Remembering Fr. Richard John Neuhaus

Richard John Neuhaus 1936-2009 R.I.P.

From Jody Bottum:
Fr. Richard John Neuhaus slipped away today, January 8, shortly before 10 o’clock, at the age of seventy-two. He never recovered from the weakness that sent him to the hospital the day after Christmas, caused by a series of side effects from the cancer he was suffering. He lost consciousness Tuesday evening after a collapse in his heart rate, and the next day, in the company of friends, he died.

My tears are not for him—for he knew, all his life, that his Redeemer lives, and he has now been gathered by the Lord in whom he trusted.

I weep, rather for all the rest of us. As a priest, as a writer, as a public leader in so many struggles, and as a friend, no one can take his place. The fabric of life has been torn by his death, and it will not be repaired, for those of us who knew him, until that time when everything is mended and all our tears are wiped away.

Funeral Arrangements

A Funeral Mass was celebrated for Father Richard John Neuhaus at the Church of the Immaculate Conception—414 E. 14th Street, New York City—on Tuesday, January 13, 2009.

A Christian wake service in the form of a Vigil for the Deceased was celebrated at the Church of the Immaculate Conception on Monday evening, January 12.

In lieu of flowers, donations are requested for Fr. Neuhaus’ work, the Institute on Religion and Public Life, online at this page or by mail to:

Institute on Religion and Public Life
156 Fifth Avenue
Suite 400
New York, NY 10010

“When I come before the judgment throne, I will plead the promise of God in the shed blood of Jesus Christ. I will not plead any work that I have done, although I will thank God that he has enabled me to do some good. I will plead no merits other than the merits of Christ, knowing that the merits of Mary and the saints are all from him; and for their company, their example, and their prayers throughout my earthly life I will give everlasting thanks. I will not plead that I had faith, for sometimes I was unsure of my faith, and in any event that would be to turn faith into a meritorious work of my won. I will not plead that I held the correct understanding of “justification by faith alone,” although I will thank God that he led me to know ever more fully the great truth that much misunderstood formulation was intended to protect. Whatever little growth in holiness I have experienced, whatever strength I have received from the company of the saints, whatever understanding I have attained of God and his ways - these and all other gifts received I will bring gratefully to the throne. But in seeking entry to that heavenly kingdom, I will…look to Christ and Christ alone.”

Richard John Neuhaus. Death on a Friday Afternoon



* * *

The story of the modern social conservative movement is all about activism and politics, petitions and court cases, but Father Neuhaus’s great testament was about something grander: through those he inspired, through his writings, through his organizing, and through something as simple as connecting people over lunch who may share nothing in terms of what they can eat on the table but share greatly in what is unseen, Father Neuhaus fundamentally changed religious life in America forever.

This is not an exaggeration. Nor by any means is it a dismissal of anyone else’s influence - but ultimately, the changes most other conservative thought leaders have helped achieve in the twentieth century were made at the hands of other men, elected to office. Father Neuhaus did not merely inspire the intellectual undergirding of change: with God’s help, he fashioned it himself, through hard work, a gift for eloquence, and always a wry smile at the end.

The world Father Neuhaus leaves is one where evangelicals and Catholics are more united than they are divided - where the old ethnic politics and arguments have faded, and where we worship and work together in harmony. My mother, never anything but a Protestant, upon learning of this Catholic convert priest’s passing, wrote to say she paused on learning the news to sing Faure’s Pie Jesu for him. I can think of nothing more fitting.

-- From Ben Domenech,

* * *

His conviction that abortion was the great crime of the age and his disgust with the American system’s failure to expunge the crime led to the most controversial act of his editorship, the publication of a symposium entitled “The End of Democracy?” in which he and other participants flirted with the notion that the United States had lost its legitimacy. COMMENTARY’s editors responded in part with a symposium entitled “On the Future of Conservatism,” in which various contributors argued heatedly against what they perceived to be an unacceptable radicalization of conservative discourse.

The breach was never fully healed, and yet, through it all, there was Richard, a man of great personal good cheer and bonhomie, always in possession of a terrific piece of gossip he always knew exactly when and how to drop in order to cause the biggest commotion, who somehow found the time to crank out thousands of words a month while jetting back and forth from Rome, engaging in plots and subplots and side bets. He was an exemplar of the truism that a righteous man need not be or conduct himself as though he were holier-than-thou. But in the end, his work was his life, and whether he was ministering to fatherless youths in Brooklyn or offering his considered and always highly informed opinion on the matter of stem-cell research, Richard John Neuhaus did what he did and said what he said for the betterment of humankind and for the greater glory of God.

John Podhoretz, Commentary Magazine

(More tributes are being collected by Steve Dillard @ Southern Appeal)

Father Richard J. Neuhaus - Biographical Information

Articles & Addresses by Father Richard J. Neuhaus

For First Things

Many can claim the experience of reading each month's issue "back to front," beginning with "The Public Square," -- Fr. Neuhaus' insightful, clever (and sometimes a tad snarky) commentary on matters literary, political, and theological. Fr. Neuhaus would ultimately take up blogging at First Things' aptly titled "On The Square. On occasion, however, he would also contribute regular articles to the journal he founded.
Fr. Richard J. Neuhaus on the Sexual Abuse Scandal within the Catholic Church


  • Theology through Friendship First Things 09/15/14. "The recent death of Wolfhart Pannenberg prompted us to look through the long correspondence the German theologian had with Richard John Neuhaus, the founder of First Things. Here’s some of what we found."

Other Sources

Interviews with Father Richard J. Neuhaus

Audio & Video of Richard J. Neuhaus

  • Interview on PBS’ Charlie Rose, July 5, 2002.
  • Interview on Canadian News Network CBC, December 2007.
  • Interview on C-SPAN’s Booknotes about his book, "As I Lay Dying: Meditations Upon Returning," May 26, 2002.
  • Discussion Panel for the Hudson Institute’s Bradley Symposium titled "Who Are We Today," May 3, 2007.
  • Lecture at Roanoke College entitled "Moral Imperatives and Political Choices: A Christian Response," October 9, 2008.
  • Interview on Boiling Point Radio, May 15, 2008. (Parts 1, 2, and 3)
  • Catechetical Series for the television program Road to Cana, April, 2008. (Videos 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, and 11)
  • Lecture, "Who We Are: A Theological Perspective" at the University of Kentucky, 2005.
  • Lecture, "Is There Life After Truth?" at Yale University, 2006.

Books by Father Richard John Neuhaus

American Babylon: Notes of a Christian Exile (2009)

Christians are by their nature a people out of place. Their true home is with God; in civic life, they are alien citizens “in but not of the world.” In American Babylon, eminent theologian Richard John Neuhaus examines the particular truth of that ambiguity for Catholics in America today. Neuhaus addresses the essential quandaries of Catholic life—assessing how Catholics can keep their heads above water in the sea of immorality that confronts them in the world, how they can be patriotic even though their true country is not in this world, and how they might reconcile their duties as citizens with their commitment to God. Deeply learned, frequently combative, and always eloquent, American Babylon is Neuhaus’s magnum opus—and will be essential reading for all Christians.


Catholic Matters: Confusion, Controversy, And the Splendor of Truth (2007)

Readers acquainted with Neuhaus's previous books and his work with the magazine First Things will be most interested in this latest tome on the state of the Catholic Church. A former Lutheran pastor who became Catholic in 1990 and a priest in 1991, Neuhaus has emerged as a leading voice among those considered to be faithful to the Church's Magisterium, or teaching authority. Here, Neuhaus challenges the oft-heard statement, "Yes, I am a Catholic, but I think for myself," explaining how fidelity to the church begins with thinking for oneself so one can think with the church. He expands on this by exploring the role of conscience, drawing a distinction between doing what one wants and discerning and acting upon the truth. Neuhaus also discusses the church's authority, emphasizing that it is never invoked to require people to believe what is false. Other topics include the eerily prophetic Humanae Vitae, the 1968 papal encyclical on artificial contraception; the loss of Catholic identity when Friday abstinence from meat faded from practice; and how news reporting on the Second Vatican Council shaped its meaning for many American Catholics. Neuhaus devotees and others interested in the issues he raises will find here a thoughtful exposition of Catholicism's present moment. -- Publisher's Weekly.


The Best of "The Public Square" Book 3 (2007)

Since its inception in 1990, the journal First Things has concluded each issue with Richard John Neuhaus’s “The Public Square.” His column has attracted the attention of America’s most influential journalists, opinion-makers, and intellectuals. All who read it appreciate its serious discussions of religious and social topics, its lively prose, and its occasional dash of wicked humor.

This volume presents a sampling of the best of “The Public Square” from 1996 to 2000, making it indispensable for those familiar with the column and a great introduction for those who should be.

As I Lay Dying: Meditations Upon Returning (2003)

"I almost died." With those three words that form the theme of his latest work, Neuhaus, a Catholic priest and former Lutheran pastor, recalls his brush with death and his thoughts as he was passing through it. Readers in search of sure answers and sweet comfort about the fate that awaits every human being may not be interested in this series of reflections. But those willing to join Neuhaus in pondering the complexities of mortality and the Christian promise of eternal life will emerge all the richer from his sojourn into mystery. Seven years ago, Neuhaus nearly died when a tumor ruptured in his intestines, wreaking havoc on his body and plunging him to the brink of death. As he lay dying in an intensive-care unit, he became keenly aware of his condition, particularly the possibility of his soul separating from his body, and of the reactions of those closest to him. His musings, mercifully free of minutiae from his medical chart, are wholly honest and hardly the stuff of those death-and-dying books that seek to remove all fear from every person's passage out of this world. But they also offer some succor to people of faith. For example, in analyzing his own "near-death experience," in which two seemingly heavenly beings inform him that "everything is ready now," Neuhaus lifts the veil ever so slightly into the life beyond. His report is worth examining by all who have considered their own death or faced that of another.


Death on a Friday Afternoon: Meditations on the Last Words of Jesus from the Cross (2001)

In the tradition of C. S. Lewis and Thomas Merton, this profoundly moving and enlightening journey through the meanings of Good Friday is destined to become a classic. Numerous writers and composers have been captivated by the suggestiveness of Jesus' Seven Last Words. But Richard John Neuhaus's sustained exploration of these utterances is something altogether different. Through them he plumbs the depths of human experience and sets forth the central narrative of Western civilization-the suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ-in a way that engages the attention of believers, unbelievers, and those who are not sure what they believe. Death on a Friday Afternoon is an invitation to the reader into a spiritual and intellectual exploration of the dark side of human experience with the promise of light and life on the far side of darkness.


The Best of the Public Square: Book 2 (2001)

Since its inception in 1990, the journal First Things has concluded each issue with Richard John Neuhaus’s “The Public Square.” His column has attracted the attention of America’s most influential journalists, opinion-makers, and intellectuals. All who read it appreciate its serious discussions of religious and social topics, its lively prose, and its occasional dash of wicked humor.

This volume presents a sampling of the best of “The Public Square” from 1996 to 2000, making it indispensable for those familiar with the column and a great introduction for those who should be.

Appointment In Rome: The Church in America Awakening (1999)


The Best of The Public square: Selections from Richard John Neuhaus' celebrated column in First things (1997)

To Empower People: From State to Civil Society (1996) - Co-authored with Peter Berger.

In the first edition of this pathbreaking book, the authors showed that such "mediating structures" as family, neighborhood, church, and voluntary and civil associations are crucial institutions, whose weakening spells disaster. They have returned to their original argument to assess today's efforts at renewing civil society.
Freedom for Ministry: A Guide for the Perplexed Who Are Called to Serve (1992)

Taking a look at today's Church and religious situation, Neuhaus argues that there is a necessary awkwardness about Christian ministry because we are ambassadors of a "disputed sovereignty". Neuhaus also discusses the minister as leader of worship and the art, discipline, and "absurd responsibility" of being a preacher.
America Against Itself: Moral Vision and the Public Order (1992)

An even-tempered (if rather partisan) critique of the American soul as it exhibits itself on the different fronts of our "culture war." Neuhaus (Unsecular America, 1986, eta) traces the traumas of our social and political life back to their ontological roots and supplies a prognosis that will undoubtedly scandalize as many as it sways. A Catholic priest and scholar who presides over the Institute of Religion and Public Life, Neuhaus has concentrated his sociological efforts for some years now on the intersection between the political and the spiritual in American life. In doing so, he has run counter to prevailing notions of secularism - held only, he maintains, by an elite minority - that would, he says, collapse all religious impulses into an entirely private realm. Neuhaus skips over the more obvious examples of conflict - school prayer, Nativity scenes in public parks, etc. - and attempts in more theoretical terms to show that liberal democracy (in its American incarnation) requires a religious foundation if it is to succeed as a unifying social force. He draws on his experiences with the civil-rights movement to show how a religious vocabulary can he used - as it was by Martin Luther King - to bring together even the most mutually antagonistic groups. -- Kirkus Reviews.
Doing Well/doing Good: The Challenge to the Christian Capitalist (1992)

The Catholic Moment: The Paradox of the Church in the Postmodern World (1987)

The Naked Public Square: Religion and Democracy in America (1986)

Underlying the many crises in American life, writes Richard John Neuhaus, is a crisis of faith. It is not enough that more people should believe or that those who believe should believe more strongly. Rather, the faith of persons and communities must be more compellingly related to the public arena. "The naked public square"—which results from the exclusion of popular values from the public forum—will almost certainly result in the death of democracy.

The great challenge, says Neuhaus, is the reconstruction of a public philosophy that can undergird American life and America’s ambiguous place in the world. Arguing that America is now engaged in an historic moment of testing, he draws upon Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish thinkers who have in other moments of testing seen that the stakes are very high—for America, for the promise of democratic freedom elsewhere, and possibly for God’s purpose in the world.

An honest analysis of the situation, says Neuhaus, shatters false polarizations between left and right, liberal and conservative. In a democratic culture, the believer’s respect for nonbelievers is not a compromise but a requirement of the believer’s faith. Similarly, the democratic rights of those outside the communities of religious faith can be assured only by the inclusion of religiously-grounded values in the common life.

"The Naked Public Square" does not offer yet another partisan program for political of social change. Rather, it offers a deeply disturbing, but finally hopeful, examination of Abraham Lincoln’s century-old question—whether this nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure.



  • The Naked Public Square Now [Symposium with Stanley Hauerwas - Mary Ann Glendon - Harvey Cox - Alan Mittleman - Andrew Murphy - Jean Bethke Elshtain - Ralph C. Wood - Allen D. Hertzke - David Novak - Wilfred M. McClay]. First Things November 2004.