ONE Magazine

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Catholic Near East Welfare Association

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

The Catholic Diplomat: Edmund A. Walsh, S.J.

A profile of Edmund A. Walsh, S.J., first president of Catholic Near East Welfare Association.

…One hardly knows where to begin to discuss the Russian tragedy – for such in fact it is, a tragedy such as Aeschylus or Sophocles would have immortalized…the two great ends of tragedy, Pity and Fear [are clearly felt]; Pity for a great nation slowly dying under a succession of scourges, Fear for the consequences in the economic, political, social, religious [and] educational order of the entire world…

The above statement describes not the Russia of the present, but Russia in 1922 – a nation devastated by World War I, the Revolution, the Bolshevik coup and the great civil war.

The author, a young and ambitious Irish-American Jesuit, had recently completed his assignment as director general of the Papal Relief Mission to Russia. He returned to the United States, immediately to begin his life-long war with communism – “Never trust a Bolshevik!” was his motto.

The life of Edmund A. Walsh, S.J., makes great material for a Jesuit recruiter: founder of the Foreign Service School of Georgetown University; head of the Papal Relief Mission to Russia; first president of Catholic Near East Welfare Association; papal negotiator with the Mexican Government; liaison between the Holy See and the Iraqi Government for the foundation of the Jesuit College in Baghdad; and consultant to Chief Justice Jackson at the Nuremberg Trials.

As the first papal-appointed president of Catholic Near East Welfare Association, Edmund Walsh would secure the new organization’s existence and expand the work of Msgr. Richard Barry-Doyle, the founder of the Association’s prototype.

When Pope Pius XI merged the “Catholic Near East Welfare Association” with the recently founded American branch of the Catholic Union in March, 1926, he created a complex pontifical organization dedicated to emergency relief in Asia Minor, the Balkans, Greece and Russia, to religious welfare, to education and to the needs of the Eastern Catholic churches.

The challenges and difficulties created by this mandate were intensified by the lobbying powers and personalities of those individuals and groups originally associated with Barry-Doyle and Augustine Count von Galen, the founder of the American branch of the Catholic Union. Each church and community had legitimate needs and concerns; however priorities often conflicted and funds were limited. Into this sea of confusion entered the 42-year-old Jesuit priest.

Walsh’s relationship with the Holy See began in 1922 when Pope Pius XI called him from his tertianship – the “second novitiate” as the Jesuits call it – to direct the work of the Papal Relief Mission to Russia in famine-stricken Soviet Russia.

Affiliated with the American Relief Administration under the direction of Herbert Hoover, President Harding’s secretary of commerce, the Papal Relief Mission supervised the feeding of more than 160,000 people a day.

“My first real experience with famine -” an obviously moved Walsh entered in his diary on April 5, 1922, “famished people climbing up our car, tapping our windows all night with that piteous wail for food.”

Walsh and his assistants traveled throughout Soviet Russia – from Petrograd in the north (renamed Leningrad, now St. Petersburg) to the Crimea in the south – assessing the needs of the local population, establishing allocation centers and distributing tons of food.

Louis Gallagher, S.J., Father Walsh’s assistant in Russia, records in his book, Edmund A. Walsh, S.J., a Biography, a scene from their train window:

In the summer of 1922, there was a great exodus of children from all parts of Russia to Moscow and it was a common sight while traveling…to see little boys from ten or twelve to fifteen years of age riding underneath the trains. At every stop they would climb out, as the train came to a standstill, and rush into the station in search of food or go along the train, begging at the windows. Then, as the train moved out, they would crawl beneath the cars again, take their places and ride there for hours at a time or, if need be, through the night.

There had been another purpose to Father Walsh’s mission to Russia – to insure the rights and property of the Catholic Church. As the Holy See’s representative in Moscow, Walsh secured the release of Archbishop Cieplak and other members of the Catholic clergy scheduled for execution, and safely shipped to Rome the relics of Blessed Andrew Bobola, S.J, which were stolen by the Red Army.

Thus, Father Walsh’s relief experiences and successes in Russia prepared him for the presidency of Catholic Near East Welfare Association.

Walsh may have independently sensed an opportunity to use Barry-Doyle’s fledgling Association to fight communism, which he saw as a menace to both democracy and church. This, Walsh believed, could be done by expanding the agency’s relief efforts, creating a “Catholic Red Cross,” which would enhance the Holy See’s prestige by accomplishing globally what the Relief Mission to Russia realized.

Regardless of Walsh’s motives, the Jesuit was contacted by Joseph F. Moore, the Association’s Machiavellian secretary, and Barry-Doyle’s original sponsor, Bishop George Calavassy, the Greek Catholic exarch of Constantinople, to lead a revamped Catholic Near East Welfare Association. Walsh’s papers make no explicit reference to these negotiations.

In January 1926, Walsh accepted the presidency of Barry-Doyle’s organization. In early March, when the pope officially created the new Catholic Near East Welfare Association, he appointed Walsh as president.

In September, the American Catholic bishops passed the following resolution during their annual meeting in the nation’s capital:

The Hierarchy of the United States in conference assembled express their full approval and adoption of the program of the Holy See providing for the unification of all societies now working in the United States of America for Russia and the Near East. The resultant organization, the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, Inc., shall be the sole instrumentality authorized to solicit funds for Catholic interests in those regions and shall be so recommended to the entire Catholic population of the United States simultaneously in all dioceses, on a given Sunday, the date to be arranged in consultation with the respective Ordinaries.

With this endorsement by the American Catholic hierarchy, Walsh immediately seized the opportunity to launch a onetime nationwide collection.

The purpose of this collection was emergency relief. “The wish of the Holy Father,” Walsh stated, “is rather to form a permanent society somewhat like the International Red Cross or the American Near East Relief.”

“It will be a centralized Catholic distributing agency,” Walsh continued, “which can materially assist the Holy See to meet the daily increasing demands made on the Holy Father for assistance in humanitarian works…education…social welfare work…as well as distinctly religious and missionary activities.”

In January 1927, Walsh’s drive tallied more than $1 million. “I had no idea myself,” Cardinal Hayes wrote to a colleague, “that we could get such a response.”

Although president, Walsh was nevertheless limited in his capacities. He inherited two conflicting ideologies created by the reorganization of the Association; the relief work espoused by Barry-Doyle; and the reunion efforts as advocated by Catholic Union.

A list of those projects supported by Catholic Near East Welfare Association in 1927 -Bishop Calavassy’s work in Athens; the Pontifical Commission for Russia; Palestine’s schools and orphanages; Syria’s schools and hospitals for refugees; the Russian refugee orphanage in Danzig (now Gdansk, Poland); the school for Russian refugees in Belgium; the works of the Holy See in Bulgaria, Poland and Romania, Berlin and Paris; the Oriental Institute and the Russian seminary, both in Rome – reflect Walsh’s attempts to favor relief without ignoring the pastoral.

Walsh’s next move was to secure the Association’s financial future. Making use of the one million names solicited by the January drive, Walsh conceived the Papal Annual. This yearly publication would contain articles and illustrations publicizing the achievements of the church in international affairs, “not covered by the Propagation of the Faith.”

“The first emergency, that of immediate relief” wrote Walsh, “has now been met. But to insure humanity against a renewal of conditions which nearly wrecked the peace and health of the world, the axe must be laid to the roots.”

“The Holy Father,” he continued, “proposes a concrete program of social service which shall comprise the erection of elementary schools and orphanages, increased higher education, instruction in sanitation and hygiene, the fortifying of religious principles, the maintenance of agricultural communities, the erection of industrial schools and a frank study of the causes that perpetuate the deplorable religious schism between East and West.” Again Walsh stressed relief over reunion.

“Under God,” he concluded, “the future lies in your hands.” The Papal Annual was intended to be the sole means to solicit funds and to renew membership in the Association. The 1927 edition was the only one published.

For the next three years, Walsh walked a tightrope between the Holy See and the American hierarchy. In a letter to Father Walsh dated July 30, 1927, the pope praised American Catholics for their generosity and made the Association a permanent pontifical organization:

…it was judged proper…to constitute the CATHOLIC NEAR EAST WELFARE ASSOCIATION on a permanent basis. It is, therefore, a supreme consolation to Us to know that the work has been so founded and We impart a special benediction for its perseverance…it well merits to be called Pontifical both for the benefits it has bestowed in the past and the promise it holds for the future.

Nevertheless, blocs of the American hierarchy refused to support Walsh’s vision for the Association. Increasing requests for funds for pastoral works in the Near East hampered his attempts to fashion Catholic Near East Welfare Association as a Catholic Red Cross.

Walsh was also besieged with letters from clerics of the Russian Orthodox Church which, following the Revolution, split into a number of factions.

Many of these confused priests desired reunion with Rome, if for nothing else than direction. Unfortunately Walsh became entangled with several individuals of dubious character. One in particular portrayed himself as a bishop and a leader of this reunion movement.

Although a few priests declared their loyalty to the pope, the movement flopped. The so-called bishop was arrested and convicted for bootlegging and was neither a Catholic nor an Orthodox bishop, but rather a Methodist minister!

Meanwhile, Walsh continued his relief quest; funds sent to Louisiana following the flood in 1927, earthquake relief dispatched to Puerto Rico in September 1928, and again earthquake relief in Bulgaria in the same year, all provided opportunities for Walsh to dramatize the role of Catholic Near East Welfare Association as the Holy See’s Red Cross. Yet, the existence of the Association remained precarious.

Income dropped dramatically in 1928 and 1929. The bishops refused to allow the Jesuit to announce another annual collection.

By late 1929 it seemed clear that the function of Catholic Near East Welfare Association would not be the one envisioned by either Barry-Doyle or Walsh. Rather the Association’s position would resemble the one originally conceived by von Galen – a pastoral agency with a Catholic and Orthodox focus.

Ironically, the Association’s early successes as a relief agency led to the downfall of Edmund Walsh and its reorganization by Pope Pius XI.

Members of the American Catholic hierarchy and the diocesan directors of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith (also a pontifical organization) were astonished by the success of the original drive in 1926.

With the crash of the stock market and the ensuing depression, the nation’s bishops believed that the generosity of American Catholics was taxed by the existence of two successful “missionary” societies.

In June 1930, Pope Pius XI established new regulations for the activities of the two successful but competing American Catholic organizations.

The pontiff directed that not only should the work of the Association be conducted under the direction of the Archbishop of New York, but that he should be its president. He then instructed Patrick Cardinal Hayes to select an executive director with the title of Secretary from among the secular clergy. This last term did not remain unnoticed by Walsh, a Jesuit.

Pope Pius XI then specified that the Association would assist the Propagation of the Faith in the annual Mission Sunday collection; a portion of the funds would then be used by the Association.

“The C.N.E.W.A.,” the document states, “remains as a permanent association for the spiritual ends and necessities of the churches, missions, institutions and persons depending on the Sacred Congregation for the Oriental Church and on the Pontifical Commission for Russia.” For a year, however, the pontiff’s initiatives were neglected. Walsh continued his Catholic Red Cross crusade.

In late May 1931, the pope sent Msgr. Ameleto G. Cicognani, Assessor of the Oriental Congregation, to see that the pontiff’s initiatives were implemented.

On June 6 in a hastily convened meeting of the directors of the Association, the pontiff’s personal emissary thanked the board members present for their work on behalf of the church and presented the pope’s directives for the reorganization of the Association:

I take this opportunity to thank you for what you have done. As you know the circumstances connected with the C.N.E.W.A. require a more simple organization and a more unified administration… I do not say that the work should be simplified or minimized… This not because the established organization is not a good one, not to say marvelous. It was very successful and in some ways I should say too good, as we can observe it from the results of the first years…

Msgr. Cicognani then called for the legal transfer of the presidency of Catholic Near East Welfare Association from Father Walsh to Cardinal Hayes.

Three resignations were then accepted: Paul Wattson, S.A., under whose guidance Barry-Doyle founded the original Association; Joseph Moore, the general secretary; and Edmund A. Walsh, S.J.

Patrick Cardinal Hayes then spoke to the former directors:

…I confess I was puzzled at times. I have heard one thing [then] another…I was puzzled what to do. I shall say this much to you, that the coming of Monsignor Cicognani came as rather a surprise to me. I was not advised about it until a short time before his arrival.

To Walsh he concluded, “…I wish to thank you with my whole heart for what you have done for the Catholic Near East Welfare Association and what you have done for the Church of God.”

Edmund Walsh’s interest in Russia and the Near East did not wane with the end of his tenure as president of Catholic Near East Welfare Association. Until his death on October 31, 1956, Edmund A. Walsh remained a champion of the Russian people, a herald of the dangers of communism and a dedicated Jesuit.

Michael La Civita is the editor of Catholic Near East. Special thanks to the Georgetown University Library and the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus.

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