Works By John Courtney Murray, S.J.

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Admission of Negro Students

to Saint Louis University, to School Dances, and

to the Society of Jesus.

The following three items can be found in the Murray Archives, folder number 552. The issues under discussion were the admission of African American students (negro with a small “n” in these texts) to the Jesuit's St. Louis University and then their admission, as students at SLU, to a school dance. Murray was responding to a request of Zacheus J. Maher, S.J., who had “ruled” over the wartime American Jesuits with something of an iron hand as the American Assistant. For the background on the confrontations over integration of the University and its dances, see Donald E. Pelotte, S.S.S., John Courtney Murray: Theologian in Conflict (New York: Paulist, 1975): 10ff. For John Dunne, S.J.'s side of the story, see Dunn's biography: King's Pawn: The Memoirs of Georget H. Dunne, S.J. (Chicago: Loyola University, 1990): 67-106


The first item is a cover letter to Maher. The second is the longest version of Murray’s Memorandum that, from internal evidence, appears to have preceded this April 30th letter. The third is most likely accompanied the letter.



[p. 1]


April 30, 1945

Dear Father Assistant: P.C.

I hope I have not delayed too long in answering your letter. The delay has been due to the quarterly attack of deadlinitis! Moreover, another project has had me by the throat for nearly a month. As you know, our Protestant brethren are very excited over the issue of religious liberty. Archbishop Mooney and Msgr. Carroll got engineered into a conference with Bishop [?] and Dr. Cavort and Bishop Dun on the subject. Carroll invited Fr. Parsons to come in, too. Then Mooney read my criticism of the Protestant "Statement on Religious Liberty," in TS [1945A], and wired for the "second installment." Which, of course, was not written! Instead, I sent him an l8 page memo on the subject [1945E]. He then had a conference in Washington on April 8—Mooney, Carroll, Parsons, and I. Before their meeting with the Protestant group, at which I was not present. The upshot of their conference was that Mooney designated Parsons and myself to carry on discussions with two appointees of the Federal Council. With a view to getting the discussions moving on our own terms, it was thought advisable that I should write full statement of Catholic theory—it will take three articles to do it . And I have been trying to get the first one done for the June TS. It is not finished yet, thought the deadline was last Monday. The subject is extraordinarily difficult and delicate, and I have been having lots of trouble with it.

So much for "excuses." I presumed to put your "brief" in a somewhat different form, with a view to making the structure of the argument stand out. And also to keep the argument firmly "on the beam"—which is the question of the obligations of our schools as schools. Whether the new form is a better statement of the case or not, I don't know. Please be the judge of that.

The Statement on the admission of negro candidates to the Society struck me as very good. It exactly isolates the essential question, and recognizes that judgment must be made in the local scene. On the question of the "usefulness" of negro Jesuits, it seems to me that three points might be raised, that need an answer:

1) How far is it possible in 1945 to judge what the usefulness of a negro candidate will be in 1958, when his studies are finished? By that time many social changes will have taken place; and it might very well be that the most useful thing we could have around in 1958 would


[p. 2]


be a negro Jesuit—or a considerable number of them. What I'm getting at is the obvious thing; (of which the Provincials would certainly think) that judgment on the usefulness of a negro candidate cannot be made on the basis of his usefulness hic et nunc, in today's situation.

2) Would, or would not, a negro candidate be "useful" by the sheer fact of his admission? That is, would it not serve the practical purpose of making the Society's attitude unequivocally clear, and of being itself a blow at prejudice, etc.?

3) Since the "usefulness" mentioned under (2) does not touch the question of strictly "professional" usefulness, there is the final question: would not an intelligent and spiritual negro Jesuit really create his own [use]fulness—certainly in the interracial field?

The answers to these three questions would, of course, be qualified by regional conditions. Moreover, I do not propose them in order to indicate possible amendment of your statement, which is a statement of principle. These questions bear, not on the principle of "usefulness" itself, but on the problem of setting up standards for judging “usefulness."

As regards my original longer memo. I am afraid I was thinking a bit hypothetically, while writing it, and not on a basis on actual policy. Hence the wrong suggestion, and statement, that our schools do not admit colored students. I know St. Peter's, Jersey City; has negro students, and other places.

With the corrections necessary to eliminate these misstatements of fact, I certainly have no objection to the idea of putting the memo before the Provincials. The question is merely whether you think it would be at all helpful. The thing could be much better done—the argument more tightly constructed, etc. And some collective thinking would improve it—e.g., I should like to know what Fr. LaFarge would say of it. Moreover, though I am quite prepared to defend it, it would be perhaps better to leave it anonymous. To the Provincials, I mean, not to Fr. LaFarge or other consultants. In all these things, somebody has to write something before others can write something better. Finally, it would be better to leave out the sentences referring to Manhattanville, and to rephrase the point about "leadership." I think it a vastly important point, but, as formulated, it might be taken for a "crack"!


[p. 3]


About the clippings (herewith returned). For my own part, I would be quite at a loss to detect any grounds for "sin" in the exclusion of  negroes from the dance. The issue is not between right and wrong, but between tact and stupidity in handling a delicate social situation. The values at stake seem to be social, not moral. And I am inclined to think that it is distinctly unintelligent so to conduct things that the presence or non-presence of negroes at a dance becomes a moral issue.

On the other hand, I am also inclined to think that there is a certain amount of sinfulness involved in having let the whole affair become a subject of public notoriety, and especially in having let the impression get abroad that there is schism in our own ranks over the question. Some fundamental loyalties are violated, and somewhere the prudential precepts with regard to the usus linguae went by the board. However, this is off the point about which you inquired—the "sinfulness" of excluding negroes from the dance. As I said, I do not think the issue of "sin" comes up at all.

It really come[s] up only if it could he proved that that form of social association was, at a given moment, a necessary part of a program of social justice, so that, if it were forbidden, the program itself would suffer seriously. But this could hardly be proved. Actually, what happened at t. Louis looks to me like a piece of sheer ineptitude in the way of handling things.

If I can be of any further service, ci comandi puti (I hope that's correct—the good old Italian is vanishing

Devotedly yours servant in Christ,


[p. 1]


The initial question concerns the admission of colored students to our schools—have they a "right" to be admitted?

The answer is—no. For the simple reason that nobody, be he white or colored, has any such right. Our schools are private schools, not diocesan or State. And we have no officium iuridicum towards anybody at all in the mater of admission to them, in such wise that we would violate a right by refusing admission. Even if the colored student were refused admittance simply because of his color, I do not see that this would be unjust, a violation of a right.

Nor is the doctrine of the Mystical Body, or papal encyclicals immediately relevant in this connection. We are not juridically obligated to admit students to our schools simply because they are members of the Mystical Body. Whatever rights that high privilege creates (cf. infra), it certainly creates no rights as against the Society. It should be remembered that we have no juridical obligation to provide an education for anybody, white or colored; with us, education is a work of charity, not justice.

The case is otherwise as regards the bishops. They have a strict obligation to provide for the Catholic education of their flocks, white and colored. And the negro's right to a Catholic education is valid as against the bishops.

I would add immediately that the negro's right to a Catholic education does not immediately and per se create a right to get it in association with white boys and girls in the same school. I fail to see why his right would not be fully satisfied by episcopal provision of an education system for colored alone, i.e., on the principle of segregation. Whether the bishop should follow one policy or the other (mixed schools or separate schools) will depend on other considerations than those of abstract commutative justice. However, in consequence of a failure to provide adequate educational facilities for the colored alone, the colored man's right to a Catholic education becomes operative against white schools, and he should in justice be admitted to them.

As regards ourselves, however, I do not think that a case can be made out, on grounds of individual justice, for the admission of colored boys to our schools.

But a case can be made out on other grounds: (1) those of social justice and social charity; and (2) those of supernatural charity.

I. Social justice and social charity.— Social charity has for its object the creation, by the co-operation of all men, each according to his possibilities and responsibilities, of a social order that will serve the interests of the human person as a person, and in his relationships with other persons. Social justice aims at furthering the ends of char-


[p. 2]


ity, and at supporting the order of charity by effecting such an institutional organization of society as will assure to each human person the peaceful possession and full exercise of all his rights. Social justice is social, i.e., its act is that of participation in an organized program of action towards the creation of social institutions.

These obligations of social justice and charity are incumbent on every one, according to his possibilities and responsibilities. Their obligation is heightened for the Christian by the fact that he is bound to their discharge by his share in the mission of the Church in the temporal order—a mission of justice and charity. Their obligation is trebly heightened for us by reason of our share in the pastoral mission of the Church....

In our present question, the concrete demands of social justice are that we participate effectively in a process and a program of elevating the negro to his rightful status of equality in the community. Our manner and degree of participation will be determined by our possibilities and our responsibilities. This means, in general, two things :

1) Our initial and essential duty is that of enlightening the public conscience (and the ecclesiastical conscience, perhaps) with regard to the demands of justice and charity in the case of the negro.

The fact is that the negro is the victim of a set of social institutions that deny him his rightful status (politically, economically , educationally, even "ecclesiastically'') in the community. (By "social institution" I mean a certain organized method of acting in his regard, based on a set of ideas about him.)

We have the duty in social justice to do our part, in an organized, programmatic way, towards altering these institutions, and creating another set more conformable to the demands of justice and charity.

This duty, I say, is initially discharged by educative efforts, from the pulpit, in our press, in our schools, conversations, etc.—in all the ways in which we have access to the public conscience.

2) Moreover, I believe our duty in social justice extends to more than just "talk." It also demands action. And I would affirm that one important action demanded is that of admitting negro students to our schools.

I do not make the affirmation on the grounds of the right of the individual negro to a Catholic education (as I said, he has no such right as against the Society), but on our duty in social justice to co–operate towards the common good of society, which today demands such an institutional reorganization of society as will assure to the negro his proper rights.

I am assuming that our presence in the educational field creates a definite responsibility toward the common good—that the total finality


[p. 3]


of our schools is not adequately expressed by saying that they exist in order to "save souls."

I am assuming, too, that public peace and the common good are menaced today in a serious way by the unsolved issue of the negro—by critically dangerous racial tensions.

I am assuming, thirdly, that our particular responsibility is for the production of leaders who will strongly further in society the cause of social justice and social charity, and who must, therefore, bring an important contribution to the solution of the racial problem.

I am assuming, finally, that these leaders must come from both the white and the colored groups, and that their training in leadership necessarily involves association with one another. Such association is necessary to generate that sympathy, understanding, mutual friendship and confidence, sharing of ideas, etc., without which effective co-operation is not possible. And such association must be set afoot during youth, when, under intelligent supervision, it can be most fruitful.

Against this background of ideas, I would assert that one of the functions of our schools today is to provide opportunities for this association between colored and white. By opening our schools to the negro, we shall be setting up an institution for social justice; we shall be participating effectively in the process of bringing the negro to his rightful status in the community. Moreover, this manner of participating in the process would seem to be obligatory, since it exactly corresponds to our own possibilities and responsibilities, and it is in virtue of them that our obligations are determined.

Our full duty to the common good of society, as well as to the good of the negro, is not discharged by the fact that some of our Fathers do pastoral work among the negroes. The fact is that we have at hand an institution (our school system), dedicated (in part) to the common good. In virtue of this general dedication, it cannot legitimately disinterest itself in one of today's major problems affecting the common good. It must formally become an institution effectively conspiring toward the solution of this problem. And it becomes such only when it is an arena of association between colored and white, and thus a training-ground for those who will, in the forum of the world, solve the problem of racial tensions. Actually, their training is the essential S. J. contribution.

Since I am writing currente calamo. I am not sure that I am making my line of argument clear. (Certainly, I do not intend a full development.). The essential point is this. It is no good to appeal immediately to the doctrine of the Mystical Body, etc., and then immediately to conclude: "Negroes ought to be admitted to our schools." The conclusion does not follow. And I distrust these immediate flights into the supernatural.


[p. 4]


The first step should be to determine the functions and responsibilities of our schools in the light of the current exigencies of the common good (and the good of the Church). These are the proximate and immediate grounds of decision as to the "obligation" of admitting negro students. The decision once made, then we mutter the whole power of the order of supernatural truth (Mystical Body, etc. etc.) in order to motivate our discharge of the obligation already established.


II. Supernatural Charity. This is the second ground that argues for the admission [This line scratched out in original, ed.]


A note needs to be added. Obviously social justice obliges us to do only what is possible at the moment, at the same time that we keep the ideal in view. If, therefore, admission of colored students is not immediately possible in this school or that, there is no obligation to admit them. But there remains an obligation to prepare the way for their admission by sustained and serious and intelligent educative work, on parents and boys. (Notice that, since social justice obliges us to further a process, it always imposes some obligation—that of taking the step in the process that is immediately possible.)

Furthermore, given the gravity of the situation and the weight of our responsibilities, the impossibility of admitting colored students should not lightly be taken for granted, There is room here for the exercise of courage, in the service of intelligence and tact. I might add that, if Manhattanville College of the Sacred Heart can in admit colored students, it is hard to see why we cannot. Unless it be that our Rectors and Deans lack what the administrators and staff of that college have. This may be the case. At all events, many difficulties could be cut through by high and persuasive leadership—of which, indeed, we have no great surplus.

II. Supernatural charity.— This is the second ground that argues for the admission of negroes to our schools, in two ways, positively and negatively.

1. Positively.— I am not thinking here of charity toward the individual negro and the salvation of his individual soul. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to prove any obligation in charity toward individuals as such. I am thinking rather of charity toward the negro group as a group, in their relation to the Church.

The fact is that the alienation of colored and white, and the unequal status of the negro in comparison to the white constitutes an obstacle to the supernatural mission of the Church to the negro group as a whole. As long as the negro remains in his present cultural, social, and economic status, the work of the Church will make only very slow progress among the negro population.

We have, therefore, an obligation of supernatural charity to remove


[p. 5]


this obstacle, again according to our possibilities and responsibilities; for these again, in conjunction with the seriousness of the objective situation, determine the measure of our obligation.

Moreover, I do not think we shall fully discharge this obligation even by the admission of a few negroes here and there. What is indicated is a policy of admission. The reason is that only an educational policy is the proportionate instrument to combat the social policy that constitutes the obstacle to the Church's mission. We have to address ourselves to the group.

This, of course, does not mean promiscuous admission of colored students. We must still be selective—the principle of selection being the finality of the policy in the light of the particular character of our schools. Our aim is to form negro and white leaders—those who can successfully associate with one another and profit by the association, and thus fit themselves for leadership. Furthermore, beginnings are necessarily small. And it is absolutely imperative that they be successful, on peril of jeopardizing the program.

Finally, I would emphasize that our duty in charity (to foster good relations between the Church and the negro) will not be fully discharged if we merely aim at taking a few negroes and making of them "good Catholics" in an individualistic sense. We must form instruments of the supernatural mission of the Church, precisely as it is directed to the negro. (As well as instruments of the mission of the Church in the temporal order.) Obviously, this brings up the question of negro vocations to the priesthood, as an objective to be deliberately envisaged and pursued. It also brings up the question of negro vocations to the Society, again as a formal objective.

I think these objectives must be deliberately envisaged, because the demands of charity are never minimal, but always high. At the same time, progress towards these objectives must be conceived as being under the supernatural providence of God. In other words, it is a question here of positing the conditions, and then of waiting to see what happens. What is outlawed, it seems to me, is full consent to the fixity of the present situation, in which the negro is barred from entrance to our schools and seminaries, and to the Society in America. We certainly

cannot say that this situation expresses the full will of God for the negro.


 Negatively.— What I mean here is this. The fact is that the negro is freely admitted to secular (and some Protestant) schools. Hence the fact that he is barred from our schools constitutes a scandal. And we have a duty in charity to remove this scandal.

Admittedly, the scandal is pharisaical, if it supposes that we are violating any strict right of the negro—we are not. It is, however, genuine in its judgment that we are not fulfilling our obligations in social justice and in charity, and are contributing, by our inertia, to the perpetuation of a situation that is unjust (I mean the general sit-


[p. 6]


uation of the negro, and not simply his exclusion from our schools; I think that our attitude to this latter, particular problem has to be controlled by our obligations with regard to the former, more general problem).


From all this you can judge what would be my own views of Fr. Heithaus' effusions. There is no doubt that we need good speeches and articles on this subject—but not like his. Non tali auxilio.

He oversimplifies the problem; his rhetoric is exaggerate; in his attack on existing attitudes (which do indeed deserve attack) he is tendentious and unfair. Granted that he is on the side of toe angels, he is entirely too heavy-footed in a very delicate matter. And that sort of thing is likely to do more harm than good.

It seems to me that he succumbs to one common temptation. Viewing our past neglect and present inertia (both real enough, I think), one is tempted to make up for lost time, and do everything at once. In the face of others who move too slowly, there is an inclination to move too fast. And when one takes up a "cause," such as that of interracial justice, there is a tendency to edge off into some manner of fanaticism.

Moreover, I have the impression that he does not really grasp the nature of a social problem. This is apparent (1) from his immediate flight into the supernatural, and (2) his impatience with what he calls "prudence," and (3) his failure to give any positive specifications. as to a program—above all he does not carry his position beyond that of championing the admission of colored students into our schools. As if that were our immediate, only, and full duty.

There is no need to remark that the comparison between toleration of discrimination against negroes and toleration of cannibalism lacks all validity. I am astonished that it could have been seriously proposed (or passed by a censor). If he wanted a parallel, he should have brought forward the Church's attitude toward the institution of slavery in early Christian times. A study of this would destroy his whole position on "prudence."

So far as the "Mystical Body" argument goes, the only immediate conclusion is this: the negro has a right to all the means necessary for his rational and human perfection (this right as against the State and society) and also for his supernatural perfection (this right as against the Church). It also follows that all of us have a duty to co-operate towards seeing that justice and charity is done to the negro. But the doctrine of the Mystical Body does not tell us how all this is to be done, nor what is the precise role of our schools in getting it done. I do not think it even condemns—immediately and per se—the principle of segregation; although the condemnation of that principle, as a permanent application, would seem to be in the tendency of that doctrine.

I do not know whether this memo clarifies anything—nor whether its arguments would command the agreement of others. But here it is!


[p. 1]

[A Briefer, Most Likely Final, Form of the Memorandum].

1) Social justice and social charity demand that our schools participate effectively, and in the manner dictated by their special possibilities and responsibilities, in the continuing social process of elevating the negro to his rightful status in society.

This statement rests on two premises. First, an essential, if partial, purpose and function of our schools is to contribute suo modo to the common good of the civil community; for the proximate finality of all education lies within the temporal order of human life, personal and social. Secondly, the common good today is seriously menaced by the "negro problem" (the institutionalized denial of justice and rightful equality to the collored group); for the common good is always menaced when the institutions of a society maintain any group in a status of unjust inferiority.

From these two facts, it follows that our schools must act effectively, and in the manner dictated by their own possibilities and responsibilities, toward the solution of the "negro problem." Concretely, two courses of action, are imperative

1) Since our schools give us access to the public conscience in the critical years of its formation, they must undertake a program of systematic education of the public conscience (in our boys) with regard to the demands of justice and charity in the case of the negro. This is the general responsibility of our schools, simply as educational institutions.

2) Since our schools have a responsibility for the production of leaders who will strongly further in society the processes of social justice and social charity, they must have a clear cut policy of admitting selected negro students. For the "negro problem" will be solved only under the associated leadership of white and colored; and therefore both white and colored must be formed to this leadership in association with one another during the period of their training to leadership. This is the special responsibility of our schools, as Jesuit educational institutions.

Note, however, that the obligations of any school at a given moment are limited by its possibilities. It will always and everywhere be possible to discharge the general obligation— education of the public conscience. But it will not always and everywhere be possible to discharge the special obligation—admission of colored students. Nevertheless, even in that event there will remain the obligation of preparing the way for their admission by sustained educative work on parents and students alike.

Furthermore, given the gravity of the situation and the weight of our responsibilities , the impossibility of admitting colored students should not be lightly taken for granted. There is room here for the exercise of courage in the service of intelligence, tact, and high social sense.

Finally, it must not be overlooked that the obligation of our schools to further the process of social justice and charity, toward the common good, is heightened by their obligation to further the mission of the church in the temporal order, which has the common good as its object.


[p. 2]

II) Supernatural charity, and zeal for the supernatural mission of the Church also demand the admission of colored students to our schools. (The charity and zeal in question regard, not the individual negro, but the negro group as a group.)


This statement rests on two premises. First, an essential—and the ultimate—purpose of our schools is to further the supernatural mission of the Church. Secondly, this mission is hindered by the whole present social situation of the colored group—segregation, alienation from the white group, tension between them, cultural and economic inequality, etc.

Consequently, our schools are obligated to act toward correcting this situation, according to their possibilities and consequent responsibilities.

In particular, they have an obligation in charity to terminate the grave scandal found in the fact that many secular schools admit negroes, while many of our own bar them.

Note.—Generally speaking, supernatural charity and zeal enter as motives for the fulfilment of obligations that are proximately determined by the virtues of social justice and charity, in their application to our schools.

The same may be said about the doctrine of the Mystical Body, the unity of mankind, etc. These doctrines do not specify the obligations of our schools as schools. Their relevance is (1) in regulating our personal attitudes, and (2) in supplying the motivation for integral fulfillment of obligations that have their own proximate determinants. The obligations of our schools derive from the fact that they are (a) educational institutions (b) of a particular kind.

Perhaps the argument in the first paragraph might be put this way:

"With us, education is a work of charity, not of justice; and our schools are private, not public or diocesan. Hence we have no officium juridicum to educate any particular person or group; no one, white or colored, has any right to admission to our schools, and we violate no rights by refusing admission to any person or group.

Consequently, on the grounds of individual justice, no case can be made out for the admission of colored students to our schools. However, there is a case for their admission (1) on the grounds of social justice and charity, and (2) on those of supernatural charity and zeal for the supernatural mission of the Church."


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