First Arkansan ordained a bishop while Europe goes to war

Catholics in Arkansas during 1938-1940 continued to grow their communities and work among their Protestant neighbors, all the while Europe again careened into war.
Churches continued to be built and dedicated, including St. Anne “shrine” in Levy, an area now part of North Little Rock, St. Richard Church in Bald Knob, Our Lady of the Lake Church in Lake Village, Sacred Heart Church in Foreman and St. Gabriel Church for the Colored in Hot Springs. Land for future churches were also donated in Marked Tree, Hardy and Russellville. A public Catholic library, the Newman Library at 102Ω West Capitol Avenue, opened in June 1938. Several Catholic institutions celebrated 50 years of service, including St. Vincent Infirmary in Little Rock, the Olivetan Sisters in Jonesboro and St. Joseph Infirmary in Hot Springs.

In The Guardian 1938-1940
Click here

Bishop John B. Morris traveled to Rome for his “ad limina” visit with the pope, leaving Arkansas on July 20, 1939. Reminiscent of his journey years earlier on the eve of the First World War, Bishop Morris again fled a Europe on the brink of war. “The bishop said that he believed persecution in Europe would now relent … ’Yes, it’s true they were nervous, but they are now calm, because they have realized for a long time that it was necessary to fight Hitler,’” the paper reported in a Sept. 15, 1935, article on his return.
Arkansas’ own Albert L. Fletcher became auxiliary bishop of Little Rock on April 25, 1940. He would assist Bishop Morris, who then had served 34 years in the diocese.

Conflict in Spain and Russia
The Spanish Civil War calmed down, at least in the ferocity of reports, as General Francisco Franco emerged as a leader in the Nationalist or “Rightists” front. Spain in 1940 was rebuilding.
Russia was still a battleground for the exercise of religious freedom, although a bleak front. The Guardian reported in the Feb. 19, 1938, article, “Orthodox resort to secret burial rite in Russia,” that out of the 1,642 churches in Moscow in 1917, only 20 remained. The article detailed how people in Russia were trying to hold onto their faith, resorting to secret blessings of clothes for the dead, as priests were not allowed in the cemeteries.
“At Kiev, the League of the Militant Godless revealed that out of 870 children, more than 600 wore crucifixes or some other pious image. One of the pupils explained, ’It is so that God will help us with our examinations.’ This particular pupil was expelled from school before examinations,” the paper reported.
Later articles reported on increased aggression and more killings to crush the people’s faith in God — including the reported firing squad execution of a Ruthenian archbishop, six bishops and 10 lay people in the Polish Ukraine, published in Oct. 27, 1939.

The Nazis
Unlike the First World War, the build-up to war came quicker. The rise of the Nazi regime and their war on Christianity, culture and any religion other than their own pagan-esque national religion was frequently in the news. The first clear talk of war surfaced in February 1938 with mention of Germany’s takeover of Austria.
“Hitler may drop war on religion,” a Feb. 26, 1938, headline proclaimed. “Although Washington is far removed from European political tumult, it has not altogether escaped the tremors of the Nazi seizure of Austria. … The widening of the dictatorship zone to cover all of central Europe would be a threat to the remaining democracies, and might easily lead to world repercussions,” the paper reported. In the article, Hitler and the Nazis assured Austria that they would not suppress their historical Catholic religious traditions.
That optimism was short-lived, as The Guardian began to report on the “Anschluss.” Similar attacks like those in Germany began soon after on Catholicism and religion in Austria — including censure of the Catholic press, ridicule of traditions and arrests of clergy.
M.P. Welch of Jonesboro went to Europe with his niece and visited the Eucharistic Congress in Budapest.
“War talk is heard a great deal. There seems to be much uneasiness and the people are unsettled, particularly in Austria where the people seem to be in extremely poor financial straits,” he said in a quote from Aug. 5, 1938.
The Nazis continued to agitate and work to expand their power base, with the first mentions of imprisoning people in concentration camps in late 1939. They encouraged mobs of supporters to destroy businesses and attack people openly. Previously, it was done secretly, out of public view.
Pope Pius XI broadcast a plea for peace in October 1938. His death of a heart attack in February 1939 was heralded by atheists as a victory, as their most ardent critic was gone. Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli was elected, becoming Pope Pius XII. He also consistently called for peace, asking “belligerent nations to be humane” in the Sept. 23, 1939, issue.
It was clear that by September 1939 nations were “warring,” although no headline definitely stated that Europe was at war, or that the world would be at war. Japan’s increasing political aspirations went mostly under the radar, with a few stories about missionaries helping the Chinese hurt in the Japanese aggression.
Pope Pius XII released an encyclical where “his holiness strikes at statism and racism,” The Guardian reported on Nov. 3, 1939. “And the nations, despite a difference of development due to diverse conditions of life and of culture, are not destined to break the unity of the human race, but rather to enrich and embellish it by the sharing of their own peculiar gifts and by that reciprocal interchange of goods which can be possible and efficacious only when a mutual love and a lively sense of charity unite all the sons of the same Father and all those redeemed by the same Divine Blood,” the pope wrote. The Nazis banned the encyclical.
Bishop Morris issued a pastoral where he “points the way to peace” in the Feb. 2, 1940, issue. “God has been denied and hated; He has been ostracized from his own world. What wonder that, along with God, man has also banished justice and charity which cannot exist without God,” the bishop wrote.

Next week: Stories from 1941-1943

In The Guardian 1938-1940
Forrest City opens parish school. Dominican nuns to teach parochial grades
His Excellency dedicates new hospital. … Benedictine sisters to manage municipal hospital
British doctor flays abortion case verdict
Russellville non-Catholics give site for church. Non-Catholics buy ground costing $1800 for church
Property is donated for future church in Hardy, Ark. Fr. Schaefer completing plans for stone structure
Notre Dame Sisters to teach in Conway school
Altus church famed for architecture, paintings. The beautiful old Church of Our Lady, Help of Christians, situated on a high hill overlooking Altus, is a landmark.
Added devotions help cause of Catholicity in Conway.
Mercy Sisters hold profession; No. Little Rock girl received
Ritz Grill, Little Rock’s Newest, 521 Main Street: Six course dinner with fish or meat, 50 cents
GloLite Electric Altar: This exquisite GloLite Electric Altar should burn in every Catholic home during the Lenten Season and on Easter Sunday, $5.95 post-paid
Candy Girl Dairy Ration (sweetened and iodized), 16% protein: A dairy ration containing the ingredients to keep your cows healthy and contented, just the right condition

Click here to see the index of stories in Arkansas Catholic’s time capsule series.

Latest from News