Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Avella, Steven M.
Laurance, John D.
This study examines the life of the American Jesuit priest, political scientist, and political activist Virgil C. Blum (1913-1990). Blum was a leading Catholic advocate for public funding for children attending non-public schools, expressed most clearly through his writings and his leadership in Citizens for Educational Freedom (CEF), a parental lobby founded in 1958. In 1973 Blum founded the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights. Modeled on the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, the Catholic League opposed what it saw as an entrenched anti-Catholicism in U.S. society, and it sought to protect the religious freedom of the nation’s Catholic population. In addition to analyzing Blum’s roles in CEF and the Catholic League and explaining the circumscribed success of these organizations, this dissertation uses Blum’s life as a lens to observe changes in the Society of Jesus, the Roman Catholic Church, Marquette University, and the broader U.S. culture. It provides the most detailed treatment to date of the Jesuit formation process in the United States from the 1930s to the 1950s. Blum’s public career straddled the pre-conciliar and post-conciliar periods surrounding the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), and his life offers a case study of an older Jesuit coming to grips with cultural change. Blum emerges from this study as a significant defender of Catholic education and the belief that parochial school parents enjoyed a constitutional right to receive public funds. He viewed Catholics as an embattled minority in U.S. society, one that must take its place alongside other identity groups in the modern civil rights movement. Blum was an early Catholic culture warrior committed above all to battling a growing secularism U.S. society. He sought to build bridges with other faith traditions in the defense of religious liberty. Through his Catholic League, Blum became an influential Catholic voice within the larger conservative movement of the era, serving as a minor prophet leading Catholics from their traditional home in the Democratic Party and toward the GOP.
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