CNEWA

90 Years, 90 Heroes:
Msgr. Richard Barry-Doyle

No salute to the heroes of CNEWA would be complete without paying tribute to one of its earliest champions, Msgr. Richard Barry-Doyle, a colorful character in his own right, and a passionate advocate for the poor and suffering of the Near East.

In 1924, Msgr. Barry-Doyle founded “The Catholic Near East Welfare Association,” one of the American associations working to assist Russia and the Near East in the aftermath of World War I. Pope Pius XI combined it with a similar group, the Catholic Union, in 1926 to form what we now know as CNEWA.

As Michael J.L. La Civita wrote several years ago:

We know very little about the life of Barry-Doyle. The biographical data that exists can be found in a few newspaper clippings and letters housed in the Association’s archives at Graymoor. These morsels of information, recorded by the monsignor himself, are often erratic. It is evident, at least, that Barry-Doyle was an adventurer and a romantic, a dashing military officer and pious priest.

Barry-Doyle was born in 1878 in County Wexford, Ireland. Two family relations of the Irish-born priest figured prominently in his life: Commodore John Barry, the father of the United States Navy, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes. To honor his American ancestor, the monsignor hyphenated “Barry” to his family name.

Ordained in 1900, he left his parish in the middle of the night during Passiontide — why, records do not show. He turned up in England several years later as rector of a Yorkshire parish, then left to serve as an army chaplain during World War I.

According to Barry-Doyle, he was on every front of the war from France to the Gaza campaign in Palestine. He was also listed as killed, and while the Armistice was signed, he “hovered between life and death” in an English hospital. By 1922, the much-decorated priest had been recognized by the pope and the Russian Jewish community for his refugee work in Constantinople.

He went on to gain fame as a public speaker and fundraiser:

Barry-Doyle began a speaking tour that he described as “more in the form of an entertainment than a lecture.” Barry-Doyle’s “Call of the East” packed movie and opera houses up and down the east coast. On 16 April 1924, the “famous World War chaplain” filled Carnegie Hall. An excerpt illustrates its dynamism:

Here [Smyrna, Turkey] misery and want stalked the streets in the skin and bones of thousands of refugee children…I have seen their little bodies lying in the Thracian wayside where they had died of hunger and typhus…I have seen the children on the streets of Constantinople and Athens eating the heads of fish thrown out from houses…I have seen the death carts roll through the streets, piled high with bodies of little boys and girls, who were taken to be buried in one common grave outside the city, without a mother’s tears, nor flowers, nor any of the symbols of mourning, nor any mark to show their final resting place.

Though maudlin and theatrical for modern tastes, “The Call of the East” was very effective. Americans craved European news in the wake of the Great War and they responded generously.

The “Children’s Crusader,” as Barry-Doyle was now called, raised more than $4,000 from his first audience, the prestigious Converts’ League in New York. In Indianapolis, the Knights of Columbus pledged more than $5,000.

He traveled the world with missionary zeal. A newspaper account of his travels in Australia from 1927 quotes this passionate appeal for funds to feed the hungry:

“Bread, bread, bread…the real call of the East is a call for sympathy, help and bread.”

The report concluded:

Monsignor Barry-Doyle is not only an eloquent pleader for orphan children, but he is much more — he is an eloquent pleader for religious tolerance and for the brotherhood of man in the proper sense of the word. It is but true to say that for over an hour he held his great audience fascinated by the power of his eloquence, and by his great font of practical and natural wisdom, saturated here and there with acute and heartfelt emotion.

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