ONE Magazine

The official publication of
Catholic Near East Welfare Association

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

CNEWA at 75: Decades of Turbulence

Despite the Depression and world war, CNEWA provided care and support to those in need.

When Father Edmund A. Walsh, S.J., resigned as President of CNEWA in late spring 1930, the agency confronted a world foundering in the grip of the Great Depression. The United States was years away from the New Deal reforms of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Herbert Hoover was in his second year as President; in his regard for individual freedom he chose to depend on private charity to ameliorate the widespread suffering of a newly impoverished American populace, but private charity proved to be in short supply. The well of support that CNEWA had enjoyed under Msgr. Richard Barry-Doyle and Father Walsh had disappeared.

It was against this historical background that Patrick Cardinal Hayes, Archbishop of New York and President of CNEWA, appointed Msgr. James B. O’Reilly, a priest of the Archdiocese, as Secretary of CNEWA on 15 June 1931. He was to serve in this capacity throughout the Depression until he was reassigned to a New York City parish some 10 years later. Confronted with indescribable poverty and vastly diminished support, he would nevertheless enable CNEWA to continue its assistance to churches and people in need.

Pius XI was nine years into his pontificate when Msgr. O’Reilly was appointed and Luigi Cardinal Sincero was Secretary of the Sacred Congregation for the Eastern Church, under which CNEWA operated. Nuncios in the various regions served by CNEWA sent their requests for assistance to the Congregation, which in turn forwarded these requests to CNEWA in New York. Donations were solicited by and received at the agency’s New York offices; they were then sent to the Congregation for distribution to the nuncios. The Secretary of the Congregation sent thank-you letters, prepared by the Good Shepherd Sisters, directly to individual donors in the U.S.

The day-to-day work was done by minutanti, priests at the Congregation who were assigned to specific churches or regions. In 1935 an American priest, Msgr. Joseph Mark McShea, became the first of a series of CNEWA representatives in the Congregation; McShea served there until 1939. He later became Bishop of Allentown, Pennsylvania. When Bishop McShea died in 1991, Achille Cardinal Silvestrini, Prefect of the Congregation, sent Bishop Thomas J. Welsh of Allentown a telegram expressing his condolences and recognizing McShea’s years of service to the churches of the East.

In the early years of Msgr. O’Reilly’s tenure, one of his first tasks was to prepare the CNEWA Faculties and Privileges – special privileges for priest-members – in collaboration with the Holy See.

These privileges, first granted in May 1933, included, among others, the privilege of substituting five decades of the Rosary for the Divine Office on any day when one traveled 60 miles, the privilege of offering Mass at any time of the day or night while traveling and the privilege of using the Greek or Latin antimensium in place of an altar stone. The privileges remained in effect until the revision of the Code of Canon Law in 1983, when most of them became common for all priests.

As might be expected, Msgr. O’Reilly faced an uphill battle in obtaining funds from financially beleaguered donors. The Congregation had begun sending “mission pages” that cited the nuncio’s requests for funding special projects to CNEWA’s New York headquarters. These pages formed the nucleus of CNEWA’s fund-raising appeals, but in the face of the Depression they were not always successful.

In one letter, Msgr. O’Reilly reminded Eugene Cardinal Tisserant, who had replaced Cardinal Sincero as Secretary of the Sacred Congregation for the Eastern Church in June 1936, that times were hard in the United States and as a result donations were drastically reduced. In the same letter, O’Reilly asked Cardinal Tisserant to thank Cardinal Hayes for his CNEWA donation. Apparently, Cardinal Hayes had made a contribution to bring up the total.

Cardinal Tisserant was a somewhat colorful leader of the Congregation. Very much a hands-on Secretary, he guided the Congregation through the second half of the Great Depression, through World War II and through the postwar period of reconstruction, until his retirement in November 1959.

In 1938, Msgr. O’Reilly asked for permission to spend more money on advertising, particularly in diocesan newspapers. Newspaper ads were not new to CNEWA; the agency had been using this source of fund-raising regularly since at least 1931, but diminishing funds and increasing needs prompted the monsignor’s request.

One of the programs supported by CNEWA during the O’Reilly years was a seminarian sponsorship program. At that time, donors were not permitted to write directly to the seminarians they sponsored nor did seminarians write to their sponsors. Any correspondence went through the Sacred Congregation for the Eastern Church. Mass stipends were also received in New York and forwarded to the Congregation for distribution to priests in the Middle East, India and Eastern Europe.

Other donations were forwarded for the construction and furnishing of churches and chapels. In 1936, CNEWA accepted offerings for statues ($15), Stations of the Cross ($10), missals ($15), vestments ($20), chalices ($10), altars ($50) and chapels ($250 to $500). These figures seem ludicrous today, but at that time, when in the U.S. a loaf of bread and a quart of milk were a nickel each and a week’s salary (if one could find work) was considerably less than $20, they represented real sacrifice.

A program supported by CNEWA to promote understanding of the Eastern churches was a series of annual conferences held at Fordham University to discuss the Eastern churches. The first of these conferences took place in May 1939, the last in March 1947. Topics included “Origin of the Rites,” “Syria, Lebanon and the Maronite Rite,” and a discussion of the problem of church unity, “Is Christ Divided?”

The year 1939 was a significant year for Catholics and for CNEWA. Spared the tragedy of World War II, Pope Pius XI died on 10 February and was succeeded by Pope Pius XII on 2 March. Pope Pius XII was to lead the church through World War II and its aftermath until his death in October 1958. In New York, Francis Cardinal Spellman succeeded Cardinal Hayes as Archbishop of New York on 16 April. Change was in the air.

So was war. The clouds had begun to gather in 1931 when the Japanese marched into Manchuria and established their protectorate, Manchukuo. In 1935, Italy, under Mussolini, had invaded Ethiopia. The following year, Germany moved into the Rhineland. In July 1937 the Japanese invaded China; by the end of 1938 they controlled the richest portions of that country and exercised sway over nearly half the population. In March of the same year Germany had sent troops into Austria; taking over the government, the Germans established a series of dictatorships there. Other invasions and annexations by Germany and Italy ensued. A counterpoint to this violence was the Spanish Civil War, which lasted from 1936 to 1939. The leaders of England and France tried to avert the disaster of all out war, but on 1 September 1939, in defiance of a series of conferences and agreements, Germany invaded Poland. World War II had begun.

Although it did not enter the war itself until December 1941, the United States began to manufacture armaments in 1940. Unemployed workers, including women, were working in weapons factories; they continued to do so in increasing numbers after the United States entered the war. A period of prosperity had begun.

Meanwhile, major changes were occurring at CNEWA. In July 1941, Cardinal Spellman named Msgr. Bryan McEntegart National Secretary of CNEWA. He succeeded Msgr. O’Reilly, who had been appointed pastor of St. Malachy’s Church in New York City on 11 June. In 1943, Msgr. McEntegart was made Bishop of Ogdensburg, New York. He subsequently became Rector of the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. (1953 to 1957) and on 13 June 1957 was installed as Bishop of Brooklyn, New York, where he served until his retirement in July 1968. He died on 30 September of that year. A priest of the Archdiocese of New York, Father Thomas J. McMahon, was appointed Assistant National Secretary to Msgr. McEntegart in June 1943. (McMahon was made a monsignor on 3 May 1945.) Following Msgr. McEntegart’s departure to take up his duties as Bishop of Ogdensburg in August 1943, Father McMahon became National Secretary, assisted by Father John Corrigan and Father Andrew H. Rogosh. Both held the title of Assistant Secretary.

A Ukrainian Greek Catholic priest, Father Rogosh had studied at both the Russicum and the Gregorian University in Rome. He was one of the first seminarians to volunteer under Pius XI to go to Russia to serve the underground church. Having survived that commitment, he immigrated to the U.S. in 1936.

Father McMahon’s appointment as National Secretary was confirmed on 18 November 1944. Only three years later, on 29 November 1947, the member nations of the United Nations voted to partition Palestine into two nations: Israel and an Arab state. The holy city, Jerusalem, would remain independent of both with the U.N. as its protector. This simple act on the part of the world body changed forever the course of world history and, in particular, the history of CNEWA.

After this partition, McMahon traveled to the Holy Land under the instructions of Cardinal Tisserant, intending to study the situation created by the establishment of Israel and the subsequent Arab rejection of the partition. Refugees flooded the new state’s neighbors and Pope Pius XII was anxious about this new group of exiles. He was concerned about the status of the holy places. Ottoman caliphs had established a delicate balance of power among rival Christian groups that had endured to the present day. Would this change? Also, many of these new refugees were Christian Arabs. What would happen to the indigenous Christian communities in the land of Jesu’s birth?

The Pope sought answers and recommendations for action and he valued McMahon’s insight and judgment. The priest’s analysis would be accepted, his recommendations followed. One of these recommendations was the creation of a pontifical organization that would coordinate the church’s diverse efforts in the region on behalf of the Palestinian refugees. In April 1949 the Holy See announced the creation of the Pontifical Mission for Palestine. Msgr. McMahon was named its president while retaining the position of National Secretary of CNEWA, hence the development of a unique relationship between CNEWA and the Pontifical Mission. To date, the Secretary General of the Association has always been the President of the Pontifical Mission as well.

Filling two pairs of shoes was a daunting task. Msgr. McMahon was responsible for coordinating funding from a number of Catholic agencies in the United States, including the predecessor of Catholic Relief Services, War Relief Services – National Catholic Welfare Conference. Catholic agencies from Central and South America and Europe were also included. Added to this list were such international funding agencies as the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, the St. Vincent de Paul Society and numerous religious communities.

In the field, Msgr. McMahon was responsible for distributing goods and services to an exhausted refugee population. He excelled in organizing resources to erect housing, schools, clinics and churches for the refugees. He had extensive correspondence with the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine and two secretaries general of the United Nations: Trygve Lie and Dag Hammarskjold.

In 1951, Msgr. McMahon spoke on behalf of the Palestinian refugees before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. His forthright statements attracted the attention of Jewish leaders who feared he opposed the existence of the State of Israel; he had many a tension-filled meeting with these leaders as he sought justice for Palestinians while the Israelis sought security for their state.

Meanwhile, the affairs of CNEWA continued to require his attention. A major change in the seminarian sponsorship program was suggested and forwarded to Rome: although correspondence between the donor and the sponsored seminarian was not permitted, it might be good if once a year the seminarian were to write a letter with his name only included. This letter would be sent to the New York office, where it would be forwarded to the donor.

The nitty-gritty of office life required much of McMahon’s time. Donations had not been received by recipients; McMahon wrote to Cardinal Tisserant asking him to investigate. In another letter to Tisserant, McMahon noted that equipment for the Congregation’s multigraph had been ordered and shipped to Rome. In still another letter he asked Cardinal Tisserant to write a letter to be read at the annual Eastern Church Mass at the Cathedral of St. Patrick in New York; this gesture would add impetus to CNEWA’s appeals. Other letters noted increased prosperity in the United States and asked that more information be included on the mission pages.

Beginning in 1941, small groups had been formed in various cities throughout the United States to assist CNEWA as an adopted agency. These groups met once a month to send their individual donations to CNEWA. There were the Basilians, named after St. Basil the Great. Each member contributed one dollar per month to a fund for mission schools. The Chrysostoms accumulated money for seminarians and the Mary’ Bank Guild raised funds for nuns in the Near East. Monica Guild members, on the other hand, each sent one dollar a month toward the purchase of vestments. In 1944 Msgr. McMahon established several funds in which to channel the small donations received from these groups and from individual donors not associated with a group.

During his 12-year tenure, Msgr. McMahon was ably assisted by a succession of Assistant National Secretaries, including Msgr. Peter P. Tuohy, who would succeed him as National Secretary. In poor health, McMahon tendered his resignation on 16 March 1955. He died on 6 December 1956 at the age of 47.

Msgr. Tuohy, a priest of the Archdiocese of Boston, headed CNEWA and the Pontifical Mission for five years, from 1955 to 1960.

Throughout that period, and indeed throughout his tenure as CNEWA’s President, Francis Cardinal Spellman played an active role in the agency’s funding procedures. The Cardinal personally received many requests for funding for specific projects from Cardinal Tisserant, who hoped to benefit from Spellman’s personal attention to these requests. A strong leader who kept on top of his job, Spellman could be expected to take an interest in these details.

In May 1957, a 44-year-old priest from the Diocese of Albany, New York, Msgr. Joseph T. Ryan, was “borrowed” by Cardinal Spellman to function as Chancellor of the Military Ordinariate, which the Cardinal led as Military Vicar. Msgr. Ryan had served as a chaplain in the South Pacific during World War II.

One year after making this appointment, the Cardinal asked Msgr. Ryan to go to Lebanon to direct the Beirut office of the Pontifical Mission. Msgr. Ryan’s work in Beirut was cut short by illness and in 1959 he asked to be replaced. After some delay, Msgr. Stephen J. Kelleher was sent to relieve him and in March 1960 Msgr. Ryan returned to New York en route, he thought, to Albany and resumption of his pastoral work there.

Cardinal Spellman, however, had other plans. He asked Msgr. Ryan to remain in the New York offices of CNEWA. In December 1960 Msgr. Tuohy returned to Boston and Msgr. Ryan became National Secretary. He stood on the cusp of a new era. Pope Pius XII had died two years earlier; Pope John XXIII was less than two years from opening the ecumenical council that would change the course of ecclesial history. And the first Catholic president had been elected. For the moment, peace and prosperity reigned. But tensions were mounting at home and abroad; the Vietnam War could be seen on the horizon and a social revolution was about to occur.

Writer and editor Peg Maron is Production Editor of CNEWA WORLD.

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