Father Ronald Norris, C.P., St. Paul of the Cross Province (1900-1973)

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Born Michael Norris in South Boston, Massachusetts, he attended Boston Public schools, Boston College Prep and the Passionist Preparatory College at St. Joseph’s Monastery, Baltimore, Maryland. On November 3, 1920 he professed his Passionist vows at St. Paul of the Cross Monastery, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and was ordained on March 12, 1927 at St. Patrick’s Pro-Cathedral, Newark, New Jersey by Archbishop Diaz, the Primate of Mexico. From 1927 until 1929 Father Norris was director of students, retreat preacher to laymen and religious and professor of church history for the Passionists. But it did not take long for Father Norris to become known for his staunch and crucial support for the China missions in Hunan, China. Known as the “Vanishing American,” stories are told about Father Norris taking the door to hear confessions at St. Michael’s Monastery, Union City, New Jersey on Saturday, say two masses on Sunday at St. Lawrence O’Toole, Weehawken, New Jersey, hear more confessions on Monday, and then travel to Washington, D.C. for most of the week where he worked with government officials from Tuesday to Saturday to insure the Passionist interests in China. His was a subtle, diplomatic and educational effort during some of the most treacherous times in the Passionist missions: the post-1949 period when many Passionists were imprisoned. From 1948 he served as liaison with the U.S. State Department and the Superiors General of the Passionist Congregation in Rome. He was director of Public Relations for St. Paul of the Cross Province from 1948 to 1972 and authored a small booklet entitled Passionists In China which also included his account of being captured by the Japanese in 1941 in Hong Kong. He also authored Passionist Centenary in America, the 1952 commemorative book. Father Norris represented Sign Magazine at the National Press Club and the Overseas Press Club. He was also a member of the American Writers Association. Political interest developed from a family link. Father Norris’ father was State Senator Michael W. Norris of Boston and also chief health inspector of the city of Boston. His mother was Ellen Berrigan Norris. Thus, it makes sense that Father Norris could gain the personal ear of John McCormick, the strong democratic member of the House of Representatives. During World War II Father Norris was Director of the Catholic Medical Services in China and supplied medicines and hospital equipment from the coastal ports to the interior of China. Father Norris also was a strong ally of Cardinal Yu-Pin and was instrumental in organizing the Chinese Cultural Society. He likewise assisted Patrick Cardinal O’Boyle, then in charge of Catholic Charities in the New York Archdiocese and the late John Cardinal O’Hara in the National Catholic Welfare Conference’s War Relief Office in New York. From 1946 to 1965 Father Norris worked on request for Francis Cardinal Spellman. He was also a good friend of Senator Ted Kennedy and the FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. He was stricken by a heart attack on December 7 at his director’s office at the Institute of Chinese Culture, Washington, D.C. and died at Providence Hospital. At the time of his death he was also Associate Editor of China Monthly and a trustee of the Sino-American Amity Association of New York City. Attending his funeral at Brighton, Massachusetts was retired Speaker of the House, John McCormick.