Catholic Missionary Union, the corporate name of a society whose directors are chosen from among the bishops of the United States, the seminaries, the parishes and the missionary organizations of that country, its purpose being to engage priests and laymen as missionaries to non-Catholics in the United States, to provide for their maintenance, to distribute Catholic literature, and in every way to assist the bishops in establishing and carrying on home missions in their various jurisdictions. It was formed by the Paulist Fathers in carrying out the vocation of their founder, Isaac Thomas Hecker, i.e. the conversion of non-Catholics in America.
This movement recognizes and helps to meet the responsibility of clergy and people for the spiritual welfare of Catholics, of baptized non-Catholics, as being even sacramentally part of Christ’s fold; and of all others, as called by God to be saved and brought to the knowledge of the truth by the Church‘s ministrations. Thus, instead of ignoring the religious condition of their non-Catholic countrymen, all classes of Catholics will be aided by this society in zealously striving to convert them. Among the practical efforts of this movement is the forming in each diocese of bands of missionaries composed of diocesan priests acting under their bishops. These assemble non-Catholics wherever possible and explain to them the doctrines of the Catholic Church. The mode of explanation is more expository than controversial. Through a “question box” queries are invited concerning the Church‘s teaching, and through carefully prepared lectures and the widespread dissemination of literature misunderstandings are dispelled and an attractive presentation of the Catholic teaching provided.
The Catholic Missionary Union owns the Apostolic Mission House, the training school for the missionaries, located at the Catholic University, Washington, D.C., and dedicated in April, 1904. It provides a normal course of instruction for priests who are desirous of devoting themselves to the conversion of non-Catholics in the diocesan mission-bands, or even in the parochial ministry. The following dioceses are now provided with these apostolates, as the missionary bands are called: Providence, Hartford, Burlington, New York, Pittsburg, Cleveland, Wheeling, Covington, Peoria, St. Paul, Dubuque, St. Louis, Sioux Falls, Fort Wayne, Richmond, North Carolina, Charleston, St. Augustine, Mobile, Natchez, and Oklahoma, numbering altogether 51 priests. There are six other priests assisting at missions in these dioceses in preparation for forming apostolates in their own dioceses, namely in Springfield, Buffalo, and Winona. Meanwhile priests are making their courses of study in the Apostolic Mission House for Ogdensburg, Erie, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Alton, Baker City, Peoria, Pittsburg, Sioux City, St. Augustine, and St. Paul, together with several members of religious communities, some domiciled, and others attending classes Giving missions, or preparing to do so, there is now a total of 82 priests. For the more necessitous dioceses not only are the missionaries trained without any expense to the bishops, but financial support is furnished them after they begin their work. During a decade of years the missionaries in the movement that centers about the Apostolic Mission House have given 1008 missions to Catholics, 1468 missions to non-Catholics, and received many converts into the Church, besides placing many more under instruction to be received later by the parochial clergy. It is not possible to give precise statistics, but it is sure that conversions have been stimulated by these missionary activities. During the year 1906 it is computed that about 25,000 converts were received into the Church in the United States by various missionary agencies.
An important feature of the missions is the free distribution of Catholic literature. The books are given into the hands of non-Catholics by the missionaries themselves standing before the altar after the public services, it being expressly stated that they are accepted to be read. In this way a great deal more than a million of Catholic books have passed into non-Catholic hands during the last ten or twelve pears. These are Cardinal Gibbons’ “Faith of Our Fathers.”, Searle’s “Plain Facts”, Conway’s “Question Box”, Faa Di Bruno’s “Catholic Belief“, Xavier Sutton’s “Clearing the Way”, and others; not counting a very great number of catechisms, Mass-books, pamphlets, and leaflets.
A public convention of missionaries to non-Catholics is assembled by the society every two or three years: The delegates discuss fully the religious conditions in America and the prospects of converting the people to the Catholic Church. Carefully prepared papers are read, and addresses delivered, and their topics debated, all looking to the choice of means and methods for increasing the number of converts. The proceedings of each convention are published in book form and circulated very extensively with remarkably good results. It is noteworthy that at the latest convention (June, 1905) the principal religious orders were present by their representatives. The Missionary Union depends wholly on charity for funds to support its work. The principal medium of collection is its monthly magazine “The Missionary”, which, by edifying Catholics with authentic accounts of the results of the propaganda, stimulates their charitable offerings. The whole movement has from the beginning enjoyed the fullest approval of the bishops and the cooperation of the religious orders, and has received the express commendation of the Holy See.