John J. Burke, Raymond B. Fosdick, & The Vincentian Philosophy

By Kelly Povero

Burke, Fosdick

A telegram between John J. Burke and Raymond B. Fosdick


The telegram pictured was written to Father John J. Burke of the Paulist Fathers from Raymond B. Fosdick, Chairman within the War Department in September, 1918. This telegram belongs to the Paulist Fathers archives. It is important to understand the context in which is was written. This begins with understanding the organizations mentioned and their missions.

Historical Context

John J. Burke was both a priest with the Fathers and an editor of the Catholic World. The Catholic World was a newspaper that originated from the founder of the Paulist Fathers, Isaac Thomas Hecker and ran from 1865 to 1996. He was the founder of the National Catholic War Council (NCWC) which later changed its name to the National Catholic Welfare Council, and today is known as the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). The NCWC was established in 1917, right in the midst of World War I where contributions were made to the America Catholics in an effort to encourage peace and safety. The Council later took on many social justice issues and would rise again in the Second World War. Father Burke left the newspaper in 1922 to become the General Secretary of the NCWC. Burke also worked with the Knights of Columbus, which is known today as one of the largest service organizations in the country. This organization also raised money towards the war and became involved in future social justice matters.

Raymond B. Fosdick held an ever-growing career. He began as a New York City lawyer, conducted a study with John D. Rockefeller on European policing systems, and was placed as a special representative to the War Department in 1917. He would later on be appointed Under-Secretary General of the League of Nations.

Burke’s efforts with both the NCWC and the Knights of Columbus led him to developing a relationship directly with the War Department in a very crucial time when his guidance would be needed most.

The Content

The general topic discussed in this telegram is Burke’s request to leave his work with the NCWC and the Knights and assist with war efforts overseas instead. The letter is a response from Fosdick stating that he’s uncertain whether the War Department can allow him when he plays such an important role in the domestic war efforts. The telegram states that a man named Bishop Brent extended the invitation to Burke to join him in his travels. Research suggests that Bishop Brent is none other than Charles Henry Brent, a bishop who spent his time in both New York and traveling the world as a missionary. Fosdick makes it very clear that while he understands Burke’s desire to help from other angles, that his place is in America working with his two organizations and the government.

The Result

Burke did not follow through with his request to leave and instead, assisted the United States government through the end of World War I. According to the Paulist archives, Burke became an unofficial diplomat for the Vatican. His travels included working on the church-state relationships in Mexico. In 1936 he became the first and only Paulist Father to be given the title of monsignor, a title of honor in the Catholic church. Father Burke died that same year of a heart attack.

The Vincentian Perspective

This single artifact displays two individuals that strive for justice. Both Burke and Fosdick aim at helping with the war efforts in different ways; domestically and internationally. The two organizations that Burke took part in believed (and still do) in community efforts and interdependency.  These are two important characteristics of Vincentian philosophy, which is showcased in the St. John’s University Mission Statement.



Our Mission. (n.d.). In St. John’s University. Retrieved October 19, 2014, from

Project Canterbury. (n.d.). Memorial Sermons for Charles Henry Brent, Bishop and Doctor. In Angelican History. Retrieved October 19, 2014, from

Raymond B. Fosdick. (n.d.). In The Rockefeller Foundation. Retrieved October 17, 2014, from–fosdick

Salvaterra, D. L. (2002, January). Patriotism and Fraternalism in the Knights of Columbus: A History of the Fourth Degree [Electronic version]. The Catholic Historical Review, 88(1), 157-158.

The Paulist Fathers. (2014). The Paulists and the First World War. In Paulist Fathers. Retrieved October 17, 2014, from