The Catholic Diplomat: Edmund A. Walsh, S.J.

by Michael J.L. La Civita

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…One hardly knows where to begin to discuss the Russian tragedy – for such in fact it is, a tragedy such as Aeschylus or Sophocles would have immortalized…the two great ends of tragedy, Pity and Fear [are clearly felt]; Pity for a great nation slowly dying under a succession of scourges, Fear for the consequences in the economic, political, social, religious [and] educational order of the entire world…

The above statement describes not the Russia of the present, but Russia in 1922 – a nation devastated by World War I, the Revolution, the Bolshevik coup and the great civil war.

The author, a young and ambitious Irish-American Jesuit, had recently completed his assignment as director general of the Papal Relief Mission to Russia. He returned to the United States, immediately to begin his life-long war with communism – “Never trust a Bolshevik!” was his motto.

The life of Edmund A. Walsh, S.J., makes great material for a Jesuit recruiter: founder of the Foreign Service School of Georgetown University; head of the Papal Relief Mission to Russia; first president of Catholic Near East Welfare Association; papal negotiator with the Mexican Government; liaison between the Holy See and the Iraqi Government for the foundation of the Jesuit College in Baghdad; and consultant to Chief Justice Jackson at the Nuremberg Trials.

As the first papal-appointed president of Catholic Near East Welfare Association, Edmund Walsh would secure the new organization’s existence and expand the work of Msgr. Richard Barry-Doyle, the founder of the Association’s prototype.

When Pope Pius XI merged the “Catholic Near East Welfare Association” with the recently founded American branch of the Catholic Union in March, 1926, he created a complex pontifical organization dedicated to emergency relief in Asia Minor, the Balkans, Greece and Russia, to religious welfare, to education and to the needs of the Eastern Catholic churches.

The challenges and difficulties created by this mandate were intensified by the lobbying powers and personalities of those individuals and groups originally associated with Barry-Doyle and Augustine Count von Galen, the founder of the American branch of the Catholic Union. Each church and community had legitimate needs and concerns; however priorities often conflicted and funds were limited. Into this sea of confusion entered the 42-year-old Jesuit priest.

Walsh’s relationship with the Holy See began in 1922 when Pope Pius XI called him from his tertianship – the “second novitiate” as the Jesuits call it – to direct the work of the Papal Relief Mission to Russia in famine-stricken Soviet Russia.

Affiliated with the American Relief Administration under the direction of Herbert Hoover, President Harding’s secretary of commerce, the Papal Relief Mission supervised the feeding of more than 160,000 people a day.

“My first real experience with famine -” an obviously moved Walsh entered in his diary on April 5, 1922, “famished people climbing up our car, tapping our windows all night with that piteous wail for food.”

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