Those especially interested in the Church’s relationship to the world and its efforts to be a light in the darkness of war and conflict will appreciate Joseph S. Rossi’s Unchartered Territory. In this very readable account of the efforts of the Social Action Department of the National Catholic Welfare Council through the Director of the UN office of that Council, Catherine Schaefer, Rossi shares with his readers the inside story of a very important period in the American Catholic Church.
Drawing on archival material from the NCWC, the papers of Catherine Schaefer, and more, Rossi expertly explores the magnanimous efforts of Catherine Schaefer to influence the international policies of the United Nations on behalf of the worldwide Church. Her vision was indeed grand, as were her efforts to galvanize support for her vision through an international Catholic network of consultants to the United Nations.
Rossi admits that Schaefer’s efforts may not have been entirely comprehended or appreciated by those who entrusted her with oversight of the UN office of the NCWC. Still, for twenty-five years, she faithfully reported the activities of her office, drawing upon papal and NCWC writings and other sources of twentieth century Catholic social thought for inspiration. Ever in the thick of the struggle for human rights, of one sort or another, Catherine Schaefer understood that articulation and promulgation of a vision did not equate to its realization without much hard work. This she offered to the Catholic enterprise to make known the riches of the Gospel message about “God’s Love for Men,” a creed reflected in a statement that Schaefer jointly made in 1967 with two others associated with the NCWC’s efforts on behalf of justice worldwide. For twenty-five years, Catherine Schaefer lived and exercised this faith-inspired hope under the auspices of the hierarchy of the American Catholic Church, only to have the office of which she was Director closed in 1972 by the same.
Now technically known as the National Council of Catholic Bishops/United States Catholic Conference of Bishops, the hierarchy of the American Catholic Church decided to close Catherine Schaefer’s office after reviewing the NCCB/USCCB mission, activities and structure and coming to the conclusion that its purpose was more domestic than international in orientation and that resources were limited accordingly. The decision was not without ramifications, as an international outcry from various international Catholic organizations resulted from the announcement. Nevertheless, the decision to close the office remained as the only sensible course in light of the Vatican’s own representation at the United Nations.
The Vatican appointment was not reflective of a failure on its part to appreciate the work of Catherine Schaefer and others in coordinating and promulgating the mission of the Church in the world. The Vatican acknowledged as beneficial the incredible network of international consultants that Schaefer organized and appreciated the support Catherine Schaefer’s office had provided to advance the work of the various interest groups. Unfortunately, however, the Vatican’s moral support did not equate to its financial support. Rather, the NCCB/USCCB would have to provide for this. Hence, the decision to close the UN office of the NCCB, for its mission did not warrant funding for such activities. Fortunately, for the Church worldwide, while the closing of the office might have dampened spirits around the world, it did not stop the promulgation of “God’s Love for Men” and for this, we can be thankful. We can also be thankful for the wonderful addition that we have in this work to an already fine library of American Catholic resources.