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Bob Drinan

The Controversial Life of the First Catholic Priest Elected to Congress

Raymond Schroth, S.J.

Publication Year: 2010

Raymond Schroth's Bob Drinan: The Controversial Life of the First Catholic Priest Elected to Congress shows that the contentious mixture of religion and politics in this country is nothing new. Four decades ago, Father Robert Drinan, the fiery Jesuit priest from Massachusetts, not only demonstrated against the Vietnam War, he ran for Congress as an antiwar candidate and won, going on to serve for 10 years. Schroth has delved through magazine and newspaper articles and various archives (including Drinan's congressional records at Boston College, where he taught and also served as dean of the law school) and has interviewed dozens of those who knew Drinan to bring us a life-sized portrait. The result is a humanistic profile of an intensely private man and a glimpse into the life of a priest-politician who saw advocacy of human rights as his call. Drinan defined himself as a moral architectand was quick to act on his convictions, whether from the bully pulpit of the halls of Congress or from his position in the Church as a priest; to him they were as intricately woven as the clerical garb he continued to wear unapologetically throughout his elected tenure. Drinan's opposition to the Vietnam War and its extension into Cambodia, his call for the impeachment of President Richard Nixon (he served on the House Judiciary Committee, which initiated the charges), his pro-choice stance on abortion (legally, not morally), his passion for civil rights, and his devotion to Jewish people and the well-being of Israel made him one of the most liberal members of Congress and a force to be reckoned with. But his loyalty to the Church was never in question, and when Pope John Paul II demanded that he step down from offi ce, he did so unquestioningly. Afterward, he continued to champion the ideals he thought would make the world a better place. He didn't think of it in terms of left and right; as moral architect, he saw it in terms of right and wrong.This important book doesn't resolve debate about issues of church and state, but it does help us understand how one side can inform the other, if we are listening. It has much to say that is worth hearing.

Published by: Fordham University Press

Title page, copyright, dedication

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pp. ix-xi

The best reason to write a book about Father Robert F. Drinan, S.J., is the importance of his life and career, both in his own time and today. Whether the overall impact of his ten years as the first Roman Catholic priest elected to Congress was positive or negative will be debated for years to come. He decided to answer the question of whether the public roles of the priest...

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pp. xiii-xv

A project as challenging as this requires, in the long run, the efforts of not just the writer, but of a community of persons who believe that the story of Robert F. Drinan, S.J., needs to be told. The hardest part was getting started, overcoming obstacles that had to do with sources, resources, a home base, and personal contacts. So first I must thank my two provincials...

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pp. 1-7

In 1964 Anthony J. LoFrisco was a young lawyer and a 1955 Fordham University graduate who considered himself a very conservative Republican, not someone who usually attended lectures and not someone for whom the civil rights movement was anything he could do more than read about. But when he saw an item in the New York Law Journal about an upcoming...

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1. A New Beginning

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pp. 8-36

Dottie Reichard, who had run the 1978 campaign, was worried. Something must be wrong, she thought. Drinan had seemed sad, silent, not himself all week. Over the years those close to him had noticed that when these moods came along it was because he was having trouble with the Vatican. Now...

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2. Breaking out from a World Frozen in Time

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pp. 37-62

During the 1942 spring semester the war mobilization moved swiftly. Day after day, when Father William Leonard, S.J., a theologian and liturgist who had enormous influence on the boys, especially on Bob Drinan, called roll in class, someone would answer, ‘‘He’s gone, Father.’’ Following...

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3. Moving Up

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pp. 63-86

After ordination, in the pre–Vatican II course, the fourth year of theology was usually a mixture of the two worlds—taking some more courses in preparation for the climactic ad grad oral exam, in which a panel of professors grills the young priest on all he was supposed to have learned during the seven years of philosophy and theology and grades him from a six...

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4. ‘‘The World Turned Upside Down’’

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pp. 87-104

When General Cornwallis surrendered to General Washington after the Battle of Yorktown in 1781, the band struck up an old march, ‘‘The World Turned Upside Down.’’ There would be a consensus of not just historians, but most of those who actively participated in the action and passion of America...

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5. A ‘‘New Politics’’ Candidate

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pp. 105-125

Like Jerome Grossman and all those who were across from Grant Park at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968 during the police attacks, Arthur Obermayer, a scientist, intellectual, philanthropist, and activist, was determined to do whatever he could to make sure that something like this could not happen again. For the previous ten years he had been...

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6. The ‘‘Miracle’’ Election

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pp. 126-151

In a February 16 letter to his would-be constituents on Boston College Law School stationery, Dean Drinan invited voters to the February 21 caucus in Concord and reminded them that his new book, Vietnam and Armageddon, would appear on May 6 as an ‘‘outline of a new challenging foreign policy...

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7. The Age of Less-Great Expectations

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pp. 152-171

During the first week of January 1971 Father Robert F. Drinan moved into another new world, one that called for him to assume a new role and a new identity. And the decade of American history into which he was carried had begun to accumulate its own unforeseen peculiarities. Dubbed in 1976 by author Tom Wolfe ‘‘The Me Decade,’’ the 1970s had a new ethos that...

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8. Close Calls

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pp. 172-194

One of Drinan’s Jesuit friends was Mike Lavelle, dean of Cleveland’s John Carroll University Business School, who would occasionally invite him to speak—for example, at the annual Bench and Bar alumni dinner in the spring of 1972. Lavelle was never known to be cowed by negative reaction to his...

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9. ‘‘My conscience tells me . . .’’

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pp. 195-212

One of the cultural icons suggested to represent the 1970s—an age when people turned inward, when personal freedom counted for more than civic responsibility, or when families broke up, and violence in films became more routine and more bizarre—was the William Friedkin film of William Peter Blatty’s book The Exorcist. The novel and film were based, allegedly,...

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10. The Moral Architect

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pp. 213-237

Thin, medium height, almost totally bald; his skin has a ‘‘translucent quality accentuated by the unrelieved black of his clerical garb.’’ His eyes, very deep-set, punctuate his conversation, as they roll around, close as he pauses to reflect, then ‘‘dart skyward in mock alarm or dismay.’’ He is controlled in his intensity, yet playful, as he presses his long, thin fingers together in...

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11. Around the World

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pp. 238-265

Cngressman Drinan’s four-page occasional newsletter to his constituents summed up the achievements of 1974 and outlined the challenges ahead in 1975, celebrating the end of the ‘‘dark night’’ of Watergate and offering hope, based on the arrival of ‘‘75 new and generally progressive Democrats’’ in the House and the ‘‘erosion of the seniority rule.’’ This, it...

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12. Latin America, Israel, and the Last Campaign

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pp. 266-294

Drinan’s expedition to Argentina was in the tradition of his 1969 flight with an investigating committee to Vietnam—a team of concerned human rights activists, this time representing Amnesty International, who wanted to talk to presidents and prisoners, visit scenes of alleged crimes, and question...

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13. ‘‘Hurt, bitter, and confused’’

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pp. 295-315

In many ways, the travels of Drinan’s last two years in Congress were trips that summed up the pattern and goals of his life. The persona of the advocate for the oppressed—particularly black people, immigrants, refugees, and victims of dictatorial governments—was first implanted on his 1969 trip to Vietnam, where he employed the research method of listening to a cross-section...

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Epilogue: Resurrection

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pp. 316-347

Once Pedro Arrupe had carried out the very unpleasant task— unpleasant for both Drinan and himself—of removing Drinan from office, he turned his attention to two major items on his agenda. Like Drinan, he had been struck in his travels through the Third World by the pathetic sight of thousands of refugees, including the boat people fleeing the after-effects...

Notes and Sources

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pp. 349-358

Bibliography and Interviews

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pp. 359-365


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pp. 367-393

Image Plates

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E-ISBN-13: 9780823248728
Print-ISBN-13: 9780823233045
Print-ISBN-10: 0823233049

Page Count: 432
Publication Year: 2010

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Drinan, Robert F.
  • Legislators -- United States.
  • United States. Congress. House -- Biography.
  • Catholic Church -- Clergy -- Biography.
  • United States -- Politics and government -- 1969-1974.
  • United States -- Politics and government -- 1974-1977.
  • United States -- Politics and government -- 1977-1981.
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