Sunday, August 21, 2016

John McLaughlin, SJ

I recently read of the death of John McLaughlin, Republican personality, Congressional candidate, speechwriter to Richard Nixon, television presenter, and one time priest for the Society of Jesus.

It seems like it should have worked: a religious order functioning as the milites Christi, educated men willing to go wherever the Church asked them throughout the world, irrespective of comfort or peril. But it did not work. For every saint like Edmund Campion there is a Molina, Chardin, and McLaughlin. John McLaughlin will be remembered for his contribution to Nixonian politics, but his brief foray into the priesthood demands a least a personal anecdote. 

Other than Irish names and nominal Catholicism, McLaughlin and I share only an affiliation with a Jesuit secondary school in Connecticut, Fairfield College Preparatory. After his ordination in 1959, McLaughlin split his time between writing a dissertation on Gerard Manley Hopkins at Columbia and teaching English at Prep, as we called it. At some point between Lyndon Johnson's escalation of the Vietnam War and his departure from the school in 1970, McLaughlin became intensely interested in national politics. He would sermonize the dangers of Communism and the importance of victory in our Pacific proxy war to his English Literature students in Xavier and Berchmans Halls (before the latest addition named for Pedro Arupe). McLaughlin even admonished them of the virtue of going to war and warned them not to burn their draft cards or think of Canada. Vietnam may have been an ocean away, but Jerusalem and Rome were other worlds.

According to one of my teachers from the "old days" recounted to my History class that McLaughlin's pugnacious pedagogy nauseated enough of the student body for one young Preppy to do something about it. One fine day, while speaking once again about the war in Vietnam and the need for American boys to do their duty bravely and without fear of death, a student produced a grenade, audibly removed the pin, and rolled it down the aisle between the desks. It turned and tumbled until it reached Dr. McLaughlin's feet. Someone yelled "Bomb!" McLaughlin immediately darted from the room, ran down the stairs, through the center quadrangle, and presumably arrived at a safe point to observe the explosion. But there was no explosion. The "grenade" was a defused dud purchased at a surplus store. 

Father returned to class and informed the student he had JUG at the end of the day. JUG is Prep speak for detention, "Justice Under God." A student in my own day found himself suspended after reporting for JUG with a female teacher and telling her, "I like your JUGs." This student, having made his point, accepted his JUG with resignation. A steep staircase between the school and lower parking lot, dozens of them, attracts loitering and littering; he had to clean each step by hand on his knees. Unlike detention rooms, JUG is served under the teacher who gives it and it ends at the teacher's discretion. McLaughlin only intended to keep the grenadier for an hour after school ended at 2:30, but stayed late grading papers. When he left around 5:00, having forgotten the JUGee, he pulled up to the stairwell, rolled down the window, and said, "Sufficient" before driving off.

McLaughlin would run for Congress without permission from the Society—still reeling from the election of abortion-advocate and sexual predator Robert Drinan, SJ—and, when his superiors demanded he return to ministry, he left the priesthood to work with Patrick Buchanan. He married and divorced twice while enjoying a long-running, public broadcasting venture, a poor man's Firing Line

Many of the best priests I know came to the Jesuits for a vocation and left after one year, often with counselling from older members of the Society. The same formation Father McLaughlin received is still alive and well today.

May he rest in peace.


  1. What do you think is wrong with Jesuit formation?

    1. Unlike the Trad, I did not know Jesuits personally. However, based on historical knowledge...

      The Jesuits' flame burned bright until their suppression (the occasional mistakes like Ethiopia and Kerala notwithstanding). Afterwards they seem like they became glorified bureaucrats and schoolmasters. From what I have read, their formation pre-Arrupe was extremely cookie-cutter (much like most 20th century Pre-Vatican II formations) which left them vulnerable to being manipulated for other causes.

      Malachi Martin's 'The Jesuits' is a great start.

  2. Politics and entrusting ourselves to worldly affairs can change even the best of men.

  3. But it did not work. For every saint like Edmund Campion there is a Molina, Chardin, and McLaughlin.

    And that does seem to be about the size of it. :sigh:

    Which is why, however unjust Clement XIV's suppression may have been at the time - especially for the Reductions of Paraguay, one of their greatest achievements for the faith - it probably was all in all for the best in the long run, and their later restoration a mistake.

  4. Why do you mention Molina? Are you referring to his doctrine of grace / free will? Was it really that subversive?

  5. Without prejudice to a future post of my own on good ol' Molina, I will say that: 1) S. Ignatius (supplemental material at the end of the Spiritual Exercises) particularly warns against disputing certain topics, such as "predestination"; 2) Molina's theory of God's "scientia media" ("middle-foreknowledge" it might be translated?), when all is said and done, posits a dependency or potentiality in God (one of the reasons his Dominican antagonists started throwing around the H-word); and 3) Clement VIII had drawn up a bull of condemnation but died before it could be signed or promulgated; sadly, pro-Jesuit Papa Urban succeeded him. So, all in all, it is fair to cite Molina as a blot on the Jesuit escutcheon. Fr Capreolus