Paul Hanly Furfey: Priest, Scientist, Social Reformer

Paul Hanly Furfey: Priest, Scientist, Social Reformer

Paul Hanly Furfey: Priest, Scientist, Social Reformer

Paul Hanly Furfey: Priest, Scientist, Social Reformer


Nicholas Rademacher's book is meticulously researched and clearly written, shedding new light on Monsignor Paul Hanly Furfey's life by drawing on Furfey's copious published material and substantial archival deposit. Paul Hanly Furfey (1896-1992) is one of U.S. Catholicism's greatest champions of peace and social justice. He and his colleagues at The Catholic University of America offered a revolutionary view of the university as a center for social transformation, not only in training students to be agents for social change but also in establishing structures which would empower and transform the communities that surrounded the university. In part a response to the Great Depression, their social settlement model drew on the latest social scientific research and technique while at the same time incorporating principles they learned from radical Catholics like Dorothy Day and Catherine de Hueck Doherty. Likewise, through his academic scholarship and popular writings, Furfey offered an alternative vision of the social order and identified concrete steps to achieve that vision.

Indeed, Furfey remains a compelling exemplar for anyone who pursues truth, beauty, and justice, especially within the context of higher education and the academy.

Leaving behind an important legacy for Catholic sociology, Furfey demonstrated how to balance liberal, radical, and revolutionary social thought and practice to elicit new approaches to social reform.


A small band of pilgrims made their way from church, to university, to community house. They were undaunted by the freezing temperature and the imposing snow banks, remnants from the historic snowstorm that had struck the nation’s capital just two weeks earlier. On this bright Saturday morning, February 22, 1936, they prayed together, studied together, and celebrated together as they officially opened Il Poverello House. They named the house after their role model, the “little poor man,” St. Francis of Assisi. They dedicated the house and the community to fostering racial justice, economic justice, and peace. They committed themselves to a program that mirrored their celebration: the integration of prayer, social scientific research, and direct action for social justice.

It was a tipping point in Paul Hanly Furfey’s implementation of a social justice vision for the department of sociology at the Catholic University of America. Through this project, he and his colleagues pursued a social justice program that was “liberal” in its application of the social sciences; “radical,” by following the Gospel as closely as possible; and “revolutionary,” in that they sought fundamental social change through their neighborhood collaborations and university work. They pursued this path for more than three decades. They altered it according to circumstances, but the underlying vision remained the same. As Furfey announced that first day, “We hope to succeed as St. Francis did not by our own wisdom but by humble faith.”

Some thirty-five years later, in 1972, Paul Hanly Furfey (1896–1992) celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of his ordination to the Roman Catholic priesthood. He celebrated his eightieth birthday four years later, just a few days shy of the bicentennial of the United States of America. Even before these major milestones, Furfey’s friends and colleagues had been encouraging him to write an autobiography to mark his significant contribution to the longstanding tradition of Catholic social thought and practice in . . .

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