Passionist History 1943 to 1949 in St. Paul of the Cross Province: A Summary of Events
by Father Rob Carbonneau, C.P.
Last August 2008, I was with Passionist Father John McMillan at St. Paul of the Cross Monastery, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Sitting in the common recreation room, he spoke to me. Since I just completed my year of teaching in Chongqing, China (2007-2008), he asked me what projects I was working on. Rather than reciting a list of projects ahead of me, I decided that it might be helpful to hear if there were any projects that he thought to suggest. With concentrated and reflective excitement, Father McMillan suggested that I write a history of St. Paul of the Cross province in the United States in the way that I have tried to study the missions in China.
While I was gratified to hear this challenge, at the same time it reminded me that completing such a project would involve numerous intellectual hurdles. First and foremost would be the recapitulation of historical events of Passionist history from diversified primary and secondary sources that span the almost 160 years since the first Passionists arrived in Pittsburgh in 1852. In this issue, I turn to the eastern province history from 1943 to 1949 gleaned from the Holy Cross Province (western U.S. region) publication The C.P. Bulletin (1943 to 1944), which became The Passionist Bulletin (1944 to 1966), then reborn in 1975 as The Passionist.
In July 1943, news was published that due to World War II, correspondence between Passionist leadership in Rome with their members in the United States was "becoming increasingly difficult; consequently little news." The only received news from 1942 into July 1943 was "a list of deceased members" of the Passionists in foreign countries. By September 14, 1943, another list of deceased foreign Passionists was received from Rome.
Given that both the Passionists Provinces based in Chicago and Union City joined in sending men from the United States to the west Hunan, China, news was always arriving by mail or cable.
Passionist Father Harold Travers, on January 15, 1943, "suffered from a severe rheumatic fever that affected his heart. He was working in his mission at Paotsing [Baojing] when illness over came him." Reports stated "his condition is gradually improving." In November 1943, Travers was still struggling with rheumatic fever and "was granted a furlough, but it is not known whether he will take his well deserved rest in India or come all the way [back to the United States]". By February 1944, Travers was on his way to the United States via India. Passionist Father Ernest Cunningham was suffering from TB and was so bad he could not travel or he would have returned home with Travers.
Inflation in China was a problem in 1943. A February 27, 1943 report noted by Passionist Bishop Cuthbert O'Gara of Yuanling, Hunan stated that $6000.00 was paid for a new coat: "Inflation has skyrocketed the market and now the simplest commodities sell for exorbitant prices." Other examples were a pack of Chesterfield cigarettes for $800.00, and a pack and Luckies for a bit higher. One Gillette razor blade cost $24.00. The exchange rate was 20-1. In November 1943, news was sent that Hunan "living costs are still mounting: one green pear $11.00, shelled rice $700.00 a bushel." Passionist Father Cyprian Frank stated in a November 1, 1943 letter that rice was $100,000 a bushel.
Other China news was received in a March 22, 1943 letter sent by Passionist Father Nicholas Schneider in Lungtan, China, writing how a theft took place in his mission and he lost his American citizen or naturalization papers, which meant he could not prove he was an American citizen nor get any passport or visa, whether American or Chinese. By September 1943, it was reported that Father Schneider had successfully completed negotiations with the United States government officials and it was stated that the American Consul in China could issue the "papers requested."
Also in 1943, Passionist Father Francis Flaherty was appointed director of the Seminary in west Hunan. In February 1944 it was stated that he also conducted the annual Passionist retreat in west Hunan. Finally, February 1944 made known that Passionist Father Cormac Shanahan was editor of a Catholic paper in Chungking, China. This Chongqing paper was the short-lived China Correspondent.
On October 21, 1943, Bishop Cuthbert O'Gara arrived at the Chicago, Illinois monastery with two Chinese seminarians, Noah Peng and John Nien, both from west Hunan, China. They were on their way to St. Mary's Seminary in Baltimore, Maryland to continue their studies. Peng was in First Theology and Nien in Second Philosophy. Peng later sent a letter to the C.P. Bulletin which summarized that "both are well and happy in their new surroundings, and anxious to make the most of these precious years in the order to be as holy and learned [as] possible when the great day comes, and, as priests of God, they return to China to enkindle the flame of Faith in the hearts of their own people." All three had come to San Francisco by boat from India by way of Australia. They then came by bus to Chicago where the writer in Chicago wrote that "the Bishop rang the front door-bell, and took us by surprise. No one had known definitely if or when he was coming. It is not the Bishop's way. He doesn't like anybody to make a fuss over him." From Chicago they proceeded on to Union City, New Jersey.