Fellowship Documents

History of the Fellowship


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 outlook.

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 organization's By-Laws, written by Fr. Henry Sattler, CSSR.


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): 119-137.

2001 - 2018 © The Fellowship of Catholic Scholars | All rights reserved.