American Board of Catholic Missions

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The ABCM traces its origins back to 1919, when 17 directors of Catholic home and foreign missionary societies met at the University of Notre Dame, Ind., to discuss feasible ways of cooperating in the solicitation of contributions. They recommended a plan of organization to the bishops of the U.S., who at their annual meeting the same year appointed a committee to coordinate and stimulate the missionary endeavors of the whole country. This committee, under the chairmanship of Henry Moeller, archbishop of Cincinnati, Ohio, assumed the title of American Board of Catholic Missions.

Although the board, with the assistance of an advisory council of priests representing various missionary bodies, intended to aid and promote Catholic missions in every part of the world, it had to alter its program and to confine its support to the home missions after the Holy See (1922) reorganized the Pontifical Society for the propagation of the faith, which was thenceforth in the U.S. and elsewhere to operate independently under its own director for the benefit of the foreign missions.

After negotiations with the Holy See, a new plan of organization, drawn up under the leadership of Francis C. Kelley, Bishop of Oklahoma, was adopted by the American hierarchy at their annual meeting of 1924 and was approved by Pius XI on November 7 of the same year. At their next annual meeting the bishops elected a new board of six members; the first meeting was held in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 15, 1925, and Cardinal George Mundelein, archbishop of Chicago, Ill., was chosen as president, Bishop Kelley as secretary, and John Francis Noll, bishop of Fort Wayne, Ind., as treasurer; headquarters were located permanently in Chicago.

In 1946 it was resolved that the archbishop of Chicago should be ipso facto the president of the ABCM; at the same time William D. O'Brien, auxiliary bishop of Chicago and president of the Catholic Church Extension Society, was appointed permanent secretary, and Bishop Noll was appointed permanent treasurer; they both held these offices until their deaths in 1962 and 1956 respectively. In 1965 there were nine nonpermanent members, elected for five-year terms by the bishops of the U.S. at their annual meetings. The board meets regularly once a year, usually in November; it issues a printed financial report to the bishops of the United States.

The ABCM serves principally as a center for the collection and distribution of funds for the "missions in the territory and for the inhabitants of the United States and of its possessions which do not receive aid from the Society for the Propagation of the Faith." As its main source of income it receives 40 percent of the dues paid for membership in the Society for the Propagation of the Faith and of the collection taken up in all the parishes once a year on Mission Sunday. In distributing the money the board correlates its allotments with those of the Extension Society and other Catholic national institutes and agencies.

The board gives two sorts of grants, namely, ordinary grants to bishops who have requested subventions for the missions in their dioceses and extraordinary grants for work among the Spanish-speaking Catholics in the Southwest and among the African American Catholics in the South. Moreover, even after the Philippines became independent, the board continued to send subsidies to the Church in that country until 1964. In that same year it was also decided that bishops who have priests or laymen working in Latin America may be given some financial aid upon application.

In 1972, the ABCM was reconstituted as a standing committee of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB). Subsequently, it was renamed the Bishops' Committee on the Home Missions.

[r. trisco/eds.]

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American Board of Catholic Missions

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American Board of Catholic Missions