In the garden of the archbishop's residence in New Orleans, a group of Roman Catholic women chatted and fingered their rosaries, waiting for the Most Reverend Joseph Francis Rummel, 85, to lead them on a Holy Week pilgrimage of prayer to the city's shrines. They studiously tried to ignore women pickets protesting the archbishop's excommunication the day before of three Roman Catholics who had opposed his decision to desegregate the city's Catholic schools.
Suddenly, as Rummel appeared, a distraught, dark-haired woman flung herself through the gathering and fell on her knees before him. "I ask your blessing," cried Mrs. Bernard J. Gaillot, 41, one of the three who had been named in the excommunication order. "But I am not apologizing. Look up to heaven and admit that you know it's God's law to segregate. Don't listen to Satan, listen to God." Startled, Rummel said nothing, and Mrs. Gaillot was led away by some of the women pilgrims. "May God have mercy on you!" she said to the archbishop as she rose from her knees.
Profession & Practice. That brief encounter between a Catholic woman and her archbishop expressed a profound turn of events in the South: the Catholic Church is finally resolving the contradiction between its profession and its practice in racial segregation. It is unmistakable church doctrine that segregation, in schools and churches, is against the law of God. Yet most Catholic priests and laymen, like Southerners of all faiths, have been brought up to believe in segregation.
It has fallen to Rummel, in his old age, to make the key decision. Born in Baden, Germany, Rummel grew up in the Gemiitlichkeit atmosphere of Manhattan's Yorkville district, and served in a number of New York City parishes, including one in Harlem, after his ordination in 1902. Named Bishop of Omaha in 1928, Rummel seven years later was appointed Archbishop of New Orleans, which boasts the largest Roman Catholic population (654,000) of any city in the Deep South.
Rummel applauded the 1954 Supreme Court decision that outlawed segregation in public schools, and began to nudge his reluctant flock toward accepting segregation as "morally wrong and sinful." He eliminated "whites only" pews in New Orleans' churches in 1953, and two years later shut down a church whose white parishioners objected to the assignment of a Negro priest. Yet, despite the example of Joseph Cardinal Ritter, who began to integrate Catholic education in St. Louis in 1947, Rummel made no real effort to bring his own parochial schools into compliance.
For one reason, racism runs stronger in New Orleans than in St. Louis. For another, Rummers health has long been failing: besides suffering from glaucoma, he nearly died in 1960 of pneumonia, after a fall in which he broke an arm and a leg. But now New Orleans' public schools have been integrated, in token fashion, for more than a year, and last month Rummel ordered that the city's Catholic schools, which enroll almost half of New Orleans' white students, be completely desegregated in September. Privately, many Catholics credit Rummel's stiff stand to the influence of brisk new CoAdjutor Archbishop John Patrick Cody, 54, formerly of Kan sas City, who recently returned to New Orleans from a visit with Pope John.