'For We Are God's Helpers'

The Life of Monsignor Anthony Brouwers --
Visionary of the Lay Mission Movement

by R. W. Dellinger

Chapter Eight

Opposition from Two Fronts

"God's Peace Corps," however, faced stiff opposition from critics both in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles as well as from one of the leading churchmen of his day, who happened to be the U.S. director of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith.

         Father Brouwers was a prolific public speaker, who made presentations to women's guilds, Knights of Columbus chapters, confirmation classes and many other groups. Here he delivers a radio address.                   Proud mother Henrietta Brouwers poses with her son and Cardinal Manning.

In 1962, when Father Francis J. Weber, a couple years out of the seminary, was starting his lengthy career as archivist at the chancery, Monsignor Anthony Brouwers' career in the Mission Office was beginning to wind down. In less than a year, the priest's cancer would progress to a terminal stage, confining him to a wheelchair and, eventually, to Daniel Freeman Memorial Hospital. "I didn't know him personally," reports now-Monsignor Weber, "so I can just tell you what I observed from the outside, because I was the young kid on the block. Nobody understood what archives were all about, so I was sort of tolerated.

"Tony had the smallest office in the building. It was over against the wall and downstairs, and everybody used to wonder how he could even function in there. He was one of the people everybody liked. Very kind and gentle. I never remember seeing him upset. He was very busy, going either with Bishop Manning, as his first secretary, to confirmations or out to all the Mission Circle meetings.

"He was very devoted to missionary work" he adds. "And even after he got sick with spinal cancer, which is very painful, he kept coming into the office right down to the very end."

With a straight face, Monsignor Weber says that he has not "gotten very far" in his own clerical career, still holding down the fort as the Los Angeles Archdiocese's official archivist after 42 years. He has written, edited, translated, compiled and published over 100 manuscripts, including the Encyclopedia of California's Catholic Heritage, Memories of an Old Country Priest, Magnificat: The Life and Times of Timothy Cardinal Manning and the 1997 two-volume official biography of Cardinal James Francis Mclntyre: His Eminence of Los Angeles.

The latter legendary churchman enjoyed playing devil's advocate when one of his priests came to him with a new idea, according to his biographer, which is exactly what Father Brouwers did in the early spring of 1955, when he pitched the idea of starting a bold program to train and send lay people to the missions. The one-time Wall Street tycoon would have asked the 42-year-old priest some very tough questions, especially about who was going to pay for all this.

"Mclntyre probably gave him some problems at first," Monsignor Weber acknowledges. "The basic thing he'd want would be for it to be able to function independently of the diocese financially. And that was very difficult to do, which shows you how savvy Brouwers was. With over 50 Mission Circles in parishes plus individual sponsors, he realized it could be self-supporting -- and it was.

"So Mclntyre not only bought it, he was enthusiastic about it. Others might tell you he wasn't, but I saw the papers, and it was very clear he was enthused. He never went into anything half-heartedly. As a former stockbroker, he had a sharp financial eye and could see that this could work. So he openly backed the Lay Mission-Helpers, and even went to a few of the countries where they were stationed.

"I imagine Brouwers had some very interesting conversations with Mclntyre," he adds with a quarter grin. "See, although he was always considered an archconservative, Mclntyre would always listen to you. And you could change his mind if you had a good argument. I saw that happen a couple of times. And Brouwers was able to sell him, which was a big, big thing in those days."

Monsignor Weber says it also did not hurt that the cardinal at one time wanted to be a missionary himself. Before he entered a New York seminary, in fact, he had applied to be a Maryknoll priest so he could work in the missions. In addition, according to the archivist, Monsignor Brouwers had the solid support of up-and-coming Bishop Timothy Manning, a close personal friend, who would later visit the mission fields many times himself as the Archbishop of Los Angeles.

But as much as Cardinal James Francis Mclntyre and the future Cardinal Planning were in favor of sending lay men and women to the missions, heir second-in-command was dead-set against it.

'Gray Eminence' Raises Concerns

In 1952, after ordaining him only two years before, Cardinal Mclntyre handpicked Father Benjamin Hawkes to be his personal secretary. Perhaps the cardinal, with his business background, was impressed by the young priest's own early career as an accountant at the Lockheed Aircraft Company, where he rose quickly through the ranks.

Monsignor Hawkes also advanced steadily in the chancery, being named chancellor in 1962 and vicar general five years later. He died in 1985 at the age of 66.

Cardinal Mclntyre referred to him as the "concertmaster" of the Los Angeles Archdiocese. In a Tidings interview, he explained that "the concert-master selects the programs, rehearses the orchestra and then steps aside for the conductor. The musicians often bristle at the concertmaster's methods, but they all respect his ability to blend their individual efforts into soothing music." Others were less kind.

The Los Angeles Times, in an October 18,1982, feature, called him the chief moneyman who controlled the purse strings of the local Catholic Church -- a "legend" who wielded immense power under the two cardinals. The newspaper observed that to the more than 1,000 priests in the three-county archdiocese, he was as much feared as respected.

"I felt just like the (cowardly) lion in the 'Wizard of Oz,'" one priest, who was a principal, told the Times reporter about a one-on-one meeting he once had with Monsignor Hawkes. "You're just like this," he said, making a hand gesture like he was squashing an ant.."When you are vulnerable, you :an be banished and sent to the desert. People are called in, and you stand in front of him and he never offers you a seat."

Monsignor Hawkes was such a formidable presence, in fact, the actor Robert De Niro observed him saying Mass to prepare for the role of a behind-the-scenes priest-power broker in the 1981 movie "True Confessions."

"To priests and parochial school administrators who must come to him for money for their building programs, Hawkes can be an imposing figure," The Times declared.

There are no records in either the Archdiocese's Mission Office or archive of correspondence between Monsignors Brouwers and Hawkes in regards the Lay Mission-Helpers. But a number of senior priests interviewed reported that the "moneyman" would have had major concerns about continuing a new church program that was fraught with legal and financial dangers.

Monsignor Weber said he was not surprised that the bottom-line-minded chancellor and vicar general -- who he refers to as the "gray eminence"-- would be against the idea of sending lay men and women to Third World countries. "And the reason would have been the same that Mclntyre might have had concerning some hesitations -- it was a tremendous liability," the archivist points out. "Because one major lawsuit could destroy everything.

"Remember now, it was a tremendously innovative thing to do," he says. "This was way back even before the Peace Corps. And here comes a little priest from Los Angeles coming up with an idea that was just too much for some of the hierarchy to fathom. The idea of sending lay people over there was new. And that was one of the geniuses of it -- it just wasn't done in those days.

"Of course he was going to get opposition," Monsignor Weber stresses.! "Anything you ever do that's great and new, you're going to have trouble. 1 Because there are those who say, 'Well, we can't do that.' Now I don't know what their relationship was. But, again, it stands to reason that Hawkes would have had reservations about liability."

A priest who had the catbird seat to know what the two monsignors' relationship was actually like is Monsignor Lawrence O'Leary, who served as assistant director of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith under Monsignor Brouwers from 1959 to 1964.

The pastor emeritus agrees that the local Church hierarchy was "scared to death" of the legal and financial ramifications of sending lay people off to the missions. And he is not shy about naming the cutting-edge program's number one critic.

"Some people wanted it to die," Monsignor O'Leary reports. "The diocesan consultors, a body of priests appointed by the cardinal, thought it was crazy.

And Monsignor Benjamin Hawkes wanted it to die. Sometimes I suspect that's why they appointed me assistant director, because they thought that I would not be effective in keeping the whole thing going. There were all sorts of Machiavellian things going on. Monsignor Hawkes was always ridiculing the Lay Mission-Helpers and the work we were doing. He called us the 'Office of Travel/ always in derisive terms. And he was a very, very powerful person as far as controlling people's lives.

"Monsignor Brouwers suffered in the chancery. He felt he was being mistreated and was very frustrated. They were trying to contain him and also even accused him of misuse of money about the Lay Mission-Helpers, but they couldn't find any evidence because there wasn't any. So there was a definite push to destroy the Lay Mission-Helpers, to stop the movement."

But the priest from Lincoln Heights was no pushover.

"Brouwers was a fighter who was fighting back," Monsignor O'Leary recalls. "You know, he had a column in The Tidings every week, and he had the gift of writing. Plus, he was a charismatic speaker. So he'd take Hawkes and the others on. And he could outsmart them in many ways."

Head to Head with Bishop Sheen

In 1955, TV dinners were a year old, and two-out-of-three U.S. households had at least one television set. Prime-time hits included "Texaco Star Theater," "Alfred Hitchcock Presents," "Gunsmoke," "The Honeymooners," "The Lawrence Welk Show" and "The $64,000 Question."

But none of these shows were more popular than "Life Is Worth Living," which featured Bishop Fulton J. Sheen of New York talking directly to viewers about character, war and peace, suffering and, of course, God. Dressed in a black cassock with purple piping, a purple cape and skull cap, and a gold pectoral cross hanging down from his neck, he was often described as having a majestic appearance. And with his deep hypnotic eyes, inviting smile, resonant tone of voice and eloquent gestures, one reviewer wrote he was simply "telegenic."

The celebrity churchman, who received an Emmy for "Most Outstanding Television Personality" and graced the covers of Time, Look and TV Guide, was also the national director of the Propagation of the Faith, which made him Monsignor Anthony Brouwers' boss.

It was this Vatican-appointed position, in fact, that kicked off Bishop Sheen's epic struggle with Cardinal Francis Spellman, which started in 1955 and would end more than a decade later with the popular bishop's banishment from New York City.

Most of the millions collected every year by national Propagation of the Faith branches and earmarked by the Vatican for the Church's missionary work around the world came from the United States. The powerful cardinal -- who would later be the subject of a book entitled The American Pope -- wanted U.S. funds to go directly to Catholic Relief Services' program to provide free surplus food to war-torn countries in Europe. He believed the commodities from CRS, which were distributed by Catholic missionaries, were a valuable tool in gaining hungry converts to Catholicism. But the bishop boldly turned down Cardinal Spellman's request, and was later backed up by Propagation officials in Rome, who wanted to keep all collected moneys under their control.

The battle lines of defiance and duty were joined. The two famous Catholic clergymen would clash again and again over use of Propagation money until October 1966, when Bishop Sheen was ordered to give up his leadership of the Pontifical organization to become the bishop of Rochester, a backwater diocese in western New York.

Bishop Sheen waged another battle in 1955 -- this one against a mere humble priest out in California -- he would also lose. According to local Lay Mission-Helpers and Mission Doctors, as well as other sources, Monsignor Brouwers was still fired up from what he had learned during his three-month: sojourn in Africa when he approached the U.S. director of the Propagation of the Faith about sending lay men and women to assist missionaries. And I when the headstrong Bishop Sheen gave him the same answer he gave Cardinal Spellman, the Los Angeles monsignor was even more determined I to send Catholic members of the laity to the missions.

"I did hear about that, it's true," retired Bishop John Ward recalls. "See, everybody didn't jump and clap when Tony came home from Africa all excited about sending out lay missioners. They just thought missionaries had to be priests, brothers or nuns. That was it.

"Sheen was undoubtedly one of our finest bishops, and was into the missions. But I could see Sheen resenting anyone else coming out leading the mission band. I don't think he would sabotage Tony's efforts, but he certainly would say, 'Well, I'm supposed to be the leader.'

"He had a pretty big ego," the bishop points out, "and Tony was on his turf."

Whereas Monsignor Brouwers saw missionary priests and religious doing a hundred tasks that lay men and women could do better, Bishop Sheen was reluctant to rely so heavily on the laity.

"I think Sheen was uncertain about their ability to do the job/' observes Bishop Ward. "Also, it would disrupt the programs that were in effect, and he didn't know what it might mean down the line. He wanted to forestall any interruption of successful programs that were already in existence: Is this going to turn everything upside down? Will lay people be able to do the job that priests, brothers and nuns are already doing?"

Sacrosanct Funds

Monsignor Lawrence O'Leary, the former assistant director and eventual third director of the Los Angeles branch of the Propagation of the Faith, has a decidedly different take on the rift between Bishop Sheen and Monsignor Brouwers. He argues that the disagreement was more of a structural and legal matter than anything else. Because the Propagation's general fund was "sacrosanct," he says local directors could not arbitrarily draw assets out to start a new program or support some pet charity.

"All of this money was distributed by the superior council in Rome, although the money did not actually go to Rome," he explains. "It went to the New York office, and was kept in dollars there. Then the superior council told the national director to send checks for this amount to such-and-such missionary bishop or program. And in that way, the currency wasn't constantly changing, so it was not going to lose its value.

"So Fulton Sheen saying 'no' was perfectly logical," he says. "It wasn't that he was against the idea. The Propagation of the Faith constitution wouldn't allow it."

However, another factor, Monsignor O'Leary concedes, was simply a clash of personalities.

"Monsignor being the type of person he was -- a real rebel -- was not at all impressed with Fulton Sheen," he reports. "In fact, he didn't care for him. I think what he didn't care about was that Sheen wanted to control everything, and, of course, Monsignor Brouwers was the same way. But the rational director of the Propagation of the Faith couldn't tell bishops what to do and what not to do. So, within a diocese, if a man wanted to start a project to send lay people overseas, he could. But he had to raise the money himself, which is exactly what Monsignor did.

"Fulton Sheen raised a lot of money because of his gifts and charisms. You never missed his TV show. He was an actor and a very holy man. He had a brilliant mind and profound sense of theology, and he could translate it into common English and make it understandable. He always ended his talks about his 'lepers' in Africa. I think this, in part, gave Monsignor Brouwers the idea of going to Africa. It was his example.

"But Fulton Sheen," he adds, almost smiling now, "was also full of himself."

Betty Risley served three stints as a Lay Mission-Helper in Nigeria, Cameroon and American Samoa. During her 1961-62 training on Wednesday and Friday evenings and Sunday afternoons, she remembers Monsignor Brouwers explaining the now familiar story about how the whole program started.

The former college professor clearly recalls another thing Monsignor Brouwers talked about during his well-prepared lectures on the history of the lay missionary program and how it deeply troubled her -- the opposition he received from none other than Bishop Fulton J. Sheen.

"Well, I remember him telling us about how when he came back from the tour of Africa he was very interested in sending lay people over there," she says. "He really thought that that was important because it was a big gap in the missions. So he approached Fulton Sheen, who was at the time I the national head of the Propagation of the Faith, and everybody watched him on TV. But Bishop Sheen said it was not necessary to send lay people. He couldn't see any purpose in sending lay people to the missions.

"I think that Monsignor Brouwers was very disappointed. I think he just saw Sheen as somebody who didn't have vision. But he was not one to let somebody stand in the way of what he had made up his mind to do. Oh, he was very energetic, very dynamic, very determined. He really felt that this was necessary, and had the attitude, 'I don't care who's against this -- even Fulton Sheen.'

"That probably was just enough to spark Monsignor," the veteran Lay Mission-Helper adds with a knowing smile. "He was going to find a way to do it. And he did. I mean, how many of us did he train and send into the missions?"

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