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More Greeley

I can't say I was a particular friend or foe of Andrew Greeley, but his death last week made me sit down and think about him. He was a man apart, yet he reminds me of the Chicago Catholic Church in which I grew up. Here is what I wrote:

Andrew Greeley’s death at 85 in Chicago on May 29, came more than four years after he suffered a serious brain injury. In November 2008, traveling to a train station after speaking at a suburban parish, his coat was caught in the door of the departing taxi and he was pulled to the ground. Family and friends rallied to his care and from time to time photos or short videos showed him at celebratory events, but the accident, in effect, cut short his lively and provocative contributions to the U.S. Catholic church.

He was a prolific scholar, writer, journalist, speaker, and thorn in the side of many, including the U.S. bishops. A theologian and sociologist, he had degrees from St. Mary of the Lake Seminary and University of Chicago, the yin and yang of Chicago educational institutions. Greeley was the author of data-rich studies extolling the value of Catholic schools (The Education of Catholic Americans) and the vitality of U.S. Catholicism (The Catholic Imagination) as well as novels, featuring a priest-detective, Blackie Ryan. Critics and many of his fellow intellectuals disdained the novels, but they were wildly popular among Americans, both Catholics and others, often at the top of best-seller lists.

Though he was vocal on most issues that mattered to U.S. Catholics, he did not fit neatly into any single group; in many ways he was his own group. He annoyed Catholic liberals by defending priestly celibacy and opposing abortion. He annoyed Catholic conservatives with his criticism of the church’s teaching on contraception, his criticism of the bishops, and his sexually tinged novels. He criticized secular liberals for their anti-Catholicism, though it’s doubtful that this annoyed them. Long before the secular media took up the clerical sex abuse scandal, Greeley wrote and warned the bishops that they were foolish to ignore the problem and the families who came with complaints. His advice was prescient.

For all of his frank talk and critical views, Greely did not take kindly to criticism himself and wrangled with those who questioned his data on Catholic schools and his assessment of Catholics’ loyalty to the church. I was sometimes the object of Greeley’s pointed pen. In one of his columns, he called me a “vulgar Marxist”). And though I wrote a vociferous rejoinder to his unseemly and (inaccurate) attack, I came to prize the phrase, and enjoyed bragging about it, especially to real Marxists. In his later years, he made peace with many of his critics, yet he never lost the impulse to provoke and annoy.

Though in recent decades, he had come to seem one-of-a-kind, he was part of a large coterie of U.S. priests trained in the mid-twentieth century, especially in Chicago, who were active in an array of lay-oriented organizations and enterprises. It could be said of them, as of Greeley, that they were true allies of the laity. The late Monsignor Daniel Cantwell and Monsignor Jack Egan were among this breed toiling in various community, labor, housing, and civil rights organizations bringing the imprimatur and wisdom of the Church to a wide variety of civic and social justice endeavors. Greeley stood out because of his scholarship, his willingness to vigorously criticize the hierarchy, and the wealth he accumulated from his best-selling novels. He is said to have supported many important causes with this money, especially inner-city Chicago Catholic schools. In another act of provocation, and perhaps payback, he endowed a chair in American Catholic Studies at the University of Chicago where he had been denied tenure.

The advent of John Paul II priests and bishops in the U.S. Catholic Church makes real the often-repeated eulogy, “We will not see his like soon again.” In a brief note, the editors of the New York Times, with which he sometimes quarreled, captured what he was and what will be sorely missed, “Andrew Greeley, Defender of the Faithful.”

About the Author

Margaret O'Brien Steinfels, a former editor of Commonweal, writes frequently in these pages and blogs at dotCommonweal.



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Margaret - excellent.   You don't come across as either vulgar or a Marxist, so maybe you should just chalk it up to a bad day on his part :-)

You might add George Higgins to your list of great Chicago priests.  I'm sure you can name others, too, whom I haven't heard of.

There are still priests who are out there trying to work with people and effect social change.  For the generation of priests after Greeley, a lot of that work is done on behalf of pro-life causes; the advent of abortion as a major issue probably is one of the differentiators between those generations of priests. And there are priests who are working on behalf of the poor, e.g. Msgr Boland in Chicago who runs Catholic Charities.  

As I look around, the work with the poor probably is being done more by religious sisters, deacons and priests in religious orders (and, more than all of that combined, by the laity) more so than diocesan priests.  I just think that diocesan priests are needed in parishes now.  But I have met priests who enroll in places like University of Chicago or Northwestern to study something other than theology or canon law.


JP: you're right about Msgr. Higgins...though for most of my acquaintance with him, he was in DC and not Chicago. I have always thought he kept the bishops at the conference pretty well informed and connected to the issues that they needed to pay attention to. Higgins too is sorely missed and his like we have not seen at the Bishops' Conference since Bryan Hehir went off to Boston. Alas!

As part of that liberal  gnereation that read and sometimes argued with many of the Greeley "theo-ecclesial- politica"l corpus (and admittedly a few novels for fun!!!), despite differences, I was pleased with his last work on Iraq for its outrage.

I thoroughly believe in his being freed for the kingdom, but have missed his arguments and commentary and fear that much of the last 20 years of priests has no exposure or appreciation for such a mind and approach. Who among a younger generation has the breadth, freedom of thought, creative expression, and faithful gadfly abilities...? I can't think of anyone...


In our diocese, it's been overa generation since anyone was sent away forfurther stdies except in canon law..."... the people will perish."

Patty and Pat Crowley weren't priests .... but they should have been.

I have quoted her long and often ....

 ---  During the 1966 Papal Birth Control Commission, at which Chicago Catholics and co-directors of the Christian Family Movement Patty Crowley & her husband Pat were members, a heated discussion about how the church could save face if it were to allow couples to decide how to limit offspring, Marcelino Zalba, a Spanish Jesuit member of the commission, asked, “What then with the millions we have sent to hell” if the rules are relaxed?

Patty immediately responded in what became perhaps her most memorable quote. “Fr. Zalba,” she said, “do you really believe God has carried out all your orders?” ---

God bless pushy wimmin!

David Pasinski's observation reminds us that mid-century the Catholic Church had a surfeit of priests and sisters. One of the outcomes was the chance to send some of them for training that was off the beaten path. Greeley's studies at the U of Chgo was one example. The Sister Formation Movement was another. The shrinking pool of nuns and priests has curtailed that practice. Of course, lay men and women have moved in to place, but I wonder if it's quite the same.

Jim, thank you for reminiscing.  That quote made my day.

And not to be overlooked among the Chicago greats, Monsignor Reynold Hillenbrand (1904-1979), rector of Mundelein Seminary from 1936 to 1944. A pioneer in the US liturgical movement, social justice causes, race relations, Monsignor Hillenbrand was an important mentor to George Higgins and John Egan as well as many other Chicago priests of that generation.

One of my great heroes, Father Godfrey Diekmann, OSB, wrote of Hillenbrand in 1979:

"In any historical overview of the Catholic Church in the United States in this century, Monsignor Hillenbrand would certainly have to be numbered among the top dozen who influenced its apostolic developments. In fact, I cannot think of more than three or four others who could rank with him in this respect. He  inspired generations of priests and laity with his vision of the social gospel rooted in the community-formative dynamic of the Mass."

Not to sound like a broken record, but there was a different set of American bishops in the mid-century.

Can you imagine what Vatican II would have produced if the majority of the bishops were Loris and Cordeleones and Chaputs?  Nothing would have changed.  Nothing.

Monsignor Hillenbrand: The first "reformed" Easter vigil liturgy I participated in was at his church, Sacred Heart in Hubbard Woods, Illinois. This was before the council so I am always a bit flumoxed about what happened before and after with the Easter liturgy. The most vivid memory I have is his deep voice and the vigil readings in the darkened church (no lights on!). He was according to my friends who worked with him in YCS and YCW a stern disciplinarian, not much to their liking. He was famous for being the rector at S. Mary of the Lake in Mundelein who turned out all of those fabulous priests.

Margaret Steinfels is certainly correct about the surfeit of clergy and religious that was part of the reason why bishops and religious superiors felt more free to release them for study, but I think the larger reasons are the many others that are alluded to here and in various other postings about the spirit of the hierarchy, the notions of clerical/religious leadership, and a less fearful engagement with academia-- before bioethics revolution, embracings of post-modernism, and laws about could speak at graduations, etc.

On the pastoral level, there was the Clinical Pastoral Education experience that arose out of the Protestant tradition and benefitted myself and other seminarians of that era, but now is rejected in many dioceses, I'm told, in favor of the more parochial experiences with defined clerical roles, less introspection, less intellectual stimulus, and much less freedom of expression in groups, etc.


Commonweal had a pair of articles about Msgr Hillenbrand in its March 10, 2000 issue.  I remember reading them - the one by Barry Hillenbrand about "my uncle Reynie" was particularly interesting - but the articles are behind a premium archive paywall right now, and I've been having issues with my digital subscription so am not able to include the URLs here.  However, it appears that one Margaret O'Brien Steinfels was the magazine's editor at that time and she may have more information :-)



I was a graduate student in the sociology department at the University of Chicago when Fr. Greeley lost his tenure battle there. I never studied with him but I would run into him from time to time and he would always remind me that I had the same name as a legendary Chicago priest.  And then he would repeat a version of an "alley in Chicago" anecdote:


When it was Monsignor Molloy’s turn at the podium it was clear to all how happy he was to be home. “I have seen the great boulevards of the world,” he told friends gathered in his church basement. “The boulevards of Rome. The boulevards of Paris. The boulevards of Rio de Janeiro. The boulevards of Tokyo. They are all grand.” His voice had risen dramatically. His audience was in his hands where he liked to have them. He paused only briefly before he acknowledged his devotion to his native city. “But I would rather have an alley in Chicago than any one of them.”


When I see my doctor once a year he once again tells me about a book that he's been reading which he thinks I would enjoy.  He's mentioned the same book for the past six or seven years - I hope he finishes some year and is able to move on to another book.  


That was the way with Fr. Greeley.  Before I could say "Hello," he began telling me again about how much Monsignor Patrick Molloy loved Chicago.  It was obvious to all that he shared that love.  I even wonder whether given a choice he would prefer to have been a Protestant Chicagoan rather than a Catholic New Yorker.  New Yorkers were not popular among Chicago intellectuals.  They were interested in fashion and publicity rather than in the more profound truths that Chicago pursued, so it was believed.  Of course in the end Fr. Greeley would never abandon Catholicism but I do think he would find it difficult to renounce the religion of "Chicagoism."  If he was sure that you shared his love for Chicago or his other interests, he would be loyal.  And his students, at least the ones I knew,  praised his loyalty and generosity.


Two of my mentors were his prime opponents during the tenure disputes (there were many such disputes at the time).  Then, as later, Fr. Greeley too often suspected others as being guilty of anti-Catholicism unless proven otherwise.  He probably regarded someone like Bill Donohue as a rank amateur in detecting the virus.


Ironically, Greeley's chief nemesis at the university, Edward Shils, in his last years frequented Castelgandolfo conferences at the invitation of Pope John Paul II. Shils, imho, was the greatest unknown social thinker of his generation.  If someone of lesser stature had led the opposition Fr. Greeley probably would have won his battle of the Midway.

Everyone seemed to know that Greeley was refused tenure at his alma mater, but no one ever seemed to have a concise view of "why?" The assumption that it was anti-Catholicism doesn't quite fit with the number of Catholics who were students and faculty. The cardinals of Chicago never made him a pastor either. Do we discern here that those in authority saw his provocations something to be avoided? Does anyone know.

As for the Molloy story, i.e., Msgr. Molloy; it is also told in Margery Frisbe's biography of Msgr. John Egan; in fact, the title of the book is An Alley in Chicago. Alleys were a distinctive part of Chicago's geography and child-rearing arenas (we played in them). So a Msgr. who extolled them would have people's attention; he knew whereof he spoke.

JP: Sorry I can't get at the archive either. I think the redesign has muddled things a bit. Perhaps they will get straigthened out in due time.


Some memories of Greeley from Fr. Robert Barron here.  Barron's estimate of Greeley: "a conservative Catholic of the golden age of American Catholicism."




Fr. Greeley vs. the U of C, in his own words:


"I was convinced then, and am convinced now, that the reason for the opposition had nothing to do with the quality or quantity of my work but with the fact that I was a Catholic priest. I accuse the responsible people of anti-Catholic bigotry, and I accuse the university administration of cowardly caving in to such bigotry. Moreover, I accuse myself of gross stupidity for getting into the conflict in the first place."

  (P. 141)


Bonus controversy, in the same article (p. 138):


"I think I have finally won the argument, though Commonweal , a Catholic magazine and one of my most bitter enemies, never really had the grace to admit I was right and they were wrong . . ."

It might be a therapeutic notion to realize that the vast majority of ordinary Catholics hardly knew about Greeley. In fact most of them do not know about America, Commonweal or the National Register. It is a humbling thought for Catholic intellectuals and universities that the impact on the ordinary Catholic is not great. This is why history is so unreliable. It is only the literate and the victors who write it. Many people you meet nod to you when you mention all these ideas of liturgy and Vatican II and the names who go with them. They are just being polite not letting us know that we might be more pompous than we realize..

To digress there is one thought in one of Andrew's fictional works (I think it was  (Star Bright! 1997), where it is declared that the best love making was made on Christmas. I never tried it. At least not consciously. This was truly an uplifting work. Those who know the story better can correct me on the details.

 Sinatra said that if you really wanted to know him you had to look at his music. Greeley said the same about his novels. Catholic imagination indeed! This is one of the reasons many of us have a glow when talking or reminiscing about him. The Angels have to give this guy a huge hello! Bless you Andrew.

Practically speaking, your religion is the story you tell about your life.
Andrew Greeley 


Patrick, you're so good at the Internet. 

Greeley got over it. 


I found out about Greeley in a theology class here in LA by my professor who studied at UChicago as it is now known. I've always known it as U of C. Well, this prof. told us how this priest endowed a chair at the Divinity School in spite of adverse treatment as a statement of protest. I was intrigued and felt proud to be a Chicagoan! Now even more so. He was a bundle of contradictions, but are not all of us Chi-towners, City of the Big Shoulders,citified and cultured Mid-westerners who are grounded in practicality, but romantics to the core? No one could pin him down, he was an independent thinker and made us think.  Good for him, most of us don't do it enough.  And he did it in the Church he loved. We must do the same now, as homage!


On more than one occasion I had  lunch with Andrew Greeley. What surprised me most about him was how soft spoken he was (almost to the point of reticience) when in a small setting when i expected him to be as outspoken and pugnacious as he was in print. We kept in touch mainly by letter and then by email along with a regular cascade of books, articles, and news letters he would send out. I suspect I was one of the many contacts he maintained over the decades but I valued the relatinship greatly. He as a great man and a worthy priest. May God give him etrnal rest.

At points in his pugnacious career, Greeley would refer to the "Steinfelses of this world,"--there are millions of them causing trouble everywhere!

But in my time at Commonweal, 1988-2003, I don't recall that he was our enemy. I think he invited me/us to lunch at the venerable Russian Tea Room. And at Fordham, where he praticipated in a forum on anti-Catholicism, he was a perfect lamb.

Greeley would refer to the "Steinfelses of this world,"

A badge of honor!  Plus, it instructs the rest of us what the plural of "Steinfels" is.


Greeley would refer to the "Steinfelses of this world,"

A badge of honor!  Plus, it instructs the rest of us what the plural of "Steinfels" is.


So sorry, my finger stumbled on the last comment as I clicked "Save", and so it very quickly saved duplicate comments.  The old site, which would say something like, "Looks like you already posted that!" was helpful.

I loved Fr. Greely's novels.  They were fun. I read o few of his more scholarly works, and always found them readable, something I wouldn't say about most sociological tracts!  His novels were pretty regular fare in my large Irish Catholic family, read almost with a sense of pride which I can't quite explain though perhaps he could.    My father enjoyed them and often used examples from the good Bishop Blackie to make some point or other.  My mother, on the other hand.  My father's sister, my Aunt Ann thought they were scandalous and one day was railing against yet another "racy novel by that priest!"  to which my mother responded, "I'm not sure its scandalous, Ann, but he must have heard some pretty intersting confessions!'

"I found out about Greeley in a theology class here in LA by my professor who studied at UChicago as it is now known. I've always known it as U of C.

But Greeley made the point many times in many books that it's known simply as The University.


"Greeley got over it." 


Maybe not.  He seemed to have a (typically) Irish way of remembering.




I think the educational point made above about the clergy applies to the laity also.  I just celebrated the 50th anniversary of my college graduation from Villa Madonna College Covington Ky.  I majored in physics.  But if you look at the transcript of my credits, you will notice not only 2 yrs of liberal arts courses, but also 8 theology and 6 philosophy courses - mandatory.  By the time my brother graduated 4 yrs later w/the same major, the requirements had changed drastically.  The th/ph requirements cut to decrease the total hrs needed and to add other libarts courses.


Somewhere in the middle of the last century, the idea of a broad education including grounding in the faith tradition was strong and used to shape young people.  That was somehow lost in the succeeding decades.


In the book review of "Yellow Birds" in cm2013May17 is the quote "small lives,populated by a longing for something more substantial than dirt roads and small dreams."  Having lived a small life, I find joy in remembering those who were on the dirt roads (called alleys in some places) and shared small dreams.


The best testament to anyone, but especially a Christian, is to remember a sacred text of civil origin "It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced."  We do in fact believe that "that [this] dead shall not have died in vain."  We should be "dedicated to the great task remaining before us" which AG began, bringing about the kingdom of God with whatever God has given us as tools.

Thanks Mr. Kuebbing. Good point about Catholic liberal arts education half century ago. I graduated from Loyola Chicago with eight courses in philosophy and eight in theology. The theology was not great, but I've been living and thinking on the philosophy courses ever since. Back then, many students saw these required courses as a waste of time and money (though it wasn't a lot of money). Students today are paying a lot more for a lot less, IMHO.

This reminds me that Greeley had a group of students he met with called the Young Christian Eggheads, counterposed to the Young Christian Students. Don't know exactly what they did, we, of course, were bent on changing the world. Not sure that worked out as we hoped.


“Heaven a homecoming for Andrew Greeley,” by Eugene Cullen Kennedy

Margaret - when I graduated from Loyola Chicago, maybe a couple of decades aftery you, it was three and three.  When we toured Loyola with one of my children a couple of years ago, it was two and two.

Even so, I would estimate that a third to half my credit hours were for the so-called "core curriculum" and were unrelated to my major, and were primarily liberal arts and sciences.  Another third were required courses in the school I was in (Business - I had an Economics concentration) but not really part of my major.  The remainder were Economics courses.  it was a fine, broad education.  And nearly everyone at Loyola was on some sort of professional track - nursing or education or pre-law or pre-med or some such.  The possibility for a narrow and less fertile education was certainly there, but for that core curriculum.


Real "core curriculums" have gone the way of the dodo bird. There were business majors in my day, and pre-med (who were in effect science majors), but everyone had to take a raft of history, English, and social sciences (sociology, ps, psych) along with the philosophy and theology. There wasn't room for electives. The expense of college and the requirement of a good job to pay off the loans has driven students into vocational training. I had the benefit, and perhaps you too, of tuition that was so reasonable, I could earn it myself with part-time jobs, and I lived at home (free room and board).

Ms. S. -

Your analysis of why liberal arts were a strong part of the old curricula is spot on.  But, as you note, times have changed.  So what do we need now?

When I was in college, not very long before you, I gather, college professors were typically paid less than mechanics.  That had to stop because if that injustice were that to continue only the dumb kids would go into university teaching.  

So now we have to decide whether we'll commit a larger part of our treasure to a system like our old university system or commit a smaller portion to vocational training.

OR -- why not provide two systems -- one for old fashioned arts-and-sciences educations of the whole person and one for vocational training.

OR --   why not provide three systems (a la the Hutchins model) -- one purely vocational, one a two-year arts and sciences basic education, and one a group of professional schools which would require BA's or BS's to enter.

I think the third is by far the best way to go.   

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