Leonard Feeney

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Leonard Edward Feeney

Born(1897-02-18)February 18, 1897
Lynn, Massachusetts
DiedJanuary 30, 1978(1978-01-30) (aged 80)
Ayer, Massachusetts
OccupationPriest, poet, lyricist, editor, chaplain
Known forFeeneyism
OrdainedJune 20, 1928

Leonard Edward Feeney (February 18, 1897 – January 30, 1978) was an American Jesuit priest, poet, lyricist, and essayist.

He articulated a strict interpretation of the Roman Catholic doctrine extra Ecclesiam nulla salus ("outside the Church there is no salvation"). He took the position that baptism of blood and baptism of desire are unavailing and that therefore no non-Catholics will be saved.[1] Fighting against what he perceived to be the liberalization of Catholic doctrine,[2] he came under ecclesiastical censure. He was described as Boston's homegrown version of Father Charles Coughlin for his antisemitism.[3]


Feeney was born in Lynn, Massachusetts, on February 18, 1897. In 1914 he entered the Jesuit Novitiate of Saint Andrew in Poughkeepsie, New York. During his 14 year formation as a Jesuit, he studied in England, Wales, Belgium, France, and in his homeland. He took religious vows as a son of Saint Ignatius, and was ordained a priest on June 20, 1928.[4] in the 1930s, he was literary editor at the Jesuit magazine, America.[5]

He was a professor in Boston College's graduate school, and then professor of spiritual eloquence at the Jesuit seminary in Weston, Massachusetts, before he became the priest chaplain at the Catholic Saint Benedict Center, a religious center at Harvard Square founded by Catherine Goddard Clarke, in 1945. (He had first visited in 1941.) He gave incendiary speeches on the Boston Common on Sundays, leading Robert F. Kennedy, then a Harvard undergraduate, to write Archbishop Cushing of Boston requesting his removal.[6][7][8] He induced some of the faithful to drop out of Harvard or Radcliffe to become students at his Center, now accredited as a Catholic school.[citation needed] From 1946, the Center published From the Housetops, a periodical focused on Catholic theology that enjoyed contributions from the archbishop himself, but Feeney’s rigid interpretation of Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus put him on a collision course with the same archbishop, Richard Cushing (who became a Cardinal 10 years after these particular incidents; also Senator Edward Kennedy in a memoir claimed that his brother Robert actually met with Cushing about the subject but only after their father first called Cushing).

After April 1949 the affair became a public scandal when Feeney undertook in the press the defence of dismissed laymen[9] who were teaching in the Jesuit College (founded in Boston by the Society of Jesus in 1863) that those who were not members of the Church were damned.[10]

Feeney criticized Cushing for, among other things, accepting the church’s definition of “baptism of desire". Finally, in 1949, Cushing declared Feeney's St. Benedict's Center off-limits to Catholics.[11] That same year Boston College and Boston College High School dismissed four of the Center's members from the theology faculty for spreading Feeney's views in the classroom.[12][13] In light of his controversial behavior, his Jesuit superiors ordered him to leave the Center for a post at College of the Holy Cross, but he repeatedly refused, which led to his expulsion from the order. Cushing suspended Feeney's priestly faculties in April 1949; Feeney continued to celebrate the sacraments although he was no longer authorized to do so.[14]

On August 8, 1949, Cardinal Francesco Marchetti Selvaggiani of the Holy Office sent a protocol letter to Archbishop Cushing[15] on the meaning of the dogma extra Ecclesiam nulla salus (outside the church there is no salvation), which Feeney refused to accept.[16] This protocol, approved by the Pope on July 28, 1949 stated "(T)his dogma must be understood in that sense in which the Church herself understands it. For, it was not to private judgments that Our Saviour gave for explanation those things that are contained in the deposit of faith, but to the teaching authority of the Church."[17]

On October 25, 1952, Feeney received a letter from Cardinal Pizzardo, Secretary of the Holy Office, summoning the priest to Rome. Feeney replied to Cardinal Pizzardo requesting an explanation of the charges against him in order to prepare his defense as per canon 1723,[18] but none was forthcoming. Petitions to Pope Pius XII went unanswered.[19]

After Feeney repeatedly refused to reply to a summons to Rome to explain himself[citation needed], he was excommunicated on February 13, 1953 by the Holy See for persistent disobedience to legitimate Church authority due to his refusal to comply. According to Cardinal John Wright, Pope Pius XII personally translated the edict into English.[11]

The decree of excommunication was later published in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis in ANNUS XXXX V - SERIES II - VOL. XX, page 100.[20] His followers said that his excommunication was invalid.[14]

Following his excommunication, Feeney set up a community called the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.[2][1][21] He was reconciled to the Roman Catholic Church in 1972 through the efforts of Boston Archbishop Humberto Cardinal Medeiros, but, given his age and health, was not required to retract or recant his interpretation of "Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus". The phrase is inscribed on his tombstone.

Thomas Mary Sennott, M.I.C.M., in his book They Fought the Good Fight wrote:

It is to be noted that this document [excommunication] does not contain the seal of the Holy Office, nor is it signed by Cardinal Pizzardo or the Holy Father. The only signature is that of a notary public.

Speaking two decades after the controversy Cardinal Avery Dulles judged Feeney's doctrine on a series of lectures not having to do with "extra Ecclesiam..." to be quite sound.[citation needed] Dulles' reflections on Feeney's life did not endorse nor deny Feeney's views on extra Ecclesiam nulla salus, and spoke only to his theology, not his political views on issues such as Zionism.[22]

Feeney died in Ayer, Massachusetts, on January 30, 1978. He received a Mass of Christian Burial by his bishop.

The Point[edit]

Feeney was editor of "The Point," which ran a mixture of theological and political articles, many of them branded anti-semitic by Feeney's critics. The newsletter frequently contained sentiments such as:

... the Church has never abandoned her absolute principle that it is possible for an individual Jew to scrap his hateful heritage, sincerely break with the synagogue, and cleanse his cursed blood with the Precious Blood of Jesus. (October 1957)[23][24]

Those two powers, the chief two in the world today, are Communism and Zionism. That both movements are avowedly anti-Christian, and that both are in origin and direction Jewish, is a matter of record. (September 1958)[25]

As surely and securely as the Jews have been behind Freemasonry, or Secularism, or Communism, they are behind the "anti-hate" drive. The Jews are advocating tolerance only for its destructive value — destructive, that is, of the Catholic Church. On their part, they still keep alive their racial rancors and antipathies.(July 1955)

A single year, 1957, saw the following article titles:

January: "Jewish Invasion of Our Country—Our Culture Under Siege"
February: "When Everyone Was Catholic—The Courage of the Faith in the Thirteenth Century"
March: "Dublin's Briscoe Comes to Boston"
April: "The Fight for the Holy City—Efforts of the Jews to Control Jerusalem"
May: "Our Lady of Fatima Warned Us"
June: "The Rejected People of Holy Scripture: Why the Jews Fear the Bible"
July: "The Judaising of Christians by Jews—Tactics of the Church's Leading Enemies"
August: "A Sure Defence Against the Jews—What Our Catholic Bishops Can Do for Us"
September: "An Unholy People in the Holy Land—The Actions of the Jews"
October: "The Jewish Lie About Brotherhood—the Catholic Answer—Israeli Brotherhood"
November: "Six Pointers on the Jews"

The Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith monitored The Point magazine for at least 14 editions. In 1955, the Anti-Defamation League exchanged correspondence with the Federal Bureau of Investigation regarding possible criminal investigation of Feeney and his followers, but no investigation was started.[26]

Reactions and references[edit]

As a Harvard undergraduate, Robert F. Kennedy attended a meeting of students at which he stood up and challenged Feeney, later storming out following the priest's assertion that there was no salvation outside the Catholic faith.[27] A similarly negative reaction to Feeney's teaching was recorded by British novelist and Catholic convert Evelyn Waugh, who wrote of visiting the priest while in the United States:[28]

I went one morning by appointment & found him surrounded by a court of bemused youths of both sexes & he stark, raving mad. All his converts have chucked their Harvard careers & go to him only for all instruction. He fell into a rambling denunciation of all secular learning which gradually became more & more violent. He shouted that Newman had done irreparable damage to the Church then started on Ronnie Knox's Mass in Slow Motion saying 'To think that any innocent girl of 12 could have this blasphemous & obscene book put into her hands' as though it were Lady Chatterley's Lover. I asked if he had read it. 'I don't have to eat a rotten egg to know it stinks.' Then I got rather angry and rebuked him in strong words. His court sat absolutely aghast at hearing their holy man addressed like this. And in unbroken silence I walked out of the house. I talked to some Jesuits later & they said that he is disobeying the plain orders of his provincial by staying there. It seemed to me he needed an exorcist more than an alienist. A case of demoniac possession & jolly frightening.

A few years later Feeney wrote critically of Knox and Newman in his collection of essays London is a Place, with an unsympathetic passing reference to Waugh's biography of St. Helena:[29]

...on the list of [Knox's] recurrent callers, was Mr. Evelyn (pronounced Evil-in) Waugh, whose father, a London publisher, supplied his sons with early printing privileges in pornography, before one of them (Evelyn) turned to hagiography, and whitened his sepulchre with the life of a saint.

In 2003, in an article for The Jewish Week newspaper, editor Gary Rosenblatt wrote:[30]

In a lesser-known case, Richard Cardinal Cushing excommunicated a priest, Leonard Feeney, in 1953, for preaching that all non-Catholics would go to Hell.Even though Father Feeney’s words were based on the Gospel, Cardinal Cushing found them offensive, in large part because his sister had married a Jew, said Carroll, and the Cardinal had grown close to the family, sensitizing him to the Jewish perspective toward proselytization.

Feeney appears in Paul Theroux's My Secret History: A Novel where he delivers a fiery sermon on Boston Common while surrounded by members of his sect. The adolescent protagonist describes how he "had been scared, but... also been thrilled by his anger and conviction."


  • Chanler, Theodore (1940s), The children : nine songs for children's chorus and piano, words by Leonard Feeney, LCCN 88753009 Printed Music
  • Chanler, Theodore (c. 1945), The children : song, words by Leonard Feeney ; music by Theodore Chanler, LCCN 88753008 Printed Music
  • Chanler, Theodore (1945), The children, words by Leonard Feeney ; music by Theodore Chanler, LCCN 88752469 Manuscript Music
  • Chanler, Theodore (1944), The flight, Theodore Chanler ; words by Leonard Feeney, LCCN 88753128 Manuscript Music
  • Chanler, Theodore (1940s), Love is now : song, words by Leonard Feeney ; music by Theodore Chanler, LCCN 91759111 Manuscript Music
  • Chanler, Theodore (1940s), Meet Doctor Livermore, Chanler ; words by Feeney, LCCN 91760334 Printed Music
  • Chanler, Theodore (1940s), Meet Doctor Livermore, Chanler ; words by Feeney, LCCN 91760333 Manuscript Music
  • Chanler, Theodore (1940s), Once upon a time, music by Chanler ; words by Feeney, LCCN 88753011 Manuscript Music
  • Chanler, Theodore (1940s), One and one are two, music by Chanler ; words by Feeney, LCCN 88752470 Manuscript Music
  • Chanler, Theodore, Sequence : five songs sung without pause, Chanler ; words by Feeney, pp. 1940s, LCCN 88753130 Manuscript Music
  • Crane, Nathalia; Feeney, Leonard (1939). The ark and the alphabet, an animal collection. New York: The Macmillan Company. LCCN 39031692.
  • Feeney, Leonard (1935). Boundaries. New York: The Macmillan company. LCCN 35016455.
  • Feeney, Leonard (1952). Bread of life. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Saint Benedict Center. LCCN 53015579.
  • Feeney, Leonard (1938). Elizabeth Seton, an American woman. New York: America press. LCCN 38025911.
  • Feeney, Leonard (1942). Fish on Friday. London: Sheed & Ward. LCCN 42025544.
  • Feeney, Leonard (1934). Fish on Friday. New York: Sheed & Ward. LCCN 34009643.
  • Feeney, Leonard (1989). The gold we have gathered : selections from the writings of Father Leonard Feeney. compiled by the Sisters of Saint Benedict Center, the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Inc. Still River, Mass.: The Center. LCCN 89194125.
  • Feeney, Leonard (1943). In towns and little towns. New York: The America Press. LCCN 44003675.
  • Feeney, Leonard (2004). In towns and little towns : a book of poems. Fitzwilliam, N.H.: Loreto Publications. ISBN 193027842X. LCCN 2004108326.
  • Feeney, Leonard (1927). In towns and little towns; a book of poems. New York: The American press. LCCN 27012847.
  • Feeney, Leonard (1943). The Leonard Feeney omnibus: a collection of prose and verse, old and new. New York: Sheed & Ward. LCCN 43018459. Archived from the original on July 15, 2010.
  • Feeney, Leonard (1951). London is a place. Boston: Ravengate Press. LCCN 51005861.
  • Feeney, Leonard (1947). Mother Seton, an American woman. New York: Dodd, Mead. LCCN 47011485.
  • Feeney, Leonard (1975). Mother Seton : Saint Elizabeth of New York (1774–1821) (Rev. ed.). Cambridge [Mass.]: Ravengate Press. ISBN 0911218068. LCCN 75023224.
  • Feeney, Leonard, ed. (1925). Poems for memory, an anthology for high school students. Chicago, Ill.: Loyola university press. LCCN 40023514.
  • Feeney, Leonard (1933). Riddle and reverie. New York: The Macmillan company. LCCN 33036935.
  • Feeney, Leonard (1936). Song for a listener. New York: The Macmillan company. LCCN 36021490.
  • Feeney, Leonard (1980). Survival till seventeen. with an introd. by S. M. Clare (Memorial ed.). Still River, Mass.: St. Bede's Publications. ISBN 0932506089. LCCN 79025067.
  • Feeney, Leonard, S.J. (1941). Survival till seventeen; some portraits of early ideas. New York: Sheed & Ward. LCCN 41002380.
  • Feeney, Leonard (1970). You'd better come quietly; three sketches, some outlines and additional notes. Freeport, N.Y.: Books for Libraries Press. ISBN 0836915690. LCCN 79105011.
  • Feeney, Leonard (1939). You'd better come quietly; three sketches, some outlines and additional notes [by] Leonard Feeney, S. J. New York and London: Sheed & Ward. LCCN 39031329.
  • Feeney, Leonard (1945). Your second childhood; verses. Pictures by Michael Cunningham. Milwaukee: Bruce Pub. Co. LCCN 48003760.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Feeney Forgiven". Time Magazine. October 14, 1974. Archived from the original on September 30, 2007. Retrieved March 25, 2014. (subscription required)
  2. ^ a b Neumann, Br. John (February 9, 2010). "A Latter-Day Athanasius: Father Leonard Feeney". Saint Benedict Center, Richmond, New Hampshire: Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Retrieved March 25, 2014.
  3. ^ Blakeslee, Spencer (2000). The death of American antisemitism. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 93. ISBN 0-275-96508-2. LCCN 99029576. Retrieved March 25, 2014. After World War II, Boston was to acquire a homegrown version of Coughlin in the form of Father Leonard Feeney, a charismatic but openly antisemitic Jesuit priest, whose highly vocal insistence that Catholicism was the only path to salvation gained him a youthful following, but also roused intense anger among Jews and Protestants... Feeney's Sunday speeches on the Boston Common required a police presence to avert violence. His fiery rhetoric also divided a great many Catholics, who feared his oratory would stir a backlash that would block their entrance into the American mainstream. Although Feeney was excommunicated in the 1950s for violating Catholic doctrine, it came too slowly to satisfy many Jews who held strong memories of the Holocaust."
  4. ^ "Father Leonard Feeney, M.I.C.M." Catholicism.org. Retrieved December 1, 2019.
  5. ^ Keane, James T. (April 13, 2009). "Oops! Now and then America got it wrong". America. Retrieved March 25, 2014. The national Catholic weekly has also occasionally featured authors whose later antics brought it some embarrassment, including the articles and poetry of a literary editor with a brilliant mind and a talent for comic verse, Leonard Feeney, S.J. Feeney published frequently in America and earned a certain amount of fame for his numerous books, including a book of essays, Fish on Friday. He grew much more famous a few years later for a different reason: his excommunication from the Catholic Church in 1953 for refusing to accept the church's definition of the dogma extra ecclesiam nulla salus ("there is no salvation outside the church"). Though Feeney was reconciled to the church in 1974 (Avery Dulles, S.J., wrote his obituary for America), his establishment of his own schismatic religious community, the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and his long fight with church authorities overshadowed his literary genius until his death in 1978.
  6. ^ "Faith was integral to Bobby Kennedy's life and politics". National Catholic Reporter. August 17, 2016. Retrieved October 22, 2019.
  7. ^ "Augustine. Aquinas. Luther. Bobby Kennedy?!". National Review. September 14, 2009. Retrieved October 22, 2019.
  8. ^ Schlesinger, Arthur Meier (2002). Robert Kennedy and His Times. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. p. 66. ISBN 9780618219285.
  9. ^ "Library : Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus: Father Feeney Makes a Comeback". www.catholicculture.org. Retrieved September 10, 2019.
  10. ^ Letter on the Father Feeney Controversy, F. Cardinal Marchetti-Selvaggiani. Vol. 3, No. 12 (Dec., 1952), pp. 654-659
  11. ^ a b Feldberg, Michael. "American Heretic: The Rise and Fall of Father Leonard Feeney, S.J.", American Catholic Studies, vol. 123 no. 2, 2012, pp. 109-115. Project MUSE doi:10.1353/acs.2012.0016
  12. ^ Savadove, Laurence D. (December 6, 1951). "Father Feeney, Rebel from Church, Preaches Hate, Own Brand of Dogma to All Comers – One-Time Jesuit Plans To Use Ex-Harvard Men to Spread Idea". Harvard Crimson. Retrieved March 25, 2014.
  13. ^ Thomas, Evan (February 5, 2013). "Tough". Robert Kennedy: His Life. p. 51. ISBN 9781476734569. Retrieved March 25, 2014.
  14. ^ a b Mazza, Michael J. "Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus: Father Feeney makes a comeback". Retrieved March 25, 2014. originally published in Fidelity, 206 Marquette Avenue, South Bend, IN 46617
  15. ^ "Letter to the Archbishop of Boston | EWTN". www.ewtn.com. Retrieved September 30, 2019.
  16. ^ Letter of the Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office Archived March 11, 2000, at the Wayback Machine
  17. ^ "Suprema haec sacra", The American Ecclesiastical Review, 1952, vol. 127, pp. 308-15
  18. ^ MARY, Br. Robert (1995). Father Feeney and The Truth About Salvation. Saint Benedict Center. p. 23. ASIN B0006QD3S4.
  19. ^ ENGEL, Randy (2012). The Rite of Sodomy. Pennsylvania: NEW ENGEL PUBLISHING. p. 691. ISBN 978-0-9778601-7-3.
  21. ^ "Our History". Still River, Massachusetts: Sisters of Saint Benedict Center. Archived from the original on December 5, 2008. Retrieved June 22, 2008. Now http://sistersofstbenedictcenter.org/history.html .
  22. ^ Dulles, Avery (February 25, 1978). "Leonard Feeney: In Memoriam". America. Vol. 138. pp. 135–137. Archived from the original on December 24, 2010. Please see also
  23. ^ "Point magazine for Oct 1957 edited by Fr Leonard Feeney". crashrecovery.org. Retrieved December 1, 2019.
  24. ^ "Point magazine for Oct 1957 edited by Fr Leonard Feeney". archive.is. March 25, 2014. Archived from the original on March 25, 2014. Retrieved December 1, 2019.
  25. ^ "Point magazine for Sep 1958 edited by Fr Leonard Feeney". crashrecovery.org. Retrieved December 1, 2019.
  26. ^ Federal Bureau of Investigation. Leonard Feeney.
  27. ^ Sorensen, Ted (1970). The Kennedy Legacy. Weidenfeld & Nicolson. pp. 27–28.
  28. ^ The Letters of Evelyn Waugh (1980), 292–3.
  29. ^ Feeney, Father Leonard, M.I.C.M. (May 18, 2005). "Fog over London". London is a Place. Retrieved March 24, 2014.
  30. ^ "The Jewish Week". March 1, 2004. Archived from the original on March 1, 2004. Retrieved September 10, 2019.

External links[edit]