Conclave [NOOK Book]


Born and raised in suburban New Jersey, Timothy John Mulrennan has known since childhood a deep and abiding faith in his God and his Church that leads him to a career as a priest-and propels him onto the stage of world events that include the Second Vatican Council, the Vietnam War, and the election of the first Supreme Pontiff of the Roman Catholic church of the third millennium. Along the way he encounters some of the most remarkable characters in contemporary fiction: Henry Martin Vennholme, leader of the ...
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Born and raised in suburban New Jersey, Timothy John Mulrennan has known since childhood a deep and abiding faith in his God and his Church that leads him to a career as a priest-and propels him onto the stage of world events that include the Second Vatican Council, the Vietnam War, and the election of the first Supreme Pontiff of the Roman Catholic church of the third millennium. Along the way he encounters some of the most remarkable characters in contemporary fiction: Henry Martin Vennholme, leader of the conservative lay movement called Evangelium Christi, and Mulrennan's bitterest enemy within the church . . . Rachel Seredi, a beautiful artist from Hungary who falls in love with Bishop Mulrennan and gives him the greatest gift a woman ever could...Cardinal Leandro Biagi, a wily and urbane politician who would be at home in the time of the Medicis and Borgias...and Jaime de Guzman, the Archbishop of Manila and longtime friend of Tim Mulrennan's, the one man who speaks in the American's defense during the divided conclave and who pays the ultimate price for his honesty and faith in God.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
The Pope is dead, and the College of Cardinals has convened to elect a new one. In the running is 64-year-old archbishop Timothy John Mulrennan, who finds himself under attack for decades-old sins. As he analyzes the history of the Catholic Church during the last half of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st, Tobin (The Wisdom of St. Patrick) unfolds the archbishop's life through a series of flashbacks his time as a spy in Cold War-era Berlin; a tour as chaplain in Vietnam; his work as a parish priest in Newark, NJ, during a period of civil unrest; and his directorship of an abbey in New Mexico that ministers to problem priests. Throughout, Mulrennan ponders questions of faith. His endless prayers and introspective moments may put off some readers, but this is a well-researched history of the modern Church and an excellent portrayal of a man of deep spirituality. Ronnie H. Terpening, Univ. of Arizona, Tucson Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Tobin (The Wisdom of St. Patrick, not reviewed) speculates about what might happen when a conclave gathers in Rome to elect a new pope. Timothy John Cardinal Mulrennan, Roman Catholic Archbishop for Newark, sees the late pope as a deeply spiritual man, perhaps a saint, even though many American Catholics, like Tim's Christian folksinger sister, opposed his unyielding voice for a male-dominated church and against abortion. Cardinal Mulrennan flies to Rome on the same plane as devout billionaire philanthropist Frances Xavier Darragh, who has been nominated by Cardinal Henry Vennholme as a Gentleman of His Holiness, one of the highest papal honors a layman can receive. Darragh has his eye as well on becoming an overnight cardinal; after all, it's happened to men of wealth and stature and good family in the past. He's a key figure in the Evangelium Christi, an ultraconservative Catholic lay movement that Mulrennan has cold-shouldered for 40 years. Tobin's retelling of Tim's life as a priest packs in all the Catholic Church's well-known schisms and events of the past four decades, then just for good measure gives Tim a brother who died in the Vietnam. As even the late pope knew, Mulrennan is not without sin, despite his superb gift for organizing church business while serving the pope in the Curia Romana. Darragh, though feeling unclean, has slipped a bribe to sleazy tabloid columnist Harry Benjamin to report on Mulrennan's condoning his gay brother's homosexuality, his (unconsummated?) affair with dazzling Rachel Séredi while bishop in Jackson City, Missouri, and his bedding of "foreign whores." Now machinations within the conclave require that Mulrennan stand up and oppose those whowould undermine the Holy See's positions. With the original front-runner for new pope dead, who will be front-runner now? Heavy, heavy on Church politics, tons of descriptive padding—and just the ticket for a wide-eyed audience.
The Newark Star-Ledger
"Tobin weaves historical church figures and events into an engrossing story line crammed with contemporary Christian issues."
The Fort Worth Morning Star-Telegram
"Conclave will provide many readers (Catholic and Protestant) with grist for criticism and commendation."
From the Publisher
"What really happens in the making of a pope? In Conclave Greg Tobin takes us behind the scenes to answer that question."—Margaret George, international bestselling author of The Memoirs of Henry VIII

"Tobin weaves historical church figures and events into an engrossing story line crammed with contemporary Christian issues."—The Newark Star-Ledger on Conclave

"A wonderful book. . . . A beautifully rendered story of faith and devotion, blended with good old-fashioned intrigue and adventure."—Nelson DeMille, bestselling author of The Lion's Game on Conclave

"Greg Tobin has written a vivid, compelling tale that will no doubt find the wide audience it deserves."—W.E.B. Griffin, bestselling author of The Brotherhood of War on Conclave

"A well-researched history of the modern church and an excellent portrayal of a man of deep spirituality."—Library Journal on Conclave

"Conclave will provide many readers (Catholic and Protestant) with grist for criticism and commendation."—The Fort Worth Morning Star-Telegram

international bestselling author of The Memoirs of Margaret George
"What really happens in the making of a pope? Conclave takes us behind the scenes to answer that question."
bestselling author of The Lion's Game Nelson DeMille
"A beautifully rendered story of faith and devotion, blended with good old-fashioned intrigue and adventure."
bestselling author of The Brotherhood of War W.E.B. Griffin
"Greg Tobin has written a vivid, compelling tale that will no doubt find the wide audience it deserves."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781429981842
  • Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates
  • Publication date: 4/1/2007
  • Series: Holy See Trilogy , #1
  • Sold by: Macmillan
  • Format: eBook
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 464
  • Sales rank: 357,827
  • File size: 2 MB

Meet the Author

Greg Tobin is an award-winning Catholic author of popular fiction and nonfiction. A former editor and senior publishing executive, he is currently a full-time writer. He is a graduate of Yale University. Tobin lives with his wife and sons in South Orange, New Jersey.
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Read an Excerpt


North Auburn, New Jersey, Christmas Eve 1949

The tall, slender boy in a black cassock and white surplice knelt on marble steps before the altar while the priest, whose back was turned to the people kneeling in the pews, bent over the host and uttered the most solemn words of the Holy Mass. The after-scent of incense filled his nostrils and nearly made him sneeze, but he did not allow himself to do so. Discipline. Tim Mulrennan slid his eyes to the left to watch his fellow acolyte, Dennis Connolly--his fourteen-year-old cousin, a freckled towhead two years his senior--grip the long-handled sanctus bell that would ring in just a moment when the celebrant raised the consecrated host. Always his heart soared almost painfully at this juncture during the mass.
The physical pain of twelve-year-old knees against hard stone was a part of the ritual that Tim took as a challenge--not to shift or squirm but to kneel with his back erect and hands folded. He believed mat God watched and rewarded such steadfastness in an altar boy. Again, discipline. Besides, there were a lot worse things than a few minutes of discomfort, which he offered as a small sacrifice in thanksgiving for the many blessings in his life.
The world had survived a long and brutal war in Europe and the Pacific. Valiant American soldiers and sailors in the millions had returned to a country shorn of political illusions and rich in resources. It was hard for a boy from New Jersey to imagine what war really felt like. He read the newspapers and Time, listened to radio broadcasts, watched the newsreels in the local movie theater; he remembered President Roosevelt's talks and was still not used to President Truman's frank and funny twang. He listened in church and school to the ringing words of patriotism and faith in God and fear of communism. He believed what he was taught and held it in his soul and prayed for the strength to lead a good, moral life and to do his duty to God and country. He was a Boy Scout, First Class rank. He believed in the words of the Apostle's Creed and the Lord's Prayer and the Hail Mary, in the rosary and the mass and the stations of the cross, in Pope Pius XII and the triumphal rightness of the Holy Roman Catholic Church. He believed in the martyred saints and the priests and nuns of his parish; he believed in his father and his brother and sisters, and he prayed for his mother.…
The parish church was a massive limestone structure in the classic Gothic style that had been built by immigrant Italian stonecutters and masons twenty-five years earlier, a majestic high-vaulted house of worship planted amid the tree-adorned streets of a village west of the thriving industrial city of Newark.
Along with the grammar school, the church was the center of the Mulrennans' life, as it was for hundreds of local families. These Catholics, mostly of Irish and Italian descent, lived, loved, and worshiped fervently and clannishly, as their parents had in the old countries. With a healthy population of Jewish and Protestant neighbors, as well, North Auburn's total population was about thirty thousand souls. There were some Negro families who had lived there for close to a century, from before the village was incorporated, and they congregated at the Second Baptist Church on River Street. The Erie-Lackawanna line ran through the center of town and carried scores of residents to jobs in Newark and Hoboken, and to New York City--bound ferry boats and underground "tubes."
The bell tinkled. Tim lifted his eyes to the pure white host held aloft by the priest in view of the faithful. Always at this moment he felt die secret thrill of connection to the living Christ He knew that it did not matter where he lived on God's earth, that this sacred rite was being performed in this same manner, at approximately the same time of day, from Rome to Timbuktu to Goa to Buenos Aires. He was a part of something that was so much bigger than any individual or town or nation: he was a member of the living Body of Christ that had been in existence from the time of the apostles and the earliest saints.
As the priest, Father John E. Newberry, held the chalice that contained the wine soon to be the Blood of Christ, Tim thought of his mother. She was in the church tonight, in the sixth pew on the north side of the nave, with his father, elder brother, and two sisters. Despite the requirement of fasting, Madeline Anne Mulrennan had been sneaking beer all evening as she and the family prepared for midnight mass, dressing in their best new church outfits, men waiting in the living room for their scheduled departure for mass at eleven o'clock. She did not seem drunk, did not slur or stumble or act wild, but by the forward tilt of her head he knew from long experience that she was more than halfway there. Somehow they all made it to the church in good time, after a cold trek of three blocks over snow-covered sidewalks. Everyone anticipated a Christmas Eve snack after mass and before a sleepless night and a magical Christmas morning with gifts and hugs and tears, with Mom passed out and Dad, James Mulrennan, whistling as he worked in the kitchen, making breakfast for them, pretending that mere was nothing in the world wrong in his house. A man could know no greater shame than a drunken wife, and a family likewise for a drunken mother, Tim shuddered as the bell announced the elevation of the golden chalice containing the holy blood of the Savior. He forced his mind to concentrate on his duties as an altar server. His cousin Dennis seemed not to notice or to care that Tim's eyes brimmed with tears.
Oh, dear God, be with my family tonight and help us to be kind and good to one another. Especially, please help my mother to get better…to be well and not to get drunk…to--He did not know how to express what he felt in a prayer to the Almighty Father.
After the Agnus Dei and the breast-tapping of the Mea Culpa, the congregation marched forward to the railing before the altar where they knelt to receive Holy Communion. Tim assisted Father Newberry by holding the golden paten beneath the chins of the faithful as the priest placed a host on the tongue; he walked back and forth along the cloth-draped railing at least twenty times, there were so many receiving tonight, on the day of Christ's birth.
The priest served Tim's parents. The boy smelted beer on his mother's breath and hoped to God she would not belch. He thought he saw her wobble and flutter her eyes as she rose from the communion rail, sure signs that she was now feeling the effects of her drinking. He silently cursed her and himself for her condition--after all, if he were a better son, student, ball player, altar boy maybe…He silently prayed mat God would cure her of this terrible, sinful weakness for drink.
Minutes later, Father Newberry replaced the leftover hosts in the gold-plated tabernacle behind the altar table. He swallowed the last drops of communion wine, then Tim Mulrennan poured water from the cruet over the priest's white, tapered fingers. Father Newberry was in his forties, a quick-moving, wiry man who had served as an army chaplain in Italy and France. His hair was a helmet of steely gray, and a dark violet scar scored his cheekbone. He rarely smiled, and maintained an attitude of cool competence toward the parishioners; be ably assisted the church's aging pastor, and the ladies of the congregation were always attentive at his masses. One day soon he would probably be named pastor at another parish in northern New Jersey. He did not pay much attention to altar servers such as Tim, unless there was a slip-up during mass. He simply expected them to do their part competently and without complaint
Father Newberry dried his hands and returned the linen towel to Tim's outstretched arm. Tim and Dennis resumed their kneeling positions to await closing prayers and dismissal.
A huge, carved crucifix hung ominously above the altar. Tim gazed up into the tortured face of Christ: pain and death resided in the gilt-painted gashes on His face, but also hope and the promise of salvation. The image of the intricate wreath of thorns that made His crown, and which were pushed into skin and skull, made Tim again feel the bones in his knees. He felt the cold of the marble steps and the heat of the Lord's passion. There were so many mysteries and questions that flowed through his mind. How can I know God? How can I be worthy to serve God? Why is my mother--the way she is? What is God's will for all of us? Who was Jesus of Nazareth? I believe in His living presence among us--in the forms of body and blood in the Eucharist--yet how can this be, truly? Am I strong enough, faithful and obedient enough to please Him? What does He want of me?
The mass ended, and Tim and Dennis followed the celebrant into the sacristy where they tore off their cassocks and took up their winter coats. "Merry Christmas, Father!" the boys called as they bolted from the sacristy, not pausing to request the priest's blessing, putting on their coats. Father Newberry waved and returned to the rectory: Tim pulled a woolen sailor's cap over his bead as he walked with Dennis into the winter night His open coat flapped in the cold wind, but he did not notice. He looked up into the black sky.
The cold white pinpoint stars hung so low that he felt he could lift his hand to touch them. The moon was a glowing white disc, casting its light on the snow-carpeted sidewalk outside the church. The church building itself, a massive stone structure, loomed like a black pyramid above the boys as they slid along the sloping, icy walk. Tim Mulrennan's heart was full of the spirit of the holiday and hopeful of better things. He felt clean and open and happy and alive. The world's troubles seemed far from this snowy street.
"I think Joan Fredericks likes me," Dennis Connolly announced soberly.
"Do you like her?" Tim asked, ever the friend-counselor.
"I guess I do. I'm not going to marry her or anything."
"Have you kissed her?"
"No, I don't want her cooties." Dennis barked tike a wounded dog. "She's not even very pretty."
"She's nice. I've always liked her--since first grade."
"You want to kiss her?"
"No." The crystalline clarity of his religiosity was shattered by uncertainty. Didn't he want to kiss her? Or any girl? Girls…they complicated his thoughts. How could he be a priest if he liked girls, which, of course, he did? Kissing? Marriage? These were exotic concepts that secretly interested him deeply. What would his brother Kevin say? Kevin had girlfriends all the time; they liked his outgoing personality and athletic achievements. He was a ladies' man, as their father called him. Tim, on the other hand, felt awkward and embarrassed around girls, or even when they were mentioned.
"Sorry I asked." Dennis lifted a handful of snow and packed it into a ball mat he threw at Tim, hitting him squarely in the back. The boys laughed and raced to the street comer. The Connolly kid peeled off to the right with a wave. "Happy Christmas, chump. Hope you get what you want."
"Same to you, chump." Tim lofted a snowball that landed near the other boy but did not hit him. He turned and walked toward home.
The cold air filled his lungs. He paused to gulp it in, ambled slowly along the white sidewalk, kicking up snow crystals with each step. He thought of school and friends and girls and church and home. He was reluctant to go home right away. He was all too familiar with the scene that awaited him. His mom would be drinking beer and rattling around in the kitchen, and the house would be thick with tension as everyone hoped she'd go to sleep so they could relax and open some Christmas gifts and play records on the new RCA phonograph. Tim's dad had bought a new Bing Crosby record, and Tim's eldest sister, Theresa, had a boxful of other records that she wanted to hear--she loved dance music.
His younger sister, Gertrude Anne, was just a baby, less than a year old, and would probably need a diaper change and feeding before being put to bed. That would fall to Theresa or Dad. Tim was hungry, having fasted before mass; he would eat a big sandwich and might sit down with a book or the Saturday Evening Post and read himself to sleep. He did not believe in Santa Claus anymore--he had up until three years ago, he thought sheepishly.
He crossed the lamplit street. He was a boy on the slippery cusp of young manhood, brimming with uncertainty and hope, typical for any American youngster, yet filled with a deep and sincere connection to an ancient faith. Was this how the early saints felt, filled with a mysterious, ineffable knowledge of God's presence in the person of His Son? The Blessed Sacrament was, to Tim and to most Catholics, no mete abstraction but a living reality--here in his own parish church, in his own hometown, in his own life. He stopped, looked up again into the star-scored predawn blackness of Christmas Day 1949 in New Jersey, U.S.A. A boy who believed with his entire physical and spiritual being.
He stood perfectly still, arms hanging loosely at his side. The cold bit into his uncovered hands and wrapped itself around his pale neck.
What is happiness? What is justice? Why does Mom drink? Who are You, God? These were questions of faith, not doubt Why was he blessed--or cursed--with the need to believe, to accept the mysteries of God's unknowable universe? He murmured a short prayer, "Glory be to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. Amen." Words of faith. It felt so right to believe, and it hurt so bitterly to see his mother behave the way she did. He could not shake the hurt, even in this moment of quiet joy.
He walked on, past the town's public library building that looked like an old brick castle, where he had spent many hours studying and reading. He knew every bookcase and every aisle, every sound and smell of the place, and felt at home mere, too. Now the windows were dark, and he imagined himself inside, like a spy--spying on what, or whom? He smiled at his own perverse imagination.
Tim crossed Orchard Place and aimed up the next block, walking in the middle of the deadly quiet street, pushing the snow with the toes of his shoes. His steps made a soft crunching sound. In the dull yellowish light of a streetlamp he saw the mist of his bream. "Merry Christmas," he breathed, and watched the words come out in cloudy fragments.
He walked once around the block before he came to the back door of his house, paused before he entered, and shook the snow from his shoes. He stepped inside, through a dark narrow passage cluttered with shoes and shovels, entering the warm, brightly lit kitchen. His mother and elder sister bustled about, preparing the family's midnight snack; Tim observed his mother, looking for signs of impairment. She seemed perfectly--too perfectly?--normal, and she spoke to him over her shoulder.
"Where have you been, Tim? We thought maybe you got lost."
"Just took my time getting home. I like the snow."
"Well, you'll catch your death if you don't button up your coat Take off those wet shoes, and help your sister set the table."
Madeline Anne O'Casey Mulrennan, thin and plain, brown-haired, wearing a festively decorated apron over her church dress, gave every appearance of normality: suburban mother and faithful Catholic wife. Her oval face was neatly and subtly made up, with thin eyebrows and red lips, her hair curled and lacquered. A faux pearl necklace and matching earrings added a final elegant touch. But Tim's eyes went straight to the brown Pabst bottle that stood next to the kitchen sink--always the open beer bottle. He tried to meet his sister's gaze, but Theresa, her blond hair pulled back in a ponytail, was busy putting pickles and olives into the glass serving tray, concentrating on the task and not paying any attention to him.
"Sure, Mom." Tim kicked off his shoes and hung his coat on a metal hook by the back door. He took some plates from the cabinet and shuffled out to the dining room in his damp socks. After a few more trips the table was set and laden with sandwiches and drink for all. The baby was in bed, but the rest of the family sat down to end their Christmas Eve fast.
The experience of the mass at midnight had filled him up with an intense, glowing spirituality: a longing for the presence of Jesus Christ in His childish innocence, a want to be grown up himself and already a priest or pastor with people greeting him and looking to him for leadership, a sadness for the world of sin and conflict in which he lived, including his own home. If one believed in miracles, as Timothy Mulrennan certainly did, why then did the situation seem to him so utterly hopeless? He prayed for his mother, that she would be cured of this evil. He knew his father prayed, too. They both begged for God's intervention in their lives. Why had God not answered their prayers? Why had He allowed this awful thing to continue, to contaminate everyone in the family? Then he mentally chastised himself for questioning God; it was not his place to do so, he thought He did not know what God's will was for him--let alone for his mother and the others in his family. Perhaps there was some complex plan that he might never comprehend.
He was suddenly shaken by the clear, cold image of his mother's death, half wishing that it would happen, which created an inkling of the vast and deep relief that it would bring. Simultaneously he felt enveloped by a deep sadness, mingled with guilt, as if the sin were in the thought itself.…Quickly, he shoved the feeling deep down inside himself. It was wrong to have such thoughts, he scolded himself silently.
He watched her as they ate. She seemed gay enough, but not out of control as she had been so many times in the past. No flying forks or plates. His father also kept an eye, as did Theresa and Kevin, his older brother, who had more than once carried Madeline to the bed or couch when she passed out, before Dad came home. An hour later, fine of major mishap or confrontation, the Mulrennans retired for the night with expectation of a relatively happy Christmas Day--as long as she didn't get sloshed too early in the day, before other family members and guests came over to the house…God willing.
* * *
Sunday, January 21, inflight to Rome
* * *
Timothy John Cardinal Mulrennan shifted his slender six-foot-four frame in the business-class seat on Continental-Alitalia flight 80 from Newark International Airport to Aeroporto Leonardo da Vinci in Fiumicino, outside Rome. This was a last-minute trip on a route he had taken many times over the past decade. The pope was dead, and the funeral observances would be held within a few days, with the conclave to elect the next Successor to St Peter required by Church law to begin no fewer than fifteen and no more man twenty days from the pontiffs passing. Mulrennan opened his eyes. He had attempted unsuccessfully to nap. His watch read 11:54 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. Already it was nearly 6:00 a.m. in Rome. He had left a city frozen by a harsh January storm, after a bleak, wet Christmas season. The responsibilities and cares of the archdiocese remained with him, always. Yet he felt keenly and personally the loss of the late Holy Father. He rubbed his long, now-stubbled jawline. Father, grant me the strength of spirit to know and do Your will. He closed his eyes again, seeking solitude and quiet in the unlit interior of his mind.
Later, Mulrennan sipped an iced tea sweetened with three packets of Equal and shifted in the comfortably oversized leather seat.
An attractive flight attendant offered him a small plate of warm appetizers, but he declined with the wave of a hand. He did not feel hungry. "I'll have some fruit and cheese later, if you don't mind," he said.
"Of course--sir," the young woman replied, apparently uncertain as to the proper form of address due a prince of the Roman Catholic Church. Tim remembered earlier days of crisply uniformed and carefully groomed stewardesses who were thoroughly trained in languages and the subtleties of international diplomacy. Another small but important loss over the past thirty years, he thought
He flipped off his black loafers, stretched his long-legs, and entered his thoughts in the journal he kept on a sleek notebook computer that glowed like a silvery shield on the tray table over his lap. He wrote a regular column for the weekly archdiocesan newspaper, often adapting the text of his Sunday homily or relating a personal anecdote or examining a Biblical passage--whatever came to mind. He typed in a few words about the late pope, then sat back and recalled the hectic events of die past few days.
The late-night telephone call from the Vatican that notified him of the Holy Father's death before it was released to the press…the somber meeting with his chancery staff to implement the contingency travel plan that he had instituted when he first came back to Newark several years ago…his own personal phone calls to fellow bishops and family and friends…the few brief moments of grieving the incalculable loss to the Church and to humanity. His secretary would follow him to Rome within the next twenty-four hours to assist during the preconclave duties. His archdiocesan vicar general, chancellor, and the auxiliary bishops knew their responsibilities at home, and he was unconcerned about their competence. With minimal help he was packed and ready to depart with one bag--military efficiency. He always traveled light like most U.S. residential bishops, he stayed in a small apartment in the North American College several blocks from the slow brown Tiber; he spent a few weeks a year at the Vatican, attending to his duties as a member of the Congregation for Bishops--a holdover from his previous full-time Curia assignment to the same dicastery, or department, when he was one of the handful of Americans who had ever held such a leadership position in the highest levels of the Vatican bureaucracy.
He loved Rome, but he loved his true home more. That was why he had been so pleased to be sent back to Newark upon the death of the previous archbishop in the mid-1990s. These had been good years--not easy, but fulfilling. Mulrennan occasionally took time to backpack above the Delaware River or tuck himself into a soft chair to pore over a knotty theological tome or a Dick Francis novel, the more intricately plotted and gruesome the better. The last time he had been to Rome was only four months ago, and he had known--felt in his bones--mat it might be the last time during the current pontificate.
One of his telephone calls was to his sister, Gertrude Anne Gelbman, who had just moved back to New Jersey after decades in New York City. She answered on the second ring.
"It's Tim," he said. "Sorry to bother you at this hour, but the Holy Father died this evening. I have to leave for Rome on Sunday."
"Oh, Tim, I'm so sorry for you. I know you loved him--he was a friend. What can I do?" So typical of his sister, always ready to help another, to address her brother's or any family member's needs. She had been divorced sixteen years ago and devoted herself to raising two now-college-age boys. They had been blessed with a great mom. In recent years Gertie had begun to focus on reviving her folk-singing career, which she had put aside to be a wife and mother.
"Let's get together for dinner tomorrow evening," he suggested. "Are you free?"
"As long as I don't have to eat the cafeteria-quality food you serve in that mausoleum you call home," she said. "We'll meet Down Neck at one of the Spanish places, okay?"
"Let's make it for six-thirty. I will want to get in one last workout before I leave. I doubt there'll be any recreation time scheduled during the conclave."
"Tim?" Gertie Anne queried tentatively. "I'm feeling afraid about this. I don't know why--but with all that's going on these days: terrorism and wars and all the problems in the Church. I feel--I mean, I hope you're going to be all right--you and the others, and the unfortunate soul who will be elected."
At their last meal together just before he departed for the conclave, Tim and Gertrude Anne had sat quietly, each with a glass of wine untouched on the small table between them. It was a great relief for the archbishop to pause, even for a couple of hours, before plunging into the heart-numbing business that awaited him. She looked at her elder brother as she had so many times in her life--with both empathy and puzzlement. Long since, she had come to accept his vocation to the priesthood, but this latest turn, the call from Rome, the impending funeral and conclave, die expected glare of international media…how would it affect this man whom she had loved so much all her life? Was it all mat long ago that they were a complete if troubled family living in the big old house on Fairlawn Avenue in North Auburn? All the years of fighting and crying, laughing and loving. Three girls and three boys, one of whom lay thirty years dead beneath foreign soil, joined now by their parents, both having passed away years ago.
Tim Mulrennan, after all, was facing his sixty-fourth birthday. He looked like a fit but stressed-out man of fifty, perhaps, blessed with beautiful silver hair still streaked with dark brown. The familiar angular face that promised interest and sympathy and--yes, corny as it might sound, holiness. Gertrude Anne had never had difficulty equating Tim with the old-time saints who peopled the books and stained glass windows of their youth. At the same time, she knew all of his flaws and shortcomings and loved him the more intensely for them.
"How are you holding up?" she asked.
"Okay, I guess. I almost broke down at mass this morning in the chapel. It hit me--suddenly. He's gone. We had time to prepare, I know, but--" He twirled the wineglass gently, watching the red liquid kiss the rim. "I loved him and feared for him. He suffered greatly."
"I didn't nice him mat much," his sister blurted. "Sorry to say that, and I don't mean any disrespect, really, but he was living in another century. For God's sake--" She saw mat she was wounding him, so she stopped. This was one of his blind spots: the deepest reverence for a man she considered one of the most reactionary popes ever, and it had been a pretty stiff lot! Still, she did not want to hurt her brother. "Tim, what can I do for you?" She touched his hand.
"Just pray for me--and for the Church."
"What's really on your mind? You can't bullshit me, you know." Gertrude Anne smiled. She wore her reddish gray hair shoulder length and her creamy pale face still bore the youthful Irish freckles that men--other than her former husband--loved.
"I cannot imagine what I would have done or what I would have been if I hadn't been a priest. There were many times when I questioned my vocation, prayed about it--even questioned God and His will and His power. But all of it was private. I've never really told anyone. I should have. There were times, a few casual conversations with other priests…I should have been more open with my questions and doubts."
"Yes, but mat is past now. You are a priest, a bishop, and cardinal. For God's sake, Tim, relax--you don't have to satisfy the whole world or worry about what people think of you. The people in your diocese love you. Your family loves you." She squeezed his hand. "Chill, as the kids would say."
He smiled, grateful for her common sense. Still, he could not shake the cold foreboding he felt as he faced the decisions that lay ahead. He had never been in a conclave; in fact only a handful of the current cardinals had participated in the previous one. Several of them were now older than eighty and ineligible to vote. It weighed heavily on his mind and his soul
"What about you? How is the musk career going these days?"
Performing and recording Christian music was a direction she had wanted to take but had not, after college. For all of her adult life Gertrude Anne had sung in choirs and ensembles and even coffee shops in Manhattan and Hoboken, had served as a part-time minister of music in various parishes. She loved sacred as well as popular music and was blessed with a beautiful alto voice. With her steady boyfriend of ten years she had built a studio in the detached garage behind her house in Browerton, the town next to North Auburn.
"Tom and I are going to incorporate as a record label and try to attract other artists. It's a long uphill climb, but we're willing to try. I've got several dates booked through Easter and a Christian folk festival in North Carolina later in the spring. I'm pretty busy. I don't know what'll happen if I become a grandmother--not that that's an immediate prospect."
Mulrennan sipped the wine. He had no taste for it. His mind was a million miles distant She understood, and did not engage him for a while. Some of the other patrons in the restaurant had recognized him and whispered indiscreetly among themselves, looking sidelong in his direction. She sat back and admired his handsome face and erect carriage. He might have been a professional sports coach, a corporate or university president, a neurosurgeon, she thought He looked like a leader. But he had chosen to serve die Church instead. Why? She supposed it was simply destined to be this way. She accepted it, as had other members of their family. It had been somewhat difficult, at first, for their father, but he had become so proud, with time. Now as Tim prepared to fly to Rome to participate in the papal conclave, she saw him in a new and different light: less as a brother than as a man touched by history. Memories of their years in Norm Auburn, growing up, Tim's military and seminary years, the tumultuous tunes with their brothers and sisters, their mother's alcoholism, their father's patience and love…nothing unique in the grand scheme of family life, perhaps, yet so special to her.
"I couldn't help but mink of Mom and Dad," Tim said. "She's been dead for nearly fifty years now. Still hard to believe…" The pain of life had been too much for Madeline Mulrennan to bear. She had suffered for weeks in the hospital with liver disease caused by her chronic alcoholism. But her pain had ended…finally. Tim and his brother and sisters lived with theirs for years. Their dad had remarried happily, and a stepbrother had been born. They had stitched their lives back together, only to have Vietnam wound their hearts once more.
"I know, Tim." Gertie Anne touched his hand.
"I pray for her soul every day. And Dad--he's up there with her--and Kevin." Tears filmed his eyes. "And now with the Holy Father."
* * *
In a coach-class seat on the same flight as Cardinal Mulrennan of Newark, the middle-aged man wearing a gray pullover sweater and khaki slacks drank a glass of water and munched on tiny, hard pretzels. It was not obvious to anyone who might pay him the slightest attention that Francis Xavier Darragh was a retired billionaire businessman who could afford to buy out the airline, let alone a seat in the first-class section of this transatlantic flight. He wore thick-tensed eyeglasses and thumbed through an inflight magazine as busy flight attendants served his fellow passengers.
Two days before, at five o'clock, Frank Darragh had knelt by his bed for morning prayer. He closed his eyes tightly, clasped his hands, shifted his knees on the hardwood floor of the bedroom, one of thirty rooms in his home in the Country Club Plaza section of Kansas City, Missouri. He prayed for world peace, for the well-being of the Church, for the success of the Evangelium Christi movement, for his wife and children and grandchildren and for his aged mother, now ninety-four, and for his own immortal soul. He considered the latter entity to be in immediate peril. He prayed aloud, unselfconsciously.
"I know that You look with favor upon the work of the Evangelium and its people, dear Lord, if not upon everything I have done to advance our just cause. I have cleansed my heart, I have emptied die storehouse of my goods to share with those in greater need, I have chosen to follow the way of Jesus, just as He invited the disciples of His own day. I seek to gain nothing for myself, everything for Holy Mother Church. I believe mat evil men would destroy her, that she must be defended by every means available against these enemies. Give me the strength to do battle with evil; give me the knowledge of right and wrong and the ability to choose the right; give me Your forgiveness for my errors and sins in my zeal to serve You. Father in Heaven, lead me to righteousness. There are dark and difficult days ahead for Your faithful people. Send Your light, Your love, Your strength to us, Your servants on earth. I pray in the name of the Blessed Virgin Mary, our Mother, and her Son, Jesus Christ the Lord."
Darragh took a rosary of lapis lazuli from its felt-lined wooden case. He held it to his face: it smelled cold and holy. He began to pray the rosary, fingering the silver Celtic cross, then the first blue bead. A huge gray-and-white tabby cat walked into the bedroom and sidled against the kneeling man, pushing his twenty-pound bulk against Darragh's leg. The animal received no acknowledgment and lay down nearby as the man continued, his lips moving in prayer. "Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God…"
The monstrous cat lazily lifted itself and padded out of the room. Twenty minutes later, Frank Darragh finished the rosary, kissed the cross, replaced it in its case, and rose to exercise on the treadmill at die foot of the bed, eventually to shower and dress for the day ahead. He had much to do if he was to save a minimum of a billion souls, including his own.
He drove his mother to 7:30 mass at the cathedral downtown, then treated her to breakfast at her favorite coffee shop, brought her back home for her nap, and by 10:00 A.M., he was sitting in a straight-backed chair at the wide desk in his study that served as headquarters of his multimillion-dollar philanthropic enterprise, the Mary Frances McTier-Darragh Foundation, named for his saintly mother.
In 1970, following his return from combat service in Vietnam with a Purple Heart and Bronze Star, Francis X. Darragh had enrolled in Southwestern Missouri State University business courses at night, while he worked days at McDonald's and other fast-food restaurants to support a wife and three (eventually to number seven) children. He bought into the hamburger franchise, one location at a time, but he barely broke even on these investments. He had a dream: to create his own chain of barbecue take-outs.
When all the others--including his father and brothers and sisters, and his wife--had given up on him as a lost cause, seeing him only as a flaky, starry-eyed failed entrepeneur, his mother continued to believe. In fact, it was her loan of a thousand dollars, and her ceaseless prayers, that kept the doors open to the first BBQ Stop restaurant in Kansas City, some thirty years ago. He had never forgotten. Two years later he had expanded to a dozen restaurants in three states, capitalizing on an old family sauce recipe mat caught on and sold in supermarkets and by mail order. Within five years he had gone national, boasting fifty Frankie's BBQ Stops with their distinctive red-jacketed servers; and five years after that, he had 187 locations in twenty states with sales of more than $600 million. Thanks, Mom, he often thought. And thank you, dear Jesus. By 1984 he owned eight hundred restaurants in the United States alone, another two hundred overseas, as well as soft-drink bottling plants in twelve states and the best-selling potato chip brand in the world.
The business press had long since labeled Frank Darragh the BBQ King and lavished tens of thousands of column inches on his restaurant-and-beverage empire that now extended into every continent on the earth. His entrepreneurial and political résumé glittered with achievements and appointments and archconservative credentials.
During the heady Reagan-Bush years in the 1980s, he had served on the president's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board with Clare Boothe Luce, among others, and privately funded several initiatives to aid the Nicaraguan contras in their war against the pro-Castro, anti-American Sandinista government. He saw himself as a Cold Warrior in the battle against Godless Communism; and when victory was declared in that struggle, Darragh gave the Polish pope the ultimate credit. The political position he craved most, U.S. ambassador to the Holy See in Rome, was never offered. He consoled himself with the presidency of the Western Association of the Sovereign Military and Hospitaller Order of St John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and Malta, more familiarly known as the Knights of Malta. For the coming funeral he would don the costume of the knights--ostrich-plumed headgear, red tunic with golden epaulets, dark blue trousers, gaudy sash, cape and riding boots, and the distinctive eight-pointed Maltese cross--and participate in the rites of the Roman Catholic society that marked the death of the man to whom they had sworn allegiance unto death, the Holy Father.
When he finally sold off his majority share in the Darragh Corporation in 1994, the company still had thriving restaurants in all fifty states and thirty foreign countries, soft-drink bottling plants worldwide, snack food manufacturing interests, cattle ranches and agribusiness holdings, and ranked among the top three fast-food corporations traded on the New York Stock Exchange. He became executive chairman at fifty-three, with little more than ceremonial and public-relations duties attached to that title--and the gratitude of the hands-on executive team for staying out of their hair. He laughed to himself sometimes at the irony: without a college degree he had become a case study in the top business schools and lionized as a marketing visionary. His wife now lived in Florida most of the year, and his kids were grown and educated, their families financially secure. He was free to do his own thing on his own terms, from his own home. His father had not lived to see him retire with a net worth of more than $1.7 billion and create the foundation and devote himself to giving away scores of millions, primarily to religious-based charities, each year. The old man had died of a stroke in 1979. That seemed an incredibly long time ago, a different world almost--before he became so deeply involved with the Evangelium.
Archbishop Vennholme had telephoned him one day in the summer of 1989, just before the Labor Day weekend, as he recalled. They had known each other from Catholic charity events, including a successful capital campaign to restore the century-old cathedral in Kansas City, which Darragh had chaired. He, in turn, had admired the Canadian-born archbishop's adamant and articulate prolife stance. That telephone call had changed his spiritual life forever: Henry Martin Vennholme invited Darragh to attend a world congress and retreat of the Evangelium Christi Society to be held in St Louis mat year. Since it was so close--only across the state--and since it was a personal invitation from such an important prelate, Frank Darragh accepted the invitation and spent a week mingling with clerics and lay people from around the world. He was impressed with them, and they with him. He immediately joined the organization and began a frequent correspondence with Vennholme. The archbishop served as moderator of the society, the direct link to the Vatican on all issues spiritual and temporal. Darragh quickly became a trusted counselor and financial pillar of the American province. He saw the religious equivalent of an expanding business operation--an opportunity to apply his financial and marketing skills to the work of the Lord.
He fully retired from the BBQ Stop Corporation in 1997, retaining only die title of chairman emeritus, putting directors' meetings, sales rallies, and presentations to Wall Street analysts behind him. He would henceforth devote himself to his passion for the Catholic lay movement Evangelium Christi, which had taken root in the United States a generation earlier, to bring its conservative message of clean living, religious observance, and the authority of the magisterium to more Americans. He opened his pockets and traveled tirelessly in the name of Evangelium Christi. Having achieved beatification for the movement's founder, Fra Giovanni Prignano, he and others now worked and prayed for canonization. If the Holy Father had survived, those final official steps to sainthood probably would have been accelerated over the next few years.
In 1998 Cardinal Vennholme nominated him for the prestigious title of Gentleman of His Holiness, one of the highest papal honors a layman might achieve. A year later, the BBQ King of Kansas City, Missouri, was elected first vice president of the Western Hemisphere section of the world congress of the Evangelium, which meant a substantial increase in travel and personal contact with Vennholme and other officers in Rome. From a third-floor suite of rooms in the Hotel Columbus on the Via della Concilliazione, literally spitting distance from St. Peter's Basilica, Darragh helped oversee the activities of the ninety-thousand-member religious society and personal prelature--at the right hand of his friend and spiritual mentor, Henry Martin Cardinal Vennholme. When in Rome he usually attended the cardinal's morning mass in one of the numerous underground chapels of St. Peter's.
Frank Darragh kept himself reasonably fit; he stood five ten in his sweat socks, with Ms white hair trimmed in a retro flattop, steel blue eyes that his mother loved, pale Celtic complexion, slightly knock-kneed, hopelessly nearsighted. The Sisters of Mercy and Christian Brothers had ensured that he developed good posture and readable handwriting as a youth. His father had backed them up with a generous reward to any of his children of $500 if they did not smoke or drink before their twenty-first birthdays.
Frank earned the money and rarely drank more than a token beer at Thanksgiving or Easter. He had never smoked. In turn, he had offered his own kids $5,000 on the same conditions; but none of them had claimed die reward. He'd been disappointed. He had no vices or addictions other than, perhaps, fads singleminded devotion to the cause of Christ…for which he was willing to do anything, at any time, for or to anyone.
He poured himself a cup of coffee and settled in to read and respond to a small mountain of correspondence that had piled up in the few days he had been away in Florida.
The far-reaching charitable foundation did not employ anyone but Darragh and his mother, not eves a secretary, so Frank answered each telephone call and opened every letter. The board, consisting of several family members, a trusted local attorney, and Cardinal Vennholme, met irregularly. It was largely a one-man show, and that was how Darragh preferred it.…
A shaft of sunlight had streamed through the tall windows that lined one side of the spacious study-office and fell onto his desk that morning. It was bright and rather warm for January in Kansas City, and he had made a mental note to run to the gym for his workout this afternoon. He felt stale, in need of fresh air. The telephone rang insistently. He answered it.
Henry Vennholme's voice had sounded tentative, unsteady, odd, as he greeted Darragh. "It's early evening here in Rome," he said. "I am calling to tell you the pope is dead. It has not yet been announced officially."
That call had come two days ago.
Now, on flight 80, across the aisle from Darragh sat his traveling companion, Father Anthony Ciccone of St. Cecilia's Parish in Philadelphia, a fellow Evangelium adherent. Father Ciccone, a muscular young man in black clerical garb, sat with hands folded in his lap and eyes closed. Praying perhaps, Darragh thought as he regarded the faithful priest Would that the ranks of the American Catholic clergy were full of such prayerful men. He and Ciccone were flying to the pope's funeral with heavy, grief-laden hearts. Frank Darragh knew mat the cardinal-archbishop of Newark sat about forty feet in front of him, in business class, on this red-eye to Rome. The proximity of Tim Mulrennan made him uncomfortable, but k was important to keep tabs on this man who was no friend of Evangelium Christi.
Darragh asked the flight attendant for another packet of pretzels and a cup of water, eschewing coffee, wine, hard liquor, and even the popular soda that had made him a billionaire. He smiled to himself at die irony. God had given him so many gifts…now he had been presented the possible opportunity to give back to the Lord and His people.
Perhaps mere would be a special reward for Francis Xavier Darragh, who longed to be one of the hinges upon which the Church turned, as in days of old when men of wealth and stature and good family were made cardinals and entered the sacred service of the Vatican. Perhaps he would be the first layman in centuries to receive such an extraordinary call to service--one day to be privy to a conclave itself! Perhaps…

Copyright © 2001 by Greg Tobin
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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 17, 2001

    . . . almost a crash course in Catholicism

    Greg Tobin is a fine writer with the keenest of eyes towards setting and character. Conclave, the newest novel by Tobin, is gripping -- unsparing in authentic detail. Indeed, the book is almost a crash course in Catholicism, here, in Conclave he has given us a story of a young priests humanity and morality Tobin brings the atmosphere of a place to his literary table better than many writers. The readers are transported to this place, seeing what the characters see, breathing the same air... promises made, loves realized and the haunting memories of the Vietnam War. The book works magic with clear andcrisp prose, drawing the reader deeper and deeper into the story...a truly believable and heartwrenching tale...

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 22, 2001

    Good read for everyone

    Conclave is a good read even if you are not catholic. I found it highly interesting to go behind the walls of the Vatican and see how succession is arranged for the pope. The characters are interesting and their lives are revealed in snippets of information that make you anticipate the next piece of the story. The humanity and struggle of priests to find their own truth and define their own beliefs is also clearly revealed in this story.

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