If you spend a little time with the book about CNEWA now available online — John Gavin Nolan’s “Catholic Near East Welfare Association: The Foundational Years” — you’ll find a few surprises.
One is the agency’s unexpected link to the creator of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, thanks to a relative of “Sir Arthur,” Monsignor Richard Barry-Doyle, a guiding force behind CNEWA who, it turns out, had a rather colorful history:
Most of the biographical details about this interesting man can be gleaned only from newspaper clippings of the period, and Monsignor Barry-Doyle himself appears to have been the source of many of these details. In telling his own life story, he sometimes contradicted himself, and his contributions can never be faulted for being too modest. For example: that he was made a domestic prelate by the Holy See is perfectly accurate; however, that he was given the title of monsignor in response to an unusual, if not unprecedented, request from the Protestant government of Great Britain to the Holy See in recognition of his services to British soldiers who had been blinded during the war has yet to be verified. That he had been active in England in a movement to reunite Anglicans with Rome, as he told a Canadian reporter in 1923, may have been true. However, the implication that his efforts had resulted in the conversion of 16,000 Anglicans, including three bishops, is certainly open to doubt; the three bishops have not been identified. His addition of “Barry” to his family name of Doyle in order to commemorate a kinsman, Commodore John Barry, one of the founders of the American Navy, may well have had a basis in fact; on the other hand, it may simply reflect the coincidence that his mother was named Jane Barry. At times he claimed that the creator of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, was a cousin, and at other times an adopted half-brother. Obviously, both could not be correct. (Research undertaken in England appears to establish that the Monsignor’s father and Sir Arthur’s grandfather were brothers, which would make the two dignitaries first cousins once removed.) He also claimed as an uncle Lord North of Roxham Abbey, Banbury.
Later, the manuscript reveals that one of the people who signed the original charter for CNEWA back in 1924 was a young lawyer by the name of Alexander Meigs Haig — the father of the general who became Secretary of State under President Ronald Reagan.
The manuscript is full of small surprises like that. Take a look for yourself. We’re continuing to post new chapters every week.