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  • Stanley Parry:Teacher and Prophet
  • John A. Gueguen Jr. (bio)

Rev. Stanley J. Parry (191872), a priest of the Congregation of Holy Cross, taught undergraduate political theory at the University of Notre Dame in the 1950s. He wrote no scholarly books and thus spared himself the neglect their writers often suffer. He would have found this "good fortune" amusing. Between 1954 and 1961 Father Parry published a few articles that present a sequence of ideas and a pattern of thought distinctively his. I intend to sketch it by reviewing three of the articles. This will also help to indicate the thematic content of his classroom presentations.1

While Father Parry was a warm supporter of the conservative movement in American public life and sometimes brought men like Willmoore Kendall to the campus for the edification of his students and colleagues, he was not as self-consciously conservative as his closest faculty colleague Gerhart Niemeyer.2 As a "theorist," Father Parry regarded the "live" transmission of classical and Christian wisdom as his primary educational mission. He encouraged hundreds of young men to become conversant with that tradition, to heed its implications, and to pass it along. Not a few of them earned higher degrees and attained positions of responsibility in academic life and public service. [End Page 95]

Although he served for a number of years as head of the Political Science Department—a title he thought more congenial than "chair"—Father Parry took no interest in "bureaucracy," modest as it was in those days. He simply allowed memoranda to go unread and unanswered, reasoning that "someone will call" if a matter needed attention. Term papers, too, accumulated on the large desk in Father Parry's study; they had served their purpose. But if a student should inquire, Father Parry would patiently look for the paper and spend as much time as it took to read it aloud in the student's presence, adding critical comments and observations. Those spontaneous tutorials meant a good deal to students who sought him out.

Father Parry thought an undergraduate education in political theory consisted more in reading than in writing. A memorandum addressed to the department faculty by graduate assistant J. H. Hennessy on January 13, 1962, appealed for a reduction of "the amount of material which must be covered."3 But the heavy demand was surely meant to set a high level of expectation toward which future teachers, at least, would reach. It did not matter so much if less-motivated students read (and memorized) just enough, as Mr. Hennessy feared, to make the "facile generalizations" needed to pass the course without achieving much understanding.

"The Premises of Brownson's Political Theory"

During his tenure as department head, Father Parry published a richly documented study of the nineteenth-century American Catholic publicist Orestes A. Brownson. Beginning with the secondary literature of the 1940s and '50s, Father Parry made use of the corpus of Brownson's works, housed in the University library, with the intention of providing further evidence of his metaphysics and deepening the interpretation of his political thought.4 It is evident that Father Parry understood himself, too, as a political "theorist" who "attempt[s] to interpret man's relation to man in civil society" in the larger perspective "of man's relation to the universe and to [End Page 96] God." Inevitably, "the theorist's world view [would be] spelled out in his view of the state." The choice of Brownson may be taken to indicate that Father Parry shared the same premises and welcomed an opportunity to set them forth in a careful and well-reasoned exposition. The result is a sympathetic and persuasive presentation of the "distinctive metaphysic" upon which Brownson "elaborate[d] his political theory" and went on to seek a "theological solution . . . to the ultimate problem raised by that theory"—the problem of the best regime ("BPT," 194).

Brownson's "metaphysic" was worked out in polemic with American Transcendentalists who rejected the idea of an objective ontological order and tried to derive moral and political norms from "a conscience which [is] a projection of self" upon the real order of things ("BPT," 204...


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