Irish Hierarchy’s Appeal for German Catholic Refugees

The Irish hierarchy issued the following appeal in 1954 at their October meeting in St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth:

Very Reverend and Reverend Fathers and dearly beloved brethren:

We desire to draw your attention to the wretched condition, especially from the spiritual standpoint, of the millions of Catholic refugees now in Western Germany.

The Potsdam Agreement in 1945 permitted the Russians to expel 14,000,000 people, mostly Germans, from the territories which came under their control at the end of the war; and of these about 9,000,000 made their way to Western Germany. This number has since been increased by a further 2,000,000, so that there are altogether in Western Germany about 11,000,000 refugees, of whom half are Catholics. The material conditions under which these refugees have to live are indeed wretched, but even more pitiable is the plight, from the spiritual standpoint, of those of them who are Catholics. Considerably more than half their priests died from the hardships which they had to endure during the period of migration, and of those that remain many are old or in delicate health and all are without material resources. The result is that large numbers of these poor Catholics are deprived of the ministrations of religion and of the consolations which Holy Mass and the sacraments could bring them.

Belgian and other Catholics have already done much to alleviate the needs of their refugee brethren in Germany; and we too, deeply sensible of their pitiable condition, have undertaken to help in founding a Mission House in Western Germany, from which priests will go out to celebrate Mass for refugees, to administer the sacraments to them and to give them sermons and instructions.

We ask you, Very Reverend and Reverend Fathers and dearly beloved brethren, to co-operate with us in this charitable work. These refugee Catholics are our brothers in Christ, they are bound to us by a bond more sacred and precious than that of humanity or fatherland; and they are in dire distress. We appeal to you then to pray that God may alleviate their condition, material as well as spiritual, and join with us in helping towards the establishment of a Mission House. Contributions for this purpose may be given to the parochial clergy or sent directly to the bishop of the diocese. No formal collection will be made.


Posted on August 31, 2011, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. I turned 11 in 1954 but don’t recall this letter at all. I was aware of some German refugees who had come to Ireland after the War. One was a classmate of my brother in O’Connell Schools, in the 1950s.

    The letter is quite moving, especially: ‘These refugee Catholics are our brothers in Christ, they are bound to us by a bond more sacred and precious than that of humanity or fatherland; and they are in dire distress.’ John A Costello’s second government came into power that same year and it was then, I think, that he made his famous statement about being a Catholic first and an Irishman second. If that is seen in the context of the bishops’ letter, especially of the sentence I quoted above, it reflects a sense of responsibility for the wider world among the Irish, precisely as Catholic Christians, rather than an insularity that they and the Church in Ireland have sometimes been accused of.

    Between 1949 and 1954 many Irish missionaries suffered in China, some being imprisoned and all being expelled, while others died in the Korean War (1950-53) and all who were there shared the awful hardships of the people. Many families throughout Ireland had a personal knowledge of what was going on in many parts of Asia and Africa because their sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, were working in those places as missionaries. Countless others had family members in Britain, North America and Britain because of emigration.

    The bishops too saw the Mission Centre as a play from which priests would go ‘to administer the sacraments to them and to give them sermons and instructions’. Were any Irish priests ever assigned there?

    One blessing we have in Ireland is the extraordinary generosity of the people when there is a calamity in another part of the world. That has survived all the changes down the years and thanks be to God for that.

  2. Father I must disclaim any knowledge of the history of the Mission Centre in west Germany but it was expected that £50,000 would need to be raised (quite a large sum of money in those days). As you note it undercuts the impression of Irish insularity in that era and reflects the feeling of belonging to a worldwide family (something vernacular liturgy has played a part in eroding). Fr Gerard Kearney gave a speech to the Castlebar branch of the St. Joseph’s Young Priests Society that year describing the plight of the refugees and pointed out that:

    In the early ages of the Church Ireland sent her Missionaries to bring back the Christian Faith to a war devastated Europe. The Irish Missionaries, Irish monks, founded monasteries in France, Germany, in Italy, and in other countries. These monasteries were really mission centres from which the monks went out to preach and teach the Gospel of Christ, and to this day their memories are honoured for Christ’s Church. Now we are asked to provide and fit one centre to bring the help and comfort of our Holy Religion to Catholic refugees who have suffered and lost all at the hands of the most terrible persecution the world has ever known. Will we be less generous than our forefathers were?

    As members of the Mystical Body of Christ, we should be at all times ready and anxious to help other members of the Mystical Body, no matter where they may be, who suffer persecution for their Faith and are deprived of the opportunity to practice their religion. It may be difficult for some of us here in Ireland, who have at all times the services of priests, to realise what it is to be without Holy Mass and the sacraments because there are no priests available, but the Bishops’ pastoral must convince everyone that the need of the refugees is very great and very urgent.

  3. I believe the Dutch ‘Bacon Priest’, Fr. Werenfried van Straaten, started his worldwide Catholic charity, Aid to the Church in Need, precisely because he was so appalled and saddened by the plight of the millions of German Catholic refugees. This was indeed a mustard seed that has grown to incredible proportions and bringing such spiritual joy and so much good to persecuted and deprived Christians everywhere.

    The Dutch had suffered a lot at the hands of the Nazis, but that did not stop Fr. Werenfried looking only at the dire needs of his ‘brothers in Christ’, and not at their origin or nationality. Although their names are not well known to the wider world, the love and generosity of our own Irish priests and missionaries in past decades has been no less.

  4. Kathleen, very interesting and edifying. ACN have a nice page on their founder here:

  1. Pingback: Irish Hierarchy’s Appeal for Palestinian and Syrian Catholics « Lux Occulta

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