Eugène Tisserant

His Eminence
Eugène Tisserant
Dean of the College of Cardinals

Cardinal Tisserant in 1958
Appointed 13 January 1951
Term ended 21 February 1972
Predecessor Francesco Marchetti Selvaggiani
Successor Amleto Giovanni Cicognani
Other posts
Ordination 4 August 1907
by Charles-François Turinaz
Consecration 25 July 1937
by Eugenio Pacelli
Created Cardinal 15 June 1936
by Pius XI
Rank Cardinal Bishop
Personal details
Birth name Eugène Gabriel Gervais Laurent Tisserant
Born (1884-03-24)24 March 1884
Nancy, France
Died 21 February 1972(1972-02-21) (aged 87)
Albano Laziale, Province of Rome, Italy
Nationality French
Denomination Roman Catholic
Previous post
Styles of
Eugène Tisserant
Reference style His Eminence
Spoken style Your Eminence
Informal style Cardinal
See Porto e Santa Rufina (suburbicarian),
Ostia (suburbicarian)

Eugène-Gabriel-Gervais-Laurent Tisserant[1] (24 March 1884 – 21 February 1972) was a French prelate and Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church. Elevated to the cardinalate in 1936, Tisserant was a prominent and long-time member of the Roman Curia.


Early years and ordination

Eugène Tisserant was born in Nancy to Hippolyte and Octavée (née Connard) Tisserant. From 1900 to 1904, he studied theology, Sacred Scripture, Hebrew, Syriac, Old Testament, and Oriental Patrology at the seminary in Nancy. He was reportedly fluent in thirteen languages: Amharic, Arabic, Akkadian, English, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Italian, Latin, Persian, Russian, Syriac.[2] He then studied in Jerusalem under Marie-Joseph Lagrange, O.P., but returned to France in 1905 for military service.

On 4 August 1907, Tisserant was ordained a priest by Charles-François Turinaz, Bishop of Nancy.

Professor and prelate

Tisserant served as a professor at the Pontifical Roman Athenaeum S. Apollinare and curator at the Vatican Library from 1908 to 1914, at which time he became an intelligence officer in the French Army during World War I. Named assistant librarian of the Vatican Library in 1919 and Monsignor in 1921, Tisserant became Pro-Prefect of the Vatican Library on 15 November 1930 and was named a protonotary apostolic on 13 January 1936.

Cardinal and curial appointments

In the consistory of 15 June 1936, Tisserant was created Cardinal Deacon by Pope Pius XI, assigned as his titular church the Basilica of Santi Vito, Modesto e Crescenzia. He was raised to the rank of Cardinal Priest soon afterwards, retaining the same title.

On 25 June 1937, Tisserant was appointed the Titular Archbishop of Iconium by Pope Pius XI. he received his consecration on the following 25 July from Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli (later Pope Pius XII), with Archbishop Giuseppe Migone and Bishop Charles-Joseph-Eugène Ruch serving as co-consecrators, in St. Peter's Basilica. He participated in the conclave of 1939, which elected Pacelli as Pope Pius XII. With the new pontiff's permission, he switched from his titular church to that of Santa Maria sopra Minerva.

Tisserant held a number of offices in the Roman Curia. He served as Secretary of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches (1936-1959), as President of the Pontifical Biblical Commission (1938–1946) and as Prefect of the Congregation of Ceremonies (1951-1967) until the latter congregation was divided into the Congregation for the Causes of Saints and that of Divine Worship). From 1957 to 1971, he served as Librarian and Archivist of the Holy Roman Church. Under Pius XII, Tisserant also headed a tribunal to investigate alleged abuses of Knights Hospitaller appointments, which concluded that there was no wrongdoing.[2]

In 1939, the French prelate urged Pius XII to promulgate an encyclical "on the duty of Catholics to resist the unjust orders of an authoritarian state."[3] After the outbreak of World War II, Pius XII refused to release Tisserant as the head of the Vatican Library, so that Tisserant could return to France to serve in the army.[2]

In 1946 Tisserant was elevated to the rank of Cardinal Bishop by Pope Pius, taking the title of Porto e Santa Rufina in 1946. After serving as vice-dean of the College of Cardinals from 1947 to 1951, he became Dean and Cardinal Bishop of Ostia on 13 January 1951. As Dean of the Sacred College, he presided at the Funeral Masses of Popes Pius XII and John XXIII and presided over the conclaves to elect their successors in the conclaves of 1958 and 1963. During the 1958 conclave, he was seen as papabile by most Vatican-watchers, and it is generally believed that he received at least five votes in the early balloting.[4]

In 1961 Tisserant was elected a member of the Académie française. Doctor «honoris causa» in Coimbra University (1956).

Second Vatican Council and beyond

From 1962 to 1965, Tisserant attended the Second Vatican Council and sat on its Board of Presidency. He is said to have participated in negotiating a secret 1960s agreement between Soviet and Vatican officials that authorized Eastern Orthodox participation in the Second Vatican Council in exchange for a non-condemnation of atheistic communism during the conciliar assemblies.[5][6] As Dean of the Sacred College, he was the first person after Pope Paul VI to sign each of the acts of the Second Vatican Council.

In 1962 Tisserant became Grand Master of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre, a position he held until his death.

In 1969 an example of the split within the hierarchy came into view when Tisserant demanded a retraction from Cardinal Leo Joseph Suenens, Archbishop of Brussels-Mechelen, for the "defamatory and slanderous" statements he allegedly made against the bureaucracy of the Roman Curia.[4]


Tisserant died in 1972 from a heart attack in Albano Laziale, at age 87. He is buried in the Basilica of Porto e Santa Rufina in Rome.[7]

Episcopal succession

See also


  1. His surname is sometimes misspelled Tisserand, as in the list of the members of the Académie française.
  2. 1 2 3 Murphy, Paul I; Arlington, R. Rene (1983). La Popessa. New York: Warner Books Inc. pp. 195–194; 261–262. ISBN 0-446-51258-3.
  3. "Open City, Silent City". Time. 3 April 1964. Retrieved 13 June 2012.
  4. 1 2 "The Cardinal as Critic". Time. 1 August 1969. Retrieved 13 June 2012.
  5. Chiron, Yves, Paul VI: Le pape écartelé, Perrin, Paris, 1993 ISBN 2-262-00952-X p. 186 and 246
  6. Interview with Paul-Joseph Schmitt, Archbishop of Metz, in Le Lorrain, 9 March 1963
  7. "Recent Deaths". Time. 6 March 1972. Retrieved 13 June 2012.

Further reading

External links

Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Francesco Marchetti-Selvaggiani
Dean of the College of Cardinals
13 January 1951 – 21 February 1972
Succeeded by
Amleto Giovanni Cicognani
Preceded by
Giovanni Mercati
Archivist of the Holy Roman Church
14 September 1957 – 27 March 1971
Succeeded by
Antonio Samore
Preceded by
Nicola Canali
Grand Master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem
19 August 1960 – 21 February 1972
Succeeded by
Maximilien de Furstenberg
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