The Reverend John LaFarge, S.J.
FATHER LaFARGE, WHO CELEBRATED
HIS EIGHTIETH birthday on February 13, 1960, refers to himself
not as a professional author, but as a working priest-journalist.
In that capacity, his life business has been to study and relate
the significant events of the day with the deeper moral and theological
issues that lie behind them. Many of his ideas, in consequence,
have been expressed not in a formal fashion, but in current comment
upon the changing scene. His published books have been incidental
to his current journalistic writing; all his writing, he insists,
is specifically that of a priest, characterized by a priestly
perspective as he conceived it.
He was born on February 13,
1880, in Newport, Rhode Island, son of the well-known artist,
muralist, and author, John LaFarge (1835-1910), a descendant
of early French refugees in this country. His mother, Margaret
Mason Perry, a native Rhode Islander, was a granddaughter of
Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, of Lake Erie fame, and a lineal
descendant of Benjamin Franklin.
After his early education,
first in Newport and later in New York, he entered Harvard College
in 1897, and graduated in the class of 1901. At Harvard he specialized
throughout in the Latin and Greek classics, but also did freshman
English under Professor Copeland ("Copey"), and wrote
for the Harvard Monthly. In the autumn of 1901 he carried
out a long-entertained plan, and began his studies for the priesthood
at the University of Innsbruck, Austria, where the Jesuits of
the Austrian Province held the professorship in the Faculty of
Theology. Ordained to the priesthood in Innsbruck on July 26,
1905, the following November he entered the novitiate of the
New York-Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus at St. Andrew-on-Hudson,
Poughkeepsie, New York. After two years at St. Andrew, and a
year's teaching at Canisius College, Buffalo, and later at Loyola
College, Baltimore, he took a two-year course and M.A. in philosophy
at Woodstock College, Maryland. Ill health, however, obliged
him to give up his further plan to spend a full four years reviewing
his theology at Woodstock, and instead to devote himself to active
pastoral work, one year of which was spent in the penal and hospital
institutions of New York City. This was followed by fifteen years
of pastoral labor in the Jesuit rural missions of St. Mary's
County, in southern Maryland-the oldest English-speaking parish
in the New World. The only interruption of this period was the
year of prescribed Tertianship, at St. Andrew, 1916-17.
The long years of country missions
brought him into intimate, grass-roots contact with many of the
problems that confront the Church in this country: the problems
of rural life and rural economy; of catechetics and homiletic
methods; of community life in a racially mixed (white and Negro)
community and the kindred problems of racial prejudice; of the
Catholic Church in relation to our nation's historical and cultural
heritage; of religious and secular education for people in a
backward community; and of the relation of such a community to
the nation at large. Most of all, the experience made the young
priest ponder long and deeply upon the spiritual ideals which
a Catholic should foster in meeting the great moral and religious
issues of the time. During these years, too, encouraged by a
couple of older Jesuit Fathers, he undertook to set up a complete
school system, elementary and secondary, for the white youth
and the Negro youth of the local community. His difficult and
drastic experiences in carrying out this project brought him
into close contact with the larger public, Catholic and non-Catholic
alike, and particularly with persons and agencies interested
in the education and welfare of the Negro people.
In August 1926, he was appointed
an associate editor of America, at the instance of its
editor-in-chief, Father Wilf rid Parsons, S.J. This position
he has held up till now, except for two years as executive editor,
under Father Francis X. Talbot, S.J., and four years as editorin-chief,
His fund-raising work in connection
with the educational projects he had begun during the years in
Maryland-a work continued after his coming to New Yorkled to
his association with leading persons of various racial backgrounds
who would be interested in studying the deeper issues involved.
His past experiences inspired him to make a special effort to
form spiritual lay leaders and to the establishment in June 1934,
of the Catholic Interracial Council of New York. This was the
parent of similar Councils around the country-numbering 42 in
May 1960-and their association, in 1959, in the form of the National
Catholic Conference on Interracial Justice. Considerable of his
writing has been for the pages of the organ of the Catholic Interracial
movement, The Interracial Review.
Since their foundation, he
has been chaplain of the Liturgical Arts Society (1933) and the
New York Catholic Interracial Council (1934). He has also been
chaplain of the Catholic Laymen's Union and of St. Ansgar's Scandinavian
Catholic League, both of New York. At various times he has been
an officer of the Catholic Association for International Peace
and of the National Catholic Rural Life Conference.
Besides his signed and unsigned
contributions to America since 1926, he has contributed
to Etudes (Paris), Civilta Catolica (Rome), Criterio
(Argentina), Stimmen der Zeit (Munich), Streven
(Brussels), De Linie (Amsterdam), The Month (England),
as well as American reviews: Commonweal, Liturgical Arts,
Sign, Catholic World, Saturday Review, etc. He has also contributed
many papers on cultural and socio-philosophic topics in the volumes
of the Conference on Science, Philosophy, and Religion, of which
he is a Fellow, and by the Institute on Ethics, as well as to
other symposia, such as Realities (Bruce, 1957), and Wisdom
(2nd ser., 1959). His books are as follows:
Jesuits in Modern Times
(America Press, 1927),
was written chiefly to refute certain distortions of the Jesuit
life that had been published in this country and to sum up the
main features of Jesuit spirituality.
Interracial Justice (America Press, 1937), was the first
book, as far as the author knows, to attempt to present the Christian
philosophy of justice and charity between racial groups in the
community in a systematically organized fashion, along with a
practical plan of action. It was praised to the author personally
by Pope Pius XI, at an audience in 1938, as "the best"
he had read upon the subject.
The Race Question and the
Negro (Longmans, 1953,
and later in paperback), was a completely revised form of Interracial
Justice, with four new chapters added.
No Postponement (Longmans, 1950), discussed many of
the practical problems of interracial action from the general
standpoint of President Truman's Point Four proposal and the
relation of American activities to the world situation. It also
recalled some of the interesting features of this type of work
in earlier years in this country, which were within the author's
A John LaFarge Reader (America Press, 1955), presented an
anthology drawn from his addresses and articles.
The Manner Is Ordinary (Harcourt, 1954), is an autobiography,
written in response to the urging of his friends and insistence
of Superiors. The title was taken from the Jesuit Rules, which
describe the manner of life in the Society as being "ordinary,"
in the sense that it differs very little outwardly from that
of any other Catholic clergyman-parish priest or professor-and
is not obliged to the recitation of Divine Office in choir, or
to special prescribed fasts or other austerities as is the case
in the older religious communities. In writing this book, he
was greatly aided by the "house diaries" he had kept
during his fifteen years in southern Maryland, as well as by
a wealth of family letters and the assistance of his sister,
the late Miss Margaret LaFarge, of Newport, Rhode Island, and
by his niece, Dr. Frances S. Childs, of Brooklyn College. The
work was re-issued in paperback as one of Doubleday's Image Books.
The expert French version, Un Américain comme les autres
(Alsatia, Colmar, 1959; also distributed by America Press),
by Jean Minêry, S.J., includes additions and adaptations
by the author. In America, February 13, 1960, Fr. LaFarge
described some of the philosophy of his autobiography.
Report on the American Jesuits
(Farrar, 1956), was
made in collaboration with the brilliant photographer, Margaret
Bourke-White. The aim of the text and the pictures was to present
the scope and drama of the life and the educational formation
of the American Jesuits, at home and abroad.
The Catholic Viewpoint on
Race Relations (Doubleday,
1956), was the first of the Catholic Viewpoint series projected
by Mr. John Delaney of Doubleday. The volume paid special attention
to practical action methods, illustrating them from experience.
A new edition, greatly revised and brought up to date, was issued
by Doubleday in 1960.
An American Amen (Farrar, 1958), is, in a sense, a sequel
to The Manner Is Ordinary. The central thought of the
book is the problem of personal liberty, of free individual moral
choice, and the conditions that affect it and determine it, especially
the transcendent dialectic of the Incarnation. Considerable attention
is also given to the question of relating scientific method to
religious belief, and the author relates some of his personal
experiences in discussing this subject with persons not of the
Catholic faith. The book, so to speak, is contemplative, and
the author, on second thought, would be more easily followed
if the ideas were presented in a somewhat different order, and
were elaborated in less concise and a more illustrated form.
If it were ever his opportunity to add still another volume to
those he has already produced, it would probably be something
along that line.
He has contributed annually
for many years to the Brittanica Yearbook (Chicago), on
Catholic matters, as well as to the Encyclopedia Americana
Yearbook (New York). He is a Fellow of the National Academy
of Arts and Sciences (Boston), a former member of Panel VII (Rockefeller
Brothers Report on Foreign Policy, 1947), is one of 147 Electors
of the National Hall of Fame (New York University) for 1960;
etc. He has been the recipient of such awards as the Religion
and Labor Foundation World Brotherhood Award, the Catholic Association
for International Peace, the National Catholic Rural Life Association,
and the Catholic Press Awards, the American Liberties Medallion
of the American Jewish Committee.
He has appeared frequently
on radio and television. In 1947, he delivered the Dudleian Lecture
in Harvard University Divinity School, and the Phi Beta Kappa
Oration at the Harvard College Commencement of 1954. He lectured
in Paris several times (in French) on United States democracy,
in 1938, and in 1947 and 1951 before German student groups (In
German). In 1958, he lectured in French at the Cours International
of the Benedictine Monastery of Toumiline, Morocco, and has written
prefaces for books dealing with matters of the spiritual life,
French and English. In his autobiography he describes particularly
his visits to Europe in the summers of 1938, 1947, and 1951 (the
last mentioned as a traveling consultant of the United States
Department in Germany). He has also written of his experiences
at intellectual discussions in Cuba, 1946, and Puerto Rico, 1959.
As a constant book reviewer,
some two or three a month for about 35 years, most of his reviews
have been for America; but also for Thought, Interracial
Review, New York Times, Saturday Review, Herald-Tribune, etc.
He has also written several pamphlets for America Press.
He has always considered his
writing not so much as a literary production for its own sake,
but rather as one of several mediums for expressing his ideas.
These ideas his own mind has developed and more or less coordinated
through constant discussion with a great variety of persons;
not only of the Catholic faith, but many persons outside of it.
It is his specific satisfaction to see them taken up and carried
on by younger, much better informed minds.
EDITOR'S NOTE: To preclude
any misunderstanding in the matter: this chapter was written
by Father LaFarge, and expressly for The Book of Catholic
published in The Book of Catholic Authors, Walter Romig,
Sixth Series, 1960.