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The Call of the East

A history of CNEWA and the work of its founder, Msgr. Richard Barry-Doyle.

Catholic Near East Welfare Association was established on March 11, 1926, by Pope Pius XI. He decided to unite into one organization and administration all the American associations working for assistance to Russia and the Near East. This new pontifical organization was called “Catholic Near East Welfare Association” and was placed under the immediate direction of the Archbishop of New York.

Two groups recognized by the pope were joined in this new association; the Catholic Union, and the new association’s prototype, “The Catholic Near East Welfare Association.” Founded by Msgr. Richard Barry-Doyle in 1924, its foundation is a fascinating tale of colorful personalities and intrigue.

The chaos following World War I provoked the largest population upheaval in the history of the planet. More than a million Greeks, their homesteads plundered and raped by Turks, swarmed Istanbul, then known as Constantinople. Fleeing the excesses of the Bolsheviks, 100,000 penniless and devastated Russians engulfed the former Byzantine capital. Scores of Armenians, Assyrians and Chaldeans fled their homelands during and after the war; many more died in the struggle to defend them.

Once within the confines of Constantinople’s walls, disease swept the city, killing the weak and disabled. The human response to these tragedies was immediate. Relief workers, representing many nations and organizations, poured into the jammed city.

Unfortunately, very few accounts profiling these events have survived. Those stories have resembled novels, not historical narratives. But the historical antecedents of Catholic Near East Welfare Association’s foundation features real people with strengths and weaknesses.

Among the first to minister to the needs of the dispossessed was Bishop George Calavassy, the Greek Catholic exarch of Constantinople. Driven by the desire to unite the Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches, Calavassy sought to establish, first in Constantinople and later in Athens, an orphanage, a seminary, two schools and a church. His appeals for funding to Europe and the United States, however, went unanswered.

Nevertheless, one man heard the bishop’s appeals for help, the Rev. Paul Wattson, S.A., founder of the Society of the Atonement at Graymoor, near Garrison, NY. A former Anglican priest, Father Paul exhorted the readers of his monthly publication, The Lamp, to support Calavassy’s relief efforts.

In 1922, a desperate Calavassy, overwhelmed by the refugee crisis in Constantinople, was introduced to Msgr. Richard Barry-Doyle, chaplain to the city’s English-speaking Catholic community, a colonel in Britain’s army and a tireless advocate for Russian refugees. Calavassy found in Barry-Doyle a champion and a friend.

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 the Maginot Line in 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.

Soon after his initial meeting with Calavassy in 1922, Barry-Doyle arrived in New York with the intention of raising funds for Calavassy’s projects. One of his top priorities was to meet Calavassy’s friend, Father Paul. The Anglican convert was impressed by his charming Irish brogue and British uniform, describing Barry-Doyle as “a very attractive personality.”

Together they established the “One-Million Dollar Fund.” Advertised consistently in The Lamp, this campaign planned to raise more than a million dollars, and targeted Catholic women in the United States. The ambitious strategy reflected Barry-Doyles confidence in both his mission and his abilities.

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 April 16, 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.

Barry-Doyle’s speaking circuit was not without its problems, though. The large crowds and sizeable sums amassed by the priest (more than $41,000 alone in 1923) raised many a bishop’s eyebrow.

Barry-Doyle also miscalculated the power of the Irish-American clergy. His “English” mannerisms and his Protestant friends alienated them not only from him but from the crusade as well. Although he arrived in the United States with a letter of introduction from Calavassy, Barry-Doyle had no letters from a bishop or from Rome. Those clergymen hostile to the Children’s Crusader questioned the motives of the “itinerant priest.”

Trouble also brewed for Barry-Doyle in Rome. Reports circulated condemning the former army chaplain for his alleged extravagant lifestyle. Barry-Doyle’s dashing uniform, the costume of a British colonel, was adorned with British, French and Russian medals and sashes, hardly the garb for a simple priest. Father Paul quickly came to his friend’s aid, stating:

…that this criticism is unjust. While conducting his Campaign in New York, the Monsignor every day went for his lunch in the cafeteria, which certainly is the cheapest decent place he could have found…his Monsignorial attire is getting shabby and worn with much use, and yet he hesitates to buy a new outfit because of the orphans he is trying to feed.

Although Barry-Doyle had his enemies, he had his supporters as well, including many prominent members of the Catholic laity. In September 1924, Barry-Doyle and five laymen, Alexander M. Haig, Michael F. Doyle, Joseph F. Moore, Thomas Kilby Smith and F. Eugene D. Thayer, legally incorporated Barry-Doyle’s campaign for the Near East as “The Catholic Near East Welfare Association.”

The original charter, signed in Philadelphia, states as its purpose:

…to solicit and procure the voluntary contribution of funds for the relief of suffering people, particularly children, regardless of religious belief, in Greece, Turkey, Armenia and other countries known as the Near East; to use and apply such funds for the care of neglected and orphaned children and to otherwise alleviate distress among people of these countries.

After the Association’s incorporation, Barry-Doyle named Father Paul as a vice-president. The name of the new Association was probably introduced at Graymoor by Father Paul.

Meanwhile in Europe, the numbers of Russian refugees settling in Berlin, Paris and Vienna soared. There, they established churches, political clubs and benevolent societies in the hopes of restoring some semblance of old Russia. However, most were too poor to try to imitate the past. That world was finished.

Confronted with the enormous task of alleviating the burden of these refugees, many in the Catholic hierarchy believed that “only by bringing these people into the Catholic Church could they be given spiritual relief.”

These beliefs reflected the attitudes of the pre-Vatican II Church, a body which saw the Orthodox not as a sister church, but as schismatic. The Orthodox communion in diaspora, therefore, provided ample opportunity to bring large numbers over to Rome. Hence, the birth of Catholic Union.

Augustine Count Von Galen, O.S.B., a Benedictine priest and member of the German nobility, was selected by the Congregation for the Oriental Church to raise funds for the Catholic Union in the U.S. Von Galen arrived in New York in September 1924, stayed for approximately two months, and returned with $360. In 1925 he returned to New York, and with the permission of Patrick Cardinal Hayes, established an office in the city.

According to Von Galen, the essential work of the union was to work for the reunion of the Bulgarian, Romanian, Russian and Ukrainian Orthodox churches with Rome. To that end, Catholic Union gathered funds for Byzantine Catholic seminarians, who, once ordained as priests, would work for this union.

The existence of an independent Catholic Union was short-lived, however. Soon after its incorporation in the United States, Father Paul encouraged Barry-Doyle to discuss a merger with Von Galen. Von Galen, wary of Barry-Doyle’s offer, refused, citing the support of the pope for an independent Catholic Union.

In March 1925, Father Paul sailed for Rome on pilgrimage. Seeing him off at Pier 42 in New York were Barry-Doyle, his secretary Joseph Moore and Von Galen. Once in Rome, the priest nevertheless began discussions, building up support among the hierarchy for the merger.

Barry-Doyle’s days as president were numbered. His numerous Irish-American enemies again circulated a number of letters questioning his canonical papers, his flamboyant fund-raising techniques and alleged luxurious life style. Many of these letters were circulated by former friends and colleagues. One in particular, Joseph Moore, the general secretary of the Association, suggested replacing Barry-Doyle with an American Jesuit. Calavassy, aware of these developments and concerned for the welfare of his projects, also suggested replacing Barry-Doyle.

Father Paul disagreed with these proposals and in a letter to Calavassy said: “My personal conviction is that there is no one so well fitted to carry on the work…than its Founder himself.” But the vice-president’s support was not enough.

Sensing defeat, Barry-Doyle submitted to the pope a memorandum offering a review of his work in the United States. As of May 31, 1925, the monsignor had personally raised $131,962, of which $51,000 was directed to Bishop Calavassy.

Humbly, Barry-Doyle then suggested that “to win even fuller support from U.S. bishops, I have decided to propose to the board of the directors of the Association that instead of me there he placed in charge an American ecclesiastic, someone who enjoys the full support of the Episcopate.” Two weeks after submitting his report, Barry-Doyle left Rome for Switzerland, complaining of shattered nerves. His report was unacknowledged.

Meanwhile, Calavassy and Moore carried on negotiations with Father Edmund A. Walsh, S.J. The Jesuit, formerly director general of the Papal Relief Mission to Russia, was regarded by the Holy See and the U.S. government as an expert on Soviet affairs; an ideal candidate for president of the proposed Catholic Near East Welfare Association/Catholic Union merger.

The blow for both Barry-Doyle and Father Paul came in January 1926. In a hastily written letter to the vice-president, Calavassy informed him that Walsh had “accepted the presidency of the C.N.E.W.A.” Barry-Doyle welcomed Walsh as the Association’s new president and pledged his full support. Father Paul, however, denied the validity of the negotiations citing the board’s ignorance of them.

In early March 1926, Pope Pius XI merged the two American organizations and named Walsh president of the new pontifical association. “Catholic Near East Welfare Association” was retained.

Von Galen at first refused to accept the merger but later accepted it after receiving orders from his Benedictine superior. He returned to Austria where he continued his work with the Orthodox.

Barry-Doyle left the United States for Constantinople aboard the “Roma” on October 5, 1926. He never returned.

After a brief fund-raising tour for Calavassy in Australia, the monsignor arrived in London in November 1928 seeking the care of a nerve specialist. Under doctor’s orders to move to the south of France for the “pure air and sunshine,” Barry-Doyle bombarded Father Paul with letters describing his living conditions, his health and requests for assistance from the Association. These requests for assistance were denied to the ill priest by Moore, who now commanded the Association’s finances.

“I am so humiliated and unhappy, and at the same time powerless,” wrote Barry-Doyle in an undated letter to Father Paul. “Keep the contents of this private note to yourself…I should not like to injure the C.N.E.W.A.”

In the early 30s, an impoverished Barry-Doyle was assigned to St. Peter’s Church, a small parish in Leicester, England. There the “famous World War chaplain” died on March 8, 1933 – penniless and forgotten.

Ironically, less than four months after Barry-Doyle left the United States, his goal to enlist more than a million women and to raise more than $1 million was achieved. Father Walsh, however, received the credit.

Barry-Doyle was, above all, a man of faith, a human being dedicated to the Gospel. His fall from power in no way affected this faith or the objectives of Catholic Near East Welfare Association.

The story of the Association’s roots is not unique in the history of the church. Many of the church’s great innovators, prophets and saints – whether lay, religious or priestly – fell from favor and died forgotten. Their accomplishments remain, however, as a testimony of faith.

Michael J.L. La Civita is the assistant editor of Catholic Near East. Special thanks to Brother Denis Sennett, S.A., the Association’s archivist at Graymoor.

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