Joseph Husslein, S.J., and the American Catholic Literary Revival: "A University in Print"

By Werner, Stephen A. | The Catholic Historical Review, October 2001 | Go to article overview

Joseph Husslein, S.J., and the American Catholic Literary Revival: "A University in Print"


Werner, Stephen A., The Catholic Historical Review


I. Rationale and Organization of "A University in Print"

Arnold Sparr described the American Catholic Literary Revival of this century in To Promote, Defend, and Redeem: the Catholic Literary Revival and the Cultural Transformation of American Catholicism, 1920-1960.1 Sparr mentioned the work and writings of such figures as Daniel A. Lord, Francis X. Talbot, and Frank O'Malley. Other Catholic writers also contributed to this revival, including Allen Tate and Joseph Husslein. Husslein is significant for his effort to promote Roman Catholic literature through his writings and more importantly through his project "A University in Print,"in which he edited over two hundred books on Catholic thought and culture for a wide audience.

Joseph Caspar Husslein, SJ. (1873-1952), was born and raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin! In 1891 he entered the Society of Jesus at St. Stanislaus Seminary near St. Louis, Missouri. After studying and teaching at Saint Louis University, Husslein was ordained in 1905. From 1911 to 1930 Husslein worked on the staff of the Jesuit weekly America in New York and taught at Fordham University. During these years Husslein wrote over four hundred articles and ten books on such social issues as worker cooperatives, factory working conditions, woman workers, socialism, and unjust business practices. He produced one of the largest corpora of American Catholic writing on social issues. Husslein's most important books on social questions were The Church and Social Problems (1912), The World Problem: Capital, Labor and the Church (1918), Democratic Industry (1919), The Bible and Labor (1924), and The Christian Social Manifesto (1931).' Of particular significance is Husslein's The Bible and Labor In a method untypical for Catholic thinkers of this period, Husslein used the Bible-particularly the Old Testament-to develop principles for social ethics. This approach would not be repeated until after Vatican Council II.

In 1930 Husslein curtailed his writing on social issues and moved to Saint Louis University, where he founded the School of Social Service and began his "A University in Print."4 Husslein's work at Saint Louis University coincided with a particularly vibrant period for the university. New journals were published: The Modern Schoolman, Historical Bulletin, and Classical Bulletin. The Institute for Social Order was founded.

The figure from the University's Jesuit community to garner the most attention was Father Daniel Lord. A showman and promoter, he organized and ran the Catholic youth program Sodality. He edited the Queen's Work, produced musical pageants, and wrote hundreds of pamphlets. Lord and Husslein knew each other and believed they had the same mission of promoting Roman Catholicism, but Lord-flamboyant and gregarious-and Husslein-hardworking and quiet-were too independent for long-term co-operation. The St. Louis Jesuit community produced a number of"lone stars." Husslein and Lord shared the American penchant for promotion.

For all the difficulties of the 1930's, it was an age of growing confidence for Catholics. The worst of the anti-Catholic nativism had died down; American Catholics had proven their patriotism in World War 1; the National Catholic Welfare Conference brought some unity to the American hierarchy, and the calamity of the depression reaffirmed among Catholic social thinkers the conviction that Catholic teaching had much to say to the world. Radio provided a means for a number of speakers to disseminate a Catholic view. (It is unfortunate that Charles Coughlin is the most remembered of these voices.) The final and most important factor in the growth of confidence was simply the burgeoning Catholic population caused by large families descended from the immense waves of immigrants of the 1800's and early 1900's. Catholics had become the largest denomination in America. American Catholicism had the confidence not only to promote itself to the world, but ironically, and perhaps more importantly, Catholicism had to promote itself to its own members. …

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