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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, 1944-48.

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 own experience.

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 Authors.

Originally published in The Book of Catholic Authors, Walter Romig, Sixth Series, 1960.


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