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The Call of the East

by Michael J.L. La Civita

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Catholic Near East Welfare Association was established on March 11, 1926, by Pope Pius XI. He decided to unite into one organization and administration all the American associations working for assistance to Russia and the Near East. This new pontifical organization was called “Catholic Near East Welfare Association” and was placed under the immediate direction of the Archbishop of New York.

Two groups recognized by the pope were joined in this new association; the Catholic Union, and the new association’s prototype, “The Catholic Near East Welfare Association.” Founded by Msgr. Richard Barry-Doyle in 1924, its foundation is a fascinating tale of colorful personalities and intrigue.

The chaos following World War I provoked the largest population upheaval in the history of the planet. More than a million Greeks, their homesteads plundered and raped by Turks, swarmed Istanbul, then known as Constantinople. Fleeing the excesses of the Bolsheviks, 100,000 penniless and devastated Russians engulfed the former Byzantine capital. Scores of Armenians, Assyrians and Chaldeans fled their homelands during and after the war; many more died in the struggle to defend them.

Once within the confines of Constantinople’s walls, disease swept the city, killing the weak and disabled. The human response to these tragedies was immediate. Relief workers, representing many nations and organizations, poured into the jammed city.

Unfortunately, very few accounts profiling these events have survived. Those stories have resembled novels, not historical narratives. But the historical antecedents of Catholic Near East Welfare Association’s foundation features real people with strengths and weaknesses.

Among the first to minister to the needs of the dispossessed was Bishop George Calavassy, the Greek Catholic exarch of Constantinople. Driven by the desire to unite the Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches, Calavassy sought to establish, first in Constantinople and later in Athens, an orphanage, a seminary, two schools and a church. His appeals for funding to Europe and the United States, however, went unanswered.

Nevertheless, one man heard the bishop’s appeals for help, the Rev. Paul Wattson, S.A., founder of the Society of the Atonement at Graymoor, near Garrison, NY. A former Anglican priest, Father Paul exhorted the readers of his monthly publication, The Lamp, to support Calavassy’s relief efforts.

In 1922, a desperate Calavassy, overwhelmed by the refugee crisis in Constantinople, was introduced to Msgr. Richard Barry-Doyle, chaplain to the city’s English-speaking Catholic community, a colonel in Britain’s army and a tireless advocate for Russian refugees. Calavassy found in Barry-Doyle a champion and a friend.

We know very little about the life of Barry-Doyle. The biographical data that exists can be found in a few newspaper clippings and letters housed in the Association’s archives at Graymoor. These morsels of information, recorded by the monsignor himself, are often erratic. It is evident, at least, that Barry-Doyle was an adventurer and a romantic, a dashing military officer and pious priest.

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Tags: CNEWA Funding Msgr. Richard Barry-Doyle Rev. Edmund A Walsh, S.J.