In 1937, New York City police investigated a vandalism case on West 104th Street and Riverside Drive, where teenagers had toppled and defaced a statue dedicated to Orestes A. Brownson (1803-1876). After extensive investigation, police couldn’t find anyone that knew who Brownson was.
It turned out that he had a loose connection with Fordham University in the Bronx, so the statue was sent there. But many years later, one Jesuit recalls, students still “hadn’t the vaguest idea” who he was.
The irony is that Orestes Augustus Brownson was one of the previous century’s foremost intellectuals, involved in every major debate of the time: political, religious, intellectual, with strong opinions on all. (His collected writings number twenty volumes.) A seeker after truth, he joined several churches before finding Catholicism. In time he forged a place for himself as Catholic America’s first great lay intellectual.
If the piece’s teaser referred to Brownson as “a flawed man of his time [who] begins to emerge as a challenging voice for political Catholics” his name may become yet more readily known beyond the classroom thanks to his inclusion in The Gregorian Institute’s survey naming “America’s Greatest Catholic Intellectuals”.
Writes Tom Hoopes:
To celebrate Catholic identity in public life, the Catholic Hall of Fame will present you with Catholic innovators who were the highest achievers in their fields, according to the top Catholic thinkers of our time. The Gregorian Institute at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, hosts the online Hall of Fame.
In early October, we surveyed top Catholic commentators, editors and scholars to ask: “Who were America’s greatest Catholic intellectuals?” The 10 included here represent those who received the most nominations.
Tom was nice enough to include me among his voters but I got distracted while deciding (sadly, I am no intellectual; my brain is always distracted by shiny things) and so my ballot rests, still, amid my email drafts. Nevertheless all of my choices landed in the Top 10 list, which is a nice mix of clergy and layfolk, who are listed in order of birth:
1. Orestes Brownson (1803–1876)
2. John Courtney Murray (1904-1967)
3. John Senior (1923-1999)
4. Avery Dulles (1918-2008)
5. James Schall (1928-)
6. Ralph McInerny (1929-2010)
7. Richard John Neuhaus (1936-2009)
8. Mary Anne Glendon (1938-)
9. George Weigel (1951-)
10. Robert P. George (1955-)
Read more about the survey view pictures of those named, here