By Terence McQueen
FROM a small office near London's Victoria Station. letters go out each week to unmarried Catholic men and women in all parts of the country.
The recipients may eventually marry, as a result, for each letter offers an introduction arranged by the Catholic Introductions Bureau.
If you seek the Bureau's assistance in meeting a suitable Catholic partner, you pay a fee of five guineas and the Bureau undertakes to do its utmost to help. Should the first introduction not prove successful, efforts are made to arrange other suitable introductions -without any further payment.
The need for this service has been amply shown by the number of people. from all walks of life. who apply for it. But recent Sunday newspaper "revelations" regarding racketeering in other matrimonial agencies have caused some concern at the Catholic Introductions Bureau.
The secretary, Miss Barbara Oddie, told me: "The publicity on the commercial bureaux could have rather unfair repercussions on the Catholic Introductions Bureau, and we feel the picture should be set straight.
First point: Although there are more than 900 similar agencies in Britain today. the Catholic Introductions Bureau is the only one having the approval of all the bishops.
Whereas other agencies make enormous profits from fees as high as £35 (with extras such as three guineas every time an introductioe is arranged, and £25 after marriage). the Catholic Introductions Bureau accrues no profits for personal gain and has no "extras" after the initial five guineas have been paid in.
Since it was founded in 1947 with an advisory council of six lay Catholics and a priest, it has enrolled some 5,500 men and almost twice as many women. Just over 750 marriages are known to have resulted from introductions subsequently arranged, but the actual total is believed to he considerably higher.
The Bureau makes its services known through small ads in the Personal Columns of the CAIHOLIC HERALD and other Catholic newspapers, and all introductions are arranged by post. Some enquirers do call in at the Bureau for a personal chat and this does help in effecting a suitable introduction but the procedure is the same in the end for all.
The enquirer is asked to complete a questionnaire regarding educational background, nature of employment, salary or income, interests and hobbies.
A similar printed form requesting particulars which the client wishes to have sent to anyone whom the Bureau feels may be interested in an introduction has also to be filled in and returned with a recent photograph.
On the basis of the information received, the Bureau offers an introduction, sending the photograph of the girl, together with one of the forms she has tilled in, to the man for consideration, The girl's name and address is not disclosed at this stage. Only the town or area in which she lives is mentioned.
If the man feels he would like to meet the girl suggested, he notifies the Bureau, and his photograph and the particulars he has supplied for forwarding are sent to the girl. if she feels she would like the introduction, the Bureau requests the man to write-his first letter to the girl, via the Bureau.
If the girl wishes to pursue the introduction after this first approach, she writes to the man direct, giving her own address, and the Bureau steps out of the picture, leaving the two to form their own friendship and arrange their own meetings.
The Bureau points out. however: "Should the introduction not make progress. whoever decides to break it should inform the other frankly of his or her decision, and also us, and when this is done we can endeavour to make other introductions, without payment of any further fee."
Miss Oddie told me: "If we do not think we have reasonable pros peels of helping a man or woman when he or she first applies to us, we tell them so and offer to return their fee so that they can withdraw their application for membership.
"This is something that many other agencies do not do in their eagerness to get as much money as they possibly can from people seeking their help.
"Occasionally a girl comes to us with an elementary education background and expects us to introduce her to a nice doctor. Then there are men who ask to he introduced to a jolly widow who has her own house or private income. Of course we can't meet their requirements, and we have to be polite but firm. "Another problem arises from some of the photos that come in with the application formsgirls sitting on stuffed tigers, for instance.
"And the bane of my life", Miss Oddie declared, "is photos of men and women in sun glasses. Obviously we can't get any idea of their appearance from photos like this. We have to send them back and ask for a straightforward headand-shoulders photo and not a touched-up studio portrait. "People have to realise that making introductions is a serious and important matter, not something to be treated lightly."
What type of person applies to the Bureau? "All types," Miss
Oddie replied promptly. "We have a complete cross-section of the Catholic population those with university degrees, some with a more elementary form of education.
"The majority of women who come to us arc in the 29 to 35 age group. Most of our men are in the 20 to 30 group. "But the situation varies from time to time, and at the moment we have a lot of young people in their early twenties who have found it difficult to meet a suitable Catholic partner in the ordinary course of their social or working life."
Miss Oddie emphasised that no introductions are suggested between people of the same parish. "A girl coming to us feels confident when she knows that her photo will not be sent to a man she might already be mixing with in her own parish." .
Miss Oddie gave another assur. awe: "Sometimes a man or girl gets disheartened if the introductions do not progress. They write in, feeling they are hopeless cases, and say they think they ought to withdraw from the Bureau.
"We say, 'Look, you've paid your fee. If you really want to get married, stay with us. We never know when just the right person might come along for you?"
There is the classic example of a girl who had been on the Bureau's books for five years without any success. She wrote in to say that she was going to Africa and had better withdraw. Miss Oddie advised her to keep in contact and eventually introduced and arranged an introduction in Africa. Eight months later the couple married.
The address of the Catholic Introductions Bureau is 9 Belgrave Rd., London, S.W.1.