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Newark and the Missions

100 years of receiving and giving

When the Diocese of Newark was established in 1853, it was in dire need of many resources, including clergy and Religious to serve the flocks of parishioners, scattered as they were over large areas not always easily accessible, and funds in order to obtain or construct buildings for churches, rectories, convents and schools.

A century later, the Archdiocese of Newark was a major provider of missionaries as well as money for

missions in other parts of the world. Today, the Church of Newark, having been on both ends of the spectrum, utilizes missionaries for parishes and ministries in need here, while continuing to be a supporter of missions throughout the world.

Following is an excerpt about the history of missions in the Archdiocese from the Archdiocesan 100th anniversary edition of The Catholic Advocate, Oct. 1954.

The story of a living faith

The story of the missions in the history of the Newark Archdiocese is one of gratitude expressed for favors received. But it is more the story of a living faith, generous in its spirit and loving in its solicitude for others. The organization of the mission effort can best be told by the growth of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith. Two other groups, however, merit at least passing notice.

The Diocese of Newark’s first bishop, James Roosevelt Bayley, received help for his struggling diocese from the Leopoldinen-Stiftung of Vienna, an Austrian society which contributed to the support of German Catholics in America. In 1856 the Bishop acknowledged receipt of $1,290 from the Leopoldinen-Stiftung and wrote that he would divide the money into three parts. One portion would go to the German mission at Trenton, another to the German missions of the diocese for parish schools, and a share to the foundation of the diocesan college, Seton Hall.

One other foreign-mission aid group appealed to by Bishop Bayley was the Ludwig-Missionsverein at Munich, Germany. He received $200 from the Munich Society in 1856 when it had become a subsidiary of the French Society for the Propagation of the Faith. Although the $200 had been sent for the aid of the German parish at Trenton, Bishop Bayley informed the donor that he had used the fund for another German church, “ now on the point of being sold out for bills.”

The work of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith

But the main theme of the mission story of the Archdiocese is the work of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith. Founded by a “young woman of 20, an elderly widow and a successful businessman,” the Society was formally founded on May 3, 1822 in Lyons, France. The young woman, Pauline Marie Jaricot, is commonly considered the prime mover in the work of the new society. Unlike other mission-aid groups, Jaricot’s society aimed at helping the missions by prayers and alms, regardless of the nationality of the particular mission. She envisioned a society that would be as Catholic as the Church.

The Society of the Propagation of the Faith has never failed its objective. Missions in every part of the world have been beneficiaries of its charity. Now that the Catholic Church is so firmly established in the United States, it is difficult to realize that our country was a poor mission field when the Society was founded, and that for many decades afterward its bishops frequently appealed to the headquarters of the Society at Lyons for financial assistance. As a matter of record, two of the missions which received aid from the Society in the first year of its existence were New Orleans, LA and Bardstown, KY.

The state of New Jersey was no exception. The Church has enjoyed such a phenomenal growth in the “Garden State” that it is hard to realize that 132 years ago the number of Catholics here was so small and their economic so low that they could not form a diocese of their own. And the first church within the present boundaries of the Archdiocese with its own pastor, St. John’s on Mulberry Street, Newark, was not built and dedicated until 1828.

Had it not been for the timely aid given by the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, St. John’s would soon have become only a faint memory. The cost of building the original church was far in excess of the estimate. Although all means possible were employed to raise funds to pay the bill of contractors, a large debt remained. To accentuate the difficulty, a major economic depression ensued, and the creditors pressed the trustees for immediate payment. There was imminent danger that the church would be sold at public auction.

When all other means failed, Bishop Dubois of New York (under whose jurisdiction the church was being built) had recourse to the Society in 1829. It made a loan of 22,960 francs, almost $5,000, to the Bishop. All debts were paid, and the future success of the new church was assured.

Rapid expansion

In the decade of the 1850’s the Church in the United States expanded rapidly. Driven to our shores by famine, revolution and persecution, millions of Catholics began a new life here. One result of this numerical increase was the erection of the Diocese of Newark, embracing the entire state of New Jersey, in 1853. Bishop Bayley turned to the Society for the Propagation of the Faith for assistance.

His first appeal was sent to the Society eight months after his installation. Pointing out that many Catholics had lost their faith because of an inadequate number of priests and churches, he stated, “…And what is most regrettable is that the state of New Jersey…does not possess a single institution of learning or religion, so necessary to the establishment and progress of religion. It is in view of these considerations that the Diocese of Newark awaits today the attention and benevolence of the charitable associations in favor of foreign mission; it believes it has a right to their assistance, since these dioceses (New York and Philadelphia), long since established, have kept all their colleges, their seminaries, and religious houses…Helped in the beginning, the Diocese of Newark will soon be able to take care of itself, and to give back the kindness which will have been meted out to it…”

The Society responded immediately with a gift of $3,000. Bishop Bayley expressed his thanks in a letter to the Society and recalled, “When I took possession of the Diocese, I found many churches loaded down with debts, and in such straits that they needed large sums of money to prevent their being sold under the hammer.”

By the end of the summer of 1855, he again acknowledged a gift from the Society and explained that with the funds he had “been able to save two churches, on the point of being sold and lost to religion.” In the same letter the Bishop estimated that there were 40,000 Catholics in the state, “the majority of whom are Irish immigrants, many thousands of Germans, some American, English, French and Canadians.” He indicated the missionary character of the priests when he wrote, “To take care of their spiritual interests we have 35 missionary priests, of whom eight, including myself, were born in this country, 17 born in Ireland, five Germans, five French or Italians.”

In 1858, Bishop Bayley wrote to the Society for the Propagation of the Faith that it would be difficult for him to do anything without the help of the Society: “Here our work is in the midst of bitter heretics, and although our poor people contribute generously according to their means for the support of our churches, it will be out of the question without your help to give to our establishments for education the means and protection necessary. Unless the work is done now, it will soon be too late.”

Four more times the Bishop appealed to the Society for aid, and in April 1865, he was able to write to the headquarters in France, “I have no other revenue than a very slender salary, and it is owing to the allotment of the Propagation of the Faith that I am able to meet the interest of many debts I have contracted by helping the many poor parishes and in founding institutions of education and charity in the Diocese. Having made a review of the ten first years of my Diocese, I find that while the Catholic population has increased a third, the churches and priests have doubled in number.”

The time for the end of financial help from Europe had arrived in 1865. Over a period of 12 years the Society had given to the Diocese $23,600, a magnificent sum in those days. In the hundred years between 1822 and 1921, the French Society had contributed $100 million to all foreign ministries; $7 million of that total had gone to the United States.

The Diocese of Newark was not ungrateful. Even while still depending on the Society for assistance, Bishop Bayley organized branches in all parishes of the Diocese, and sent to France annually more than any other diocese in the country, with the exception of New York. In fact, he sent so much, that in writing to the Society in 1862, he expressed fear that the officials of the Society were, in consequence, misjudging the conditions and the needs of the Diocese.

Diocese of Newark grows and prospers

The Diocese of Newark continued to grow and prosper. It was divided in 1881 in to the Dioceses of Newark and Trenton. Both before and after the division, the Diocese of Newark kept the promise of Bishop Bayley to “lend a helping hand to others.”

In 1922 the Society for the Propagation of the Faith celebrated the centennial of its foundation. On that occasion, it published a centennial number of the Annals, in which it was recorded that the Diocese of Newark had contributed $208,709.01 to the general fund of the Society up to that time. This did not include the incalculable sums which were given directly to individual missions by the priests and people of the Diocese.

The modern and most effective era in mission activity in Newark came in 1924. In that year, Bishop John J. O’Conner took steps to revitalize the Society in Newark. He appointed as the first diocesan director, Father William A. Griffin, who was then a member of the faculty of Seton Hall College and who subsequently became Auxiliary Bishop of Newark and Bishop of Trenton.

Two months after the formal establishment of the Society in the Archdiocese in Feb. 1925, the first membership campaign was launched simultaneously in all parishes of the Diocese. The policy was formulated in the beginning of building up the Society upon parish unit. Memberships were to be solicited rather than collections. The director wished to form a diocesan-wide apostolate of prayers and alms, made up of mission-minded men and women who would take continuous interest in mission activities in pagan lands, sympathize with the missionaries in their arduous and perilous tasks, pray for them and provide them with material resources.

In the first year of its existence, the Newark Diocese Branch contributed $82,019.16 to the general fund of the Society, an increase of $70,000 or almost 600 percent over the previous year.

In addition to this, $20,515.34 was sent to the American Board of Catholic Missions for distribution among missions in the United States.

Besides these two sums, representative of membership dues, the Diocesan Office sent directly to other missions $87,155.24. All told, it collected and distributed during its first year of operation $188,211.

Breaking into the half million dollar bracket for annual donations in 1945, the Archdiocese maintained its position there for the next five years. In 1953, it collected $805,619.97.

Thus by the end of 1953, the faithful of the Archdiocese of Newark had sent, through the Propagation of the Faith office, in its 29 years of service, the sum of $9,578,264.68.

As the Archdiocese of Newark begins another century of existence, it may feel proud and grateful that it has discharged with honor the debt which it owed to the Society of the Propagation of the Faith. It has done for others what was once done for itself. The faithful of the Archdiocese realize that when God gave them the faith, He expected them not only to keep it, but also to spread it.

It would be false to tell the story of Newark’s mission efforts only in dollars and cents. The prayers of her thousands of faithful have daily been offered for the laborers in the harvest. And she is rightfully most proud of her courageous sons and daughters who have left her geographical boundaries to bring the same faith to others.

In addition to the men and women from Newark who are engaged in the missions in our country, chiefly in the South, there are at the present time over 100 in the foreign mission field.

Reprinted form The Catholic Advocate, Official Commemorative Edition, October 15, 2003.