The Fellowship of Catholic Scholars came into existence "in order to
serve Jesus Christ better by helping one another in our work and by
putting our abilities more fully at the service of the Catholic faith."
Its goals and objectives are elaborated in the organization's official
statement of purpose. The history of this organization can be explained
by developing each of the words in its title.
The Historical Context
The context within which the Fellowship came to be is the
sociological history of the Catholic Church in the United States of
America. The Church's efforts to develop a "plausibility structure" for
itself in this new world shifts over three general time periods.
In the colonial and republican period, the Catholic Church was
clearly a minority. In a country founded on religious principles drawn
from the Protestant churches, the Catholic community sought simply to
establish a foothold.
In the 19th century, the Church grew into its own "Catholic ghetto."
The rapid and expansive development of Catholic parishes, the Catholic
school system, Catholic health care institutions, and a host of other
organizations all contributed to the reality that was both Catholic and
American. The significance of this growth was signaled by an orthodox
Jewish scholar (Will Herberg) in 1957 when he declared that "the
Catholic Church in America operates a vast network of institutions of
almost every type and variety. ... This immense system constitutes at
one and the same time a self-contained Catholic world with its own
complex interior economy and American Catholicism's resources for
participation in the larger American community."
In the third period, during and since the Second Vatican Council,
Catholicism in America felt the effects of secularization and modernism
as there came to be established a "new Catholic knowledge class."
Significant events that marked this established included the reactions
to Humanae Vitae, the publication of the Catholic Theological Society's
statement "On Human Sexuality," and the Land 'O Lakes declaration from
Catholic college and university leaders. Now, it seemed, the religious
community was first and foremost American, rather than Catholic, in its
Seeking Fellowship in Catholic America
Amid the prevailing sentiment of the late 1970's, scholars committed
to the Catholic Church experienced a sense of intellectual alienation,
both from the Church in American and from the colleges and universities
in which they worked. In January 1977, in seven different parts of the
United States, seven different priests from different backgrounds were
discussing with their local peers what could be done to redirect the
Catholic scholarly community towards a more friendly approach to the
teaching authority of the Church. In each case the priests
independently found their working peers isolated and frustrated.
Almost by accident of correspondence and informal conversations, the
following decided to meet in St. Louis on May 7-8, 1977 for a
discussion of the Catholic academic situation:
- Fr. Joseph Mangan, SJ (Loyola University, Chicago)
- Fr. Robert Levis (Gannon College)
- Fr. John Miller, CSC (Provincial of the Holy Cross Fathers)
- Msgr. George Kelly (New York)
- Prof. James Hitchcock (St. Louis University)
- Fr. Ronald Lawler, OFM Cap (Catholic University of America)
At a subsequent meeting on August 23-24 of the same year, a host of
others joined the discussion. It was at that meeting that the decision
was made to create the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars. The designation
as a "fellowship" was suggested by an Australian layman (Karl Schmude)
who happened on the scene by chance and who spoke of similar
fellowships in his homeland. This new "fellowship":
- Elected its first officers: President, Fr. Ronald Lawler, OFM Cap.,
Vice-Presidents, Fr. Joseph Fessio, SJ / Dr. James Hitchcock / Fr. Earl
Weis, SJ and Executive Secretary, Msgr. George Kelly;
- Arranged for the first national meeting, sponsored by John Cardinal
Carberry (archbishop of St. Louis), to be held in Kansas City, MO from
April 28-30, 1978, with a keynote address by William Cardinal Baum on
"The Teaching Office of Bishops";
- Drafted the documents which would guide its future, including, the
.Statement of Purpose,. written by Dr. Germain Grisez and Fr. Ronald
Lawler and the organizations By-Laws, written by Fr. Henry Sattler,
- James Hitchcock, "The Fellowship of Catholic Scholars: Bowing Out
of the New Class," in Being Right: Conservative Catholics in America.
Edited by Mary Jo Weaver and R. Scott Appleby. Indiana University
Press, 1995, pp. 186-201.
- Msgr. George A. Kelly. "A Short History of the Fellowship of
Catholic Scholars," in Catholicity and the New Evangelization. Edited
by Anthony Mastroeni. Franciscan University Press, 1994, pp. 262-263.
- Joseph Varacalli, "Catholicism, American Culture, and Monsignor
George A. Kelly," in The Catholic Social Science Review, 4 (1999):