Chapter 1: The Occasion

On 10 April 1917, four days after the United States entered World War I, Father George Calavassy, a bearded, 36-year-old Greek Catholic priest from Constantinople, dropped an envelope in the mail. Its contents, three pages painstakingly handwritten in English on plain paper at the Jesuit college of St. Francis Xavier in New York City, were addressed to James Cardinal Gibbons in Baltimore, the dean of the American hierarchy. After reviewing the origin and purposes of the tiny Greek Catholic Exarchate (diocese) that the Holy See had established in Constantinople in 1911, Father Calavassy reminded the cardinal of his promise, made in Baltimore two months earlier, to present to the American bishops at their next meeting the needs of the exarchate — viz., $500,000 for a seminary, two schools and a “large” church, presumably a cathedral.[1]

For 25 years, Cardinal Gibbons had lent his name to American Protestants to raise funds for the Armenians in Turkey, but it seems that he did not give Father Calavassy’s letter so much as the favor of a reply. The letter is important, however; it explains clearly in Father Calavassy’s own words the Holy See’s attitude and strategy vis-a-vis the Orthodox[2] before Vatican Council II made ecumenism a household word. Further, it was due to the contacts Father Calavassy made with Catholics in America during the war, and to the correspondence he maintained with them afterward, that the Catholic Near East Welfare Association was founded in Philadelphia in 1924.

What were these American Catholics like? They belonged overwhelmingly to the Latin Church, and they were immigrants, or the sons and grandsons of immigrants from Ireland, Germany, Canada, Austria-Hungary, Italy and Poland, in that descending order. Their faith was simple, bordering sometimes on the superstitious, but as Catholics they knew, from family heritage if not from personal experience, what it meant to be a refugee from poverty, politics and even religious persecution.[3]

Some 3,518,000 Catholic immigrants arrived in America between 1900 and 1920 alone. They stayed mostly in the cities where they felt comfortable with relatives and friends who shared their religion, language and ethnic ways. They earned their living, most of them, as housemaids, cooks, trainmen, laborers and the like.

As their numbers increased, however, these Catholics became a threat, politically and economically, to the Protestants by whom they were employed, and who had preceded them as immigrants. The result was anti-Catholicism, covert at best but not infrequently public and sometimes violent, which found expression not only in the pulpit and in periodicals like The Protestant, but also through organizations like the American Protective Association (A.P.A.) and the Ku Klux Klan (K.K.K.). In retrospect, paradoxically, what these Protestant organizations helped to achieve, the Protestants did not want. Catholics on the defensive became at times nearly servile in their devotion to the bishops and parish priests. They rallied behind them, and by 1912 it is estimated that three million Catholics belonged to lay organizations such as the Knights of Columbus and the American Federation of Catholic Societies.

This is not to say that Catholics, bishops included, did not differ among themselves. The principal conflict arose between the Irish and the Germans, rooted in their differences in temperament, language, customs, liturgical practices and lesser externals, though not in faith and morals. The Germans mainly resented what they perceived as disproportionate Irish control over ecclesiastical appointments. So virulent was this bitterness that later in life, the Irish-born Cardinal Gibbons described a sermon he gave in Milwaukee, a stronghold of German sentiment, as one of the most “audacious” things he had ever done. “We will prove to our countrymen that the ties formed by grace and faith are stronger than flesh and blood,” he declared.

While open confrontation between the Germans and the Irish did indeed abate, the old feuds were not forgotten.

The Irish, certainly, were held together by “flesh and blood.” On Easter Monday 1916 an armed uprising of approximately 2,000 men in Dublin challenged for six days the centuries-old British subjugation of the country. The British made martyrs of the leaders and destroyed much of the city, and for months and even years thereafter the “bloody British” were excoriated under the crucifix from American pulpits and at Irish bond rallies in American parish halls. The Irish Free State, which was finally achieved in 1922,[4] fell short of a “united and independent” Ireland, and in America the man or woman with an Irish name and British mannerisms was taken to be a “social-climber” or even worse, a “turncoat” and a Protestant.

By 1922, Catholics in America, relieved that the Great War was over, were gradually acquiring the trappings of a new life: a radio, a vacuum cleaner, and even the ultimate — a car. Women, who had been given the right to vote in 1920, now involved themselves more and more in affairs outside the home: business affairs to some extent, but community, social and church affairs especially. The ubiquitous figure of Madame Chairman became the butt of much male humor, but in time the parish priest came to realize, all too often with reluctance, that the ladies’ sodality was capable of more than sweeping the sacristy and ironing the altar linens. On average, the housewife did more work for the Church than her husband (who frequently took the bows), but decision-making, they both understood, remained a prerogative of the pastor and none of their affair. The belief that there was “no salvation outside the Church” was both consoling and galvanizing. The average Catholic seldom, if ever, missed Sunday Mass. Religion was discussed with neighborhood Protestants delicately and infrequently, but converts to the Church were welcomed gladly, and prominent converts were lionized.

The provisions of the Immigration Act of 1924, such as the National Origins Act, placed unprecedented limits on the immigration rate; henceforth, the Church’s growth in America became more heavily contingent upon conversions and births. This lent critical import to orders such as the Paulist Fathers, founded in New York in 1858 specifically to evangelize American Protestants. Among other achievements, they could claim the founding of the National Catholic Converts League, which had been organized at St. Paul’s rectory in New York just prior to World War I;[5] Father Henry E. O’Keefe, Congregation of St. Paul (C.S.P.), served as its spiritual director.[6]

The Paulists had reasons to be cautious, however. If the Holy See ever had occasion to question the theological orthodoxy of American Catholics, they might easily have been the whipping boys. A biography of their founder, Father Isaac Hecker, had been poorly translated into French, and some of its exuberantly “pro-American” ideas and opinions seemed heretical to certain conservative theologians in France, who were unfamiliar with the American scene and ignorant of the American Protestant mentality. By majority consensus, the ideas and opinions were not heretical at all, but they were condemned as such in 1899 by Pope Leo XIII under the label of “Americanism,” which astonished the bishops and angered not a few.[7]

In 1922 the Vatican Curia made a similar mistake. Only 11 days after Achille Ratti became Pope Pius XI, the National Catholic Welfare Council, which had grown out of an office the American bishops had established in Washington during World War I, was peremptorily abolished on 23 February by a decree of the Sacred Consistorial Congregation. The bishops were instructed, without any explanation, to discontinue the meetings they had begun to hold annually after the war. [8] Before then, Rome had dealt with the bishops one by one, but now the Curia discovered that the Americans were as united and as disciplined as any hierarchy in the world. However, they remained loyal. The petition and report the bishops sent in protest to the Holy Father on 25 April emphasized most respectfully, but in no uncertain terms, that the N.C.W.C. had been created not from whim or nationalistic fervor, but to impress upon the American government and the public at large “the power of a united Hierarchy under the direction of the Pope.” Rome was also reminded that in America it was the “working people” who provided “the vocations to the priesthood and religious life as well as the financial resources that supplied the vast institutional development of American Catholicism and contributed to the Holy See.” On 22 June, the decree was just as suddenly rescinded; the Curia humbly swallowed its gaffe, saying only, “nothing is to be changed.” While Europe had not yet recovered from the war, America was beginning to prosper, and the Curia finally realized that without the support of American Catholics, the Holy See could not profit from the opportunities for evangelization the war had made available.

Prior to the war, because every priest and sister was needed at home to staff the parishes, schools, hospitals, orphanages and other institutions the bishops were building, American Catholics had been able to do little more for the foreign missions than contribute generously through the Society for the Propagation of the Faith (SPF). This was probably one of the reasons that, until the beginning of the 20th Century, the Church in America, in Vatican terms, had “missionary status.” On 24 June 1908, however, Pope Pius X transferred it from the jurisdiction of the Propaganda Fide to the Consistorial Congregation. Three years later, on 27 April 1911, the archbishops authorized the opening of a seminary to train young Americans for work in foreign lands. Ultimately it was situated in Ossining, New York, under the sponsorship of the Catholic Foreign Mission Society of America (Maryknoll),[9] which was itself only a few months old, and which, as time went on, developed a genius for communicating the “foreign mission” message to the American Catholic mind. Maryknoll’s thrust was China and the Far East, but its mission’s publicity helped stimulate among Catholics after the war an interest in what was happening in other parts of the world, and in some of these places American Protestants were involved.

For more than a century, with money collected by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (A.B.C.F.M.), Presbyterians and Congregationalists had been active in the Ottoman Empire. By means of Bibles, medicines, sewing machines and schools, they attempted to convert Moslems, Jews and particularly Christians who, if not Orthodox, were mostly Eastern Catholics. Their efforts were a failure, if gauged by the number of converts they produced, but Yankee preachers were persistent; their influence was magnified in the Near East through the people they taught, and in Washington through the people with whom they had studied at Amherst, Princeton, and Yale.[10]

There is no doubt, for instance, that it was Cleveland H. Dodge, of the Phelps-Dodge fortune, who persuaded President Wilson, his friend and classmate at Princeton, not to declare war on Turkey when the United States entered World War I.[11] For generations, the Dodge family had been identified with the Protestant missions in Lebanon when it was part of the Ottoman Empire. Cleveland Dodge argued later that if war had been declared on Turkey, America’s efforts against Germany would have been weakened and the Germans and Turks would have been thrown even closer together. His motive, however, was not exclusively political. Dodge knew also that, if the Americans declared war, years’ worth of gradually acquired Protestant colleges and mission property would have been expropriated, or worse, destroyed, and that Protestant relief efforts in Turkey would have had to cease.[12]

His aide in this campaign was Doctor James L. Barton, a Vermont-born Congregationalist who, having served in Turkey as an educator and missionary, rose to foreign secretary of the American Board. Later, in 1915, he became the indefatigable and granitic captain of the American Committee for Armenian and Syrian Relief (ACASR), a Protestant organization that nevertheless listed among its directors none other than Cardinal Gibbons. In 1918 ACASR became the American Committee for Relief in the Near East (ACRNE), and on 6 August 1919, ACRNE again changed its name to Near East Relief (NER).[13] The latter christening occurred when, despite charges in the House of Representatives by Congressman Joseph Walsh of Massachusetts that some in the Near East were being deprived of help because they were Catholics,[14] it was incorporated by the U.S. Congress, in the same fashion as the American Red Cross. Against expectation, the Holy See gave the NER its approval; however, except for two Catholics — Cardinal Gibbons and Robert J. Cuddihy — and two Jews — Rabbi Stephen S. Wise and Henry Morgenthau — its incorporating board of directors,[15] chaired by Doctor Barton, was a roster of 50 of the most powerful and socially prominent male members of the Protestant East-coast establishment, most of whom had offices and town houses in Manhattan. Men like William Howard Taft, Charles Evans Hughes, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt gave the NER more than just respectability; they were Doctor Barton’s brain trust, directly available to him by telephone, and their influence behind the scenes, even in potentia, was unmatchable.

By virtue of its incorporation, what had been a “volunteer” agency became “semiofficial,”[16] in Doctor Barton’s own words. “With committees in practically every state,” the NER dealt “directly … with nine different countries in the Near East …[and] other governments and international relief operations,” in the “repatriation, rehabilitation and re-establishment of suffering and dependent people of the Near East,” as it had been charged to do by Congress. The American Board, the Presbyterian Board and some other Protestant groups[17] supported the NER enthusiastically, and during the next 15 years, in addition to the foodstuff and other gifts in kind it received from the American Relief Administration (ARA), which Herbert Hoover headed, and which had access to United States government funds, the NER disbursed $116 million.[18] Catholics, however, were suspicious of the NER, and understandably so, for they had reason to believe that American aid in the Near East was being used by Protestants to proselytize. These suspicions may have helped spur Father Calavassy, as early as 1918, to propose the creation of a Catholic NER in The Lamp, a magazine published by the Society of the Atonement at Graymoor, New York.[citation needed]

On 10 March 1919, five months before the NER was incorporated, Pope Benedict XV told the cardinals in a secret consistory at the Vatican that “non-Catholic foreigners, furnished with abundant means and profiting by the great misery and ruin that the war has brought on Palestine, are there spreading their errors.”[19] The reference, obviously, was to the American Protestants in Syria, of which Palestine was a part, and it not only confirmed among Catholics their worst suspicions, but it came soon after Doctor Barton and his associates had announced a campaign to raise $30 million. At that very moment, in fact, Doctor Barton and a “special committee” of ten civic leaders — including Walter George Smith,[20] a Philadelphia lawyer who had been invited to join the committee because he was a Catholic, an Armenophile, and a friend of Cardinal Gibbons — were en route to Turkey and Syria as a preliminary to the campaign. They probably conjectured, from the pope’s remarks that the Holy See was suggesting a Near East organization of its own. During the war half a million Syrians had died from starvation and disease and 1,500,000 Armenians, half of the race, were imprisoned and executed or shot by the army on sight, and the pope told the cardinals that it was his intention, despite the Holy See’s “present poverty,” to excite the interest of the bishops of the world and the active charity of Catholics everywhere so that “their brethren” in the Near East would have the necessities of life and their churches and schools restored. To Mr. Smith especially it must have seemed clear that the pope was recommending that Catholics raise money in America and distribute it in the Near East themselves, and the fact that he did not mention the Society for the Propagation of the Faith meant perhaps that a new Catholic Near East agency was implied.

When he received them in a private audience two days later, the pope asked Mr. Smith and his sister, Helen Grace Smith, whether they had read his “allocution” to the cardinals.[21] Mr. Smith promised to visit the Vatican again after he had ascertained in Turkey, and in Syria if he managed to get there, whether the charges against the Protestants were true.

As regards the other, and principal, reason for the trip, however, Mr. Smith said nothing to the pope. Complaints had been heard, and were about to be published, that the American-subsidized relief operations were slipshod and inefficient. Herbert Hoover said a few months later, for instance, that in the Caucasus “corruption and thievery were beyond belief,”[22] and Doctor Barton and his committee commissioned Mr. Smith to teach the people in charge some basic business procedures. Because they were the only Americans with firsthand experience in the Ottoman Empire available at the time, Doctor Barton had hired for the relief work the same missionaries, nurses, teachers, and “mission workers” he had supported when he was secretary of the American Board. Although their personal honesty was unquestionable, their inexperience in this regard made them incapable of administering efficiently huge quantities of relief supplies. To make matters worse, the “committee” itself was incapable. In June, Herbert Hoover warned his headquarters that the Barton group had a “total lack of executive and business ability,” and that, if the facts were known, their story would be the “greatest scandal in American charitable history.”[23]

Meanwhile in Rome, having been received also by secretary of state Pietro Cardinal Gasparri, Mr. Smith and his sister befriended Father George Calavassy, whom they had entertained at their home in Torresdale, Pennsylvania, during the war. Through him they met, among other Eastern prelates who happened to be in Rome, Bishop Boghos Bédros Terzian, the patriarch of the Armenians, and Archbishop Isaiah Papadopoulos, Father Calavassy’s former superior in Constantinople, who had been recently named the assessor, or undersecretary, at the Oriental Congregation. As the Catholic member of the Barton committee, Mr. Smith was questioned again and again in Rome about the American relief work and about the alleged discriminatory practices. It would not be Father Calavassy’s fault if, in the Near East, the Smiths failed to get the facts firsthand; they carried with them, when they sailed to Constantinople on 15 March, letters of introduction to all of the Catholic hierarchs they might conceivably be able to meet.[24]

From the diary Mr. Smith kept, and from a few of the letters his sister sent to family and to friends, it is clear that until they returned to Rome in June the Smiths did little except work. Walter exhausted himself trying to put some order into the relief administration in Constantinople, and for the same purpose he spent two weeks in the Caucasus, while Helen, his secretary and confidant, devoted her spare time to raising funds for the “Benoit XV” orphanage the apostolic delegate, Archbishop Angelo Maria Dolci, had opened during the war. Father Calavassy, who had returned to Constantinople, gave them every minute he could spare. His sisters and brother became their “outside friends,” as distinct from their “inside friends,” the American Protestants, whom the Smiths found “Christians and often full of charity and zeal” but so “narrow” and “ignorant of things Catholic” that the Philadelphia Catholics were inclined at times to become impatient.[25]

The Protestants, however, at least were Americans, a point in their favor, according to Helen, for the Catholic missionaries were mostly French, “for whom nobody has a good word.”[26] There would be a “splendid field in the Near East,” where “there are no Catholic American Missions,” for American priests and religious as well as lay people “to do what American Protestants are doing,” Helen noted, and added that on this subject “Walter will have a very interesting report to give on his return” to Rome.[27]

When they returned to Rome 19 June, Walter regretted that he had been unable to visit Syria, but he said his investigations in Turkey had convinced him that it was not the policy of Doctor Barton and his committee to discriminate against Catholics, and that in Turkey, at least, the accusations of discrimination had originated from the nationalistic sentiments of French “ecclesiastics” and the anti-American prejudices of the local clergy trained by them. American Catholics were disposed to believe the worst about the Protestants, however, and while the Smiths were in Turkey the accusations had appeared again in some American Catholic newspapers. As a result, Catholic contributions for the relief work, such as they were, immediately lessened. Mr. Smith had done what he could, but not much could be done. From Constantinople he had cabled to Cardinal Gibbons, and to the Catholic Standard and Times that in the Near East “relief…is made without distinction of race or religion.”[28] At Mr. Smith’s request, Archbishop Dolci also cabled Cardinal Gibbons, but more guardedly, for he added the phrase, “since the arrival of the American Commission.”[29] Later, in Rome, in an interview for all of the Catholic newspapers, Mr. Smith emphasized the point. “As the Catholic member of the commission,” the Catholic Press Association correspondent wrote, “Mr. Smith wishes to testify, as far as he has seen — and he has seen an enormous amount of the working of the commission from every side — to the absolute fairness of distribution of aid as regards the different denominations. The Apostolic Delegate at Constantinople can testify to this and has done so.”[30]

With the exception of two or three, however, the complaints were coming not from Constantinople, but from bishops and priests in Syria, where Mr. Smith had been unable to go. On 28 August,[31] Monsignor Joseph Freri, the general secretary of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith in the United States,[32] took it upon himself to ask the apostolic delegate in Syria, Archbishop Frediano Giannini, O.F.M., whether the charges were true. Archbishop Giannini’s reply was devastating, the more so because he was the Holy See’s official representative in Syria. When Monsignor Freri published it without comment in the December issue of Catholic Missions, it seemed to American Catholics that Rome had spoken and the case was closed:

As far as the alms coming from America are concerned it is but too true that those in charge of their distribution are making a deplorable use of them. All their sympathy is for the non-Catholics. They will consent to assist Catholics only on condition that they will join their sect. It is an open work of Protestant proselytism, and I have repeatedly called the attention of the Holy See to it. And yet we are told that many Catholics are giving their contribution [sic] to that American Committee. It is highly desirable that they should be made aware of the doings of its representatives here in Syria and elsewhere, because they are always and everywhere using the same tactics.[33]

Monsignor Freri pressed his advantage. In the February 1920 issue of Catholic Missions he observed that “it would be most desirable for American Catholics to send their alms separately,” presumably through the Society for the Propagation of the Faith.[34] The American Committee’s receipts, which in 1919 had amounted to $19.4 million, in 1920 fell to $13 million, and continued to fall. In 1921 they amounted to only $7.2 million,[35] in part because of dwindling Catholic contributions.

To Mr. Smith, now back in Philadelphia, this represented a “deplorable mistake,” deplorable all the more because it was “stopping subscriptions from Catholics and others, while people were starving by the thousands,”[36] whereas Monsignor Freri was simply annoyed because the mail each day brought “questions on the subject.”[37] Cardinal Gibbons, however, did not budge. On 12 February 1920 he sent to Mr. Smith, for fund raising purposes, a cable which read, “after careful investigation persuaded Near East merits endorsement and support of all,”[38] and nine days later he told Monsignor Freri he felt that, if there had been discrimination, “such were the acts of individuals and should not be charged to the American Committee.”[39] The Committee, meanwhile, continued to profess its innocence, and Charles V. Vickrey, its secretary in New York, warned Monsignor Freri very cautiously that, in some circles, Catholics stood accused of the same discriminatory practices they were imputing to Protestants. Mr. Vickrey indicated that, recently, the pope had met for two hours behind closed doors with Colonel William N. Haskell, the director of relief in Armenia, an “earnest Catholic” whose “top aides” were Catholics. Colonel Haskell, Mr. Vickrey said, had absolute control over relief supplies ten times as large as those of his Protestant counterpart in Syria, Major James Nicol. Within 24 hours of this meeting, Mr. Vickrey had been told that Haskell “was using relief funds to further the interests of the Catholic Church” in the region. “I do not believe it,” Mr. Vickrey hastily underlined, and he assured Monsignor Freri, in a genteel manner, that the Committee was treating the report “just as we think the reports from Syria should be treated, namely, [as] the inevitable gossip that must be expected…in a land where social and religious prejudices, if not animosities, are so strong.”[40]

In Syria, meanwhile, Catholics and Protestants were not on speaking terms. Archbishop Giannini, the apostolic delegate, refused even to see Nicol on the grounds that a “full report,” evidently prepared by the archbishop’s secretary, the Syrian Father Cyrille Coussa, O.F.M., had already been sent to the committee’s headquarters in New York.[41]

When Mr. Smith brought that report to Baltimore, Cardinal Gibbons, the peacemaker, suggested to the committee in writing that if Nicol could achieve a “better understanding” with Archbishop Giannini, the committee would have access to information which would improve the relief work in Syria and lead to a “better feeling” in the United States.[42]

Here the matter might have rested, had not Archbishop Giannini written also to Rome. Within weeks Cardinal Gasparri asked Cardinal Gibbons to reply to the following:

Credible information sent to the Holy See showed that in fact the distribution of funds in Syria was characterized by partiality, and served either directly or indirectly as a means of Protestant proselytism. The distribution is turned over to, and carried out as if it were a monopoly by members and adherents of an organization whose head is Mr. James Nicol of the Regular Protestant Mission. Thus, throughout these regions, it has to the ordinary native the appearance of being the work solely of American Protestant beneficence. The danger is still greater for Catholic orphans, who, collected together by the minister of the Regular Protestant Mission, can fulfill their religious duties only with great difficulty.[43]

Cardinal Gibbons obviously was concerned. He sent Cardinal Gasparri’s statement word for word to Mr. Vickrey, reminding him that “many times” and “all along” he, Cardinal Gibbons, had maintained that “your Organization was actuated by a spirit of fairness and impartiality,”[44] and telling Mr. Vickrey he wanted the facts immediately because Cardinal Gasparri was expecting a reply. After seven days without reply from Mr. Vickrey, Cardinal Gibbons sent him a telegram: “Await answer to my letter of June 16.”[45]

Mr. Vickrey must have agonized, but the five-page letter he sent to the Baltimore cardinal on 25 June, although probably the best possible response under the circumstances, could not have been expected to satisfy the Holy See or to placate American Catholics. The Near East work was “purely American” and “non-sectarian,” Mr. Vickrey wrote, and Major Nicol, a “strong, sympathetic, unselfish administrator,” was in charge in Syria not because he was a Protestant, but because he was an American, as the organization’s charter required. Moreover, Major Nicol had not worked as a “missionary” for some years before joining the organization, nor had the committee hired him; he had been in charge of the Red Cross work in Syria, and when the Red Cross “turned the work over to us,” Major Nicol, like others, had simply been continued. Nevertheless, Archbishop Giannini’s criticisms were “honest,” said Mr. Vickrey, and because of the criticisms, even though they were unfounded, Major Nicol himself now wanted to retire. Another American would have to be named, of course, and in all probability this new director, whoever he might be, because of his nationality would be as unacceptable to the French as Major Nicol was, for “our French friends… very naturally have a different viewpoint in connection with such philanthropy.”[46] On the word “viewpoint” Mr. Vickrey prudently did not elaborate, for the French were Catholics, and Cardinal Gibbons needed no explanation.

Until his death nine months later, Cardinal Gibbons permitted his name to remain on the letterhead of the Near East Relief, and Walter George Smith, who continued to serve on its executive committee, began more and more to reveal his irritation with Protestant workers in the field. For fundraising purposes, the NER regularly reminded the American Public that in the Near East children by the thousands were growing “into useful manhood and womanhood according to American ideals and by American methods”[47] — in American Protestant mission-stations, of course — and complaints continued to reach Mr. Smith that the religious services the children were forced to attend, although some of the children were Catholics or Orthodox, were Protestant religious services. Mr. Smith insisted that, whenever possible, children should be placed in institutions directed by representatives of their own religious denomination, and, “where a Gregorian, Jewish, Catholic or Protestant Institution is caring for orphans of its own faith, that equal subsidies per capital [sic] be paid to them”[48] by the NER. The problem, however, he understood very clearly, and finally he admitted that he had been aware of it all along:

Human nature being what it is, it is not to be expected that, mission workers who are now representing the Near East Relief, whose faith in the Protestant religion is very strong and whose antagonism to Catholicism is equally strong, and intensified by the French nationality of Catholic missionaries and workers in the Near East, there would not be unusual difficulty in avoiding friction. I found it so when I was in the Near East myself, notwithstanding the earnest desire of all the Missionaries both because it was right and because it was expedient to be absolutely fair and impartial.[49]

In the postscript Mr. Smith added emphatically, “of course the Catholic orphans in our institutions ought to be given to Catholic institutions where such institutions can maintain them.” Accordingly, on 25 February the NER executive committee voted to instruct the managing director in Beirut that “such subsidies or grants-in-aid as are given to orphanages under Jewish, Armenian or other control be confirmed under like conditions to Catholic Orphanages,” and that the Catholic children in the NER orphanage about whom Mr. Smith was concerned be transferred to the Franciscan Sisters if practicable.[50]

The damage had been done, however; it could not be undone. Quite by accident, it served the purposes of the Holy See. Despite the goodwill of its directors in New York, the NER was not fair to Catholics overseas, and this opened the way in America for the agency Pope Benedict had nearly suggested: a Catholic Near East agency through which Catholics, while performing the works of mercy to which they were obliged, could implement the Holy See’s centuries-old efforts for reunion with the Orthodox.

Before it began, Pope Benedict XV is said to have thought that World War I “might bring about a rapprochement between Orthodoxy,”[51] and he may have foreseen what resulted in the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the tsars. Traditionally, the Vatican formula for reunion had been prayer, study, and good works, and on 25 February 1916, Pope Benedict extended to the universal Church[52] an eight-day period of prayer for the cause of Christian unity. Called the Chair of Unity Octave, it had been first initiated at Graymoor, near Garrison, New York, in 1908, by the Reverend Lewis Wattson, at the time an Anglican clergyman. On 22 March 1916, Pope Benedict issued a constitution concerning the Eastern churches and this was followed on 15 April by the apostolic letter (Cum Catholicis) in favor of union of the Christian peoples of the East with the Roman Church.

There was very little novel about documents like these, of course; many of Benedict’s predecessors had tried, each in his own way, to heal the 11th Century schism. By now only the experts could delineate the causes of the schism, for they were political and social more than theological, and, truth be told, during Benedict’s pontificate the obstacles to be overcome were no different.

As a mechanism for reunion with separated Christians, but primarily to promote the conversion of non-believers, Pope Gregory XV in 1622 had created the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, known popularly as the Propaganda Fide. In 1862 Pope Pius XI divided its functions, so that one section thereafter was concerned with Latin missions, the other with “affairs of the Eastern peoples.”[53] Through this structure, some groups and individuals returned from Orthodoxy to Rome, and they were known as Melkites, Catholic Copts, Armenian Catholics, Chaldeans, Maronites (who claimed they were never Orthodox), Syrian Catholics, Catholic Malankars, Malabars, etc. They were also known as Eastern Catholics, to distinguish them from Latin Catholics, and quite properly so; for with Rome’s encouragement they kept now as Catholics the laws, customs, rights, and privileges they had had in Orthodoxy, and they continued to offer the Divine Liturgy, known by Latin Catholics as the Mass, in the language and vestments and according to the rubrics they had used as Orthodox. In other words, in reuniting with Rome, these Christians did not have to change their ways; indeed, they were encouraged by Rome not to change them, not only for historical reasons, but for pragmatic reasons as well. It was the thinking in Rome that these Eastern Catholics were the “natural bridge” by which their Orthodox confreres could most easily return to unity with the Holy See; and, in any case, why should people in the East be expected to abandon, in favor of Western forms, the usages with which they were familiar and which were in some cases older? Both forms were equally legitimate.

On 1 May 1917, Pope Benedict XV removed the “affairs of the Eastern peoples” section from the Propaganda Fide, and the separate entity he created, the Sacred Congregation for the Eastern Church, replaced for Eastern Catholics all other congregations of the Roman Curia except the Holy Office and the Sacred Penitentiary[54] The pope kept the title of prefect for himself, Cardinal Nicholas Marini became its secretary. To serve as the new congregation’s assessor (or undersecretary) Archbishop Isaiah Papadopoulos was called to Rome from Constantinople, where, since 1911, he had been the exarch (bishop) of the Greek Catholics of the Byzantine rite, of whom Father George Calavassy was one. The pope shared the hope of many in Rome that the Eastern Catholic churches would indeed serve as to span the gulf between the Latin and Orthodox Churches. A Catholic Near East agency could contribute to the realization of this hope.

It is said by those who knew him well that, at the time of his death, in January 1922, Pope Benedict was “full of great ideas and plans for the apostolate in the Orthodox World.”[55] Pope Pius XI, who succeeded him, also took a personal interest in the Catholic Near East Welfare Association; in his long pontificate (17 years), he issued 23 documents relating to reunion.[56] The new pope had been in Warsaw as papal nuncio when the Soviet armies were besieging it in 1920, and “this Polish experience was to determine his attitude to Communism for the rest of his life,”[57] despite that, three years prior, the collapse of the tsars had seemed to the Vatican to be an answer to prayer.

In 1918 “the Vatican was convinced, like most other states, that Bolshevism could not last,”[58] and whereas in tsarist Russia Orthodoxy had enjoyed all the advantages of a state religion, the Soviets now stated that all religions would be treated alike. “All of us Catholics breathed a sigh of relief when the Revolution took place in 1917,” a Russian Catholic priest was quoted as saying. “We were then put on an equal footing with the Orthodox Church.”[59]

Pope Pius XI worked feverishly, sparing neither his own energy nor the resources of the Holy See in equipping the Church for reunion. He reorganized the Pontifical Oriental Institute, which Benedict had founded, entrusted it to the Society of Jesus (Jesuits), and provided it with a new building and a large library. He established the Russian College in Rome to have priests ready when the Soviet regime would collapse. In 1924, in the letter Equidem verba, he commissioned the Abbot Primate, Fidelis von Stotzingen, to found within the Benedictines an inter-ritual congregation of specialists because of monasticism’s appeal in the East. Lambert Beauduin would be its epitome, and Augustine von Galen its stubborn solicitor of funds.

A scholar by nature and a librarian by training, in money matters Pope Pius XI was likened to St. Francis of Assisi,[60] but in his exercise of authority, as in his treatment of Father Michel d’Herbigny,[61] he acted like a martinet. He was a man of deep piety who, despite his severity, was also known for his sense of humor. His efforts on behalf of Christian unity were enhanced by the fact that he utilized capable men as unlike each other as Archbishop Eugenio Pacelli and Father Angelo Roncalli, both future popes, who would both become involved — Archbishop Pacelli more directly than Father Roncalli — in the work of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA), the soil for which had been prepared in America in 1922.

The event that led to the establishment of CNEWA was the forced “repatriation” to Greece of more than one million Greeks, including Greek Catholics, from Turkey as a result of Ataturk’s victories. Calavassy, who had succeeded Archbishop Papadopoulos as exarch in 1920, once again needed, this time in Athens, an orphanage plus a seminary, two schools and another “large” church. He could not go to America himself, and the agent he selected, an orator and fundraiser par excellence, was Monsignor Richard Barry–Doyle, a native of Ireland who had served as a chaplain in the Near East with the British forces during World War I. American Catholics had money, and Bishop Calavassy knew they would give it generously if the message was properly presented. In 1922 they numbered 18,260,793,[62] about 18 per cent of the population, and their hierarchy consisted of 94 bishops and 17 archbishops, of whom William O’Connell of Boston and Dennis Dougherty of Philadelphia were cardinals. Boston and Philadelphia ranked only third and fourth in Catholic population, and on 24 March 1924, New York and Chicago, which ranked first and second, would also have cardinals in the persons of Patrick Hayes and George Mundelein.[63] Priests numbered 22,545, of whom 16,459 were diocesan and 6,086 belonged to religious orders, and 8,778 young men were being prepared in seminaries across the country to succeed them. The Church’s greatest strength, however, was its parish schools, 6,406 of them, in which nearly two million children were getting a grassroots Catholic education,[64] despite conflicts with the National Education Association (NEA), to which most public school teachers belonged.[65] Since money was his goal, Monsignor Barry-Doyle was well advised to talk about children, not about reunion or the Eastern Church; for the man in the pew was, in his own small way, a philanthropist, not a theologian, and he knew little and cared less about Catholics with “strange ways” and married priests who more than once had given trouble to the bishops. The bishops in America had always been opposed to the presence of married priests; moreover, they remembered that Father Alexis Toth (1854-1909),[66] who abandoned Catholicism for Orthodoxy because of the bishops’ attitude, was responsible for the apostasy of a quarter-million Slavs. Bishop Michael John Hoban of Scranton, in whose diocese Father Toth had worked as an Orthodox, took a special interest in Monsignor Barry-Doyle’s cause, however, and the monsignor responded to Bishop Hoban with genuine affection.

When he lectured about it afterwards, Monsignor Barry-Doyle sounded as if he had watched the Turks burn Smyrna, 12 September 1922, when 260,000 Greeks lost everything except what they could carry. All but a few of them were Orthodox who for centuries Catholics had prayed to see reunited with the Holy See, as Christ had prayed that “they may be one.”[67] If Catholics in America could be persuaded to be generous, the poor would be fed, Bishop Calavassy would have his buildings, and the Orthodox in gratitude might consider crossing the bridge to Rome.


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[1] Father Calavassy to Cardinal Gibbons, Archives, Archdiocese of Baltimore, Maryland, (AAB) 118 U 10. In this letter, Father Calavassy mentions that he was enclosing “official documents” from Rome endorsing his cause, one of them from the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith (Propaganda Fide), but these documents were not found in the Baltimore archives. A copy of what presumably was the Propaganda Fide document is in the archives of the Archdiocese of New York, at St. Joseph’s Seminary, Dunwoodie, Yonkers, New York. It is a translation of a letter (N.P. 37774), dated 8 November 1916, signed by D. Cardinal Serafini, prefect of the congregation, authorizing Father Calavassy to appeal for contributions in the United States, and recommending him to the Catholic hierarchy. Found with this letter in the Archdiocese of New York archives is a letter dated 16 November 1916 (Secretariat of State, No. 22578) P. Cardinal Gasparri, the Holy See’s secretary of state, wrote at the pope’s direction to Cardinal Farley of New York, endorsing Father Calavassy’s cause. Cardinal Farley sent this letter to the American hierarchy, and also to the clergy of the Archdiocese of New York. The fact that the letters of both Cardinals Gasparri and Serafini were addressed to Cardinal Farley, and not to Cardinal Gibbons, was perhaps a reason Cardinal Gibbons did not show more interest.

[2] Father Calavassy spoke, for instance, of “conversion of schismatics”, and of “missionaries” to the Orthodox.

[3] New Catholic Encyclopedia (New York: McGraw Hill, 1967), s.v. “United States of America” by John Tracy Ellis.

[4] See George Dangerfield, The Damanable Question (Boston: Little, Brown, 1976), chap. 14 passim.

[5] New York Catholic News, 9 January 1926.

[6] New York Catholic News, 12 December 1925.

[7] The encyclical, entitled Testem benevolentiae, was published on 22 January. For the text, with brief introduction, see John Tracy Ellis, ed., Documents of American Catholic History (Milwaukee: Bruce, 1956), pp. 553-562.

[8] For the pertinent documents and background, see Ellis, Documents, pp. 629-635; see also Elizabeth McKeown, “Apologia for an American Catholicism: The Petition and Report of the National Catholic Welfare Council to Pius XI, April 25, 1922,” Church History, 43 (December 1974), pp. 514-528. The crucial role of John J. Burke, C.S.P., in the undertaking is carefully described in Never Look Back by John B. Sheerin, C.S.P. (New York: Paulist Press, 1975), pp. 36-84.

[9] For Cardinal Gibbons’ March, 1911, letter to the American archbishops on this subject, see Ellis, Documents, pp. 593-596.

[10] See David H. Finnie, Pioneers East: The Early American Experience in the Near East (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1967); Robert L. Daniel, American Philanthropy in the Near East, 1820-1960 (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1970); and Joseph L. Grabill, Protestant Diplomacy and the Near East: Missionary Influence on American Policy, 1810-1927 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1971).

[11] Daniel, ibid., pp. 154-5; Grabill, ibid., p. 80.

[12] Daniel, ibid.

[13] See James L. Barton, Story of Near East Relief (1915-1930), an interpretation (New York: Macmillan, 1930).

[14] For the debate on Sen. Res. 180, a bill to incorporate Near East Relief, see Congressional Record, 66 Cong., I Sess., 2545-48, 3007-14 and 3151-54. Representative Walsh tried to obstruct passage of the bill and voted against its passage.

[15] Barton, op. cit., p. 432.

[16] Ibid., p. 431.

[17] Daniel, op. cit., p. 157.

[18] Barton, op. cit., p. 399.

[19] Acta Apostolicae Sedis (AAS), V. XI, No. 4, 12 March 1919. For the text in English, see Tablet (London), 22 March 1919, pp. 353-4.

[20] In 1918 Mr. Smith was president of the American Bar Association, and he was a man of letters as well as an attorney. He never remarried and after the 1890 death of his wife, Elizabeth Drexel (of the Philadelphia banking family), and he lived in Torresdale, Pennsylvania, with his sister, Helen Grace Smith, and his brother, Thomas Kilby Smith, who would be one of the original incorporators of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association. See Thomas A. Bryson, Walter George Smith (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1978).

[21] Helen Grace Smith to Caroline Smith, 11 March 1919. Walter George Smith papers, Archives, Archdiocese of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, (AAPP), St. Charles Seminary, Overbrook, Pennsylvania.

[22] Herbert Hoover, Memoirs, I, 386-88. Cited by Thomas A. Bryson, “Journal of a Journey to the Near East, ” Armenian Review, vol. 24, Spring 1971, pp. 55-56. The “Journal” is Walter George Smith’s diary.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Bryson, “Journal”, Armenian Review, vol. 24, Spring 1971, pp. 13-17 passim.

[25] Helen Grace Smith to “My Dear Reverend Mother”, 15 April 1919. Smith Papers, AAPP. In her innocence, better than any other person involved, Helen described the differences in mentality that were at the root of the problems between Catholics and Protestants in the Near East: “It is a strange thing for us to be living and working with Protestant missionaries. … Their ignorance of things Catholic is amazing. It is wonderful how kind and considerate they are to us and they seem really to like us. You will pray, I know, that we be guided safely and surely in our conduct. They often talk on religious matters, and I find many of them are Congregationalists, Methodists, Baptists, or Presbyterians, a new kind of surrounding for ones who are accustomed to the Anglican state of mind. Their faith in the Divinity of Our Lord is very weak. They approach Unitarianism.”

[26] Helen Grace Smith to “Dearest Emily, ” 12 June 1919. Smith Papers AAPP.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Cited by Thomas A. Bryson, “A Note on Near East Relief,” Muslim World, LXI, July 1971, pp. 204-205.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Philadelphia Catholic Standard and Times, 26 July 1919.

[31] Monsignor Freri to Cardinal Gibbons, 15 December 1919. AAB

[32] Monsignor Freri had the responsibility of raising funds for the Catholic missions, but his interest was probably personal as well. He had been born in France, which for centuries had protected Catholics in the Ottoman Empire, and during World War I he had been sending funds to Catholics in Syria, including the Maronites in Lebanon (then a part of Syria), whom the French had favored.

[33] New York Catholic Missions, December 1919.

[34] New York Catholic Missions, February 1920. AAB 130 U 7.

[35] Bryson, “A Note on Near East Relief,” p. 202.

[36] Walter George Smith to Monsignor Freri, 22 December 1919. AAB

[37] Monsignor Freri to Cardinal Gibbons, 13 February 1920. AAB

[38] AAB 130T 10.

[39] Cardinal Gibbons to Monsignor Freri, 29 February 1920 AAB.

[40] Charles Vickrey to Monsignor Freri, 12 February 1920. AAB 130T 9. A graduate of the United States Military Academy, West Point, New York, William Haskell was a convert to Catholicism. After World War I he served successively as head of the American Relief Mission to Romania, under the United States Food Administration, and Allied high commissioner to Armenia, representing Great Britain, France, Italy, and the United States and director general of all relief in the Caucasus. In 1921 he was appointed by Herbert Hoover as chief of the American Relief Mission to Russia, and, while retaining that position until 1923, he served also as Red Cross Commissioner in Greece during 1922 and 1923 in charge of relief work incident to the Smyrna disaster. A convert to Catholicism, he was married to Winifred Farrell, of Albany, New York, a granddaughter and heiress of Anthony N. Brady, the famous financier.

[41] Major Nicol to Mr. Vickrey “memorandum” 28 April 1920. AAB unnumbered.

[42] Cardinal Gibbons to Mr. Smith, 14 May 1920. AAB 133 E 2.

[43] Cardinal Gibbons to Mr. Vickrey, 16 June 1920. AAB 134 B 1.

[44] Ibid.

[45] Pencilled note in Cardinal Gibbons’ handwriting. AAB 134 B 1.

[46] Mr. Vickrey to Cardinal Gibbons, 25 June 1920. AAB. In October, however, having returned from the Near East, Vickrey informed Cardinal Gibbons that Major Nicol had been replaced as director in Syria, and that in Turkey two NER executives, Dr. W. Nesbitt Chambers and Dr. Charles P. McLaughlin, had been asked to resign because it was felt “by some” that they were “allowing their Protestant affiliations to influence them in their work.” Vickrey to Cardinal Gibbons, 28 October, 1920. AAB 137 L 10.

[47] Daniel, op. cit., p. 158.

[48] Mr. Smith to Mr. Vickrey, 5 February 1921. Archives, Near East Foundation, New York, N.Y., (ANEF), (unnumbered).

[49] Ibid.

[50] ANEF (unnumbered).

[51] Carlo Falconi, The Popes in the Twentieth Century: From Pius X to John XXIII (London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1967, 1967), p. 141.

[52] New Catholic Encyclopedia, s.v., “Chair of Unity Octave”, III, p. 422.

[53] See Motu proprio, Dei providentis, Acta Apostolicae Sedis, Rome, 1917, pp. 529-531.

[54] Ibid.

[55] Falconi, op. cit., p. 148.

[56] New Catholic Encyclopedia, s.v., “Ecumenical Movement, ” p. 97.

[57] Anthony Rhodes, The Vatican in the Age of the Dictators, 1922-1945 (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1973), p. 18.

[58] Ibid., p. 131.

[59] Ibid., p. 132.

[60] Ibid., p. 20.

[61] Ibid.

[62] The Official Catholic Directory, Anno Domini 1923 (New York: Kennedy, 1923), “General Summary. ” According to the official census taken in 1920, the total population of the U.S.A., as of 1 January 1920, was 105,710,620; and as of 1 July 1920, the residential population had increased to an estimated 106,466,000. See U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Census, Statistical Abstract of the United States (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1976), p. 5.

[63] See Joseph Bernard Code, Dictionary of the American Hierarchy, 1789-1964 (New York: Joseph F. Wagner, 1964), p. 127 and p. 211.

[64] The Official Catholic Directory, op. cit.

[65] According to Douglas J. Slawson’s The Department of Education Battle, 1918-1932 (University of Notre Dame Press, 2005), the Catholic response to the NEA was largely driven by fears that the defeat of parochial education by a standardization movement would lead to the assimilation of Catholics (especially immigrants) into Anglo-American, pan-Protestant culture, thereby undermining the authority of the Church.

[66] See New Catholic Encyclopedia, s.v. “Toth, Alexis”, XIV, p. 212, by G. A. Maloney.

[67] John, 17:11.

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