CRS in the 1950s

Millions of refugees from China and Hungary found food, comfort and hope through the faith and innovation of caring Catholics.


The 'Noodle Priest'

"I want to tell you how grateful I am for this food."

Millions of Chinese refugees poured into Hong Kong between 1948 and 1950, when Mao Tse-tung's Communist forces swept through China. In 1955, Father Paul Duchesne, the head of Catholic Relief Services programming in Hong Kong, called the city the largest displaced persons camp in the world.

One person who tried to make life more bearable for the masses of poor, hungry people in Hong Kong was a Maryknoll priest named Father John Romaniello. At the time, Father Romaniello worked for CRS, where he would earn the name "The Noodle Priest."

One day, Father Romaniello noticed something peculiar. Many of the refugees were lining up outside of a local merchant, allotment of flour in hand: They were paying the shopkeeper to turn their flour into noodles because they didn't eat bread.

The queue of refugees gave Father Romaniello an idea: He decided to develop a way to turn flour into noodles. Because the United States was providing the flour, cornmeal and powdered milk through the Food for Peace food aid program, Father Romaniello took on the task of piecing together a dozen electric noodle machines.

His noodle machine was an immediate hit. According to Eileen Egan's* account in For Whom There Is No Room, one day a Cantonese man carrying a 5-pound bag of noodles came up to Father Romaniello and said, "I want to tell you how grateful I am for this food."

For Father Romaniello, the invention was a simple act of reciprocity. As he told Egan, "For centuries, my Italian forebears enjoyed spaghetti, the food brought back from China by Marco Polo. I brought noodles to the Chinese at the rate of millions of pounds a year." The Noodle Priest, indeed.


Cold War 'Welcome to America'

"Leaving everything behind, their cherished possessions, their homes, their businesses, their loved ones, they fled to asylum, to freedom, to safety."

On November 4, 1956, a thousand Soviet tanks rolled into Budapest, Hungary, forcing thousands to flee their Sunday dinner tables for the Austrian border.

Austrian guards kindly directed them to trains headed to a station near Vienna, where they arrived, exhausted and terrified. There to meet them was Catholic Relief Services director in Austria, Father Fabian Flynn, a Passionist priest and decorated World War II U.S. Army chaplain.

As Father Flynn recounts in Eileen Egan's* For Whom There Is No Room, he imagined what the shock of the invasion must have been like:

As they sat at their Sunday dinner, or as, perhaps, they were kneeling in church on this fourth of November, they heard that fearful cry 'The Russians are invading!' And leaving everything behind, their cherished possessions, their homes, their businesses, their loved ones, they fled to asylum, to freedom, to safety.

They found safety through the compassion and generosity of Americans. CRS set up offices in the Austrian refugee camps—working, eating and sleeping there.

By late 1956, approximately 30,000 refugees had been admitted to the United States through the U.S. Army's Camp Kilmer in New Jersey. They were greeted with a huge banner that read, "Isten Hozta Amerikaba," or "Welcome to America." CRS was one of seven agencies that worked to resettle refugee families through American sponsors.

*Eileen Egan joined CRS in 1943 as our first professional layperson and worked for 4 decades to assist refugees and development projects in Europe, Asia and Latin America.

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