Sean Brennan, recipient of Junior Faculty Grant, reports on his research

Summary of Research for August 2014 to January 2015

Project: The Life of Fabian Flynn: A Catholic Warrior of the Second World War and the Cold War

By Sean Brennan
Associate Professor of History
University of Scranton

The past five months have been very productive for my second book project, The Life of Fabian Flynn: A Catholic Warrior of the Second World War and the Cold War.  My research for this biography, which covers the entire life of the Passionist priest Philip Fabian Flynn (1905-1973), is nearly complete, and I should begin writing it by April of this year, with the goal of publication in 2016, I plan to submit the completed manuscript to Catholic University Press of America.  Due to the support of a Junior Faculty Travel Grant from the American Catholic Historical Association, I was able to take four different research trips to visit various archives that were all crucial to building the primary source base for the biography

Trip #1 The University of Notre Dame August 2014

By a surprising and pleasant coincidence, a crucial collection of documents was located at my alma mater, the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana.  Specifically, the University Archives contained dozens of document collections from important leaders of Catholic Relief Services (CRS), which was founded (originally as War Relief Services) by the National Catholic Welfare Conference (NCWC).  One of these collections belonged to James Norris, who headed the European Division of CRS from the late 1940s to the mid-1960s. In essence, this made him Fabian Flynn’s immediate superior, as Flynn was director of CRS activities in the French zone of Germany (1946-1948), Hungary (1948-1949) and Austria (1949 to 1962).  The archives contained hundreds of pages of correspondence between Norris and Flynn concerning the work conducted by CRS in these countries in the aftermath of the Second World War and confrontations of the Cold War.

Trip # 2 The Catholic University of America September 2014

My next research trip took me to the Catholic University of America in Washington DC.  Its archives contained the correspondence between the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (which NCWC was an essential part of), and the leadership of CRS.  While Father Flynn was only mentioned in a handful of the numerous documents I looked at, they provided an excellent depiction of CRS operations at the broader European and global level, and how these were advertised to American Catholics.

Trip #3 The Center for Migration Studies October 2014

Located in the Upper East Side of New York City, the archival collections of the Center for Migration Studies were very important for me as they contain the records of the Catholic Immigration Bureau.  In the post-1945 era in Europe, the Catholic Immigration Bureau worked closely with CRS in helping European refugees, most of whom had fled the imposition of communism in Eastern Europe by the Soviet Union, find asylum and possibly citizenship in the United States.  While CRS officials, including Father Flynn were well aware they could not help every refugee who fled across the Iron Curtain find a permanent home in America, they frequently collaborated with the Catholic Immigration Bureau to improve conditions for those who had ended up in the United States.

Trip #4 Salzburg and Vienna, Austria January 2015

Perhaps most important of all for my research were three archives located in Father Flynn’s home for thirteen years, Austria.  In order to provide a complete overview of Flynn’s work for the CRS in Europe, it was essential not just to see his interactions with secular and religious American leaders, but also their European equivalents.  Fortunately, the collections of all three Austrian archives gave me this opportunity.  The Salzburg Landesarchiv, which contain the records of the city and provincial authorities in Salzburg, had numerous records concerning the relationship between Flynn and the Provincial Governor during the 1950s and early 1960s, Dr. Josef Klaus.  At the Salzburg Archdiocese Archive I found the extensive correspondence between Flynn and the Archbishop of Salzburg, Andreas Rohracher, which revealed, among other things, how the CRS conducted its activities in coordination with the clergy and laity of the Catholic Church in Austria.

After a week in Salzburg, I spent another week in Vienna, working at the Austrian State Archives, the largest archive in the country.  Documents that proved very useful for my own research were the records of Austria’s Ministry of Interior, specifically Department 12-U, which dealt specifically with refugees in Austria.  As Austria was located next to three different Communist states, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia, the first two of which had expelled their sizeable German minorities after the end of World War II, the Austrian Second Republic spent much of its first twenty years dealing with hundreds of thousands of refugees living in the country.  It goes without saying that the CRS dealt frequently with Department 12-U U, and the documents I reviewed help me to better understand this relationship.


The financial assistance provided to me by the American Catholic Historical Association’s Junior Faculty Travel Grant greatly assisted me in making these research trips possible, and in turn, allowed me to complete the final phase of my research.  I am certain the biography of Father Flynn will reveal much not only about his own life, but also how American Catholics were engaged in a European continent threatened with both Fascism and Communism and how their involvement proved to vital during the tumultuous decades of the mid-twentieth century.