The National Catholic Review
James T. Keane

Even longtime readers of America may be unaware of the origins of this periodical. It was born in April 1909, during the worst days of the anti-Modernist crusade in the Catholic Church. Hysterical paranoia ran rampant, and Catholic intellectuals and writers were one after another accused of heresy by anonymous sources in Rome. This witch hunt extended to American Catholic journalism as well, with the result that in 1908 a well-regarded journal published from the New York archdiocesan seminary at Dunwoodie, N.Y., The New York Review, was forced to cease publication just three years after it began because of alleged Modernist infiltration.

 

Earlier pressure had come from Pope Leo XIII’s denunciation in Testem Benevolentiae (1899) of “Americanism,” the label for a vague amalgam of “heresies” that included separation of church and state, freedom of speech, ecumenism and the belief that democracy was universally applicable to all cultures. The primary target was Isaac Thomas Hecker (1819-86), a Catholic intellectual who had promoted engagement between the nation and the church and suggested that each had much to learn from the other. He is remembered today as the founder of the Missionary Society of St. Paul the Apostle, the Paulists.

In light of this papal opprobrium and repressive atmosphere, it was with a certain courage (or naïveté) that the editors chose the name America over other popular suggestions, including The Witness, Truth, Old and New, and Word and Work. “True to its name and to its character as a Catholic review,” said the magazine’s founder and first editor, John J. Wynne, S.J., in 1909, “America will be cosmopolitan not only in contents but also in spirit.”

Wynne enjoyed widespread popularity as a writer and lecturer, and was later well known in Catholic circles for his in-depth study of the church and his work as an editor of The Catholic Encyclopedia. While he was editor, certain Jesuits in Rome protested the repeated silencings of Catholic intellectuals and journals on charges of Modernism under Pope Pius X, with the result that the Jesuits for a time lost much of their influence with the Vatican bureaucracy.

Indeed, the noted historian Roger Aubert has claimed that Pius X was so incensed at the supposed disloyalty of Jesuit periodicals that he was prepared to intervene in the internal governance of the Jesuits to replace Francis X. Wernz, S.J., as head of the Society of Jesus. The almost simultaneous deaths of both men prevented such an unprecedented intervention.

A primary reason America survived its first decade of publication and has continued for almost a century, without suffering the fate of The New York Review and other journals, was the intervention of the newly elected Pope Benedict XV in 1914. In Ad Beatissimi Apostolorum, the first encyclical of his short reign, Benedict attempted to put an end to the paranoia about “enemies within,” the alleged pressing danger which allowed legions of anonymous complainants to destroy the intellectual efforts and reputations of the sons and daughters of the church in the name of a supposed orthodoxy. Benedict XV’s words were a clarion call to the young America, and many an editor took them to heart in the following years:

“As regards matters in which without harm to faith or discipline--in the absence of any authoritative intervention of the Apostolic See--there is room for divergent opinions, it is clearly the right of everyone to express and defend his own opinion. But in such discussions no expressions should be used which might constitute serious breaches of charity; let each one freely defend his own opinion, but let it be done with due moderation, so that no one should consider himself entitled to affix on those who merely do not agree with his ideas the stigma of disloyalty to faith or to discipline.”

These words saved America then; may they be remembered by its supporters and detractors alike today. Thomas J. Reese, S.J., editor of America from 1998 to 2005, epitomized both their letter and their spirit. We remain in his debt for his service to the people of God.

James T. Keane, S.J., is a Jesuit scholastic studying theology at Fordham University in New York City and a former intern at America.

Comments

Phillip Morley | 5/20/2005 - 8:35pm
Wow, what a powerful article and the irony between Pope Benedict XV and the XVI. What a beautiful story about the beginning of America magazine. I was flabbergasted. I'm even more proud that you have the "testicular virility" (to quote our governor)to speak your peace.

I think I would be considered, by most who know me, to be a somewhat conservative person. I subscribe to our diocesan newspaper. I don't read the National Catholic Reporter. I do, when not working, pray the rosary. I attend sunday mass regularly I listen to Relevant Radio frequently going to or from work (though I sometimes cringe at some of the comments) & few other things. I've been an on/off subscriber to America--but in the last few years, I've been drawn to the magazine more and more. I felt I had found a really deep (at least for me), solid, Catholic publication which approched issues in such a balanced, thought provoking, an open manner. Needless to say, I was dumbfounded to hear the background behind Fr. Reese's gracious resignation. I'm fearful that what drew me perhaps the most to your magazine--the theological discussions--will fade away. I'm afraid your magazine will become bland, as I once tended to find it (a long time ago I would mostly scan it but would always read "The Word". In the past few years, however, I have really used your articles to stimulate & challenge my faith life, but also to sharpen my thinking on a variety of topics. Overall, however, I was just proud and happy to have such a stimulating, yet non-sensational, Catholic voice to turn to. I hope it will continue!! Thank you for many years of blessings!!

1

Departure of Father Thomas J. Reese | 5/20/2005 - 5:57pm
Will someone please explain to us, the avid readers of America, why the Jesuits decided not to back Father Reese through hell and high water. If not the Jesuits,who will save us from this tyranny?

The article on page 4 of the May 23 issue is not explanation enough. Why did not the Jesuits encourage Father Reese to stay at least until it was clear what the new pope would do?

Sincerely,

William L. Baker

Charles Egleston | 6/4/2005 - 11:23am
James T. Keane's drawing of parallels between the modernist controversies of the early 20th century and today is an apt comparison.

I would like to see him draw out the analogy to explore how the two editors of the New York Review, one of whom was Fr. Francis Patrick Duffy, then responded to the benevolent attitude of Pope Benedict XV in 1914.

Memorialized by a 1937 statue of him in Times Square, Duffy was chaplain to the 69th Regiment from 1916 to 1918. His support of Alfred Smith did much to ease Anti-Catholic sentiment when Smith ran for president.

Charles Egleston, Librarian, Mercer School of Theology

Ernest C. Raskauskas | 2/16/2007 - 3:37pm
Please allow me to add a postscript to the column by James T. Keane, S.J. (5/30). Choosing the name America for a weekly in 1909 on the heels of The New York Review’s ceasing publication in 1908, whether courageous or naive, had to be interpreted in Rome as an act of defiance. In 1896 Pope Leo XIII fired Bishop John J. Keane, the first rector of The Catholic University of America. Among the newspaper accounts of the day, The Springfield Republican wrote, “The inevitable inference in American minds is not that this is a case of a church principle of ‘rotation in office’ but that Bishop Keane has been a trifle too American—somewhat too willing to affiliate in a degree with other Christians, somewhat too Catholic to be Roman Catholic...” (Springfield Republican, Oct 5, 1896). While Pope Leo seems to have been obsessed with concerns about “Americanism” during most of his pontificate, there is a redeeming counterbalance in his encyclical Rerum Novarum in 1891, which is a foundational teaching about the rights and dignity of labor. Our church is one of tradition, both good and bad. Our solace is that while the Holy Spirit seems to move glacially, the movement is always forward, inexorably forward.

Phillip Morley | 5/20/2005 - 8:35pm
Wow, what a powerful article and the irony between Pope Benedict XV and the XVI. What a beautiful story about the beginning of America magazine. I was flabbergasted. I'm even more proud that you have the "testicular virility" (to quote our governor)to speak your peace.

I think I would be considered, by most who know me, to be a somewhat conservative person. I subscribe to our diocesan newspaper. I don't read the National Catholic Reporter. I do, when not working, pray the rosary. I attend sunday mass regularly I listen to Relevant Radio frequently going to or from work (though I sometimes cringe at some of the comments) & few other things. I've been an on/off subscriber to America--but in the last few years, I've been drawn to the magazine more and more. I felt I had found a really deep (at least for me), solid, Catholic publication which approched issues in such a balanced, thought provoking, an open manner. Needless to say, I was dumbfounded to hear the background behind Fr. Reese's gracious resignation. I'm fearful that what drew me perhaps the most to your magazine--the theological discussions--will fade away. I'm afraid your magazine will become bland, as I once tended to find it (a long time ago I would mostly scan it but would always read "The Word". In the past few years, however, I have really used your articles to stimulate & challenge my faith life, but also to sharpen my thinking on a variety of topics. Overall, however, I was just proud and happy to have such a stimulating, yet non-sensational, Catholic voice to turn to. I hope it will continue!! Thank you for many years of blessings!!

1

Departure of Father Thomas J. Reese | 5/20/2005 - 5:57pm
Will someone please explain to us, the avid readers of America, why the Jesuits decided not to back Father Reese through hell and high water. If not the Jesuits,who will save us from this tyranny?

The article on page 4 of the May 23 issue is not explanation enough. Why did not the Jesuits encourage Father Reese to stay at least until it was clear what the new pope would do?

Sincerely,

William L. Baker

Charles Egleston | 6/4/2005 - 11:23am
James T. Keane's drawing of parallels between the modernist controversies of the early 20th century and today is an apt comparison.

I would like to see him draw out the analogy to explore how the two editors of the New York Review, one of whom was Fr. Francis Patrick Duffy, then responded to the benevolent attitude of Pope Benedict XV in 1914.

Memorialized by a 1937 statue of him in Times Square, Duffy was chaplain to the 69th Regiment from 1916 to 1918. His support of Alfred Smith did much to ease Anti-Catholic sentiment when Smith ran for president.

Charles Egleston, Librarian, Mercer School of Theology

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