By Marcel Van Hemelryck, CICM
Edited by Bill Wyndaele, CICM
Father Dieltiens had a truly apostolic heart; he could not let go unheeded a unique opportunity to advance the cause of the missions. All possibilities were discussed at length with his fellow missionaries of Maryknoll, with Dr. Collins, in Philadelphia, and there soon emerged in his mind a plan of action and he could not wait until the end of the World War to start working it out, so as to be ready to present concrete propositions to the General Council once communications would be reestablished. Cardinal Dougherty's old friendship for our Philippines Missioners afforded a precious opportunity to test the plan for eventual missionary work among Colored in the United States. On September 3, 1944, only nine months after his arrival in the States, Father Dieltiens submitted to His Eminence a detailed memoir in French about the project, with all due protest that he was in no position to make any definite commitments for the Congregation but was exploring possibilities to be able to present in due time definite propositions to the authority of the Society.
“In September, 1944, His Eminence Cardinal Dougherty invited Father Dieltiens to discuss the matter of the possible participation of our confreres in the apostolate among the blacks in Philadelphia with the Most Rev. Hugh Lamb, Auxiliary Bishop. The latter declared himself in favor of such cooperation and stated that, if we could help the American Episcopate to acquit themselves of this grave responsibility, nobody would have the right to resent our collecting all material help for our Foreign Missions.” De Clerq, CICM, Victor C., Missionhurst-C.I.C.M. In the U.S.A. 1944-1949, pg. 26.
The letter reflects so plainly the idea Father Dieltiens had formed himself of his cherished plan of establishing the Society in America, that we cannot resist translating it here almost in its entirety. After a brief report about the success of his promotion work since his arrival in the Country and expressions of gratitude to His Eminence and other personalities for their patronage, Father Dieltiens states the purpose of the long memoire he is addressing to the Cardinal: “My purpose is to expose the actual situation (of our Missions) which, due to the war, has become extremely difficult, and to suggest a project which could afford a remedy to our difficulties." "This is the second time in my missionary life, that we have to start again from scratch. It is clear that if we had been established in the United States, we would have kept and saved our funds and through them our works in the Missions. The fact of being established in this Country, would give us greater stability, which is necessary for missionary work as extensive and widely spread over the world, as are, thanks to God, our missions. All this suggests strongly our establishment "in this Country ."
"Experience has abundantly proven to me, that Missionary Societies and Congregations represented in the United States, have suffered much less from being severed from their basis in Europe, because assistance continued to come to them from America. Mass stipends alone provided already in their most pressing needs." "Besides, there is something of greater interest from the missionary point of view. The Negro population of the United States offers an extensive field of apostolate, where the number of missionaries is still very inadequate. Our Congregation whose activity is exclusively missionary, would find there a very useful work and could join the other Congregations already active in this field."
"Another point worth mentioning is this: I learned from the Belgian Information Bureau of New York, that educated Negroes in this Country, show extremely great interest in Belgian activity in the Congo and follow closely what is happening there and the realized progress. On the other hand, I was told by our Fathers in the Congo that the Congolese show increasing interest in the fate of their brethren in America. Everything points to the fact that close relations will soon be established between these two groups. It is certainly desirable, if not absolutely necessary, that the missionaries on both sides take the lead here, which would be for the greater ad- vantage of all concerned, while if these relations are left to chance, they could easily become extremely harmful."
"It must be understood, that neither my Superior in the Missions, nor I myself enjoy the authority to start new foundations in new countries. Only the Superior General with his council, has the power to take such decision. What is their opinion on the subject? I have no direct information about it. - I have however reasons to think that the general opinion would be all in favor of it. In May 1941, during a general meeting of our Bishops and Provincials of China Missions, held in our Procure of Tientsin where I was Procurator at the time, the question was raised and all showed they were in favor of the idea and regretted it had not been done long ago. "
"In this Country, all those interested in us, as the Maryknoll Fathers advised me to work in this direction. But, from the start a serious difficulty presents itself, namely: the financial difficulty due to our present situation. The only possible solution, would be that we take charge of a parish, whose white population is gradually replaced by Colored people. Such a parish, having already a church, a rectory, school and convent, and no debts, would offer a solution to our entire problem."
"Several instances of suchlike situation have been pointed out to me in Philadelphia. St. Charles Borromeo, I was told, will be entirely Colored in the near future. Evidently, this would afford us the necessary start, the rest would follow: "et Deus incrementum daret". With the blessings of Divine Providence, our missioners would eventually succeed like they have succeeded everywhere else. Here then is stated our plan for the future. If it is judged acceptable, we could submit it to the Superiors of Scheut for approval, as soon as communications are re-established, which couldn't stay out too long now that Belgium is liberated." (TO BE CONTINUED...)
Bishop Emmet M. Walsh, Diocese of South Carolina, suggested a local priest of Kingstree, South Carolina and wrote to Van Hemelryck on August 6 1949, asking that he consider work among the Colored in the County of Williamsburg. He writes, “(I)t will interest you to know that there are about forty thousand persons within the borders of the county and between two thirds and three quarters of the population is made up of members of the negro race. The percentage is constantly on the increase in their favor.” A recent Mission in the villages “had groups from two hundred to seven hundred colored persons attending and giving to us their profound and respectful attention.” (from Rev. Patrick T. Quinlan of St. Ann’s Mission Parish)