Special Report: Crisis Commemorates its First Decade

For a magazine called Crisis which makes bold to challenge the sundry crises of our time in Church and culture, the Tenth Anniversary Dinner convened by the journal in October was a merry affair. From the Call to Order by U.S. Rep. Henry Hyde, through the Benediction by His Excellency Agostino Cacciavillan, Apostolic Pro-Nuncio to the United States, there were eight speeches of sorts—after the feasting, of course. Not a one was long, and even the necessarily serious notes were sounded with a light-heartedness not normally to be found at major events in the nation’s capital. And, in further contrast to the usual goings-on in Washington, the Dinner proceeds not only met but exceeded the budget, so that Crisis enjoyed a modest profit from the venture. Glory be!

Henry Hyde must be the finest merry-making master of ceremonies in the land. His observations were not only illuminating, but left every side splitting on occasion. The Apostolic Pro-Nuncio pronounced upon the magazine’s merits—well known, he assured us, throughout the Church and unto the Vatican—and he bequeathed his own singular graces while invoking God’s continued blessings upon the journal’s endeavors.

Ralph Mclnerny, director of the Jacques Maritain Center at Notre Dame and the magazine’s publisher, provided so succinct and comic a history of Crisis that his remarks—as brief as they are pithy—must be consigned to the record in full:

“Like Mark Twain, my memory has improved so much that I not only remember what happened, I remember what didn’t happen,” Mclnerny quipped in reflecting on the founding of Crisis in 1982, by himself and then co-publisher Michael Novak. “Crisis was not a result of planned parenthood. Rather, it came about the natural way—a little fun at first, followed by years and years of obligation.

“Why did we do it? As a Thomist, I must divide the question into three parts: Why, We, and It. “Why. The aim was to provide the kind of forum that had once been provided by competitors who shall be nameless. An indication of how things had changed: Once a seminarian confessed to having read Commonweal, and the priest, astonished, asked him why he considered that a sin. ‘Because I took pleasure in it,’ came the reply. Well, we felt not many people were confessing that sin anymore.

We. Mike Novak and I seemed a sufficiently odd couple to bring this off. He had become a public figure, a sign of contradiction to many but someone who could never be ignored. I was a dim academic whose existence was lightly salted by fiction. Somehow it worked. We moved from my office on the campus of Notre Dame, to offices in beautiful downtown South Bend, to Washington, D.C. I do not suggest that this is progress, but it has certainly raised expenses.

It. Once there was an actress who was called the It girl. Exactly what It was was never said. Similarly, I shall leave you to decide what the It is that we have done.

“Many thanks to Terry Hall, Phil Lawler, Scott Walter, Dean Carignan, Derek Cross, and David Bovenizer. Alice Osberger (bookkeeper of the journal’s sponsoring non-profit parent, the Brownson Institute) has kept us out of jail.”

There were three major presentations during the evening. The first was to Russell Kirk, the Catholic man of letters and author of some 30 books, including The Conservative Mind. He was introduced by the journal’s executive editor, David A. Bovenizer, a longtime student of Kirk’s works and something of a protégé of the guest of honor, too. Crisis honored Kirk upon the occasion of his seventy-fifth birthday. (Excerpts from Dr. Kirk’s remarks are presented on page 46.)

Next to the podium was the Honorable Alan Keyes, formerly director of the Grace Commission on the federal budget, and since a candidate for the U.S. Senate from his native Maryland. He regaled the audience with uproarious tales of J. Peter Grace, the legendary Catholic philanthropist and advisor to several Presidents, who received the Brownson Institute’s Pope John Paul II Award for contributions to American civil society. In accepting the award—a handsome plaque bearing a bronze likeness of Pope John Paul II—Mr. Grace stole the show. He upstaged even the winsome humor of Mr. Keyes, and added his own tribute to the presenter.

Gov. Robert P. Casey of Pennsylvania was not able to be present to accept the Orestes Brownson Award for Distinguished Contributions by a Catholic to the American Republic, owing to the lingering effects of recent serious surgery. But the Governor’s son, Christopher, an attorney with the Federal Trade Commission, paid his personal tribute to his father, and read the Governor’s prepared remarks (see page 46). The award itself was a bronze likeness of Brownson sculpted by Karen Laub-Novak.

“The Future of Crisis Magazine” was the topic addressed by Michael Novak, who assumed the title of editor-in-chief earlier this year. He offered the pertinent and appropriately serious reminder that Crisis seeks to address the crisis of faith which afflicts certain segments of the Church, and by extension afflicts the larger culture of the United States. In striving to renew American culture, Crisis strives also to renew Jewish and Christian faith, Novak explained. Now into its second decade, the magazine seeks ever more profoundly, and with ever greater influence, to assist readers to “incarnate” the principles of the faith in every area of private and public life. It hopes to provide sound arguments to ordinary people in small towns and neighborhoods as they endure cultural assault from all sides.

Building upon Novak’s projections for the future was Scott Walter, managing editor: “We strive to incarnate in ourselves, and to inspire in others, the virtues of the three gentlemen honored here tonight: Like Russell Kirk, we attempt to incarnate the sacramental vision vouchsafed to us by the faith. Like J. Peter Grace, we attempt to spend our lives in the service of others. And, like Governor Casey—and John Paul II—we attempt always to defend and hold fast to the Truth that sets all men free.” Walter unveiled the graphic redesign of the magazine to be inaugurated with the January 1994 edition. “Just as we hope to continue increasing the pleasure in the words Crisis brings to its readers, so, too,” Walter concluded, “we hope to make the visual display of these words more pleasurable.”

Benefactors of the Dinner were Sandra Andreas McMurtie, Mr. and Mrs. Jerome A. Urbik, and J. Peter Grace. The Patrons were Mr. and Mrs. William Bentley Ball, Mr. and Mrs. Dinesh D’Souza, Edwin J. Feulner, Jr., Ambassador William H.G. Fitzgerald, and Peter M. Flanigan. Sponsors were Richard V. Allen, Suzanne V. Barth, Mr. and Mrs. James P. Keenan, and Paul Weyrich. Two days before the event, we had to begin turning people away because all available places were spoken for.

Russell Kirk’s Remarks

To me, Orestes Brownson’s name stands well above the names of Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln, public men of whom Brownson held no very high opinion. Brownson, I believe, has much more to say to us near the end of the twentieth century than do those presidents of yesteryear. T.S. Eliot wrote to me once that until he had read one of my books, he never had heard of Brownson; Eliot thought it a great pity that the author of such political and moral works should be ignored in America. But Brownson’s name is better known now than it was 40 years ago.

I am most grateful to the publishers and editors of Crisis for this award, and for their kind and almost overwhelming examination of Kirk’s Works in the October number of this admirable magazine. Crisis is such a publication as Orestes Brownson hoped would come to pass and endure in the twentieth century and beyond; it carries on intelligently the work of his own periodicals, endeavoring to rouse and inform an American Catholic public that may achieve what Brownson called the American mission under God: the maintenance of a healthy tension between the claims of authority and the claims of liberty.

Crisis has become the most persuasive voice of Catholic opinion in these United States—and that in a time when old established voices of the Catholic mind have been falling to their ruin. (I have in mind particularly the disappearance of the quarterly Thought, long published by Fordham University.) In a period when all seemed confusion for Catholic publications, Crisis arose and commenced the bold task of restoring right reason.

Time was when certain Catholic journals of opinion in this country were almost the only champions of the permanent things, spiritual and temporal. Crisis and a few other Catholic publications of smaller circulation have taken up the good old cause of defending the order of the soul and the order of the commonwealth; and I do wish Crisis godspeed.

I first wrote on Brownson 40 years ago: “Brownson never tired of saying that Justice requires Authority. No people can enjoy a just society without some standard of judgment superior to the mood or passion of the moment; and this is most conspicuously true in democratic states, where princes and nobles, who elsewhere form a kind of hereditary class of magistrates, are lacking. Now this abiding standard of righteousness, or principle of authority, must be ethical in its nature; and, to receive an habitual assent from the people, an ethical system must refer to religious sanctions.”

That truth—repeatedly expressed by Brownson—the militant secularists of our land have been endeavoring to deny; and the American character disintegrates in consequence. Thus has come about a moral and social crisis, and this journal responds unflinchingly to that challenge.

Orestes Brownson and the Brownson Institute and Crisis: A Journal of Lay Catholic Opinion, deserve our praise, they being stout champions of the common good—and of the soul.

Governor Casey’s Remarks

First, I want to thank all who have expressed concern and support for me during the challenging days after my surgery. The outpouring of prayers and goodwill from countless Americans is one of the main reasons why I have been able to bounce back so quickly.

I want to thank Crisis magazine and the Brownson Institute for the award I have received. Through their tireless efforts to bring the intellectual firepower of Catholicism to bear on contemporary issues, Ralph Mclnerny and Michael Novak and all those involved with Crisis are clearly continuing the great work of Orestes Brownson. For me to be chosen, on this anniversary, as the first recipient of The Brownson Award, is truly a high honor.

On a more personal level, I would also like to thank Henry Hyde for providing me with perhaps the best political news of the summer—news that lifted my spirits as I lay in a hospital bed in Pittsburgh. I’m talking, of course, about the overwhelming passage of the Hyde Amendment. In one fell swoop, that resounding victory destroyed the aura of invincibility that had surrounded the pro-abortion forces. When we have finally won this long struggle for human life, I think that this summer’s vote will be remembered as a turning point.

Over the last few months, I have had a lot of time to think—about many things, but particularly about the precious gift of life, and the way we all depend on others both in receiving and holding fast to this greatest of all gifts. Without the help of a generous donor’s family, the work of several brilliant and caring doctors, and the loving support of my own family, I would not be alive today. Knowing this is both humbling and inspiring. It further strengthens my resolve to see that every human life receives the respect and support it deserves.

In the last year, I have also learned a lot about the importance of families. Today, I owe my life to the family of Michael Lucas, the young man, tragically slain on his own front steps, whose heart and liver I received. Though I was a stranger to them, the Lucas family drew me into the circle of their concern. Their generosity was a reminder of the warmth and compassion of a true family.

I am convinced that strong families like the Lucases are the key to the future of this country. Everyone knows that today the American family needs help. While nothing can replace a true family, the state can certainly do a lot more to reinforce the American family, by helping to provide the things that all families need: health care, housing, jobs, education, nutrition, and a safe, clean environment.

More importantly, we must change the way we look at America. We must learn to reach out to other members of the great American family and feel the responsibility to take care of them, just as the Lucas family did for me. I believe that the indispensable first step in this rediscovery of America is to welcome the unborn back into the family. How can America ever become a family again, as long as we accept the wanton destruction of the youngest and most vulnerable among us? There can be no question that they are members of the American family. And the paramount rule in a good society, as in a good family, is that we take care of all of our members, especially those who cannot care for themselves: the unborn, the poor, the elderly, the sick, the oppressed, and those stricken—like Michael Lucas—by the violent disregard for human life that afflicts our nation.

Having been given a second chance at life when so many are given no chance at all, I am determined to do my part to end this tragic chapter in the story of America. I am confident that soon America will be a true family once again, a family based upon mutual love, respect, and support for all its members.

[After accepting his father’s award, Christopher Casey added a few words of his own.]

Crisis and the Brownson Institute have decided to honor my father this evening. You are very kind to do so. Speaking for myself, I think you have shown impeccable judgment. For me—and I believe I speak for my three brothers and four sisters—my father has always been an inspiring example of fidelity, courage, and perseverance. Along with my mother, he has passed on to me a strong, unwavering Catholic faith, and provided a powerful example of character. Never was this more evident than it was this year.

Not long ago a friend drew my attention to some words quoted in a book by Russell Kirk spoken by Orestes Brownson at Dartmouth College 150 years ago—in 1843, the same year that Holy Cross College (my father’s and my alma mater) was founded. I don’t know if my father is familiar with these words, but he certainly seems to have lived by them.

“Ask not what you age wants,” Brownson told his listeners, “but what it needs; not what it will reward, but what, without which, it cannot be saved; and that go and do; and find your reward in the consciousness of having done your duty, and above all in the reflection that you have been accounted to suffer somewhat for mankind.”

I believe my father has done this, and for this he should be honored.


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