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Catholic Community Service Organizations in War Time

National Catholic Community Service Organizations in War Time (1917 – 1980)


American Catholics supported the nation’s efforts in the First World War by founding the National Catholic War Council (NCWC) in 1917. The NCWC cooperated with groups such as The Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), The Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA), The Salvation Army, the National Jewish Welfare Board, and the American Library Association (ALA) to support the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) in France. Following the war the original NCWC was succeeded by the National Catholic Welfare Conference whose efforts focused beyond the original purview of its predecessor. When war clouds loomed again the American hierarchy decided in November 1940 to establish the National Catholic Community Service (NCCS) to serve the spiritual, educational, and recreational needs of military personnel and defense workers by rendering service with both professional workers and volunteers at home and overseas.

The NCCS was under the direction of a board of trustees composed of members of the NCWC administrative board as well as the military vicar and his delegate. It was separately incorporated in the nation’s capital on April 21, 1941 and worked closely with the other offices and committees of the NCWC, especially the National Council of Catholic Men (NCCM) and the National Council of Catholic Women (NCCW). The NCCS was also a charter member of the United Service Organization (USO) Inc. founded with the support of President Franklin D. Roosevelt on February 4, 1941 along with five other member agencies: Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA), The Salvation Army, the National Jewish Welfare Board, and the Travelers Aid Association. Camp Shows Inc., who performed the shows that eventually made the USO famous, was also formed in 1941and affiliated with the USO.

During America’s involvement in the Second World War (1941-1945) there were over 1,500 clubs operated domestically by the six member agencies, including NCCS, as well as nearly 1,200 operated domestically by local communities and nearly 200 clubs operated overseas by USO Inc. The USO officially terminated operations on December 31, 1947 though it maintained its corporate structure and a small headquarters staff thereafter. With the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950 the NCCS joined with the YMCA and the Jewish Welfare Board to form the Associated Services for the Armed Forces. The USO Inc. was reactivated in 1951 with the original six member agencies and the camp shows. In 1962, the USO’s National Ad Hoc Survey Committee stated the need for the USO’s existence during the Cold War and made several recommendations, including that domestic operations be given autonomy and financial responsibility while USO Inc. would continue with overseas operations.

The Vietnam War era of the 1960s and 1970s initially generated large funding for USO Inc. but as public opinion increasingly turned against the war funding waned. A financial crisis resulted in 1974 after the United Way of America recommended that their local affiliates need no longer support USO Inc. and the Salvation Army threatened to withdraw as a member agency, though they delayed this action until 1976 when the YMCA also withdrew after USO Inc. announced it could no longer fund the member agencies. The NCCS, along with the Jewish Welfare Board and Traveler’s Aid, continued to operate as member agencies until 1979 when the NCCS board voted by two thirds majority to dissolve. The official certificate of dissolution was issued by the District of Columbia on February 22, 1980. Thereafter the efforts of American Catholics to support the military would either be performed on an individual basis or as part of other organizations such as the Military Archdiocese of the United States.

The early NCCS executive directors were either short tenured or ‘acting’ only, and included Franklin Dunham from 1941 to 1942, James J. Norris from 1942 to 1944, Frank E. Cain in 1944, and James S. Mitchell from 1944 to 1948. Thomas D. Hinton would be the most notable director, serving for much of NCCS’s history, 1948-1972. He had served previously in several administrative capacities in NCCS including program, budget, and field operations. He later served as Director of Finance and Administration of USCC/NCCB, 1972-1979. The last two executive directors were Maurice Hartmann in 1972 and Alice C. Collins, 1972-1980. Margaret Mealey, who was later long-term president of the National Council of Catholic Women (NCCW), served the NCCS during the 1940s in various capacities, including as Director of the USO-NCCS Club in Bremerton, Washington; Program Consultant, West Coast Area; Regional Supervisor for the States of Washington and Oregon; and Director of the USO Community Conducted Club in Oakland, California.

A major concern of the NCCS for much of its existence was operating a Veterans Administration (VA) Hospital Program/Service as part of the VA’s Voluntary Service National Advisory Committee. In 1946, Pope Pius XII extended the jurisdiction of the Military Ordinariate to include chaplains and VA hospital patients. This made the latter eligible to participate in activities and services offered by NCCS as a USO member agency. In 1947, the NCCS board designated NCCS as the official agency of the Church to organize and develop the overall program of Catholic volunteer services in VA hospitals. It was actually efforts at a VA hospital in Lyons, New Jersey, that would serve as the national model. The NCCS-VA Hospital Service had a professional director, based in Washington, from its beginning until dissolution in 1979 in the person of Philomena F. Kerwin. She continued in this capacity as the United States Catholic Conference (USCC) took over direct administration, becoming the USCC-VA Hospital Service.

Source: Historical Note, National Catholic University Archives – For more information, visit:

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