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CNEWA at 75: Into The Future

Dynamic leadership marks the past decade of CNEWA’s history.

by Peg Maron

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As the 20th century closed, two men, John Cardinal O’Connor, Archbishop of New York, and Msgr. Robert L. Stern, brought a new vision to CNEWA. Throughout his years as President, Cardinal O’Connor remained close to this papal agency, putting his stamp on its growth and direction, but responsibility for shaping its future fell largely to Msgr. Stern. He was challenged from the outset.

In November 1987, CNEWA’s Board of Directors, spurred on by Cardinal O’Connor, voted to distribute a large portion of CNEWA’s reserve funds. Within a matter of weeks, however, Msgr. John Nolan, Secretary General, was named Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, U.S.A. Msgr. Stern, as acting Secretary General, had to assume responsibility for implementing the Board’s decision. Ignoring the disorder that inevitably follows so abrupt a change, the Cardinal told the Monsignor to distribute the funds before the end of the year.

“We had less than three weeks to allocate more than $18 million,” Msgr. Stern recalled later. “‘How can we responsibly distribute such a tremendous sum of money in such a short period of time?’ I thought. ‘Where should we start?’” Despite the time crunch, he carried out the Cardinal’ order; the funds were distributed on time.

Bethlehem University received three million dollars to establish a permanent endowment and an additional million for renovations and the purchase of equipment. Two million dollars were allocated to Ethiopia for immediate relief assistance and an additional million supported pastoral projects in that country.

In India, $3.5 million was allocated to support pastoral, educational and development projects and the establishment of a permanent endowment for the Institute for Social Service. In Lebanon, CNEWA’s $3.5 million grant supported relief and development projects and provided emergency relief to Catholic schools.

In the United States, CNEWA made ten-year commitments of $25,000 a year for Fordham University’ Middle Eastern studies program and of $100,000 a year for the Middle East Educational Fellowship program at Brandeis University. Subsequently transferred to Harvard, this program brought six to eight professionals each year from different, often hostile, areas of the Middle East to the U.S. to obtain advance professional degrees.

Fellows lived and studied together, forming personal and professional relationships. They returned to their respective countries filling public service posts and collaborating with their peers in other Middle Eastern countries. By January 1997, graduates of the program had developed regional workshops that reached healthcare programs in the Middle East and North Africa.

Other grants went to CNEWA’s Amman and Jerusalem offices, the Congregation for the Eastern Churches and offices of the Holy See engaged in the promotion of Christian unity and interreligious dialogue.

As acting Secretary General, Msgr. Stern faced another pressing assignment. At their annual meeting on 14 November 1984, CNEWA’s Board of Trustees had voted to commission an independent study of the Association’s organization by the management consulting firm, Peat, Marwick & Mitchell. The consultants recommended reorganization into four major areas: administration, development, overseas and programs.

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Tags: CNEWA Middle East Funding Msgr. Stern Marie Doty