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Louis F. Hartman: The Contributions of a Redemptorist Biblical Scholar

From: U.S. Catholic Historian
Volume 31, Number 4, Fall 2013
pp. 27-46 | 10.1353/cht.2013.0022

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

When Father Louie Hartman, C.Ss.R., passed away in late August 1970, The New York Times, the Paris Herald, United Press International, and the Associated Press all carried notices of his death.1 Condolences poured in from theologians, scripture scholars, archaeologists, and many friends and admirers. Archbishop John F. Whealon of Hartford, Connecticut, himself a scripture scholar, composed an In Memoriam editorial for his archdiocesan newspaper extolling Hartman’s accomplishments and praising his disposition: “In many awkward situations the unpretentious, folksy, witty and cheerful presentation of Father Louis captivated all and won the day.”2 A posthumous tribute in the Catholic Biblical Quarterly notes that he was lovable, erudite, considerate, comical, industrious, loyal, charming, disorganized, witty, and courteous—possessing “unquestioned competence as a scholar.”3 In addition to English, he “felt quite at home in Greek, Latin, German, French, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, Sumerian, Akkadian, Ugaritic, ancient Hebrew, Aramaic, Syriac, and modern Hebrew as well.”4

This essay surveys the life and career of an unassuming Redemptorist priest whose behind-the-scenes activities in the field of Catholic biblical scholarship often placed him in the center of important mid-twentieth century advances and controversies. Within the Redemptorists’ Baltimore Province, to which Hartman belonged, confreres struggled over the correct method of biblical interpretation. Apart from his religious order, Hartman mediated disputes between U.S. bishops and the Catholic Biblical Association. In his last years, he became increasingly interested in ecumenical work, an important outgrowth of the Second Vatican Council, but one that potentially disturbed many across the theological spectrum. He was widely consulted on biblical matters, often to the point of distraction from his own research and publishing. His editorial labors resulted in his crowning achievement—publication of the New American Bible between 1948 and 1970, though he did not live to see its ultimate publication weeks after his death.

A Bronx Boy and Early Religious Life

Louis Francis Hartman was born in the Melrose section of the Bronx, New York City, on January 17, 1901, to a half-Irish, half-German mother, Josephine Grennan, and his German-Swiss father, also named Louis.5 He never completely lost his prominent Bronx accent. One of his collaborators, Father Alexander di Lella, O.F.M., told of an occasion when Hartman said quite seriously, “My accent used to be far woise; but it’s not bad now, because I woiked on it.”6

Hartman’s elementary schooling occurred at the parish school of the Immaculate Conception in the Bronx, staffed by Redemptorists since 1886. Hartman later wrote, “School days passed just the same as any other boy’s,” though he felt early impulses toward entering religious life. According to a brief autobiography prepared prior to his novitiate, the sudden commitment of his second oldest sister to enter the Franciscan Order of St. Clare affected Hartman. “At her departure, as I can now distinctly recall, my little mind wondered whether I too would have to leave home some day for God.”7 He credited an unnamed Christian Brother for fostering his vocation. Young Hartman’s confessor, George Bienlein, C.Ss.R., encouraged him to apply to the Redemptorist minor seminary, St. Mary’s College in North East, Pennsylvania, in the fall of 1915. His novitiate year at St. Mary’s College in Ilchester, Maryland, fifteen miles from Baltimore, concluded with profession of vows on August 22, 1922. He then pursued philosophical and theological studies at Mount Saint Alphonsus Seminary, Esopus, New York. Diligent in studies, he nonetheless left time for bird-watching, playing the piccolo, and building radios in his spare time.8 Cardinal Patrick Hayes of New York ordained him to the priesthood at Mount Saint Alphonsus on June 19, 1927. He spent his “second novitiate”—an extra period of spiritual and ministerial preparation—at the Redemptorist parish of St. Mary’s in Annapolis, Maryland.

The young Father Hartman was neither destined for work in the missions, nor bound for parish ministry. Instead, as a consequence of a budding aptitude for biblical languages and scripture study, when he finished the second novitiate in February 1929, his superiors assigned him to graduate studies at the Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C., the first...



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