Religion and Public Life: The Legacy of Monsignor John A. Ryan

By Calo, Zachary R. | The Catholic Historical Review, July 2003 | Go to article overview

Religion and Public Life: The Legacy of Monsignor John A. Ryan


Calo, Zachary R., The Catholic Historical Review


Religion and Public Life: The Legacy of Monsignor John A. Ryan. Edited by Robert G. Kennedy, Mary Christine Athans, Bernard V. Brady, William C. McDonough, and Michael J. Naughton. (Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America. 2001. Pp. vi, 384. Paperback.)

This collection of essays emerged from a 1995 conference commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the death of John A. Ryan, the American social theorist who was professor of moral theology at the Catholic University of America, director of the Social Action Department of the National Catholic Welfare Conference, and author of numerous books including most notably A Living Wage (1906) and Distributive Justice (1916).

Ryan was certainly one of the seminal American Catholic thinkers of the twentieth century. John Coleman, one of the volume's contributors, has argued in the past that Ryan, Orestes Brownson, and John Courtney Murray are the only three deceased American Catholic theologians "still worth reading today for more than historical interest." Ryan, however, has not received the scholarly attention demanded by his place in the intellectual canon. While a steady trickle of Ryan scholarship has appeared over the past several decades, it has not equaled that addressing the thought of Brownson, Murray, or even Dorothy Day. Even more unfortunate is that much of the work on Ryan has treated him primarily as an object of historical, but not contemporary, import. This book is a refreshing change in that it not only celebrates Ryan's historical importance, but treats his thought as a resource for contemporary Christian reflection about church and society. As the book's introduction states, the theme of the conference from which these papers come "was not merely a retrospective of Ryan's work, but also an exploration of the vitality of the tradition he helped to initiate."

The book contains two dozen wide-ranging essays divided into thematic sections. The introductory section looks at Ryan in the context of American and American Catholic history, while the set of essays that follows considers Ryan in the context of the broader Catholic social-thought tradition. …

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