7 June 2016
In this image from the 1970’s, Msgr. John G. Nolan greets the children at the Pontifical Mission Orphanage in Bethlehem during one of his frequent visits. (photo: CNEWA)
“A rascal for God” is how longtime CNEWA president Msgr. Robert Stern described Bishop John G. Nolan, who served CNEWA for 25 years as National Secretary and then President. Bishop Nolan had “a fantastic imagination,” Msgr. Stern wrote, and loved a good story. But above all, this “rascal” had a special commitment to orphans, particularly those CNEWA helped support in Bethlehem.
As Msgr. Stern wrote not long after Bishop Nolan’s death in 1997:
His heart was always in the Holy Land. As did his predecessors, he spent every Christmas there. He always shared in the ceremony and splendor of Midnight Mass in Bethlehem. Then, Christmas morning, he would go to the Pontifical Mission Girls’ Orphanage and offer Mass for them. After, with the children gathered around him, the celebrant would become Santa Claus, giving each of them her gift.
“This is my parish,” he would say with deep feeling. “This is my family.”
His background and experience were far-ranging and far-reaching:
The youngest of six children, John Nolan was born in Mechanicville, N.Y. He entered the former St. Charles Seminary in Catonsville, Md., and completed theological studies at St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore and at Theological College of The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. Ordained for the Diocese of Albany, N.Y., on 11 June 1949, Bishop Nolan served in parishes and held a number of teaching positions, including a post at the College of St. Rose. In 1956, Bishop Nolan earned a doctorate in theology from Catholic University.
Appointed to CNEWA in 1962, Bishop Nolan succeeded Archbishop (then Msgr.) Joseph T. Ryan as National Secretary in 1965. Bishop Nolan initiated a number of fund-raising programs, including an Annuity Program in 1968. Children were dear to the heart of Bishop Nolan and he started CNEWA’s Needy Child Sponsorship Program during his tenure. An expert on Middle East affairs, he visited the region often and was regularly consulted by the Holy See. In 1974, Bishop Nolan established Catholic Near East magazine. In 1985, he initiated a reorganization of CNEWA to expand its services.
Ordained by Pope John Paul II in Rome on 6 January 1988, Bishop Nolan was responsible for the chaplaincy program for U.S. military personnel stationed in Europe. Among his many awards was the Gold Cross of the Council of Rhodes, presented by Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras I in 1967. Bishop Nolan was the first Catholic to receive this award.
In 1976, our magazine described his great commitment to the care of orphans of Bethlehem:
Monsignor John Nolan, President of the Pontifical Mission and National Secretary of Catholic Near East, has spent many a Christmas with “his children.” His greatest wish is that each child in need will find a home here as these happy youngsters have, and that no child in Bethlehem need ever hear the words, “There is room...”
But perhaps it was Msgr. Stern who best captured his character and personality:
Wherever he went, whomever he was with, he would spin them a fascinating tale...His imagination was so great that he always imagined others would respond with the same love he had.
At Bishop Nolan’s funeral in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, when all the tributes were paid and prayers said, his former boss and good friend, John Cardinal O’Connor, fondly reminded the congregation that, besides everything else, John Nolan was a rascal!
The world needs more heroic “rascals” like John Nolan — and we’re grateful his legacy lives on in CNEWA’s care for children around the world, care made possible through generous donors who help to give these little ones a place to call home.
To continue Bishop John G. Nolan’s work and help care for needy children, visit this page.