Newsletters and Articles

Transfer of the Remains of Archbishop Joseph Sadoc Alemany, OP: A Curious Story

Download pdf version here pdf.

The celebration of the annual Alemany Award Dinner for the Dominican School of Philosophy & Theology (DSPT) affords an opportunity to share a curious and fascinating detail about Joseph Sadoc Alemany, OP1

Archbishop Joseph Sadoc Alemany, OPAs a Dominican friar, Bishop of Monterey (1850), and subsequently the first Archbishop of San Francisco (1853), Alemany is a key historical figure for both the Western Dominican Province and the Church in California. Given this fact, it would be almost unremarkable to learn of the strong desire on the part of the Catholic Church in California to have the mortal remains of its beloved spiritual father returned to the place which was so dear to him. What renders the story so fascinating is the intense complexity surrounding the accomplishment of this task, and how St. Albert College (now known as DSPT) played a role.

Born on 13 July 1814 in Vich (seventy-five km north of Barcelona), Spain, José Buenaventura y Ramon Alamany y Conill2 was one of twelve children born to Antonio Alamany y Font, a blacksmith, and Micaela de los Santos Cunill y Saborit, daughter of a local chocolate maker. Joseph entered the Dominican Order at the Convent of St. Dominic in 1830 (at which time he took the name José Sadoc, after the thirteenth century Polish Dominican). He spent the first five years studying philosophy and theology at the houses of formation in his own Province of Aragon. In 1835, as a result of anti-religious sentiment, the Spanish Government issued a decree mandating the surrender of all property owned by religious. And so, on 10 August 1835 the Dominican friars left their thirteenth century convent in Gerona. Shortly thereafter, Alemany, along with some of his other young confreres, travelled to Viterbo, Italy, where it was deemed safer for them.3 He was ordained there in 1837, and shortly thereafter was sent to the U.S. in fulfillment of a deep desire to serve as a missionary. [Image]

Arriving on the East Coast on 2 April 1840, Alemany served with the friars in Ohio and Tennessee for nearly ten years. During that time, he became a U.S. citizen (1845), was appointed Master of Novices (1847), and then, amidst a very controversial process, was appointed as Prior Provincial for the Province of St. Joseph by the Master of the Order (1848). While back in Italy to attend a General Chapter, Alemany was summoned by Pope Pius IX who informed him that he was to be appointed bishop of California. Despite his protests, Alemany acceded to the demands of the Pope and was ordained Bishop of Monterey on 30 June 1850 – the feast of St. Paul the Apostle. Three years later he was made the first archbishop of the Archdiocese of San Francisco, and served there faithfully until his retirement in 1884, at which point he returned to Valencia, Spain in the hopes of founding a seminary to train priests for missionary work in California.

Pontifical Mass Honoring Archbishop Alemany at Old St. Mary's Cathedral - San FranciscoLeaving California was extremely difficult for Alemany, as he had come to love both the people and the land. Just before his departure, during a confirmation ceremony for a group of children at St. Mary’s Cathedral (which he himself had built in 1853), Alemany noted to the entire congregation, "My children, my body alone departs, but my heart is with you and will remain with you. When I shall have left and the breadth of many a league of land and of ocean divides us from each other, many will be the moments when the tears shall spring to my eyes at the thought that perhaps never again shall I be permitted to see you."

On 18 April 1888, four days after his death in Valencia, the remains of Alemany were brought back to the city of his birth by two of his brothers, Ignacio and Miguel, both priests of the Diocese of Vich. There his body was interred in the family vault in the Blessed Sacrament chapel of Santo Domingo, the very church where he had entered the Dominican Order.

In 1921, his second successor in San Francisco, Archbishop Edward J. Hanna, petitioned the cathedral chapter of Vich to have the remains of Alemany brought back to California. The request was politely but firmly declined with the claim that both the Alamany family and the Church were "unanimously opposed" to having one of their more important native sons removed from their beloved city.

Archbishop Alemany's Remains in the Church of St. Dominic - SpainSome thirteen years later, James B. Connolly, Prior Provincial of the Western Dominican Province, asked Archbishop Hanna for his support in having the remains of Alemany buried beneath the high altar of the chapel in the new College of St. Albert the Great (the original name for DSPT). At a fund-raising luncheon for the College in February 1934, Hanna made public his enthusiastic support for the project. As the friars themselves noted, "What could be more consonant with the fitness of things than that he finally rest in the Archdiocese he ruled for twenty-one years, under the altar of the chapel of the training school of his own brethren?"4 Though negotiations seemed to have moved in a more positive direction than the first attempt, things came to a grinding halt with the onset of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). Fearing desecration of the burial site, the Alemany family removed all identifying marks of the tomb. Unfortunately, by the time things had settled down after the war, there was complete confusion over the actual site of the tomb. After the conclusion of the conflict in Spain, follow-up efforts by the Western Province to renew the negotiations went unanswered.5

Tombstone of Archbishop AlemanyThe site of burial was eventually authenticated by Antonio Alamany, grand nephew of the Archbishop.6 For reasons which remain unclear, the Alamany family became disinclined to support any process for removal of the body. Instead, the Alamany family filed a petition in the Spanish courts claiming legal rights to the remains because of the expense incurred for moving the body of the Archbishop from Valencia to Vich at the time of his death. The petition was upheld by the Spanish courts, and it was at that time that a stipulation was added that no petition for transfer would ever be considered by them unless a process of beatification was also initiated.

Between 1952 and 1953, the Western Dominican Province would again become involved – though indirectly – in the process when Jaime Enseñat, a law and journalism student at the University of Barcelona and a friend of Antonio Alamany, contacted him about the possibility of mounting a large exhibition in San Francisco to honor the Archbishop on the occasion of the one-hundredth anniversary of the laying of the foundation of St. Mary’s Church. Encouraged by the conversation, Enseñat next opened a conversation with the Dominican Order in Rome by writing a letter to Manuel Montoto, OP, Secretary General of the Order, in which he outlined a two-part project:

. . . the Alamany family would make available . . . the many and varied souvenirs and personal objects of the Archbishop, (letters in his own hand, pictures, books, vestments, etc.). . . . the Archbishop’s grand-niece, Ana Maria Alameny, would gladly make a trip to San Francisco to look after the objects for the exposition. . . .

In one of these conversations Senor Alamany remarked that on one occasion an attempt was made through the good offices of Your Reverence, in the name of the Order of Preachers, to transfer the remains of the archbishop to San Francisco, California. The beautiful idea was not carried out, among other things, because of certain misunderstandings which I would qualify as absurd, as such a transfer would mean a just re-evaluation of the first Archbishop of San Francisco, and consequently, a greater glory of Spain and for the Dominican Order.

As I have already suggested above, I am sure that after the exposition, the Government would consider favorably the translation of the venerable remains; the possible opposition of the Bishop of Vich could be overcome; and a well-planned press campaign . . . would get the public acquainted with the work of the Archbishop.7

The precise nature of the “absurd misunderstandings” is unknown. However, in the dealings between Enseñat, Alamany, the Dominican Order, and the Archdiocese of San Francisco, some clues can be found.

A cover letter from Antonio Alamany accompanied the one by Enseñat, introducing the latter to Montoto and describing enthusiastic support for the project. It also reiterated the family’s stipulation: “. . . to which the Alameny family gives its faithful consent on the guarantee that the process of Beatification be taken up.”8 The letter from Enseñat stated likewise. However, this detail seems to have been lost by Montoto, as is evident from two letters of Benedict Blank, O.P., a member of the Western Province.

Blank was part of the founding leadership of St. Albert College, having served there as Lector Primarius (something equivalent to a Dean of Studies) from 1932 to 1940. No doubt, he would have been well aware of the attempt to have the remains of the Archbishop laid beneath the high altar. During this third attempt he became involved because of his role as Rector of the Angelicum in Rome – thus serving as the convenient link between Enseñat, the Order, and the Western Province. The recipient of his first one-page letter is unknown, beginning with the simple salutation, “My Dear Friend.” In it, Blank outlines the steps his “dear friend” would need to take in order to ship the remains of the Archbishop from Spain to San Francisco. The letter is upbeat and gives the clear assumption that things are moving along quickly and would be concluded shortly. He ends,

I am proceeding with all the arrangements as soon as I check the letters this weekend. Everything can be handled from Rome for the transportation and the MG [Master General] will see that all details are handled in Valencia and in Barcelona with the government authorities.9

One can only assume that “the letters” mentioned by Blank are the two sent by Alamany and Enseñat to Montoto. The result was distressing for Blank, who writes of his concerns in a second letter to Archbishop John J. Mitty of San Francisco:

It was only last night that I obtained the translations of the two letters from Spain relative to the removal of the body of Archbishop Alemany to San Francisco. . . .

On four occasions I questioned the General Secretary of the order, who had the file, whether there were any conditions and on each occasion he assured me there were no conditions. The translations show that there are two conditions. The only explanation for the contradiction is the lapse of time plus the heavy load the General Secretary carries; moreover, the Master General instructed him to give me the file and hence he probably did not give it careful study.

Relative to the process of beatification: I have known for some years that there were activities for this purpose in Spain; last year I learned that the material for the process had been destroyed during the Civil War in Spain. So far as I know, there is no particular cult to the archbishop in the San Francisco area. It seems to me that the work would have to be undertaken in Spain. The motive for consent to the removal of the body together with the offer for the exposition [of] all the personal effects of the Archbishop seem to indicate that there is a desire to stir up interest in the Archbishop.10

In his response to Blank, Mitty discouraged the idea of the exhibition, telling Blank not to send Ana Maria Alamany to San Francisco. He also noted that he could not give any kind of guarantee for a process of beatification: “It would have to be financed and would have to stretch over a number of years, and with the present shortage of priests and the tremendous amount of work during this expansion period, I would be unable to have the proper attention given to it.”11 And there the matter died for a third time.

It would not be until 1962 that any successful momentum was gained in this project, due almost exclusively to the efforts of Francis J. Weber, archivist for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Weber had made contact with the Alemany family while doing research on the Church in Southern California. As others before him, Weber made overtures about the appropriateness of having the Archbishop in California. This time it seemed that the intervening years had softened the family somewhat to the possibility of returning the Archbishop's remains. Furthermore, the developing friendship between Weber and José Alamany Torner, son of Antonio, was significant in opening up trust with the family. Also relevant was Weber’s previous expertise in such matters. In a letter to Archbishop Joseph T. McGucken of San Francisco, he notes

When I was in Barcelona, this matter came up again and I emphasized to the Archbishop’s grandnephew that his illustrious ancestor belonged to California and should be interred with his successors. At that time, Antonio Alamany was still adamantly opposed to the transferal [sic]. . . .

I have now received word that Antonio Alamany has finally given his blessing to the project, due in part to his experience of witnessing the removal of Bishop Francis Mora, whose Mass he attended at Sarria. Both the family and the lawyer have since contacted me and now await further instructions.12

As Weber had organized all the arrangements for the transfer of the remains of Bishop Mora to Los Angeles, it is quite likely that Antonio’s experience raised his own personal level of confidence in what Weber would now accomplish on behalf of his own ancestor.

Working closely with both Spanish and Californian civil and ecclesial authorities, Weber endured a complicated and tense two-year process. There were three significant hurdles along the road between Vich and California: 1) Church and State authorities in Spain; 2) the people of Vich, and 3) the Alamany family. To the latter, correspondence between Weber and José Alamany gives clear evidence of a growing intimacy, and thus a warming to Weber’s goal.

To the matter of the Church and State authorities, Weber worked closely with a lawyer in Barcelona, Ernesto Tell, who had previously assisted him in the transfer of the remains of Francis Mora, Bishop of Los Angeles (1878-1896). Discussions between Tell and the Ecclesial authorities of Vich seemed to move in fits and starts – sometimes encouraging and promising that there would be no objection from the “Ecclesiastical side,” but at other times refusing to meet with Tell to discuss details. On several occasions, Tell comments to Weber that there will be considerable delays not encountered in the case of Bishop Mora. At one point, Tell informs Weber that the Vicar General, Rev. D. Ramón Vilaró, having discussed the case with other members in the Chancery office in Vich, informed him of the 1921 decision against the first petition. Vilaró implies to Tell that this sets precedent for the likely refusal of this new petition.13 Weber sends an exasperated response to Tell complaining that the petition was addressed to the Bishop and not the Vicar General. Furthermore, he notes, one of the reasons for the refusal had come from members of the Alamany family, most of whom were now in support of the idea. And finally, he suggests,

I think it might be wise to diplomatically point out to the Bishop of Vich that the necessary permission from the Dominican Master General was obtained in 1953. And we believe the Dominicans to be the competent authority in this matter since the archbishop, upon his retirement, reaffiliated [sic] with the Order of Preachers and spent the final three years of his life in their convent at Valencia. Our petition to the Bishop of Vich was made as a gesture of courtesy more than necessity. Legally, we only need his permission to remove the remains from the church proper which is now diocesan property – but formerly pertained to the Dominicans.14

Apparently, José Alamany got wind of this encounter and wrote to offer Weber some solace:

I really know that the Vicar General at Vich has sent you through Mr. Tell a document staying that formerly in 1920 odd there has been a refusal to the removing of Archbishop’s remains in answer to a formal petition made by some of the Diocese of California. And the worse of it is that my father and probably other members of the family subscribed that refusal. This was my family’s great mistake in my opinion. It would take me very long to explain you the real motive of my family’s denial to the removal in those days, and surely I would not explain myself in English with the necessary accuracy that the matter requires.

I can tell you that recently with my father, we called on Mr. Tell at his office and had a long talk in which my father explained him the reasons why he and the whole family had recently changed their mind upon the matter and how would consent and really desire the removal to California, and offered Mr. Tell, in necessary to accompany him to Vich in order to pay a visit to the Bishop and let His Eminence know the circumstances of the former denial and to state that at the present time the whole family would enjoy better to have the archbishop’s remains interred in California, his actual lands of Missions, begging his Eminence to consent to the removal.15

In fact, Antonio and José did present their case before the Bishop Ramon Masnou Boixeda with enthusiastic support. Tell was present and reported the incident to Weber. Noting the positive effect on the Bishop of the support by the two Alamany family members, Tell stated that the Bishop claimed he had no personal objection to the idea, but that he would need to consult the Cathedral Chapter. Tell then offers a gentle but firm perspective to Weber as to how things would likely progress:

Vich is a town, but a very small town; very traditional and conventional, religious but also phanatic, and the spirit of the people is very special, and quite different of other modern and big towns. To act without a deep and serious reflexion, could provoke a campaign, or an state of opinion quite contrary to the spiritual interest of the Diocesis of Vich.

I am glad to realize that little by little, we have make some evident progresses.

Vich is very proud of the Archbishop Dr. Alamany. Not only the house where he was born, and the church were he is buried keeps his name, fame and brief history; but one of the columns of the Roman Temple now restored, has been dedicated to him.

The resistance to leave the remains, is a proof of the interest to keep the . . . [words obscured].16

And so it was that the matter progressed ever so slowly for nearly another year. Nevertheless, after a few more political hurdles, including an accidental but troublesome press leak, the situation was happily concluded with agreement of Bishop Masnou Boixeda to release the remains for transfer to San Francisco.17

On January 20, 1964, in the presence of Bishop Masnou Boixeda as well as other ecclesial and civil authorities, the body of Archbishop Joseph Sadoc Alemany, OP was exhumed. There was some anxiety over the process because rumors had circulated that the communists had defiled the grave during their occupation of Vich. Thankfully, the coffin and its contents were undamaged, all official seals being intact. The remains were removed from the original container and placed within a newly carved African mahogany casket, and lay in state for the next several days. On January 23rd, Church and state officials processed through Vich to St. Dominic’s Church, where a coram pontifice Mass was celebrated, Weber presiding.

The remains were then flown to California, arriving on January 27th. A Pontifical Mass of Requiem was held on Saturday, 6 February 1965 at Old St. Mary's Church. Because of the important historical connections, the Dominicans were invited to participate in the celebration. In addition to H. F. Ward, OP, Provincial, and Fabian Parmisano, OP, who served at the Pontifical Mass, the following Dominican friars served as pall bearers: Edward L. Sanguinetti, Janko Zagar, Antoninus Wall, Colin Vincent McEachen, Joseph P. Sanguinetti, and Bernard F. Condon.18 Afterwards, the body was brought to Holy Cross Cemetery and interred in a private chapel with the other archbishops of the Archdiocese.

While Msgr. Weber and Sr. Ernesto Tell must undoubtedly be credited with the final success of this dream, the Western Dominican Province friars played a role in paving the way. Had it not been for the Spanish Civil War, it seems likely that St. Albert Priory would now be host to the remains of Archbishop Alemany rather than Holy Cross Cemetery. And the work done by both Connolly and Blank helped to establish alternative legal precedent to the 1921 decision of the Bishop of Vich. The consistent efforts by the Province also demonstrated to the Alamany family good intent on the part of the friars towards the Archbishop. Though his departure in 1885 had brought tears to his eyes, Alemany was able, in the end, to return to the people and diocese where his heart always was and would always remain.



1 Unless otherwise noted, the information for this review is taken from either Francis J. Weber, Joseph Sadoc Alemany: Harbinger of a New Era (Los Angeles: Dawson's Book Shop, 1973); John B. McGloin, S.J., California’s First Archbishop: The Life of Joseph Sadoc Alemany, O.P. (1814-1888), NY: Herder & Herder, 1966); or the sermon preached by McGloin at Old St. Mary’s Church, on the occasion of the solemn translation of the remains of Archbishop Alemany (6 Feb 1965), Archives of the Archdiocese of San Francisco (AASF): Archbishop Alemany Removal, Vol. II.

2 Though the Catalonians prefer the spelling Alamany, the English version Alemany is also considered acceptable.

3 José Ma. De Garganta, OP, “D. Fr. José Sadoc Alamany y Conill, O.P.: Primer Arzobispo de San Francisco de California,” Galeria de Viceneses Liustres (Vich, 1945), 9-10. See also “Monasteries,” in The Catholic Encyclopedia, p. 454, which describe the role of José Mendizábal, finance commissioner in recommending the seizure of all property belonging to religious.

4 "St. Dominic's Church Monthly Calendar," March 1934, 6.

5 Letter of James B. Connolly, OP to Francis J. Weber, AASF, Archbishop Alemany Removal, Vol. I: 14 Aug 1961.

6 From other correspondence, it is clear that the Church of Santo Domingo in Vich suffered considerable damage during the war. Significant remodeling of the Church was undertaken afterwards. This may possibly have been when Antonio Alamany confirmed the site of burial, as one letter notes that the Ecclesiastical Notary, Rev. Esteban Orriole, had “seen the interior of the tomb in the moment of the reconstruction of the Church.” Letter of Ernesto Tell to Francis J. Weber, Ibid.: 22 Dec 1962.

7 Letter of Jaime Enseñat to Manuel Montoto, OP, AASF, Ibid.: 10 Dec 1952.

8 Ibid. This cover letter by Antonio Alamany also provide the background information about Enseñat.

9 Letter of Benedict Blank to an unknown recipient. Ibid.: 7 April 1953.

10 Letter of Benedict Blank, OP to Archbishop John J. Mitty, D.D., AASF, Ibid.: 7 April 1953.

11 Letter of John J. Mitty to Benedict Blank, OP, AASF, Ibid.: 21 April 1953.

12 Letter of Francis J. Weber to Archbishop McGucken, AASF, Ibid.: 28 December 1962.

13 Letter of Ernesto Tell to Francis J. Weber, AASF, Ibid.: 12 February 1963.

14 Letter of Francis J. Weber to Ernesto Tell, AASF, Ibid.: 18 February 1963. In documenting the exhumation of the Alemany’s body, Weber offers his opinion that Vilaró seemed to be really in charge of things in Vich; letter of Weber to Archbishop McGucken, AASF, Ibid.: 21 Jan 1965.

15 Letter of José Alamany to Joseph Weber, AASF, Ibid.: 13 March 1963. “Mr. Tell” is Ernesto Tell, the Barcelona lawyer who worked tirelessly to secure all the negotiations in Spain. Unfortunately, none of the extant records give any further details about the family’s “real motive” in the case. N.B. Jose Alamany acknowledges his difficulty in writing in English. No attempt has been made to correct either grammar or spelling errors in this or any other letters.

16 Letter of Ernesto Tell to Francis J. Weber, AASF, Ibid.: 26 Aug 1963. At the conclusion of the transfer to San Francisco, Tell advises Weber that an article written by the latter, “The Return of Alemany,” would be best not published in Vich: “There are many details, very interesting for the true history of the matter, but you know, and you have remarked how suspicious the people is in Vich. These very last days have been made some protestations in the Barcelona newspapers, coming from one member of the family, the Revd. Vilamala. He says that he and many other members of the family have not been consulted nor informed. That is not exactly true, but he expresses one state of some opinion. I will show the clipping to Mr. Duran, who is very devoted to you; but only to him. I believe you will understand how different is the mentality of a little town like Vich, and the art of thinking of the big cities like San Francisco or Barcelona.” Letter of Ernesto Tell to Francis J. Weber, AASF, Ibid.: 12 Feb 1965.

17 For details, see Francis J. Weber, “Alemany Returns to San Francisco: A Personal Memoir,” California Review, Vol. LXVII, n. 4 (Dec 1988): 266-277.

18 Letter of H. Francis Ward, OP to Chester J. Thompson, Assistant Chancellor, AWDP, Box X: 25 Jan 1965.