Chapter 7: Archbishop John F. Noll
We have the best government under the best Constitution in the world. — Archbishop John F. Noll
By the end of World War I, there was no doubt that the United States had finally matured as a nation. It had survived the struggling years of her adolescence and arrived on the world scene as one of the most powerful of nations.
Similarly, the Catholic Church in the United States also reached maturity by the end of World War I. Under Cardinal Gibbons, with the important aid of Archbishop Ireland, the Catholic Church was recognized as a powerful body wielding considerably more influence upon the country’s leaders than at any other time.
However, the fact that both our nation and the Catholic Church in the United States reached maturity together does not mean that there were no more fights to be had. It simply meant that they must face their fights in a new role, as world leaders. As a matter of fact, the three decades from 1920 to 1950, when Archbishop John F. Noll was doing his most important work, presented perhaps greater challenges to the Church and the country than any other period of their history together. By and large, the Church and the country faced the problems together.
The most serious problems during those three decades were the Great Depression, the rise of Fascism in Italy and Germany, the spread of Communism under Josef Stalin, World War II, and the Cold War that continued almost to the end of the twentieth century. Catholic leaders, including Archbishop Noll, were as active as any Americans in combating these problems.
In the 1930s, Americans did not consider Communism to be the danger and the threat they later recognized it to be. Communism was an avowed enemy of Fascism, particularly the Fascism of Germany under Hitler and Italy under Mussolini. During the civil war in Spain, the Communists actually succeeded in brainwashing millions of Americans into believing that the fight was a case of democracy versus Fascism and that the Spanish Loyalists were democratic.
Bishop John Francis Noll’s voice was one of the few that tried to show the complete fallacy of such belief. He was at least ten years ahead of many supposedly knowledgeable people in the United States when it came to recognizing the evils of Communism and the dangers of the Soviet state. Bishop Noll wrote often and vigorously against the spread of Communism during the 1930s, especially through his publication, Our Sunday Visitor, but also through his other writings.
In his book It Is Happening Here, he tried to show that Communism was “an imminent threat to our democracy, to our institutions, to our civil and religious liberties, to our inalienable rights.” The bishop began the book with this statement:
We have the best government under the best Constitution in the world. Let us preserve them in their present form by combating every un-American influence in our midst, and especially that which, based on pure materialism, is calculated to rob our nation of its attachment to religious and spiritual values, of its faith in God and trust in man.
It Is Happening Here presented documented evidence that literally millions of Americans, without realizing it, were actually promoting Communism through various organizations and associations. Bishop Noll demonstrated how Communism had managed to infiltrate such organizations as the American League Against War and Fascism, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Farmer Labor Party, and the American Federation of Teachers, as well as many of the country’s labor unions and even many Protestant church groups.
During the Spanish Civil War, an organization calling itself American Friends of Spanish Democracy actively campaigned for funds to aid the Loyalist cause. This Communist organization managed to convince many good Americans that the Loyalists were fighting for democracy. Bishop Noll wrote article after article, pointing out the true identity of the Loyalists and showing why, if there must be civil war in Spain, our sympathy should be with the rebels.
Bishop Noll’s words, however, did not reach enough people, or they were not convincing enough, for one of the great triumphs of Communism in this country was that the Communists were able to convince so many people of the righteousness of the Loyalists. The realization that Noll was right was acknowledged by thoughtful men only years later.
Yet even in the 1930s, when his voice was one of a minority of American patriots, Bishop Noll tried to point out the absurdity that Communism could be trying to bring democracy to Spain — or to anywhere else for that matter. He wrote:
On serious thought, it must be clear to anyone that Communism and democracy are opposites. Under a democracy people have something themselves to say about the government, while under Communism there is absolutely no choice. There is one party, and that is the party in control, whether by silent or bloody revolutions. The dictatorship is one not of the proletariat, but one over the proletariat.
Bishop Noll never ceased his fight against Communism, especially during World War II, when Russia was our ally in the fight against Germany and Italy. At times, Bishop Noll became quite unpopular during the war, when the “official line” was that Communist Russia was our friend. The bishop saw through this role Russia was playing, and he never stopped urging his countrymen to recognize the danger to the world of Communist Russia. He was in the forefront of those few patriots who promoted a foreign policy of permitting Germany and Russia to destroy each other during the war rather than to permit the United States to aid Russia — and thus build her up — to the future detriment of the United States.
Bishop Noll was, naturally, vehemently opposed to Fascism, too, but he recognized Communism as a greater evil. He wrote that there are several differences between Communism and Fascism, among them these:
1) Communism opposes the private ownership of property; Fascism does not.
(2) Fascism is not necessarily opposed to religion, while Communism is.
(3) Fascism is not the same in every country, while Communism is.
(4) As we know it, there is more freedom under Fascism than under Communism.
(5) Fascism was born of a desire to overcome Communism.
Archbishop Noll was best known for his work as founding editor of Our Sunday Visitor. He founded the publication in 1912 while he was still Father Noll and pastor of a parish in Huntington, Indiana. He edited the paper, and wrote at least two articles in every issue until illness forced him to stop a year before his death in 1956. Under his guidance, Our Sunday Visitor grew to become one of the most widely circulated Catholic newspapers in the world. It was mainly through Our Sunday Visitor and his numerous books and pamphlets (more than one hundred fifty pamphlets and fourteen books) that Archbishop Noll exercised his influence.
The founding of Our Sunday Visitor itself is testimony to Noll’s patriotism and love of his Church, because he founded Our Sunday Visitor to combat Socialism and anti-Catholicism. Between 1909 and 1912, the Socialist movement in the United States grew so rapidly that one of its publications, The Appeal to Reason, had a circulation of more than a million a week. Other Socialist papers and magazines were The People’s Press, The American Socialist, The Christian Socialist, and Melting Pot. The Socialist Party itself and the Socialist Labor Party had a following of several million people and constituted a formidable threat to the American way of life. This type of Socialism was actually Communism and advertised and recommended the writings of Marx, Hegel, and Engels.
The Appeal to Reason circulated chiefly among the laboring class. Soon this publication received numerous protests against its atheistic character by Catholics who, of course, were part of the laboring class. The party leaders, therefore, decided to split their propaganda. They reserved The Appeal for preaching the wonderful advantages of the Socialist way of life. Then they started a new publication called The Menace to propagandize against God and religion in general — and the Catholic Church in particular.
Gradually, The Menace became the leader of the two publications, as it reached the million mark in circulation, while The Appeal was left to languish. Since anti-Catholicism was apparently so successful as a moneymaking venture for The Menace, soon no less than thirty other publications became its imitators. The country was lashed by bigotry more than ever before in its history. Some of the picturesque titles of these anti-Catholic publications included The Peril, The American Defender, The American Sentinel, The Beacon Light, The Crescent, The Converted Catholic Evangelist, The Crusader, The Emancipator, The Guardian, The Good Citizen, The Jeffersonian, The Liberator, The Masses, The Patriot, The Silverton Journal, The Sentinel of Liberty, The Torch, Watson’s Magazine, and The Yellow Jacket.
Besides these anti-Catholic publications, there were also preachers who were sent around the country. They spoke to Socialist groups and various Protestant organizations to defame the Catholic Church — and always, of course, took up a collection and sold subscriptions to the anti-Catholic periodicals.
Father Noll decided it was vital to destroy The Menace and its imitators. Early in 1912, he had a printer reproduce two pages of The Menace and on their reverse side print a proposed Catholic answer in newspaper format. He mailed these samples to practically every Catholic pastor in the United States. With them he sent a letter asking the pastors if they would patronize a Catholic newspaper of equal size that would refute the false accusations of the anti-Catholic publications.
The response of the pastors was enthusiastic, so on May 5, 1912 Father Noll published his first issue of Our Sunday Visitor with a press run of thirty-five thousand copies. By the end of the first year, the circulation was two hundred thousand, and it doubled itself by the end of the second year. After that the circulation rose at a slower rate until it reached a circulation of more than nine hundred sixty thousand, with many issues in excess of one million. All of this from a small beginning in an Indiana town with a population of less than fifteen thousand, by the pastor of a local parish.
John Francis Noll was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana, in 1875, the sixth child of John George and Anna Ford Noll; his ancestry was half-German and half-Irish. Anna died when the future archbishop was less than four years old, and less than six months after the birth of her next child, Loretto (the grandmother of this book’s author). Later, John George married again, and his second wife, Mary McCleary, was to care for John Francis with great love. She had no time to spoil him, though, because Mary was to present her husband with twelve more children, so John Francis grew up with eighteen brothers and sisters.
The young John Noll always felt that he had a vocation to the priesthood, and he entered the Preparatory Seminary at St. Lawrence College, Mount Calvary, Wisconsin, in 1888. He received his philosophy and theology training at Mount St. Mary’s of the West, in Cincinnati, Ohio, and was ordained on June 4, 1898.
Father Noll’s first assignment as a priest was to Elkhart, Indiana. He was then sent to Logansport, Indiana, where he was an assistant pastor. His first pastorate was at Ligonier, where he had four other small towns as mission parishes. Later, he was transferred to Besancon, then to Hartford City, and finally, in 1910, to St. Mary’s Parish in Huntington.
By this time, Father Noll had already gained a reputation as a vigorous opponent of anti-Catholic lecturers. He would attend the lectures, making sure beforehand that he knew the personal history of the lecturer. Then, after the lecturer had had his say, Father Noll would jump to his feet, identify himself, and with his booming voice, supported by his large frame, begin to ask questions. He always managed to completely discredit the speaker, after which he would preach for a while about the true teachings of the Catholic Church. He would end by inviting his listeners to his own lectures about the teachings of the Church.
Father Noll first became a periodical publisher in 1908 while he was a pastor in Hartford City. Concerned that his parishioners were not receiving the Catholic instruction that he felt was so important, he began to think about a monthly magazine for them. The best thing of this sort that existed at that time was a thirty-two page monthly Catholic magazine called Truth, edited by Father Thomas Price, then a chaplain at an orphanage in Raleigh, North Carolina. (This same Father Price later met Father James Anthony Walsh of Boston, and together they founded the Catholic Foreign Mission Society of America, better known as Maryknoll. More information about Father Price is included in the chapter about additional patriotic Catholic churchmen of the United States.)
When his bundle of Truth arrived each month, Father Noll would take off the cover and substitute one of his own, calling the magazine The Parish Monthly. In addition to the regular contents of the magazine, he stitched in four or eight pages of local parish notes. When he explained to Father Price that this was how he was using the magazine, Father Price recommended to other clergy that the idea be taken up more generally.
After a while, though, Father Noll discovered that he had a talent for writing, and he could easily write the thirty-two pages of the magazine himself. When he did so, some of the neighboring pastors asked for copies of the magazine for their own parishes. Soon, more than two hundred parishes were ordering the magazine and defraying expenses by selling advertising to local merchants.
In 1910, when Father Noll was transferred to Huntington, Indiana, he took The Parish Monthly with him. He then had to find a printer at his new location. It happened that one of the two newspapers in Huntington bought the other one, and an entire printing plant was available. Father Noll bought the plant, with borrowed money, and then had more than enough equipment to produce his monthly magazine. When the provocation of The Menace made him decide to combat it, he had a fully equipped printing plant ready to produce Our Sunday Visitor.
Father Noll’s original purpose for founding Our Sunday Visitor (to kill the socialistic and anti-Catholic publication, The Menace) was successful. After having financial problems, The Menace finally died, and, in 1919, the plant that had published it burned down. The plant’s insurance company refused to honor the insurance claim because it believed the owners had started the fire.
Father Noll also founded The Acolyte in 1925. It was renamed The Priest in 1945 and is still being published today.
In addition to his periodicals, Father Noll was also the author of many best-selling books and pamphlets on almost every religious subject imaginable in his day. His book Father Smith Instructs Jackson was reprinted more than eighty times and reached more people than any other Catholic book except Cardinal Gibbons’ Faith of Our Fathers. It was used by thousands of converts to Catholicism in their instruction courses. His other books included Catholic Facts, statistical facts about the Catholic Church throughout the world; Civilization’s Builder and Protector, which gives the testimony of one hundred non-Catholic scholars and historians that the Catholic Church has throughout its history been the builder and protector of Christian civilization; The Fairest Argument, a five-hundred page book in which the bishop used only non-Catholic statements to defend the entire Catholic system of doctrine and practice; It Is Happening Here, which was discussed above; The Decline of Nations, which authenticates the gradual deterioration of morals, public and private, and the weakening of the Faith during the previous fifty years; Our National Enemy Number One, dealing with criticism by non-Catholics of the American public school system for eliminating religious instruction from the curriculum; A Catechism on Birth Control; Catechism on Lewd Literature; the History of the Diocese of Fort Wayne; and four volumes entitled Religion and Life for use in Catholic high schools as a textbook.
The biography of Bishop Noll is necessarily the story of the Church in the United States in the past fifty years. There are some few rare individuals whose lives are so intertwined with the events in their arena of living that they epitomize in themselves whole phases of the history of their times. Bishop Noll is one of those individuals.
The late Cardinal Samuel Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago, spoke the words quoted above on June 30, 1950, at the celebration of Bishop Noll’s silver jubilee as a bishop. From the time of his consecration as the bishop of Fort Wayne in 1925, he was one of the leaders of the Catholic Church in the United States. Again quoting Cardinal Stritch: “Even a cursory glance at his record makes us wonder how one man, even a great, good man, could have done so many things for the Church. The answer is clear; Bishop Noll has one passion, one vehement passion, one almost boundless passion, and that is his love for the Church.”
Every fall, the bishops of the United States meet in Washington, D.C. In 1925, no sooner had the new bishop of Fort Wayne entered the meeting room than Cardinal William O’Connell of Boston called him to the rostrum to serve as secretary. He was kept as secretary for several years.
At that same meeting in 1925, Bishop Noll was elected treasurer of the American Board of Catholic Missions, a position he retained until his death. He always had great interest in the missions. He served on the board of governors of the Catholic Church Extension Society, was one of the first to aid Maryknoll, and, through Our Sunday Visitor, had been supporting ten schools for Mexicans in the Archdiocese of San Antonio, all before the American Board of Catholic Missions was founded in 1924. In addition, earlier in 1925 he had built a motherhouse for the Missionary Catechists of Our Lady of Victory just outside of Huntington. The Missionary Sisters (as they began to be called in 1947) worked, and still work, among the Mexican children in the southwestern United States.
In 1927, Bishop Noll, having been a bishop for only two years, was elected to one of the seven top administrative posts of the National Catholic Welfare Conference, and he retained this position throughout most of his life. He was also episcopal chairman of Lay Organizations, comprising the National Council of Catholic Men, the National Council of Catholic Women, and the National Council of Catholic Nurses.
Bishop Noll was chosen to represent the American bishops at the International Catholic Week in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1930. At this meeting were assembled some of the greatest writers of the time — each to speak for the Catholics of his country. The audience to whom the speakers spoke was composed almost entirely of the delegates to the League of Nations. While in Geneva, the bishop made it a point to attend sessions of the League of Nations.
The other American bishops also appointed Bishop Noll as one of the original committee of four that formed the Legion of Decency in 1933. In 1937 he launched a drive against printed pornography that culminated in his selection as chairman of a committee that organized the National Organization for Decent Literature.
In 1943, Bishop Noll raised, through Our Sunday Visitor, one hundred fifty thousand dollars toward the erection of the façade of the National Catholic Welfare Conference building in Washington, D.C. The building served as an appropriate background for the statue “Christ, the Light of the World,” which was also contributed by the readers of Our Sunday Visitor. The statue is a twenty-two foot bronze figure that was dedicated by the apostolic delegate in May of 1949. When the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops moved to new headquarters in Washington, the statue was also moved.
In 1946, Bishop Noll became the head of a committee of archbishops and bishops to raise five million dollars for the completion of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. Unfortunately, he did not live to see the completion of the shrine. A bust of him is prominently displayed in the shrine, however, in a place of honor to commemorate his contributions toward the completion of the Shrine.
On September 2, 1953, Pope Pius XII raised Bishop Noll to the personal rank of archbishop. The honor was bestowed “in recognition of his long apologetic service to the Church through the press and as a pioneer among bishops who established and extended the National Catholic Welfare Conference in Washington.” His work for the NCWC toward the conference’s building was also noted, as was his chairmanship of the committee to raise funds to complete the National Shrine. Today there are plaques in both the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops building and in the National Shrine praising the work of Archbishop Noll.
The archbishop was also honored by the Catholic Press Association in 1953 with a special plaque for his “monumental contributions” to the Catholic press. He had been one of the founders of the Catholic Press Association in addition to his other work for the Catholic press.
In 1928, the Democratic Party nominated Alfred E. Smith, a Catholic, as its candidate for president of the United States — the first time a Catholic had ever been nominated for the highest office in the land. Thirty-two years later, in 1960, a Catholic would be elected president. Considerable anti-Catholic literature appeared in the campaign of 1960, but it was all mild in comparison with the violence with which anti-Catholicism burst on the scene before the 1928 election; this is testimony to the progress made by Catholic Church leaders between 1928 and 1960 in proving to their fellow countrymen that Catholics are loyal citizens.
During the 1928 presidential campaign, the Democratic Party simply wasn’t prepared for the wave of anti-Catholicism that overtook the country. Smith quickly became “Alcoholic Smith” (because the repeal of prohibition was a plank in the Democratic platform) — “the craven minion of the pope, already preparing to take over the White House as an American Vatican.” Herbert Hoover, on the other hand, although he didn’t seek the role, was cast as “the White Knight of Americanism, loins girt and lance upraised to save the country from the black hell of Romanism.”
John J. Raskob, chairman of the National Democratic Committee (and also a Catholic), chose Michael Williams, the editor of The Commonweal, to handle the religious angle of the campaign for Smith. Williams, in turn, went to the man he knew was best able to marshal the forces of truth in the fray — Bishop Noll.
Bishop Noll assembled a huge scrapbook of the anti-Catholic literature that suddenly flooded the country. He duplicated them by Photostat and distributed them to other members of the hierarchy, important priests, and various civil leaders. The literature was not hard to find because numerous publications appeared with the sole purpose of poisoning the minds of the American people against the Catholic Church. Some of the publications, such as The American Freeman and the Ku Klux Klan paper, The Fellowship Forum, had vast circulations and the backing of powerful organizations. Books and tracts appeared in bookstores — books like Three Keys to Hell, or Rum, Romanism, and Ruin; House of Death and Gate of Hell; and The Pope and the War.
Each week in Our Sunday Visitor, Bishop Noll took up the latest batch of accusations and patiently answered them point by point from the writings of historians and theologians. At the same time he was careful not to urge his readers to vote for Smith or to impugn the Republican Party in any way. As a matter of fact, the entire Catholic Church in the United States was careful in this respect. No cardinal, archbishop, or bishop endorsed Smith. The annual bishops’ meeting, usually held in October, was purposely postponed until mid-November so nobody would suspect that the bishops met to discuss politics. The convention of the National Council of Catholic Men was also postponed for the same reason, and when the Knights of Columbus met in August, the chairman opened the proceedings by declaring that “if any delegate should so much as mention the name of either candidate for the presidency, he will be declared out of order.”
Although the Catholic Church bent over backwards to avoid politics, some of the Protestant churches did not. A Methodist bishop declared, “We have sent out one million pledge cards to southern Democrats to pledge themselves to vote and work against Smith, to contribute money, and organize anti-Smith clubs.” And the National Lutheran Editors’ Association, at a meeting in Columbus, Ohio, passed a resolution stating that “the peculiar allegiance that a faithful Catholic owes to the teachings of his Church, toward a foreign sovereign, who also claims supremacy in secular affairs, may clash with the best interests of the country.”
When the National Lutheran Editors’ Association made this statement, the general secretary of the National Catholic Welfare Conference asked Bishop Noll to issue a rebuttal. The bishop did so, basing the rebuttal entirely on the writings of Protestants. The Associated Press carried this rebuttal, and the editors of The Atlantic Monthly considered the issue so important that it published a debate on the subject.
An interesting aspect of the 1928 presidential election is that the critics of the Catholic Church and of Alfred E. Smith failed to consider the many prominent Catholics who were Republicans. Joseph Scott, a Catholic and a Knight of St. Gregory, delivered Herbert Hoover’s nomination speech at the convention. Colonel P.H. Callahan of Louisville, one of Hoover’s principal backers, had headed the Religious Prejudice Commission of the Knights of Columbus ¬during and after World War I, and was also a papal knight. Senator Charles Curtis, who was Hoover’s running mate on the Republican ticket, had been baptized a Catholic. And a Catholic priest, a close personal friend of Herbert Hoover, had officiated at Hoover’s wedding.
Al Smith, “The Happy Warrior” as Franklin D. Roosevelt had called him, went down in what has been called “the most glorious defeat ever experienced by a presidential candidate.” However, Bishop Noll felt that this defeat did no lasting harm to the Catholic Church. In fact, it might have done some good because it brought bigotry out into the open and gave many fair-minded people an opportunity, for many of them the first such opportunity, to learn the truth about the teachings of the Catholic Church.
Ellery Sedgwick, editor of The Atlantic Monthly, was able to express his admiration for “the dignity, the forbearance, and the good citizenship of the Roman Catholic clergy in America.” He continued:
To the Americanism preached by Ireland and Gibbons is now added the Americanism practiced by Smith. The Catholic Church in America is in the civic sense an American church. Ultramontanism is in this country a lost cause. To the limbo where it belongs, Protestant bigotry must follow. The conduct of the Church, high above reproach in this bad crisis, will not be forgotten.
In the process of defending the Church against the forces of anti-Catholicism, Bishop Noll wrote often about the separation of Church and State. He, like Cardinal Gibbons and others before him, emphasized the difference between this separation in the United States and that practiced in some European countries:
In the United States, not only is perfect freedom granted to all religions to carry on their work without interference from the State, but the Church’s religious activities are actively encouraged by the State. This sort of separation of Church and State has always been quite satisfactory to the Catholic Church, which demands only liberty to execute her divine mission. But in European countries separation of Church and State has almost invariably meant a great curtailment of religious activities after the confiscation of property of the Church and the closing of its schools.
When discussing this subject, the bishop always asked for the meaning of the words “separation of Church and State.” “Do you understand it in the American sense of ‘a free Church in a free State,’ or in the European sense of ‘an enslaved Church in an anti-religious State’?” He was, however, also quick to point out that the Catholic Church does not believe in absolute separation of Church and State:
The Church’s clear teaching is that there should be cooperation rather than antagonism between the State and Church because both deal with the same citizens, one in relation to his eternal interests and the other in relation to his temporal interests. Where practically all the people of a nation are also members of the one Church, under the democratic principle that the people rule, there certainly should not be a complete separation of Church and State, especially not such separation as enemies of the Church demand, which consists in the subjugation of the Church, divinely commissioned to promote religion and morality, to the State. Where is the recognition of people’s inalienable rights to liberty or religious practice and the pursuit of eternal happiness under such conditions?
Bishop Noll also consistently pointed out that the problem of the union of Church and State was far more often found in Protestant countries than in Catholic countries. Such union in Protestant countries was also much closer than in Catholic countries, because in Protestant countries Church and State were usually united in the same individual. The head of the State was also head of the Church. Thus, he wrote, until World War I, Russia, Germany, England, Norway, and Sweden had such a union of Church and State.
Although he did not want a union of Church and State in the United States, Bishop Noll wrote and spoke vigorously against those who promoted the “separation of religious influence from the lives of the people and the nation.” He felt strongly that America could be strong only when its citizens obeyed moral principles. “Genuine citizenship is based on justice,” he wrote, “as is also a sound social and economic order, but there can be no justice without religion.”
He also wrote, “Good citizenship presupposes the training of youth along the lines of virtue.” This was what prompted him to campaign so vigorously in article after article in Our Sunday Visitor and in his book Our National Enemy Number One for returning God to the classroom. He wrote:
What a wonderful opportunity America has had to foster the old-fashioned patriotism in the schools of the nation, and what little advantage has been taken of this opportunity! Since patriotism can best be built on a religious foundation, what a blunder has been made in keeping religion out of the school curriculum as something which is of no concern to the nation!
While defining “our national enemy number one” as “education without religion,” Bishop Noll emphasized that he had not the slightest hostility toward public schools. He had no objections, he said, to what is taught in the public schools, but rather to “what is not taught in the schools.” His criticism was of the “system completely divorced from the inspiration of religion” which, he said, is also “out of keeping with the beliefs of the majority of the people.”
He emphasized that religious schools antedated the non-religious schools by many decades, so it was incorrect to say that non-religious schools were an American tradition. He pointed out that “Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton, and Lincoln never sat in a public school room; neither did Theodore nor Franklin Roosevelt.” He sincerely believed that there could be nothing unconstitutional about teaching the fundamentals of religion in the public schools. He felt that the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and other American documents were themselves based on religious principles, and that “the Constitution merely provides that no particular form of religion be recognized, no established church — which is an entirely different thing from an implied endorsement of the atheistic policy now in vogue in the schools.”
Bishop Noll also tried to make it clear that his advocacy of religious instruction in public schools was not recommended because he thought this would help Catholics in some way, because “they will continue to conduct their own schools.” Rather, he felt this was important to the country at large because he considered it imperative for good citizenship for children to know the fundamentals of religion.
It was probably his fight against Communism, which he seemingly waged alone for many years, that best shows Archbishop Noll’s intense patriotism. When Stalin and Hitler signed the Nazi-Soviet Pact of August 1939, he thought that Communism would finally be recognized for the evil that it was. He was able to write:
Communism itself has not changed its face nor its aims and objectives, and what its great high priest has recently done to destroy the confidence of the world in its declared purposes, the writer has, for the past ten years, declared that it would likely do. The many who until recent months believed that we had taken Communism too seriously, and had unwarrantedly held that millions of Americans were unwittingly promoting its interest, are now telling us that they were wrong and that we were right.
It is really interesting to behold men who could not be induced, even to save their face before the public, to denounce Communism in the same breath with Fascism, now bitterly excoriating Stalin and all that he stands for.
The bishop had to frankly bemoan the fact that others in the United States who had control of the communications media did not show the patriotism he had. The morale of America at the beginning of World War II, he said, would have been one hundred percent higher if these people had “all cooperated in holding up the American form of government as the best ever devised, and if they had done all in their power to promote a brotherhood of love rather than to divide the citizenry into groups controlled by mutual animosities and hates.”
Unfortunately, the bishop’s confidence that most people would recognize the evils of Communism after the Nazi-Soviet Pact did not prove true. After Germany attacked Russia and the Soviet Union became our ally, Communism regained its good name. Yet, throughout the war, Bishop Noll never stopped writing against Communism. This was not the most popular thing to do, because the Soviet Union was supposed to be our friend, and our governments were cooperating in trying to defeat Germany. Nevertheless, Bishop Noll had the courage of his convictions, and, as history has shown, he was right.
He protested vehemently when Roosevelt, Stalin, and Churchill met to plan the future of Europe and the United States permitted Russia to take over the Eastern European countries that remained Soviet-dominated until the 1990s. He was particularly concerned about the betrayal of Poland into Communist hands because so many Americans of Polish ancestry had given their lives in the war against Germany and because the Catholic country was being delivered into the hands of the atheists. If Bishop Noll’s warnings had been heeded, the United States would have avoided many of the problems it was faced with throughout the Cold War.
When Archbishop Noll died on July 31, 1956, at the age of eighty-one, tributes by the thousands poured into the offices of Our Sunday Visitor. Cardinal Francis Spellman of New York called him “outstanding as a citizen, as a priest, and as a bishop.” Other tributes called him a leader in the Church in the United States who would be deeply missed.
Excerpted from Patriotic Leaders of the Church by John F. Fink. Copyright © 2004 Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division, Our Sunday Visitor, Inc. All rights reserved.