, Doris Coulombe and Thomas Sennott, wish to present to your Sacred Tribunal the following appeal: On July and of the current year, the day appointed for our reception of the Sacrament of Matrimony, we were refused our right to the Sacrament by the Right Reverend Monsignor Walter J. Furlong, Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Boston. There was on our part no intrinsic impediment to the Sacrament of Matrimony.

As the condition for a withdrawal of his rejection, Monsignor Furlong required of us that we renounce publicly Saint Benedict Center. Saint Benedict Center, which champions the doctrine that there is no salvation outside the Catholic Church and that personal submission to the Holy Father is necessary for salvation, has already appealed to the Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office and to His Holiness, the Pope, its doctrinal controversy with the Archdiocesan authorities in Boston, who are laboring to suppress every organization professing the aforesaid doctrine. The appeal has not yet been answered.

We cannot in conscience renounce Saint Benedict Center. Under the circumstances and the wide publicity which our case has received, such a renunciation would be tantamount to a denial of defined doctrines of the Catholic Faith.

We beg you for an immediate answer because our marriage has already been delayed several weeks on account of this action on the part of the Chancellor. Is the Chancellor of Boston within his rights in denying us, under these circumstances, the right to be married according to the rites of the Roman Catholic Church?

We are, Reverend Monsignor, your humble and faithful servants in Jesus and Mary,

(signed) Thomas H. Sennott

Doris M. Coulombe

Six months have gone by since Tom and Doris sent their appeal, air mail and registered, to Monsignor Jullien. The registered mail receipt has long since been returned by the Post Office, but no acknowledgment of their letter has come to Tom and Doris from Monsignor Jullien. There are six engaged couples at St. Benedict Center, awaiting word that they may marry in the Catholic Church. Some had planned to be married last September and October. They cannot give over to the Liberals the defined doctrine of the Church, and neither can they marry outside the Church.

We of Saint Benedict Center have, in these long months under siege, come to realize the meaning of Our Lord’s words in St. Matthew, 19:29:

“And every one that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands for my name’s sake; shall receive an hundred fold, and shall possess life everlasting.”

We, who see every day the men and women who have put off their marriages for His name’s sake, can attest to the “hundred fold”. They have received love a hundred fold in return. Their joy speaks much of God’s love within them; they are beloved by us, their brothers and sisters in exile; and the love and admiration they bear for each other is a beautiful thing to see.