Dear Maria Controversy

Maria and Bellamy Storer, a wealthy and well-known couple from Cincinnati, Ohio, were friends with Edith and Theodore Roosevelt. The Roosevelts chose Bellamy to be godson to their son Archie. Maria was an artist, the founder of Rookwood Pottery Studio and Cincinnati’s May Festival of music. Bellamy was an attorney and U.S. Congressman. Like Edith, the Storers were Episcopalians, but Maria converted to Catholicism in 1892. Her husband followed her into the Catholic Church. The Storers believed that the “liberal” Catholicism of Archbishop John Ireland would increase the standing of the U.S. church, despite the opposition of Pope Leo XIII. Maria dedicated herself to the task of convincing the Vatican that Archbishop Ireland should be elevated to cardinal. To this end, she canvassed their friends and colleagues. In 1899, Theodore Roosevelt, then governor of New York, agreed that Ireland, an acquaintance of his, would be a good choice and could help to ease the transition to democracy for U.S. immigrants as well as assist in the settlement of land disputes in the aftermath of the Spanish-American War. Roosevelt wrote to Maria with these sentiments.

President William McKinley gave Bellamy the diplomatic post of Minister to Belgium after he lost his congressional seat in part to an anti-Catholic prejudice. In 1899 Bellamy Storer became U.S. Minister to Spain.

After Theodore Roosevelt became president, he gave Bellamy the post of Ambassador to Austria-Hungary. Maria redoubled her efforts on Ireland’s behalf when Pope Leo died in 1903. She called for public support from William Howard Taft and other Cincinnatians, and from those in diplomatic circles in Europe. She pressed Roosevelt to provide his endorsement. He wrote her that he could no longer give it. As president, he could not violate church-state separation nor become involved in internal Vatican affairs. Nevertheless, Maria Storer highlighted Roosevelt’s 1899 letters of encouragement as she lobbied Pope Pius X. Roosevelt requested that she desist. He sent letters that went unanswered by the Storers, including an ultimatum in 1905 stating that that if she did not cease using his name he would relieve Bellamy of duty. She did not stop, and Roosevelt fired Bellamy as ambassador on March 5, 1906. Later that year, Bellamy attempted to clear his name and insisted openly that Roosevelt both knew of their lobbying the Vatican and truly supported their cause. The “Dear Maria” controversy, as it was known, caused the end of the Roosevelt-Storer friendship.

The Storers retired from public life. Archbishop John Ireland died in 1918, never having achieved the cardinalate that Maria Storer so desired for him.