Early Passionist Fund-Raising

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By Fr. Rob Carbonneau

Brother Alphonsus Zeegers, C.P.

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1852-1860

According to the handwritten Chronicles of St. Paul’s Monastery, Pittsburgh 1852 to 1934, in 1852, Bishop Michael J. O’Connor of Pittsburgh had every hope of helping the first Passionists who came to the United States to purchase land in order to build a residence. However, “he could not give them the money” for construction. To remedy the situation, Passionists started to fund-raise. In 1853, they began to solicit financial support from the citizens and secular clergy of Pittsburgh in order to build their original South Side monastery. At first, the Passionists had to contend with the political machinations of the anti-Catholic Pittsburgh Know-Nothing Party. However, in 1854 opposition waned and support increased when Pittsburghers saw the five Passionists reach out to those suffering from the cholera epidemic.

In October 1855, fund-raising moved beyond Pittsburgh. Early Passionist tradition called this the quest. “On account of the debt incurred” in constructing an addition to the original monastery, a decision was made to send Father Luke Baudenelli, C.P. and Brother Lawrence DiGiacomo, C.P. to ask for money in the Archdiocese of Baltimore. Their two-month effort raised $2,000.

In February 1856, Passionist Brother Alphonsus Zeegers was in the United States to raise money to support the new building effort of the Passionists in England. Zeegers went with DiGiacomo to the Archdiocese of New Orleans, and in three months they received $2,000. Two-thirds of this was sent to the Passionists in England and the remaining one-third went to Pittsburgh. In August, a collection held in Pittsburgh raised $700 from the people and $250 from Bishop O’Connor. That same August, Brothers DiGiacomo and Zeegers quested a total of $3,000 during a two-month trip to St. Louis, Missouri. In 1857, the same two Passionists conducted an appeal in Louisville, Kentucky which amounted to $1,169 for the Pittsburgh monastery. Zeegers’ successful fund-raising efforts led him also to quest money in various countries throughout Europe. Eventually, he was assigned to the Passionist effort in Bulgaria. His later years were spent back in England. He died in Scotland in 1892. Zeegers’ zeal to travel across ocean and continent seeking money for the Passionists of his era reminds us of the long-standing international vision and cooperation necessary to Passionist ministries of today.

In late June 1858, Brother DiGiacomo and Brother Felix Hughes ventured to Buffalo, New York and Canada to gain money for the Pittsburgh foundation. They returned in December and recounted how they were not allowed to collect funds in Buffalo since the Bishop was in Europe. They had better luck in Toronto, Canada where Bishop Armand Francois Marie de Charbonnel, P.S.S. personally gave $120. Other dioceses in the immediate area as well as in Montreal gave permission to the Brothers to collect. On the other hand, the Archbishop of Quebec denied their request, though he did pay for their travel expenses. In all, the trip to Canada raised $5,530 which was allocated towards the building of the Passionist church adjacent to the Pittsburgh monastery. It was dedicated in 1859 and cost $16,000. By 1860, the Passionists were stable enough to begin a second foundation in Dunkirk, New York on the shores of Lake Erie.

Passionist Incorporation Charters and Fund-Raising

After eight years in the United States the Passionists decided it was time to gain the benefit of being a legal corporation. This first Charter of Incorporation was granted on April 7, 1860 in the Court of Common Pleas, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. One the one hand, this decision spoke of economic stability. Some of the “principal benefits” in that 1860 charter included “perpetual succession, and greater security of the property belonging to the Order, and the exemption of the same property from taxation.” In addition, a practical aspect was included: incorporation prevented any Passionists who decided to leave religious life from “[claiming] compensation from services rendered to the Order during their stay with us.” From that point on it became common practice for the Passionists to incorporate when they began a new ministry site.

While there has been no systematic study of the Passionist policies of incorporation since 1852, it appears that the decision and terms of incorporation reveal insight into local realities, the milieu of the times, and, to some degree, the sensibility of the corporation members. For example, in 1908 The Passionist Missionary Society of Boston was incorporated. Corporation members included Passionist Fathers Fidelis Stone, the famous Boston Brahmin Episcopalian convert to Catholicism, as well as Cyprian McGarvey and Theodore Noonan. Laymen were Michael J. Creed, John D. McLaughlin, Henry V. Cunningham and A. Burnside Attwood. Quite possibly, the high pedigree of Stone might have influenced the incorporation charter to cover diverse religious, artistic, educational, and cultural activities. Moreover, what was the relationship of the non-Passionist members to the Passionists? Certainly, as one reads the charter below it becomes apparent that any monies gained through subsequent donations or fund-raising could be applied in a myriad of ways. The 1908 Passionist Missionary Society of Boston was established:

…for the purpose of promoting piety, virtue and learning by religious and educational works and in particular of establishing and maintaining churches and religious stations for the promulgation and dissemination of religion and of conducting schools and seminaries for the advancement of religion and literature, and further for the prosecution of any antiquarian, historical, literary, scientific, medical, artistic, monumental or musical purpose, for establishing and maintaining libraries, for originating, supporting or in any way assisting any missionary enterprise having for its object the dissemination of religious or educational instruction in foreign countries, for promoting temperance and morality in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, for the establishment and maintenance of places for reading-rooms, libraries or social meetings, and generally to do any and all acts and things for the prosecution and advancement of and in furtherance and aid of any and all educational, charitable, benevolent or religious purposes.

The Passionists closed St. Gabriel’s monastery in Brighton, Massachusetts in 1978 and their presence in the Archdiocese of Boston came to an end in 2006 when St. Gabriel’s Parish closed. Nevertheless, a study of the economic history of the Passionists there might reveal what dimensions of the incorporation charter received the most support.

Furthermore, reflection on the historic nature of the 1908 incorporation charter serves as a reminder as to the ongoing value of developing and maintaining a corporation charter that both assists the local Passionist mission and serves to educate prospective donors or benefactors who might wish to give a financial donation or a tangible donation in kind.

Passionist Fund-Raising in Baltimore, Maryland

In 1861 the Passionists went to West Hoboken, New Jersey (later Union City). In 1865, they began a third ministry site in the Archdiocese of Baltimore. In September 1866, Br. Boniface Feld-who was the first Passionist Brother professed in America-acting on behalf of the Baltimore Passionists, entered into a supplemental agreement with the Archbishop Martin John Spalding that allowed the Passionists to fund-raise. It reinforces a long established principle of religious fund-raising which contemporaries still face today: developing or sustaining newfound economic resources is often dependent upon maintaining a good working relationship between the local bishop and the local or national Passionist leadership. Spalding permitted the Passionists “to Sollicit [sic] contributions” for a residence and church. A stipulation was attached that “beyond this they are not to make general Collections among the people for their support, though they will have the privilege, as in England, to collect once a year from annual subscribers.” Several days later, Spalding notified the Passionists that the collection was to take place among Catholic “German Congregations of the City, and also in the Congregations of St. John & St. Brigid which they have not yet visited.”

More often than not, disaster leads to the need for future fund-raising. On September 5, 1883, the then St. Joseph’s Monastery on Frederick Avenue in Irvington, Maryland (three miles southwest of Baltimore City) burned to the ground. Soon after, the Passionists published a thank you note in the local paper directed to the people “of Baltimore and vicinity” who gave assistance. They were “from all quarters and from all classes of our fellow citizens-Protestants as well as Catholics.” Likewise, neighbors “opened their doors” even as they helped save many valuables. After explaining the accidental nature of the fire, the Passionists reported the news that the $10,000 insurance “[did] not equal the debt already existing on the new Church.” In anticipation of the future, the final point of the note stated “that our friends may judge in what need we are of their help in order to rebuild the Monastery.” In 1886, after three years of national fund-raising, the Passionists dedicated the new St. Joseph’s Monastery.

A personal touch and good luck is always an important ingredient in Passionist fund-raising. This was the case with an 1892 financial donation from Mrs. Celinda Whiteford of Baltimore to build Whiteford Hall, the Catholic parochial school affiliated with St. Joseph’s Monastery Parish. Archival notes reveal that the “small number of families” in the Passionist parish meant building a school was a dream. In fact, the Sisters of Notre Dame used their house as a school through money collected by the local Passionist superior in Baltimore. One day, the Rector, Father Xavier Sutton, C.P., made a visit to Mrs. Whiteford. “This charitable lady donated five hundred dollars,” boasted Fr. Sutton. As the two conversed, Whiteford told Sutton of her plan to build a memorial church at Govenstown, Maryland. During a second visit to Whiteford on May 31, 1892, Sutton suggested that “a church was not needed at Govenstown; the money that was intended for this could be used for erecting a parochial school.” No doubt appealing was his desire to name it after Whiteford and the decision that “her birthday would be observed by the children as a holyday,” which would allow the children to attend Mass and receive Communion. Little did Sutton know that just one day earlier, on May 30, Whiteford had learned that the Govenstown plan had been “thwarted,” and that “Father Rector’s visit seemed providential.” It was on this second visit that Mrs. Whiteford made the decision to give $13,000 to build “Whiteford Hall.” Dedicated on her birthday, February 22, 1893, the name can still be seen etched in stone on the south entrance to the school even though it has gone through several identities: St. Joseph’s Monastery School, Madonna School, and now St. Bernardine’s School. If there is one caveat to remember from this story, it is that donors might more readily give money if they are given a specific plan as Whiteford was by Sutton. Financial planning assists both fund-raisers and benefactors.

Finally, the example below serves as a reminder of how the Passionist overseas or “foreign” missions depended on money generated from local Passionist parishes. In 1925, Passionist Provincial Stanislaus Grennan wrote to Archbishop Michael J. Curley for permission to give half of the proceeds gained from performing the Passion Play to the China missions (the Passionists owned the copyright for the play), while the other half would remain in St. Joseph’s Monastery Parish in Baltimore. As in 1866, permission from the Archbishop for this fund-raising event was needed and received. The monies were raised and spent accordingly.


Successful fund-raising in Pittsburgh, Brighton and Baltimore relied on the ability of the Passionists, local clergy and laity of an area to work together. Furthermore, this historical retrospect reminds us today that we must rely upon Gospel humility and zeal, concrete planning for the future, the nurturing of personal relationships, the art of negotiation, and a willingness to donate or receive financial gifts. Passionist fund-raising and stewardship still require these attributes.

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