Mike Aquilina

Richard’s New House

Friday January 09th 2009, 10:45 am

With so many others, I’m mourning the passing of Father Richard Neuhaus. He was a brilliant man, a kind man, a good priest — and a prolific author and stunning stylist. I think I’m fairly typical of a certain sort of Christian when I say that I thrilled to see his magazine, First Things, come in the mail each month — and I turned immediately to the back pages, his long, ranging monthly ramble titled “The Public Square.” I’ve been addicted to my monthly Neuhaus since he wrote the same rambles for Religion and Society Report, back in the 1980s. Even when I disagreed with him, I had to marvel at the loveliness of his prose.

I had only a few contacts with him. We corresponded a bit, and he invited me to his ordination to the Catholic priesthood (I couldn’t make it). He gave me, when I was hardly more than a child, one of my first major publications, a satirical poem titled “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Vicar P’rochial.” He published a short, generous review of a book I co-edited with David Scott, Weapons of the Spirit: Selected Writings of Father John Hugo. And he used my interview with Cardinal Christoph Schonborn to launch an extended and profound reflection on liturgy and beauty. Once I visited his New York offices with David Scott, and we delighted in Father Neuhaus’s hospitality and long conversation.

When I was doing newspaper work, he was a prized source. I could count on him to deliver — as soon as his phone rang — something brief, to the point, and stunningly quotable. We reporters recognized him as the kind of source who made us seem intelligent.

He, of course, did much to promote the study of the Fathers. Among his magazine’s contributors were Robert Louis Wilken, Thomas Weinandy, and so many others I celebrate on this blog.

Down the years, he showed many kindnesses to many of my friends, and for those I am especially grateful. I ask you to join me in prayer for his rest. And read him, please. The First Things blog is posting some of his best work, plus great audio.

(I stole the title of this post from the Wall Street Journal’s coverage of Neuhaus’s conversion to Roman Catholicism, almost twenty years ago. I remember it vividly because he announced his intention at the same time as my then-Lutheran wife. Another headline I clipped, “Notable Lutheran Converts,” still hangs in our bedroom.)