Passionist History 1943 to 1949 in St. Paul of the Cross Province: A Summary of Events
by Father Rob Carbonneau, C.P.
Last August 2008, I was with Passionist Father John McMillan at St. Paul of the Cross Monastery, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Sitting in the common recreation room, he spoke to me. Since I just completed my year of teaching in Chongqing, China (2007-2008), he asked me what projects I was working on. Rather than reciting a list of projects ahead of me, I decided that it might be helpful to hear if there were any projects that he thought to suggest. With concentrated and reflective excitement, Father McMillan suggested that I write a history of St. Paul of the Cross province in the United States in the way that I have tried to study the missions in China.
While I was gratified to hear this challenge, at the same time it reminded me that completing such a project would involve numerous intellectual hurdles. First and foremost would be the recapitulation of historical events of Passionist history from diversified primary and secondary sources that span the almost 160 years since the first Passionists arrived in Pittsburgh in 1852. In this issue, I turn to the eastern province history from 1943 to 1949 gleaned from the Holy Cross Province (western U.S. region) publication The C.P. Bulletin (1943 to 1944), which became The Passionist Bulletin (1944 to 1966), then reborn in 1975 as The Passionist.
In July 1943, news was published that due to World War II, correspondence between Passionist leadership in Rome with their members in the United States was “becoming increasingly difficult; consequently little news.” The only received news from 1942 into July 1943 was “a list of deceased members” of the Passionists in foreign countries. By September 14, 1943, another list of deceased foreign Passionists was received from Rome.
Given that both the Passionists Provinces based in Chicago and Union City joined in sending men from the United States to the west Hunan, China, news was always arriving by mail or cable.
Passionist Father Harold Travers, on January 15, 1943, “suffered from a severe rheumatic fever that affected his heart. He was working in his mission at Paotsing [Baojing] when illness over came him.” Reports stated “his condition is gradually improving.” In November 1943, Travers was still struggling with rheumatic fever and “was granted a furlough, but it is not known whether he will take his well deserved rest in India or come all the way [back to the United States]”. By February 1944, Travers was on his way to the United States via India. Passionist Father Ernest Cunningham was suffering from TB and was so bad he could not travel or he would have returned home with Travers.
Inflation in China was a problem in 1943. A February 27, 1943 report noted by Passionist Bishop Cuthbert O’Gara of Yuanling, Hunan stated that $6000.00 was paid for a new coat: “Inflation has skyrocketed the market and now the simplest commodities sell for exorbitant prices.” Other examples were a pack of Chesterfield cigarettes for $800.00, and a pack and Luckies for a bit higher. One Gillette razor blade cost $24.00. The exchange rate was 20-1. In November 1943, news was sent that Hunan “living costs are still mounting: one green pear $11.00, shelled rice $700.00 a bushel.” Passionist Father Cyprian Frank stated in a November 1, 1943 letter that rice was $100,000 a bushel.
Other China news was received in a March 22, 1943 letter sent by Passionist Father Nicholas Schneider in Lungtan, China, writing how a theft took place in his mission and he lost his American citizen or naturalization papers, which meant he could not prove he was an American citizen nor get any passport or visa, whether American or Chinese. By September 1943, it was reported that Father Schneider had successfully completed negotiations with the United States government officials and it was stated that the American Consul in China could issue the “papers requested.”
Also in 1943, Passionist Father Francis Flaherty was appointed director of the Seminary in west Hunan. In February 1944 it was stated that he also conducted the annual Passionist retreat in west Hunan. Finally, February 1944 made known that Passionist Father Cormac Shanahan was editor of a Catholic paper in Chungking, China. This Chongqing paper was the short-lived China Correspondent.
Bishop Cuthbert O’Gara and Chinese Seminarians Peng and Nien:
On October 21, 1943, Bishop Cuthbert O’Gara arrived at the Chicago, Illinois monastery with two Chinese seminarians, Noah Peng and John Nien, both from west Hunan, China. They were on their way to St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore, Maryland to continue their studies. Peng was in First Theology and Nien in Second Philosophy. Peng later sent a letter to the C.P. Bulletin which summarized that “both are well and happy in their new surroundings, and anxious to make the most of these precious years in the order to be as holy and learned [as] possible when the great day comes, and, as priests of God, they return to China to enkindle the flame of Faith in the hearts of their own people.” All three had come to San Francisco by boat from India by way of Australia. They then came by bus to Chicago where the writer in Chicago wrote that “the Bishop rang the front door-bell, and took us by surprise. No one had known definitely if or when he was coming. It is not the Bishop’s way. He doesn’t like anybody to make a fuss over him.” From Chicago they proceeded on to Union City, New Jersey.
Later, O’Gara returned to the Passionist Monastery in Chicago over the Christmas holidays in late 1943. During the visit, Bishop O’Gara and his secretary, Passionist Father Arthur Benson, talked about “China and War.” Benson then went on to recount his travels in the United States with seminarians Noah Peng and John Nien. Father Benson brought the two men to Baltimore via train from New York City. As they made their way to the train station, the two Chinese students wanted to see an autocafe, or what was known as an automat, where “machines make the meals.” Benson “was chagrined to see them going from one “canteen to another as tho curiois [sic] to see everything they had.” Taking a nickel, they decided to buy rice pudding. When the men arrived in Baltimore, “the students were mistaken for Japs.” They had left the train before Benson knew it, and “when he found them a Yankee Lieutenant had them throttled. It required the services of an FBI man and two MP to loose the zealous Lieutenant from the suspected prey.” Looking back in 2009, the description of these events indicate the cultural curiosity of the two Chinese men even as they dealt with culture shock in the United States. More poignant is the racism they encountered where they were identified categorically as Japanese. It simply indicates the tense world which Asians had to live in during the World War II era. In the oral tradition of the east coast Passionists, it was the racism experienced by Peng which proved to be one of the deciding factors for him to eventually leave the seminary. Nien did however go on to be ordained as a priest in the diocese of Yuanling, Hunan where he eventually died under duress from the Communists in the mid 1950s.
Also, on January 6, 1944, Bishop O’Gara and his secretary, Father Arthur Benson, arrived at the Passionist Monastery, Detroit, Michigan. On December 19, 1943 O’Gara ordained a west coast province priest.
Passionist Father Charles Gaskin and two other Passionists from the eastern province preached “a remarkably successful mission” at Fort Knox, Kentucky in 1942. Between May and July 1943, he was back again in the Midwest to stop at the Passionist monastery in Chicago for a visit after giving a clergy retreat for the Milwaukee, Wisconsin diocese. Then, in the early days of fall 1943, Gaskin gave a retreat to the Louisville, Kentucky clergy at Gethsemani Abbey. It was also reported that in the spring of 1943 he had conducted the Passionist community monastery retreats in Detroit, Michigan and Chicago, Illinois.
It was common for east coast Passionists to give the community retreats to Passionists living in the Midwest and vice versa. East coast Passionist Fathers conducting community retreats in 1944 were Father Maurice Kanzleiter in Cincinnati, Ohio from January 30 to February 6 and in Louisville, Kentucky from February 13 to 20; while Father Alfred Duffy preached in Detroit from January 30 to February 6 and in Chicago from February 13 to February 20.
In 1943, Passionist Father Sydney Turner published a “supplement” to the Passionist Book of Privileges of which this second part deals with Indulgences. It was stated: “It should be handy,” since in the years previous to 1943 there had been changes in the Catholic notion of indulgences, especially as it applied to the Passionist common life. Also, The Sign published a new devotional pamphlet entitled “St. Gabriel” by Father Aloysius McDonough and there were hopes that he would in the future publish a pamphlet on St. Paul of the Cross.
In September 1943, it was noted that Passionist Father Theophane Maguire, former missionary to China and editor of The Sign, was appointed Director of the Layman’s Retreat Center at St. Paul’s Monastery, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It was reported in November that Passionist Father Sydney Turner was appointed official chronicler for St. Paul of the Cross Province and “launched a 30 volume collection of pictures in this line and the [l]anguage of his chronicles is that of the recreation room, with a sincere attempt to preserve for posterity that we really were, not a collection of obituaries in the morgue state.”
In February 1944, it was announced that St. Paul of the Cross Province had 49 priests serving as chaplains in the Army, Navy and Marines. Also, it was learned that Passionist Father Mark Moeslein had retired from work with negroes in North Carolina to move to the Passionist Monastery in Baltimore, Maryland where he would be “as fervent as ever for the welfare of the negro.”
World War II ends, 1945:
News of relief and optimism was the mood in the United States and world wide. East coast generated American Passionist ministries was anything but complacent. Even as a rigorous horarium or schedule of common life and prayer and community life existed among the Passionist priests and brothers and seminary students, this real and so-called restrictive life behind the cloister wall of the Passionist monasteries did not prevent, as some might think would be the case, the development of Passionist ministry with a strong public face on many fronts.
Fifty-five Passionist military chaplains were serving in military in 1944. The province gained a continual sense of world events as they received word of the exploits of these chaplains. In 1945, Passionist Father Fabian Flynn was being honored for his work in Italy with the Catholic Relief Service.
Veronica’s Veil Passion Play:
Awaiting the end of World War II, it was common for large numbers of people to come to Passionist staffed parishes of St. Joseph’s, Union City, New Jersey or St. Michael’s in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to see the staged parish play “Veronica’s Veil” during the Lenten season.
Union City, New Jersey:
In 1945, an annex was added on to St. Michael’s Monastery in Union City, New Jersey to house the Provincial Offices. Echoing the Cold War America mentality, this wing housing the Passionist leadership became known, tongue in cheek, as “The Kremlin.” Cost for the construction project was about $80,000. Then, when news was received of the Japanese surrender on August 14, 1945 at St. Michael’s, Catholics of the area instinctively made their way to the church to give thanks. The large church was filled. Also in 1945, the basement church of St. Michael’s Monastery Parish in Union City was being completed.
Generally, since the American Passionist experience divided into two provinces in 1906, they had respectfully gone their separate ways. However, on November 14, 1947, the Provincial Curia, or leadership, of the Eastern and Western provinces met in Union City to confer on matters of mutual interest. In 1948, Argentine Passionist and then Superior General Albert Deane visited St. Paul of the Cross province from Rome. World War II had curtailed the ability for international communication between Passionists throughout the world, so this was an important event. Deane preached at the feast of St. Ann on July 26 in Scranton where attendance was estimated at 100,000. He also attended the vestition and profession of Passionists in Pittsburgh on August 14 and 15, 1948.
Pamphlets, books or articles written by Passionist priests promoted understanding of the Passionist past history to a religious and lay Catholic culture of the era. For example, The Passionist owned Sign Press, based in Union City, published Saint Paul of the Cross: Founder of the Passionists by Father Aloysius McDonough, while Father Alfred Weaver published a vocational pamphlet on the Passionists in 1944. Stephen Sweeney published Whisperings to God (1945). In 1945, the Paulist Press, New York, published a booklet by Father Kenan Carey on Passionist Dominic Barberi of England entitled The Apostle of the Second Spring. In 1949, Father Gerard Rooney published Preface to the Bible with the Bruce Publishing Company, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, which dealt with scriptural controversies of the day. Also, the Catholic Book Publishing Company of New York published The Gem of Christ, The Story of St. Gemma of Lucca 1878-1903 by Francis Shea.
In 1944, Passionist Father Fidelis Rice was a popular preacher in the Scranton diocese. In 1949, at the 25th anniversary of the St. Ann’s Novena, the closing crowd was said to be over 75,000 That same year, The Fatima Statue continued its travels, coming to St. Ann’s Monastery, and Father Patrick Peyton, C.S.C of the Family Rosary Crusade, was a speaker.
Shelter Island, New York:
In 1944, a new wooden chapel was being erected at Shelter Island. On July 1, 1945 the chapel was blessed.
In 1944, Noah Peng, a seminarian form Hunan, China had completed studies at St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore, Maryland and was accepted into the Passionist novitiate. (Eventually, culture shock on the part of the Passionists and Mr. Peng led him to leave prior to final vows. Years later, in the 1980s, Noah Peng and the Passionists were able to joyfully make contact once again when he was living in the United States). In 1944, Father Ronald Norris served on the staff of The Institute of Chinese Culture at Washington, D.C.
In 1945, Passionist Bishop Cuthbert O’Gara of Yuanling, Hunan, China was back in the United States on furlough. Earlier, in 1941, he had been captured and almost executed by the Japanese while visiting Hong Kong. During World War II in China, the Passionist mission there was stretched to its limits in service to the Chinese people and refugees. After 1945, all in China looked forward to post-war prosperity. Cardinal Thomas Tien of Peking, China visited Passionists at St. Mary’s, Dunkirk, NY in 1945. In 1946, a departure ceremony for new Passionists assigned to the China mission was held at Immaculate Conception Monastery, Jamaica, New York. Among those honored was Passionist Father Ernest Hotz. On September 8, 1946, former Passionist missionary to China Father Cormac Shanahan spoke at the Mission Rally at St. Gabriel’s Monastery in Brighton, Massachusetts. Also in 1946, Passionist Father Theophane Maguire’s book Hunan Harvest was published by Bruce Publishers of Milwaukee.
By the mid 1940s, old ties to the Passionist ministries of the early 20th century were fading away. Father Denis Murmann died in 1944. This Passionist had served as a chaplain at St. Mary’s Industrial School in Baltimore. He instructed and had baptized Babe Ruth during his time there. In 1945, Passionist Father Herbert Young was chaplain at St. Agnes Hospital in Baltimore.
West Hartford, Connecticut:
In 1945, the Passionist West Springfield Retreat house was being directed by Father Joe Leo Flynn. Progressing nicely, the Hartford diocese, which was sending 500 men to make annual retreats, desired a retreat house of their own.
The Sign Magazine:
In 1945, then “Woman to Woman” columnist Katherine Burton of Sign Magazine wrote No Shadow of Turning: the life of James Kent Stone (Father Fidelis of the Cross). It was published by Longmans Green and Company.
Passionist priests from St. Paul of the Cross Province were popular in America. In 1945, over 96 Passionist preachers were at work during the Lenten Season. In 1946, 70 Passionist missionaries were preaching Lenten missions. In 1947, Lenten work amounted to 155 assignments. Passionists preached as well at various religious rallies; some of the Passionist ministry sites sent participants to the Eucharistic Congress in Buffalo from September 22 to 26, 1947. In 1948, Passionist Fathers Louis Maillet and Lucian Morel conducted French speaking missions in Montreal, Canada. In 1948, the Pilgrim Virgin statue of Fatima was at the Jamaica Monastery, and in November of the following year, the statue was in Union City. As the ’40s were concluding, United States and world Catholic culture was becoming ever more strongly influenced by Marian devotion. One of the aspects was its strong appeal as a force against the impending forces of world-wide Communism.
Father Ernest Welch was pastor at the Passionist parish in Washington, North Carolina. Father Maurice Tew was assigned to the Passionist parish in Greenville, while Father Dominic Cohee was also in Washington. Other Passionists worked in New Bern. The Passionist mission was generally called “the Colored Mission” because of its historic attention and care towards black Catholics. At the end of World War II, the Passionists hoped to expand their ministerial efforts in the region. In 1946, Father Julian Endler was pastor of the Negro mission at New Bern. That same year, St. Joseph’s, their parish high school, was given recognition by the state. Finally, Father Leo Brynes was sent to New Bern and Father Adrian Poletti to Greenville. On October 19, 1947, Julian Endler of St. Joseph’s Mission in New Bern was honored as “Catholic Personality of the Week” by WHOT Radio station, South Bend, Indiana for his work among the Negroes. On September 24, 1948, a new parish church was dedicated in Washington. The cost of the church building was $31,000.
Passionist Father Luke Missett joined the Faculty of The Catholic University of America (CUA), Washington D.C. School of Oratory in 1944. The Passionist residence on Chillum Road in Hyattsville, Maryland (a suburb of Washington, D.C.) was home to numerous Passionist priests involved in graduate work at CUA. The Passionists had acquired the facility in 1932. In 1945, Father Alban Lynch graduated from CUA with a Masters in English Literature; Fathers Ralph Balzer and Nicholas Gill received Doctorates in Canon Law; Father Augustine Paul Hennessy received a Doctorate in Sacred Theology; and Father Aquanis Sweeney received a Masters Degree in Chemistry. In 1949, Passionist priests sent to study in Rome included Fathers Silvan Rouse and Columkille Regan.
In 1946, The Holy See and Passionist General Curia in Rome promulgated that Lectors (those priests who taught in the internal Passionist seminary program) had to receive post-graduate degrees at Catholic institutions. As seen above, given the fact that the Washington D.C. house was full, Father Malachy McGill was sent to Laval University, in Quebec, Canada to study theology and Father Richard Leary was sent to study Canon Law. In 1946, then Passionist Father and seminary professor Fergus MacDonald wrote The Catholic Church and the Secret Societies in the United States, published by the United States Catholic Historical Society, New York. In 1947, Father Tom Berry was one of four Passionists who completed studies at CUA. He received his doctorate in history. That same year it was decided to close the House of Studies located near CUA given the fact that students could go to other Catholic universities other than CUA. In 1947, Fathers Benedict Mawn and Jerimiah Kennedy were fellows at Notre Dame while Father Marcellus McFarland was studying at Fordham. Beginning in 1948, Rome became the preferred destination to send priests for graduate studies. In 1948, Passionist Father Richard Kugelman presented a paper at the Catholic Biblical Association meeting in Denver, and Augustine Paul Hennessy was secretary of the Catholic Theological Society of America.
The reason why the Passionists had so many men in advanced studies to teach in their seminary system was because membership was on the rise. For example, on August 14, 1945, 17 men entered the Passionist novitiate and 10 men professed their vows on August 15.
Religious Women and the Passionist Charism:
On September 3, 1945, The Sisters of Jesus Crucified, who were closely linked to Passionist spirituality, had their new foundation blessed in Brockton, Massachusetts. This new motherhouse replaced the old one which had been in Elmhurst, Pennsylvania.
The defeat of Germany in 1945 meant that once again the Passionists could send priests to the German/Austria mission they had established in the 1920s. In 1945, a mission rally was held on the grounds of the Brighton monastery. Father Walter Mickel left his assignment in the Baltimore parish to minister at that location. Also, Father Leopold Snyder was given a departure ceremony on his way to Germany. On November 10, 1947 Father Columban [John Patrick] Moore was one of another group of missioners sent to Germany. This mission rally of September 7, 1947 in Brighton was broadcast over radio station WNAC.
Passionist Retreat Houses:
In 1945, over 7,000 men made retreats at the Boston, Springfield, Jamaica and Pittsburgh retreat houses. Springfield had the highest total: 2,500 retreatants. On October 22, 1945, CUA sociologist Father Paul Hanley Furfey was invited to speak at the 10th testimonial dinner at the Passionist Retreat House in Jamaica, New York. The dinner was held at the Hotel St. George in Brooklyn. Passionist Father Cosmas Shaughnessy was director of the Jamaica retreat house and Mr. David Askin was president of the Laymen’s Retreat League. In 1948, St Paul’s Retreat in Pittsburgh was enlarged and renovated. To accomplish this, the novitiate was moved to Union City. In 1948, over 59 United States Air Force men made a retreat at the Jamaica, New York retreat. In 1949, plans were being dawn up for a $300,000 new wing to be built at St. Gabriel’s Retreat in Brighton, Massachusetts which would add 52 rooms so as to make a total of 100. The project was to mean a new dining room, a private Eucharistic chapel and the monastery choir would be enlarged. On January 18, 1950, the new wing of St. Gabriel retreat house in Brighton was blessed.
Dunkirk, New York:
In 1945, St. Mary’s Monastery Church in Dunkirk was renovated. In 1946, Holy Cross Prep Seminary in Dunkirk was recognized as a junior college by New York state. Post-war expansion was desired. To be completed in 1947 were a new dining room, new classrooms and science rooms, a gym and extensive dormitories. However, it wasn’t until April 28, 1948 that the new additions were dedicated. The Apostolic Sign was being published in 1949 by the prep seminary students at Dunkirk.
In 1946, Passionist Father Francis Xavier Butler and Anthony Joseph Nealon were sent by the province to assist Passionists in Mexico.
In 1946, the province re-opened their residence in Toronto, Canada. Father Felix Hackett was appointed superior. It had been closed due to the World War.
St. Michael’s Parish in south side Pittsburgh celebrated its centenary in 1948. Passionists had been working there for 75 out of the total 100 years.
Jamaica, New York:
By 1949, Passionist Father Andrew Ansboro’s Catholic Center Club (CCC), which had been established in Jamaica, New York, was thriving. Also in 1949, Immaculate Conception parish in Jamaica celebrated its 25th anniversary with a dinner at the Hotel St. George, which was attended by over 1,200 parishioners.