Today marks the death of James J. Walsh (1865-1942), physician, historian and author. Born in Pennsylvania, he studied at St. John’s College (now Fordham University) in the Bronx before joining the Jesuits. After a few years, he left and enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania, where he earned a medical degree. After post-doctoral studies in Europe, he worked as a neurologist in New York City, where he lived for the rest of his life. He also served as dean of Fordham’s short-lived medical school. A successful doctor, Walsh was more famous for his writings on the truth of Catholicism and the Church’s impact on Western civilization.
His best known book The Thirteenth, The Greatest of Centuries (1907) was required reading at Catholic colleges well into the 1960’s. Fordham historian Father Raymond Schroth, S.J., writes: “Today, in general parlance, the word medieval is often used to express opprobrium… as in ‘the living conditions were medieval’ or ‘medieval torture.” But Dr. Walsh saw in the Middle Ages the integration of faith and intellect, and the wisdom of that era offered principles on which a new world might be built. The growing secularism permeating modern life, he believed, had its roots in the Reformation and the breakdown of Christian unity. Walsh wasn’t the first to propose this, nor was his the final word on the subject. But he was enormously influential in his time, and he deserves credit for his role in helping to prompt the literary revival that dominated Catholic life in America and Europe in the years between the two world wars.