Commonweal in the 1950s

From Our Archives

In the 1950s, Commonweal was variously described as “doing a tremendous disservice to the Catholic church and a great service to the Communist party” (Joseph McCarthy, 1953) and “dancing on a tight rope over the gulf of excommunication” (author Paul Blanshard, 1953), and summoned (by telegram) to an “ecclesiastical trial for heresy” by a weekly diocesan newspaper for allowing untutored laypeople to write theological opinions on matters of culture. Around this time, too, the term “Commonweal Catholic” became popular, as the magazine actively engaged questions on what it meant to be a “liberal Catholic” in the context of Catholic cultural freedom and Catholic positions on civil rights, McCarthyism, the Korean War, and presidential politics.

As we continue to mark our ninetieth year of publication, we focus this month on Commonweal in the 1950s.

The 1950s, Part 1

Budd Schulberg writes on the “waterfront priest” Father John Corridan, who “doesn't have to draw on any books or second-hand knowledge when he describes the life of a longshoreman's wife in her cold-water railroad flat, pinching pennies to feed her kids.” Walker Percy comments on the midcentury revival of Americans’ interest in the Civil War. J. F. Powers contributes a short story, and Martin Tunnel examines the religious novel, from Bernanos to Greene to Waugh.

Waterfront Priest

Last winter, when waterfront racketeering was front-page news, a tall, intense, youthfully balding New York Irishman wearing the cassock of a Jesuit priest aroused the curiosity of millions of TV and radio fans of Dave Garraway, Tex and Jinx, and...

Zeal: A Short Story

SOUTH of St. Paul the conductor appeared at the head of the coach, held up his ticket punch, and clicked it. The Bishop felt for his ticket. It was there. "I know it's not a pass," said Father Early. He had been talking across the...

The Religious Novel

Notes on the necessary balance between 'the man who believes' and 'the man who writes.' On October 30th, 1929, André Gide finished reading Claudel’s Soulier de Satin and recorded his opinion of it in his diary. "I...

The American War

WHAT ARE THE reasons for the current revival of interest in the Civil War? That there is such a revival is undeniable. Books on the War pour off the presses every week—some of them, incidentally, of a very high order, such as Bruce Catton'...
The 1950s, Part 2

Thomas Merton reflects on the meaning and practice of of self-denial, Reinhold Niebuhr provides a "non-Catholic estimate of American Catholicism," while Eugene McCarthy writes on being Christian and a politician. 

Self-Denial and the Christian

JESUS CHRIST, Who demanded that His disciples leave all things, take up their cross and follow Him, insisted that He was not of this world (John 8: 23). The reason is clear. The “world,"  in this New Testament sense, refers to the...

A Protestant Looks at Catholics

THOUGH the Catholic may find the practice dubious, every  discussion of the Catholic Church, at least in America, is bound to begin  with the issue of the relation of the Church to a "free society." Such a discussion almost...

The Christian in Politics

Is there a Christian politics? Christian political thinkers and leaders have defined and described what they consider the ideal Christian State. Some have seen this ideal State in the medieval synthesis of State and Church and looked to the...
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