Last Friday, President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden presented Pope Francis with several White House gifts at the Vatican, while in Rome for the G20 summit.
A coin Biden gave the Pope has drawn the most attention, but the White House gift of a priestly garment has a connection to another Pope.
The challenge coin given to Francis was particularly dear to Biden because it contained a reference to his son Beau Biden, who died of brain cancer in 2015 and was the Delaware State National Guard. Such a coin is a military tradition and is presented at “Leaders and warriors,” noted the president who then told the pontiff: “You are the most important warrior for peace I have ever met. And with your permission, I wish I could give you a room. It has the American seal on the front. I know my son would like me to give it to you. On the back I have the State of Delaware, the 261st unit my son served with.
Of note to the Georgetowners is a gift to the Pope that the White House coordinated with Holy Trinity Church on 36th Street, DC’s oldest Catholic parish and run by the Jesuits. As the church is considered the parish of Biden in the nation’s capital and Francis as a Jesuit, the gift seems most appropriate as well as his ties to the papacy.
The liturgical garment in question – a chasuble worn by a priest during the celebration of Mass – was in the collection of the Holy Trinity and handed over to the White House, which placed it in a wooden frame of the White House as well. than a piece of marble from an ancient baptistery of the Holy Trinity.
As the Reverend Kevin Gillepsie, SJ, pastor of the Holy Trinity says, the garment made in 1936 may well have been worn by Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli – the future Pope Pius XII – when he visited a Jesuit novitiate in Wernersville, Pennsylvania, during his trip to the United States. It was probably commissioned by Geneviève Brady, who along with her late husband Nicholas were the builders of the novitiate and the generous benefactors of the Jesuits. Ms. Brady welcomed the cardinal to the novitiate and her Long Island home, known as Inisfada.
In 1936 Pacelli was Cardinal Secretary of State for the Roman Catholic Church and the highest Catholic official to ever visit America. During this time Mr. and Mrs. Brady had been appointed Pontifical Duke and Duchess.
How the garment of a future pope became part of the collection of Holy Trinity Church remains unknown. Yet Gillespie suspects Reverend Thomas Gavigan, SJ, who once worked in the novitiate and then became pastor of the Holy Trinity in the 1960s, to have something to do with it.