Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)/Association of the Holy Childhood

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Catholic Encyclopedia (1913), Volume 7
Association of the Holy Childhood

by John Willms


A children's association for the benefit of foreign missions. Twenty years after the foundation of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith (1843) Charles de Forbin-Janson, Bishop of Nancy, France, established the Society of the Holy Childhood (Association de la Sainte Enfance). Its end is twofold: First, to rally around the Infant Jesus our little Christian children from their tender years, so that with increasing age and strength, and in imitation of Jesus their Master, they may practise true Christian charity with a view to their own perfection; second, that by the practice of charity and enduring liberality those same little Christian children may co-operate in saving from death and sin the many thousands of children that in pagan countries like China are neglected by their parents and cast away to die unbaptized. The further object of the association is to procure baptism for tose aboandoned little ones, and, should they live, to make of them craftsmen, teachers, doctors, or priests, who in turn will spread the blessings of the Christian religion amongst their countrymen.

Children may become members of the association immediately after baptism, and may continue in membership for the remainder of their lives, but at the age of twenty-one, in order to still share in the indulgences, it is necessary to become also a member of the Lyons Association for the Propogation of the Faith.

In order to be a member of the Association of the Holy Childhood, it is necessary to give a monthly contribution of one cent, or a yearly contribution of twelve cents, and to recite daily a "Hail Mary" with the addition, "Holy Virgin Mary, pray for us and for the poor pagan children." Until children are able to do this themselves their relatives should do it for them.

The parish priest is the regular director of the work from the time he introduces the association, and when there are at least twelve associates, he has a share in the privileges granted to the directors by the Holy See, provided that for the exercise of these privelges the requisite permission of the ordinary has been granted in general or has been specially asked for. The same holds good for the assistant priests of the parish, when the pastor has entrused to one of them the care of matters relating to the association.

Four popes and hundreds of other ecclesiastical dignitaries have approved the association and recommended it to the faithful. Pius IX, by a Brief of 18 July, 1856, raised it to the rank of a canonical institution, gave it a cardinal protector, and requested all bishops to intorduce it in their dioceses. Leo XIII, in an Encyclical letter, Sancta Dei Civitas (3 December, 1890), blessed it and recommended it again to the bishops. "It is my earnest wish," he said in 1882, "that all the children of the Catholic world should become members of this beautiful association." Pius X emphasized its international character, comparing it to a great army the component parts of which are the various national branches.

The affairs of the association are managed by an international council at Paris, France, consisting of fifteen priests and as many laymen. The general director of the assoication is the presiding officer. This general council has exclusivelya the right of general direction and of the distribution of the society's funds. To them various national branches send in their yearly report with the contributions received. it is to be noted that none of the officers receive any compensation for their services. It is estimated that at the pesent time there are enrolled in the Association of the Holy Childhood about seven millions of Catholic children. Fully thirty-two millions of dollars are the result of their generosity, and about eighteen millions of pagan children have thus been saved to the the Church. The receipts for 1907-08 were over $700,000. From this fund 236 missions in the various heathen countries were supported. An annual grant is made by the general council in favour of Catholic Indian Schools in the Western states and territories. 1,171 orphanges, 7,372 schools, and 2,480 workshops, etc., share in the yearly alms received from all the Catholic countries. The "Annals of the Holy Childhood", published bi-monthly, is issued in seven languages. Six countries contributed 90 percent, of last year's fund of $700,000, viz: Germany, $278,355; France $169,540; Austria, $30,995. Sun total from these six countries, $655,690. Ireland's contribution for 1907 amounted to $5,440 and England's to $1,595, these two English-speaking countries being represented in the total amount of 1 percent.

The association was probably established in the United States by Bishop Forbin-Janson himself. Several agencies in the East and West managed its affairs for about fifty years. On 1 January, 1893, the work was concentrated into one central agency and confided to the Fathers of the Holy Ghost, with headquarters in Pittsburgh, Pa. Very Rev. A. Zielenbach, C.S.Sp., was its first central director for about four years. Since then Rev. John William, C.S.Sp. is general manager, assisted by thirty-two priests as diocesan directors who volunteer their services for this noble cause without any compensation. The total receipts in the United States from 1893 to 31 October, 1908, were $319,012.76. About 18,000 copies of the "Annals" in English, German, Polish, and French are sent from the central office to the different local branches six times each year.

J. Willms.