What is The History of Stauros USA?

This Blog tells the History of Stauros and the Founder: Flavian Dougherty

Image of Flavian Dougherty


Flavian Dougherty was signatory to a foundational document dating from 1973, which established Stauros as an organization. It had been conceived through a 1970 chapter decree, and born at the 1972 General Synod that moved it toward organizational status.

Flavian was part of an impressive group who initiated STAUROS. though some are still living, none of the original persons are now associated with Stauros International anymore. A second generation has succeeded to its governance and direction. So it faces the perennial challenge of all organizations as they move from the often charismatic stage of the first generation to the usually more organizational stage of the second.

Flavian was provincial superior of the eastern province (1968-1978) when he put his signature to that document. At the October 1973 meeting referred to above, he had been elected first president of Stauros International, with Harry Gielen as secretary, and Epifanio Fassardi as treasurer, a triumvirate that would exert great influence on Stauros during its foundation years. But such positions do not last forever. Within a few years his terms provincial concluded, and thus his presidency of Stauros and, as other “ex”-provincials, he was looking for a new ministry. It was to become the development of Stauros USA.

But he did not disappear from the scene of Stauros International before arranging several General Assemblies of Stauros. The first occurred in 1974 as it co-sponsored the initial “Wisdom of the Cross” conference in Rome. This was the first major accomplishment of Stauros. There was another assembly in 1976, and the Stauros Board met in Lima, Peru, in 1977 in conjunction with a meeting of Passionist major superiors. By this time preparations were underway for the landmark Congress on the meaning of human suffering, at the University of Notre Dame.

By the next general assembly of Stauros (1978), Flavian had ceased to be provincial, and, accordingly, President of Stauros International. But he moved into the position of secretary of Stauros USA. His new-found freedom from Congregational duties provided him time to prepare for the Notre Dame Congress, which he did in conjunction with Harry Gielen, who came over from Belgium, and Roger Mercurio, his successor as President of Stauros. Together, the three of them visited Harry John in Milwaukee, CEO of Miller Brewing Company. Mr. John promised some financial support for the Notre Dame congress, but it had to measure up to certain Catholic standards that he indicated.

The April, 1979, Notre Dame congress was a great success, with 300 in attendance. Flavian edited its proceedings in the book, The Meaning of Human Suffering. Stauros also played a role in the UN preparatory program on the forthcoming Internal Year of Disabled Personae in 1980. It was here that Flavian met Millie Henke, who, in combination with the ambiance of the UN program, was more than enough to attract Flavian’s interest to the disabled.

Largely because his friend, Fidelis Connolly, C.P. had assumed the position of formation director at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, Flavian moved the Stauros office there in 1981, which allowed him to cement his relationship with Millie, who was registrar of the school at the time. there followed congresses in Houston (1981), River Forest, Illinois (1983) and Pittsburgh (1985). He also took part in, though did not organize, a Stauros Congress in Sao Paolo, Brazil, in 1983.

The by-laws of Stauros International made provisions for branch offices (regional secretariats). This is exactly what STAUROS USA was. It enabled Flavian to continue his close working relationship with his good friend, Harry Gielen of Louvain, in the latter’s capacity as executive director of Stauros International.

Stauros USA began (out east,) as we in the Midwest say, in conjunction with a Social Concerns Office, that eventually went its own way under the capable leadership of Jerome McKenna, CP. But, in the beginning, the distinctive identity of Stauros was still under development, so it was regarded as an aspect of social concerns. This is how it began in St. Mary’s parish, in West New York, New Jersey. Just what Flavian had in mind when he assumed its direction is not clear. So much of what he ever did resulted less from mental theorizing than from interacting with his network of friendships and connections. These he had in abundance, both within and beyond the Passionists. His buoyant, effervescent personality attracted people easily – often significant, influential people.

Flavian helped Stauros expand its scope and achieve success in the process. It moved beyond the Passionist influence under his leadership. He brought an energy level and charisma to it, together with a coterie of friends, that enabled it to be a force in peoples’ lives. His move from the east coast to the midwest entailed considerable sacrifice of some of his connections, but his penchant for meeting and befriending people helped him survive this loss.

He was possible too disconnected from the Passionists to guarantee Stauros’ continuance. He groomed no Passionist successor to take over Stauros. Always prone to fly by the seat of his pants, he tended to trust his instincts, which were good. But, as a result, he neglected organizational underpinnings, which others needed to carry on smoothly in his place.

He was never able, or willing, to form a board with any kind of real authority over Stauros. But he was perceptive enough to locate near capable people at CTU whose brains he picked for ideas. This helped him bring an academic quality to Stauros USA through this relationship to CTU. He thereby emulated Harry Gielen, whose academic credentials gave him some entree at Louvain. He was lucky enough to stumble on Judy Benson, an activist on behalf of the disabled in the Chicago area. She became his steadying influence just when he needed her, at the death of Millie Henke, January 1, 1982. He later missed Judy immensely during her extended leave of absence from Stauros, precipitated, in some way, by the unorthodox and hectic way in which he ran the organization.

For example, he had his own sources of funding and methods of banking, which he did not share with others. For all his camaraderie, he was a lone-ranger in certain areas, and was unafraid to try something new – witness his many forays and ventures into uncharted waters. He never really failed in any of his Stauros ventures, except organizationally. He easily took his place among his newfound friends, the disabled. He taught them how to be winners, despite their handicaps. His network of Millie and Judy, of Passionists like James Patrick White, Cassian Yuhaus, Paul Boyle, Austin Smith, Harry Gielen and Harry Reusch, Fidelis Connolly, Columkille Regan, Theodore Foley and the Passionists at CTU was a nurturing context providing him his credentials. For this and so many other reasons, Stauros USA was his creation. It is impossible to forget this.

Thanks to his CTU connection, classes were gotten underway that sensitized theology students to the condition of those with disabilities. He conducted (disability days) for the students as a way of alerting them to the situation. The best known project is the Israel Study Program for the Handicapped. The same ambiance proved supportive of his ventures in publishing, including the newsletter, The Stauros Bulletin, and a subsequent book, The Deprived, the Disabled and the Fullness of Life. He also promoted a one act play on Dorothy Day, in the Hyde Park area.

At the end of Cornell Avenue, his CTU home for nine years, stands a new building that owes much to the energy and know-how of Flavian; it houses those with disabilities. Still alive and active in the community of those with disabilities is ADAPT, initially American Disabled for Accessible Public Transportation, now American Disable for Attendant Programs Today, an organization that brought him, along with the home just mentioned, into the Byzantine politics of the city of Chicago.

Flavian succumbed to a severe disease, and his life ended quickly. He tried to outsmart it, but in this he failed. With his passing died much of the verve and dynamic of the organization, but not the idea or the ambition. Other dedicated people have appeared to carry it on.

Stauros is a strange sounding name, but there is nothing strange about its intent and purpose. It has put a silver lining around the cloud of suffering in peoples’ lives.

This article appears to have been writeen by Sr. Ardis Cloutier OSF, a former executive director of Stauros who succeeded Flavian.


2 Responses to “What is The History of Stauros USA?”

  1. Peter Flavian Hewitt Says:

    To whom it may concern:

    Fr. Flavian arranged my adoption, and baptized me in Baltimore. I was wondering if Judy Benson or anyone that knew him is still around. I would love a chance to speak with someone who knew him. My phone number is (610)506-0676.


    Peter Flavian Hewitt

  2. staurosusa Says:

    Please contact me at the monastery. don@stauros.org

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