Catholic Church Extension Society celebrates 100-year anniversaries

BOSTON — The Catholic Church Extension Society celebrated its centennial in 2005 and this year the Chicago-based national organization’s award winning monthly publication, Extension magazine celebrates its 100-year anniversary.

When Sister Judy Morris, OP, a field representative for the Extension Society, contacted The Pilot staff about running an article on the anniversary we asked for a “local hook.” The hook came in the form of a number of articles that had appeared in Extension magazine — stories about the well-known lend-lease priest program of the Boston Archdiocese, a brother with years of service in Andover, and then-Bishop Seán P. O’Malley.

The Catholic Church Extension Society was founded as a means of helping the home missions, for example those parts of the United States that were “mission” territory for the Catholic Church. Over the century of its existence the society has supported parishioners, women and men religious, priests and bishops, parish and dioceses and a host of individual institutions across the country.

If the continental United States were divided into quarters, it would be safe to say that the northeast quadrant was — and remains for the moment — the most Catholic; from Washington, D.C. across to St. Louis, north on the Mississippi to Lake Superior and then east along the U.S.-Canadian border.

Whether in terms of Catholic population, numbers of priests and religious, Catholic institutions — educational, charitable, social and medical — this area was evidently Catholic. It was to these very people that the Extension Society first reached out for support.

Personal appeals and testimony of “Home missionaries” engendered response: vocations for home missions increased, money collected made its way south and west and soon the picture of Catholicism was changing. No longer was it simply a minority religion in many counties, but now was present in the increased numbers of Catholics — some who moved from largely Catholic areas to those less so. Many converts were attracted to the faith by neighboring Catholics who diligently practiced the faith, or by train and truck-riding priests who covered vast sections of the country visiting widely dispersed parishes and people and drawing others to a deeper appreciation of the Catholic faith.

In 1991, Extension magazine featured “When priests were in surplus,” an article written about the priests from Boston, and other “priest rich” dioceses of the east coast, who went to the midwest and northwest parts of the country to serve in dioceses less blessed with priests. In this case, the Extension Society supported the parishes and people to which the priests were going.

Two years earlier, there was an article about the devastation that Hurricane Hugo wreaked on the southeastern part of the United States. The story focused on the Diocese of St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands when our own archbishop, Cardinal O’Malley, was bishop of the tropical island see. The generosity of the Extension Society to then-Bishop O’Malley helped him rebuild a diocese that was almost totally wiped out.

In June 2004, another article introduced Franciscan Brother Paul O’Brien of Greasewood, Ariz. who served for 10 years at the Franciscan Center in Andover. He now serves in a very rural section of Arizona.

Brother Paul spends time visiting the sick, meeting local people — including many Mormons whose young missionaries are active in the area — transporting folks to Mass and being the Church to those who might not otherwise meet the Church.

Over its past 100 years, both the Extension Society and its magazine seem to have met the challenge of their name and mission — extending the Catholic Church beyond its northeastern borders and making it present in an obvious way in people lives, in institutions, and in community outreach and service.