Before he came to St. Benedict's as full-time chaplain in 1943, Leonard Feeney was a distinguished and respected professor of Sacred Eloquence at Weston Seminary, the local Jesult theological school. He had formerly served as Literary Editor of "America," the national Catholic magazine. He was the author of "Fish on Friday" as well as many books of poetry. Before teaching on the Weston faculty, he was professor at the Graduate School of Boston College. Even after the difficulty with St. Benedict's had begun, Archbishop Richard J. Cushing recognized Feeney as one of the great minds of the modern church.
Spring came late to the Boston Common last year. The weak May sun was not enough one Sunday to keep a group of intense young men and women, a scattering of skid row citizens, and a crowd of curious passersby from wearing their Sunday coats.
At the center of an ever widening ring of people, without an overcoat, on a small, rough, wooden platform, stood a short plump man in the black suit of a clergyman, his arms waving in the air, his white hair tossing about above his glasses, his shrill voice carrying over the noise of traffic on nearby Charles Street.
"Brotherhood is the bunk," cried the little clergyman, "the most absolute nonsense. You Catholics out there--do you know the Jews are trying to take over this city? And the Protestants are helping them. Why, everyone knows that. Everybody knows that to be true. The Jews run the business end, and the Protestants, the religious. And this is supposed to be a Catholic city."
A woman's voice said something above the general murmur of the crowd. The little man in black turned to her and gasped. "How dare you say such things. You're disgraceful, I'm very much ashamed to hear you say such things."
The woman trembled, almost cried, but repeated her remark. "Is this what our boys fight and die for, Father? Is this why Protestants and Jews fight to save all of us?"
The white-haired speaker stopped his talk. He called the woman names: "a Jew mistress ... a horrid, degenerate, sexual pervert," and other choice epithets, ending his attack with, "you filthy man, you." The woman almost fainted. She stayed, but said no more.
For over two and one half years, Father Leonard Feeney has been taking his "cause" to the people in similar weekly appearances on the Boston Common. His harangues have gotten more bitten and vitriolic every Sunday, and his audience, larger. His "cause" is to "rid our city of every coward liberal Catholic, Jew dog, Protestant brute, and 33rd degree Mason who is trying to suck the soul from good Catholics and sell the true faith for greenbacks."
Father Feeney heads the St. Benedict's Center on Arrow Street, across the way from the old part of Adams House. The Center used to be a Catholic Club of Harvard and Radcliffe students. Since the spring of 1949, it has become the hub of a nation-wide group of self-termed "militant Catholics" who defy the higher Catholic authorities and adopt a line that has been commended by the American Fascist Union.
The movement was an outgrowth of the famous "Boston Heresy Case." Four Boston College professors were suspended from B. C. for teaching their students the dogma: "There is no salvation outside the Catholic Church." Father Feeney, who had been preaching the same dogma, came to their support, condemned the higher-ups for not following it, took the four professors into St. Benedict's, and expounded the heretical doctrine more loudly than the rest.
For these activities, Father Feeney was expelled from the Jesuit order. Archbishop Richard J. Cushing silenced him, and put St. Benedict's under interdict. By silencing is meant that Father Feeney is not allowed to preach or teach until the ban is lifted. With St. Benedict's under interdict, anyone who goes there is denied the sacraments of the Church and cannot receive the Holy Eucharist.
But Father Feeney has defied this ban, and his tight, loyal band of followers has ignored the interdict. The Center, called by its inhabitants a "Catholic Ghetto," is now a school where his supporters work and study and listen to his preachings.
Most of this group of about 72 disciples are former Harvard and Radcliffe students, who left school, renounced it, and, in many cases, renounced their own families, to join Feeney and work with him. Their faith, love of him, and belief in the cause, is deep, and is constantly drummed into them by the skillful leader of the movement.
There is one case, typical of them all, but perhaps more tragic. It is that of Evelyn, 24 years old, who left Radcliffe to join St. Benedict's. Her parents were against the action. She renounced them.
Daughter Publicly Denounces