Catholic Truth Societies
Various organizations in different countries for promoting particular aspects of Catholicism
Truth Societies, CATHOLIC.—This article will treat of Catholic Truth Societies in the chronological order of their establishment in various countries.
IN ENGLAND.—The Catholic Truth Society has had two periods of existence. It was initiated by Dr. (afterwards Cardinal) Vaughan when he was Rector of St. Joseph‘s Missionary College, and, in the two or three years of its existence, issued a number of leaflets and penny books, some of which are still on sale; but when he became Bishop of Salford, in 1872, the society fell into abeyance and soon practically ceased to exist. Meanwhile, and quite independently, the need of cheap, good literature impressed itself upon some priests and laymen, who raised the sum of twelve pounds, which was expended in printing some little cards of prayers for daily use, and for confession and Communion. The scheme was brought before Dr. Vaughan, who suggested that the new body should take the name and place of the defunct Catholic Truth Society. Under that name it was formally established, November 5, 1884, and the second period of its existence began under the presidency of Dr. Vaughan, the Rev. W. H. (now Monsignor) Cologan and Mr. James Britten being appointed honorary secretaries. At the death of Cardinal Vaughan, the present Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Bourne, became president. The aims of the society are: To spread among Catholics small devotional works; to assist the uneducated poor to a better knowledge of their religion; to spread among Protestants information regarding Catholic faith and practice; and to promote the circulation of good and cheap Catholic literature. These objects have been steadily kept in view throughout the society’s existence, although its scope has from time to time been enlarged as necessity has dictated. From them it will be seen that the aim of the society is not controversial, as is sometimes supposed. The position of Catholics in England is such that controversy is unavoidable, and a certain proportion of the society’s publications have been devoted to the consideration of the Anglican claims and to the expo-sure of the fictions assiduously promoted by the less intelligent and bigoted class of Protestants. But the chief aim of the society has been the instruction of Catholics by placing in their hands, at nominal prices, educational and devotional works. The sale of some of these has been phenomenal: the “Simple Prayer-book”, for example, has reached a circulation of 1,380,000; the little penny books of daily meditation have reached 114,000; and nearly 200,000 penny copies of the Gospels have been sold. An account of the literary output of the society can be ascertained from the list of publications, to be obtained from the depot, 69 Southwark Bridge Road, London, S.E. Almost every subject of importance to Catholics is taken up in one or other of the society’s works; and the number is increasing every month. Already there is an extensive list of books and pamphlets directed to meet and answer rationalist objections; among them may be mentioned a series of penny lives of Catholic men of science, and thirty-nine papers dealing with “The History of Religions”; of these last an aggregate of about 200,000 copies have been issued. For younger Catholics a large number of tales, dealing with the sacraments and other religious subjects, has been provided at the lowest possible price.
The society is mainly supported by subscriptions, ten shillings per annum entitling to membership, while ten pounds is a life subscription. Without these the work could not be carried on, as, although the officers have always taken their part gratuitously, the necessary expenses of rent, printing, and storing could not be defrayed out of the often infinitesimal profits accruing from the sale of publications. From the first there has been the heartiest cooperation between clergy and laity in every branch of the society’s work; and the difficulties often arising from political differences have never in any way interfered with the work of the society. The society has the cordial approval and support of the highest ecclesiastical authorities, and is indulgenced by the Holy See. The movement has spread to Ireland, Scotland, the United States, and Australia. In addition to its literary work, for seventeen years the society held an annual Catholic conference, which formed an important event in English Catholic life. These gatherings, always largely attended by representative clergy and laity, were the occasion of important pronouncements by the archbishop or by other bishops, and afforded an opportunity for the elucidation and discussion of matters affecting the work and welfare of the Church in England. Their success paved the way for a development by which, from 1910, the society’s conference has been merged in the National Catholic Congress. The important work of providing reading for blind Catholics has been taken up by the society, which has established a circulating library of books of instruction, devotion, and fiction, printed in Braille type. It has also provided a number of lectures on matters connected with history and art, illustrated by suitable lantern slides. A special committee was formed in 1891 to work for the spiritual welfare of Catholic seamen of all classes, through the instrumentality of which Catholic seamen’s clubs and homes were opened. The society has also been the starting-point for other organizations which now have an independent existence—e.g. the Catholic Guardians’ Association, which has become a center of usefulness throughout the country, is the ultimate development of a local branch of the society, which made the distribution of literature to the inmates of workhouses and hospitals part of its work; the Catholic Social Guild took its rise in connection with one of the society’s conferences; and the Catholic Needlework Guild was initiated by one of its secretaries. The realization of its importance is already growing, and the society is doing effective work for the Catholic Church in England.
IN IRELAND.—The Catholic Truth Society of Ireland was organized at the meeting of the Maynooth-Union in 1899, with the stated purpose of diffusing “by means of cheap publications sound Catholic literature in popular form so as to give instruction and edification in a manner most likely to interest and attract the general reader”, and which would “create a taste for a pure and wholesome literature, and will also serve as an antidote against the poison of dangerous or immoral writings”. The society has received the earnest and practical support of the hierarchy and laity of Ireland, and has devoted its publications to sound national, historical, and biographical, as well as religious subjects in order to offset the demoralization of the output of the sensational press. In the first ten years of its existence 424 penny publications, with a circulation of over five million copies, were issued. It has also printed a prayer-book and other works in Gaelic. The annual conferences have brought together distinguished gatherings, and the addresses made and papers read at these meetings, printed in “The Catholic Truth Annual”, make a valuable compilation in the interest of the object for which the society was started. The society has its main office in Dublin and has over 800 members.
IN AUSTRALIA.—The Australian Catholic Truth Society was started in 1904, and has its headquarters in Melbourne. Its officers have been active in the dissemination of sound Catholic literature and in the spreading of publications that were an antidote to works subversive of faith and morals. On November 1, 1910, the society had 423 annual and 164 life members distributed over the Commonwealth and New Zealand and had published 679,375 pamphlets. Of its prayer-book 42,016 copies were sold. In 1910 it sent the Rev. Dr. Cleary on a mission around the world to establish a chain of agents for an international news service.
IN THE UNITED STATES.—The International Catholic Truth Society was incorporated in New York on April 24, 1900, the particular objects for which it was formed being: to answer inquiries of persons seeking information concerning the doctrines of the Catholic Church; to supply Catholic literature gratis to Catholics and non-Catholics who make request for the same; to correct erroneous and misleading statements in reference to Catholic doctrine and morals; to refute calumnies against the Catholic religion; to secure the publication of articles promoting a knowledge of Catholic affairs; to stimulate a desire for higher education among the Catholic laity, by printing and distributing lists of Catholic books, and otherwise to encourage the circulation and reading of standard Catholic literature; to generally assist in the dissemination of Catholic truth; and to perform other educational and missionary work. The territory in which its operations are principally conducted is in the United States of America and in Canada. The office of the society is in Brooklyn, the bishop of which diocese is its honorary president, and the Rev. W. N. McGinnis. S. T. D., its president.
According to the annual report for the year from March, 1910, to March, 1911, the society had 1005 members, 618 subscribers, and 118 affiliated societies. It had distributed during the year 199,188 pamphlets. A part of its work found to be of special benefit is the remailing of Catholic papers and magazines to people in out of the way sections. During the year 11,579 such families were supplied with 475,000 copies of Catholic weekly papers and magazines. Catholic items are supplied twice a month to 31 daily papers in various parts of the United States. In affiliation with this society, and acting as distributing centers, 94 Councils of the Knights of Columbus and 24 other organizations in various localities have been of material assistance in refuting calumnies against the Catholic religion, in publishing in the daily press articles that tend to promote a knowledge of Catholic affairs; in securing the removal of objectionable text-books from the public schools, or the expurgation from the textbooks of false and unjust statements concerning the Church; and generally assisting in the dissemination of Catholic truth. The society has established connections with agencies in fifteen foreign countries.
THOMAS F. MEEHAN