Friday, 7 June 2013

Andrew Greeley, R.I.P.

Dear Editor of The Economist, As a very satisfied subscriber, I always start my weekend reading your weekly obit.

Imagine my joy when you gave Andrew Greeley as intelligent a goodbye as his idiosyncratic life.

My father abandoned us when I was three. So to free my mother to teach in Hamtramck, I was shipped off for ten years to Holy Rosary Academy in Bay City (1930-40) run by German Dominican nuns whose Catholicism was as tight as Greeley's was loose.

I was kicked out of Detroit's minor seminary in 1943 because of my arrogant retort to the rector's query,"What are you two doing in the Gothic tower after midnight?""Jim and I are learning how to smoke? Any suggestions?" His answer was curt: "Don't return after Easter Vacation!"

Our local high school was Edwin Denby, whose rep was the whorehouse of Detroit. After Naval service I majored in philosophy at the Jesuit University of Detroit. I won the Midwest Province essay contest in 1949 with the cheeky title: "Needed: More Redblooded American Catholics" by which I meant proBlack and anti-Father Coughlin's anti-semitism.

My Greeley spirit was blooming. And my other Catholic mentor was Marshall McLuhan. Two weirdos who were blessedly true. A Ford grant in New York and a Carnegie PostDoctoral Grant at Penn to create a course on "Mass Culture" followed. Annenberg gave Penn two million and I became Dean Gilbert Seldes's gofer in founding the Annenberg School of Communication.

I was losing my faith but emulating Greeley with pleasure. I was appointed the first director of American Studies at the East West Center in Honolulu. I quit after the first year when I found my number 2 had been in the CIA for the past ten years. I quit teaching after thirty years for global alternative journalism.

Emulating Greeley's free spirit. Very satisfying. Would there were a Greeley Fan Club!

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