This association was organized on 22 February, 1875, at a meeting held in Newark, New Jersey, at the call of Very Rev. George H. Doane, who became its first president. It includes about one hundred organizations, representing an estimated aggregate of about 30,000 persons and extends as far west as Mankato, Minnesota. Its objects are the furtherance of practical unity, the spiritual, intellectual, moral, and physical advanced of Catholic youth, and the development of better citizens and Catholics. The means principally relied upon are: the conscientious practice and profession, individually and collectively, of the Catholic religion; the establishment and promotion of Catholic young men's associations, libraries, reading-rooms, and gymnasiums; fraternal unity between all organizations aiming in whatever way at the promotion of the Union's objects; mutual assistance and enlightenment; maintenance and conduct of an athletic league giving special attention to boys of the parochial schools ; dissemination of selected courses in reading among Catholic literary circles; courses of lectures to Catholic young men's associations, and securing to organizations of the National Union the privilege of having their own members received as guests by the other organizations of the Union. Originally, delegates met annually, and did little in the interim but enlist the co-operation of other organizations in its work. At the present time, it is engaged in various works, which are conducted largely through diocesan unions performing the National Union's functions within their respective districts.
In 1878 the National Union inaugurated the movement for obtaining appointments of a greater number of Catholic chaplains to the army and navy -- a movement which was entirely successful. At about the same time, it began the agitation to secure recognition of the religious rights of the Indians. At the convention of 1879, the establishment of coloured literary societies, free night-schools, the fostering of a more general activity among young men in teaching Sunday-school, and the establishment of a lecture bureau were among the questions discussed; by 1883 much had been done along these lines. In 1883 the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore, in the Pastoral Letter of the Bishops and Archbishops, says of the work of the National Union: "We consider as worthy of particular encouragement associations for the promotion of the healthful social union among Catholics, and especially those whose aim is to guard our Catholic young men against dangerous influences, and to supply mental culture. And in order to acknowledge the great amount of good that the Catholic Young Men's National Union has already accomplished, to promote the growth of the Union, and to stimulate its members to greater efforts in the future, we cordially bless their aims and endeavours, and we recommend the Union to all our Catholic young men."
The Catholic Summer School at Plattsburg, New York, is a direct outgrowth of the National Union plans for its establishment having been discussed and approved at the conventions, and carried into effect by Warren E. Mosher, the secretary of the National Union at the time, and the founder of the Summer School. The National Union has also furthered the cause of education by contributing to the endowment funds of the Catholic University of America.
At the convention of 1906, held in New York City, a committee was appointed to prepare a plan of re-organization, which plan was reported and adopted at the convention of 1907 held at Elizabeth, New Jersey. Under the original organization it had always been required that the president and first vice-president should be clergymen ; this was now changed, the various departments of the Union were organized on a business basis, the athletic work was systematized by establishing the Catholic Amateur Athletic League, a branch of the National Union with complete control over all athletic affairs of the Union, and a complete and efficient literary and lecture system was instituted.
It was only in this year that a proper plan was devised for the continuation of the activity of the Union between conventions. The reorganization also created the office of the spiritual director, who is practically the senior officer of the National Union, and is supreme in all matters affecting faith and morals. The National Union has always been conducted by voluntary effort, but its activities have now grown to such an extent that they require an efficient salaried force, for which purpose an adequate endowment fund is now being raised.
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