Thinking Apostles

A Catholic Brain Trust
The History of the Catholic Commission on Intellectual and Cultural Affairs, 1945–1965
Patrick J. Hayes
University of Notre Dame Press, $75, 424 pp.

In the decades following World War II, an impressive collection of American Catholic intellectuals joined together to ponder what they believed was an urgent question: “What is an intellectual apostle?” These prominent scientists, linguists, historians, philosophers, and literary scholars—some of them clerics, but most laypeople—taught at Georgetown, Fordham, Notre Dame, and Catholic University, as well as Harvard, Princeton, Chicago, and Stanford. Eager to fashion a role for public intellectuals with a Catholic pedigree and a developed sense of vocation, they set about organizing an apostolate of the mind that could convincingly appeal to Catholic principles before a pluralistic audience, and in the process help form Catholic identity in the United States.

In A Catholic Brain Trust, Patrick J. Hayes chronicles the history and assesses the achievement of the organization these scholars created, the Catholic Commission on Intellectual and Cultural Affairs (CCICA). Hayes’s thorough and well-documented account reveals a postwar moment ripe for just such an undertaking. It was a period of religious enthusiasm throughout the country and Catholics’ place in national life had improved notably since the dark days of Al Smith’s presidential bid. Opposition remained, to be sure, especially from the likes of Paul Blanshard, the muckraking journalist and author who was an outspoken critic of Catholicism. But the members of...

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About the Author

James P. McCartin teaches at Seton Hall University. He is the author of Prayers of the Faithful: The Shifting Spiritual Life of American Catholics (Harvard University Press).