ONE Magazine

The official publication of
Catholic Near East Welfare Association

Celebrating 50 years | God • World • Human Family • Church

A Historical Overview of Catholic Near East Welfare Association

Following the United States bishops’ endorsement of Catholic Near East Welfare Association in September 1926 as their sole instrumentality authorized to solicit funds for Catholic interests in Russia and the Near East, the board of directors agreed to continue to use the original civil charter and to organize the Association’s activities into six departments: Greece and the Balkans, General Relief in Russia and Asia Minor, Religious Welfare (which assumed the work of the Catholic Union) Education and Student Exchange, Domestic Interests Affecting the Oriental Church in America and Business administration.

Father Edmund A Walsh, S.J., its first president and formerly the director of the Papal Relief Mission to Russia, stated that the pope wished the Association to “materially assist the Holy See to meet the daily increasing demands made…for assistance in humanitarian works, in the field of education, and in social welfare work all over the world…” Assistance from the newly-constituted welfare agency was given to such diverse causes as schools and orphanages in Palestine, Danzigs (now Gdansk, Poland) Russian refugee orphanage, the Oriental Institute in Rome, flood victims in Louisiana and earthquake victims in Puerto Rico.

At the annual board of directors meeting in 1931, the Association was reorganized in accordance with directives of the Holy Father and placed under ecclesiastical control. The Archbishop of New York, Patrick Cardinal Hayes, was named president and treasurer, and Msgr. James B. O’Reilly, national secretary.

Under the presidency of Francis Cardinal Spellman and the direction of Msgr. Bryan J. McEntegart as secretary; the Association initiated in 1941 a weekly column in several Catholic newspapers to appeal to prospective donors.

This public awareness plan came to fruition under the direction of Msgr. Thomas J. McMahon, who succeeded Msgr. McEntegart in 1943. Msgr. McMahon was a brilliant visionary who selflessly guided the Association and established it as a leading Catholic humanitarian agency.

McMahon’s “Mission Notes” added more than 600,000 names to the Association’s list in his first year as secretary. By 1947 more than 90 percent of the Association’s funds came from his weekly columns featured in more than 50 Catholic newspapers.

In the wake of the Israeli-Arab war in 1948-49, McMahon was asked by Pope Pius XII to direct a Pontifical Mission for Palestine. The Pontifical Mission, with Catholic Near East Welfare Association as its fund-raising vehicle, assisted the needs of the hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees in Egypt, Gaza, Israel, Lebanon, Arab Palestine, Syria and Transjordan.

Cardinal Spellman commended Msgr. McMahon “on the heroic and efficient work he has done as president of the Pontifical Mission, for Palestine at the cost of great sacrifice to himself and his family.”

McMahon resigned due to ill health in 1955. His assistant, Msgr. Peter P. Tuohy, took office and continued to build on his success. Under Tuohy, a yearly average of 8,000 donors were added to the Association’s rolls.

Msgr. Tuohy’s successor in 1960, Msgr. Joseph T. Ryan, expanded the Association’s donor list with a campaign directed at the nation’s priests. Msgr. Ryan petitioned the Congregation for the Oriental Church to establish special privileges, for those priests who joined the Association.

During the Second Vatican Council, Msgr. Ryan expanded the agency’s staff, hiring professionals to direct its administration, public relations and development work. It was a major step forward.

Msgr. John G. Nolan, Msgr. Ryan’s assistant national secretary, was named the Association’s national secretary in 1965, following Ryan’s ordination as bishop. Msgr. Nolan initiated new fund-raising programs, including an Annuity Program in 1968.

Under the presidency of Terence Cardinal Cooke, Msgr. Nolan initiated the Needy Child Sponsorship program to complement the existing Novice and Seminarian programs. The Needy Child program continues today as a vital force for more than 32,000 children.

In 1974, Msgr. Nolan established Catholic Near East, a quarterly magazine that narrates the stories of the people of the East. Today, this publication claims more than 170,000 readers and has consistently won major press awards for editorial and photographical content.

Under the direction of John Cardinal O’Connor, Msgr. Nolan initiated a major restructuring of the Association in 1985. The cardinal challenged the Association to expand its fund-raising activities and aid to Ethiopia, India, the Middle East and the Soviet Union.

Msgr. Robert L. Stern succeeded Msgr. Nolan as secretary general in 1987 and continued the reorganization and development of the Association.

Overseas, a major expansion of regular aid to Egypt and Ethiopia followed the emergency famine assistance in 1985. Reconstruction grants to Armenia after the 1988 earthquake marked the opening of support to the church. and people of the Soviet Union.

At home, the Association has developed the staff needed to meet the goals set by Cardinal O’Connor. Field program coordinators were recruited to develop and maintain the Association’s links with its overseas projects.

Today, Catholic Near East Welfare Association is involved in 17 countries, cares for more than 32,000 children, sponsors more than 7,000 seminarians and religious, builds churches, clinics, hospitals and schools, and promotes ecumenical and interfaith dialogue with the Orthodox churches, Islam and Judaism.

“The work of the church goes on,” said Brother Vincent Pelletier F.S.C., the agency’s field program coordinator in Ethiopia. “The feeling is that if you’re here in the good times, you have to be here in the bad times.”

For 65 years, Catholic Near East Welfare Association – its generous benefactors and selfless leaders – has been there for all times.

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