Joseph H. Fichter S.J.

1908-1994

From Our Friends, by T. H. Clancy, S.J.

Fr. Joe Fichter, S.J. had a intellectual career paralleled by few American Jesuits. And yet he got a late start. A native of New Jersey, he was 22 when he entered the Jesuits at Grand Coteau in 1930. But he hit the ground running. By the time he had finished his priestly studies in 1945 he had already published four books, mostly biographies and texts in theology, and fifty popular articles in America, Commonweal, The Catholic World, and Interracial Review.

After completing his studies for his doctorate in sociology at Harvard in 1947 he came to Loyola to teach. His first major research project was a study in the sociology of the parish. He had signed a contract with the University of Chicago for the Press to publish his finding in four volumes. But after Volume 1, Southern Parish: Dynamics of a City Church, came out and caused a stir in the archdiocese he was forbidden to publish any more. The first volume was translated into six languages.

He continued his study of parishes and continued studying parochial schools, religion as a profession, high schools, the charismatic movement, alcoholism, health care, clerical celibacy and many other topics. Of his forty scholarly works his two professional autobiographies, One Man Research [1973] and The Sociology of Good Works [1994] are perhaps the most accessible.

Fr. Fichter spent half his professional life at Loyola University. The other half he served as guest professor at distinguished universities in America and abroad such as the universities of Munster, Southern Methodist, Tulane, Santiago, SUNY, Chicago, and many others. His most important appointment was to the Stillman Chair of Catholic Studies at Harvard. He was the first American named to this chair and the first one to serve the maximum term of five years.

But perhaps he should be remembered for two things he did, one at the beginning and the other at the end of his long career. In his early years at Loyola he had an enormous influence on his students such as Moon Landrieu, Mike O'Keefe, Jack Nelson, and Norman Francis who were to change the political face of New Orleans. In his last years he devoted himself to doing research to promote the cause of Mother Henriette Delille, the free women of color, who founded the first congregation of African-American nuns, Sisters of the Holy Family, in 1842 in New Orleans.

 

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