Internship at the Passionist Historical Archives – A Personal Reflection

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By Josh Malone

Editor’s note:

During the January 2010 semester, The Passionist Historical Archives was pleased to cooperate with University of Scranton Professor of History Roy Palmer Domenico, Ph.D. and provide a college credit study internship for Mr. Josh Malone. In preparation for his experience, Josh was sent some literature on the wide variety of material in the historical collection. Upon his arrival, Josh decided to investigate the Passionist military chaplains during World War II. We are proud to publish a slightly edited version of his reflection paper written for Dr. Domenico.

During the week of the 25th of January 2010, I undertook an internship at the Passionist Historical Archives (PHA) in Union City, New Jersey. As an undergraduate student of International Affairs at the University of Scranton, this internship provided me with more than just college credit. This internship in fact provided me with learning experiences from a historical archive that I probably would not have found from a regular college course or textbook.

Under the guidance of historian and director of the PHA, Father Robert Carbonneau, C.P., Ph.D, I had the opportunity to explore first-hand accounts and reactions to worldwide historical events through the eyes of the Passionist Congregation. The writings and actions of the priests, in particular, caused me to study history in a different light than before. Their documents made me realize how important archives are in the study of history. The archive then is not simply a symbol of the rich heritage of Passionist missionary work throughout history. Rather, the archive also symbolizes the Passionists’ persistence to teach Christ’s love in an ever-changing world.

Other offices at the Passionist ministry site in Union City also offered me valuable educational experiences during my internship. First, Mrs. Darlene Lisotta, Donor Relations Associate in the Passionist Development Office, spoke to me about how a religious organization such as the Passionists functions and supports itself. Second, Sister Mary Ann Strain, C.P., a Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO) Representative of Passionists International, spoke to me about the role the Passionists play internationally. She also allowed me to accompany her to the United Nations for an NGO briefing.

Working and discussing with Father Carbonneau, Sister Strain and Mrs. Lisotta demonstrated to me the role that archives play in preserving the past, living in the present and planning for the future. The Passionist Congregation has had a worldwide presence since Saint Paul of the Cross founded it in 18th Century Italy. Today, the Passionists continue to work internationally.

The Passionist Development Office and the 2010 Haiti Earthquake

The Passionist Congregation survives in today’s world through fundraising and the generosity of donors. These donors recognize the good work that Passionists do in the world, and Mrs. Lisotta explained to me how financial processes support that work. It is her busy job to coordinate and organize fundraising events and gatherings. She performs grant and donor research, and she makes sure to thank those who have donated.

Thanks to Mrs. Lisotta’s work, the Passionists can afford to support their priests, brothers and other religious men and women and laity who are working throughout the world. For example, Mrs. Lisotta’s work provides much needed assistance in Haiti, the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere. Father Rick Frechette, C.P. continues to work in Haiti as both a priest and a doctor even after the recent catastrophic earthquake. Father Frechette struggles every day to care for the thousands of poor and sick children of Port-au-Prince. These children live in dire conditions without any electricity, few supplies and very little clean water. Much of the money that Mrs. Lisotta gathers goes directly to support Father Frechette’s cause. In this sense, the Passionists’ international work at home in Union City is very important. The efforts of Mrs. Lisotta help support the organization, and thanks to her direct efforts, Father Frechette will no doubt earn a place in the archives (if he hasn’t done so already). The Haitian earthquake brought tremendous damage to those who already had next to nothing. Hopefully, the preservation of Father Frechette’s mission will provide evidence to other nations that they must help build Haiti further beyond what it was before the earthquake. The fundraising efforts of the Passionists do not just go to this single cause, however. The efforts also must support the entire Passionist organization and even the archives, too.

Passionists International: NGO at the United Nations

Over the course of my internship, I also came in contact with Passionist Sister Mary Ann Strain. Sister Strain works very hard on her two main projects: the Working Group on Girls and Passionists International. Both these projects work on humanitarian causes throughout the world. Specifically, the Working Group on Girls is a part of the NGO Committee on UNICEF that promotes the rights and status of girls around the world. Passionists International, an NGO in consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations, represents the Passionist Family at the United Nations. Passionists International works to urge international peace and social justice, especially amongst the poorest nations. With such an entity at the United Nations, the Passionists have a platform to make their voice and causes for peace, equality, and education heard all over the world.

As an accredited NGO of the United Nations’ Department of Public Information (DPI), Passionists International attends briefings of that department. On Thursday, January 28th, Sister Strain allowed me to accompany her to one such briefing on the history of Moroccan Jews during World War II. This particular briefing informed us that in 1941, Moroccan King Mohammad V refused to enact the fascist French Vichy Government laws against Jews. The organizers of this briefing, called “Project Aladdin,” wanted to stress that both Jews and Muslims could coexist with one another. This project aims to inform the Muslim world about the Holocaust by sharing stories, such as that of Mohammad V, and translating works documenting the Holocaust to Arabic.

By attending briefings on such international conflicts as this, Sister Strain demonstrates to the DPI that Passionists International supports the peaceful efforts of other organizations such as “Project Aladdin.” Her attendance also earns the Department’s respect. In April 2010 Sister Strain provided a briefing report on the Working Group on Girls. Passionists International therefore cooperates with the United Nations to promote many different peaceful solutions to world problems.

Research on Passionist Military Chaplains

I spent most time of my time at the internship reading documents from the PHA and focused specifically on Passionist military chaplains during World War II (1941-1945). I read about some fascinating men whom I would consider war heroes. I read the letters of Father Christopher Berlo, C.P., a man of many interests and accomplishments. In 1940, Father Berlo built a chapel in Germany in the face of a hostile Nazi government. After the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941, Berlo enlisted as a chaplain in the armed forces. In his letters with the Passionist Provincial, Reverend Carrol Ring, C.P., who then resided at St. Michael’s Monastery in Union City, Berlo, detailed all the work he did during the war. By 1944, the Army sent Berlo on to the Pacific Theatre, and his tasks included saying mass, caring for the sick and wounded, administering sacraments, and performing funerals. In one instance, Berlo heroically buried eight deceased American soldiers even while he was under fire. He quickly acknowledged that his job was anything but glorious, however. Filthy clothes, low rations, lack of sleep, illness, gun wounds and tropical storms all took their toll on Berlo. His letters also revealed that he faced racism during the War from other Americans because of his German ancestry. Berlo resented this racism greatly and acknowledged that no matter what he did to serve his country, some would always accuse him of being a spy. Berlo did not have time for such accusations, and in one letter he said, “I am an internationalist. My international experience, especially under the Hitler regime, has engendered in me a hatred for prejudice and has taught me to evaluate men by their deeds rather than by the foggy halo cast by ancestry.”

Father Berlo shows us here that he was a Catholic man and ahead of his time by dismissing any racist ideologies. Berlo, in my opinion, represented the most heroic of the Passionist chaplains. Other Passionist World War II chaplains still deserve some recognition too.

Father Vincent J. Conners, C.P. used sermons to boost the morale of soldiers. For example, in his sermon “Bread from Heaven,” Conners referred to the Twelve Apostles as Jesus’ “highest commissioned officers.” My favorite of Conners’ sermons used the Gospels to boost soldiers’ confidence. In “The Soldier’s Courage,” Conners compared receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation to becoming a soldier. He argued that Confirmation strengthened the Catholic against the destruction of Divine Life. This kind of growth, continued Connors, is what led to the radical change in the Apostles during Pentecost. Likewise, Christ and the Apostles gave all Christians the same courage that they displayed in the face of death. Conners ended this sermon by explaining how “Confirmation strengthened children such as St. Agnes and St. Pancratius… they laughed at tyrants and cheerfully bowed their heads to the sword that slew them.” This message powerfully linked to his soldiers that the fight against tyranny in Europe was justified just as it was hundreds of years ago in the name of Christ.

Father Fabian Flynn, C.P., another important Passionist chaplain, served during World War II in Europe. Flynn earned many medals during the war and wrote articles for the Passionist Sign magazine on the war effort. After the war, Flynn stayed in Europe to help and assist refugees that the war scattered all across the continent.

Learning from Past History and Present History

These men I read about from the PHA all had great stories about the war. Fortunately, the archives preserved these stories for anyone interested to look at. My experience at the PHA showed me that the archives record the Passionist cause and heritage throughout the history of the world and not just the Passionist organization. The Passionists’ global impact has put them everywhere throughout the world, from World War II to China’s Great Leap Forward to even the recent Haitian earthquake.

Working with Father Carbonneau taught me other things about archival work and made me question the future of archives, too. I learned that every archive has a mission statement that clearly defines what one would find in that archive. Primarily, these archives contain records that document the history of St. Paul of the Cross Province. Therefore, the Passionist archive is first and foremost an archive on the Passionists themselves, not history in general. This would not cause a problem for history students, however, because as I stated before, the Passionists got themselves involved with everything. This also means that archives are not closets, but rather they are a resource. Father Carbonneau and others who work at the archives organize documents and materials into folders with accession numbers for a computer database and easy access.

Although technology proved useful to the archives in this aspect, one must wonder what technology will do to archives in the future. Although the PHA has a media collection of electronic sources, it seems that the archives will have difficulty recording modern correspondence in the format of e-mail, instant messages, and phone calls. As technology rapidly changes, hopefully the archives will adapt as well, because the Passionist global impact is not going to end anytime soon. The dedication of today’s Passionists, such as Father Carbonneau, Sister Strain, and Father Frechette, insures this fact.

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