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Richard John Neuhaus: A Life in the Public Square

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February 11, 2015 - 8:29 PST


COLORADO SPRINGS, CO (February 11, 2015) - "We have to see that the priest as priest is a public person, that he is a political person," wrote Richard John Neuhaus in 1967.

Perhaps no individual in modern American history better personifies that description than Neuhaus himself, who lived his life on the national stage from the early 1960s until his death in 2009.

Neuhaus firmly believed that religion had a role to play in politics and in broader public life. From his days on the march with Martin Luther King, Jr. to his role as personal counselor to popes and presidents, he was a culture warrior extraordinaire.

Although he made his mark as an activist and intellectual clergyman, writing and speaking about the state of political affairs in America, he was first and foremost a man of God.

"Even when, especially when, we are most intensely engaged in the battle, first things must be kept first in mind," he wrote. "It is not easy but it is imperative. It profits us nothing if we win all the political battles while losing our own souls."

In Richard John Neuhaus: A Life in the Public Square (Image, Feb. 10, 2015) author Randy Boyagoda offers a comprehensive and thoughtful examination of the life of one of the most influential figures in American public life, from the Civil Rights era to the War on Terror.

"I have spent the past five years working on this biography of Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, the most influential Catholic in America, from his national news making conversion in 1990 to his death in 2009," writes Boyagoda. "What I have discovered and share in this book is the deeper, fuller story of the relationships, experiences, and events--personal and historic, small-town and world-spanning--that made Neuhaus not only a prominent priest but a prodigious writer and a hard-charging activist."

Neuhaus (1936-2009) began his life in the public square as a leading clergyman of the American Left in the 1960s and 1970s and then went on to become the most prominent clergyman of the American Right from the 1980s until his death in 2009.

From a Lutheran pastor in Brooklyn to a Catholic priest in New York, his writing, activism, and connections to people of power in religion, politics, and culture secured a place for himself and his ideas at the center of recent American history.

Neuhaus is perhaps best known as the founder of First Things magazine, a fixture in the national media, and a personal counselor to Pope John Paul II and President George W. Bush.

"He would tell his friends that all his life, he wanted to do something beautiful for God," writes Boyagoda. "Whether as a man of ideas, a man on the march, or a man in conversation with Presidents and Popes, Neuhaus was first, last, and always a man of God."

Neuhaus made national news for the first time on October 25, 1965 when he talked back to Lyndon B. Johnson on matters of U.S. foreign policy in Vietnam during an antiwar demonstration.

Having already squared off privately and publicly against his arch-conservative Lutheran pastor father on civil rights, Neuhaus became a prominent civil rights activist in the 1960s, marching and working alongside his mentor, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, and also Martin Luther King, Jr.

n 1968, Neuhaus was thrown out of the Democratic National Convention for the trouble he was making on the convention floor as an antiwar delegate.

In 1970, Neuhaus made a run for Congress as a radical Left wing delegate and lost. This was an act he later called "a fit of vocational absentmindedness."

In 1975, Neuhaus fully became a conservative during days spent developing what would become the Hartford Appeal for Theological Affirmation.

In 1984, Neuhaus became director of the Rockford Institute Center on Religion and Society, a conservative think tank. Harper's magazine reported his new directorship in a piece titled "Going to Extremes: A Sixties Radical Converts to an Eighties Reaganite."

With the overwhelming response to the 1984 publication of his book The Naked Public Square, which coincided with a presidential election campaign in which the relationship of religion and politics was a source of endless controversy, Neuhaus emerged as America's most prominent and discussed authority on religion and public life.

In 1989, Neuhaus and his colleagues were un-ceremoniously fired from their jobs, as part of an intellectual war on the American Right that made national news. By 1990, Neuhaus had founded the Institute on Religion and Public Life and become editor-in-chief of the institute's flagship publication, First Things magazine, which is the leading intellectual journal of its kind in the United States.

In 1996, Neuhaus presided over a national news-making special issue of First Things that made controversial connections between Nazi Germany and the United States over Supreme Court decisions about abortion and euthanasia.

Having already made national news with his conversion to Catholicism in 1990, by 2005 Neuhaus was named one of the "25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America" by Time Magazine.

Neuhaus served as an unofficial advisor to President George W. Bush on a range of religious and ethical matters and was one of Pope John Paul II's most influential American supporters and personal allies.

"[A] stellar biography." - Publishers Weekly

"Boyagoda dispassionately describes this fascinating and active life, and he manages to blend skills as a folksy storyteller, researcher and unbiased historian, providing a biography that is balanced, interesting and relevant. A useful, provocative spotlight on one of the leading lights of the 20th century." - Kirkus

"Faith, it is correctly observed, while intensely personal, is never private. In North America, nobody recently has more effectively defended and encouraged bringing religion into the public square than Richard John Neuhaus. And up until now, no one has offered a more credible, careful, and colorful biography of this convert to Catholicism--in the line of Orestes Brownson, Isaac Hecker and Thomas Merton--than Randy Boyagoda." - Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, Archbishop of New York, author of True Freedom

"A Lutheran pastor who became a Catholic priest, labeled sometimes as liberal and other times as conservative, Neuhaus was truly a "sign of contradiction" in our times, a man whose constant affiliation in life was of belonging to God and striving to draw ever nearer to Him. Thorough, vivid, and keenly understanding of the interplay of personality, faith, and cultural context, Boyagoda's biography of Neuhaus does justice to this man of faith who became a type of "grace to be reckoned with," becoming a culture-altering tour de force. As Americans continue to explore the challenge of living one's faith in the public square, this book is an enriching testament to a man who blazed that trail in his own lifetime, fearless of everything but God Himself." - Carl A. Anderson, Supreme Knight, Knights of Columbus

RANDY BOYAGODA is a professor of American Studies at Ryerson University in Toronto. His latest novel, Beggar's Feast, was selected as a New York Times Book Review Editor's Choice, nominated for the 2013 IMPAC Dublin Literary Prize, and has been published to critical acclaim around the world. His debut novel, Governor of the Northern Province, was nominated for the 2006 ScotiaBank Giller Prize. He has written for a variety of publications, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times, First Things, The New Statesman, and Harper's. He lives in Toronto with his wife and four daughters.

For more information, visit
To request a review copy or to schedule an interview with Randy Boyagoda, please contact Katie Moore, publicist,, 719-268-1936.


Image Books/Random House
CO, 80921 US
Katie Moore - Publicist, (719) 268-1936


Richard John Neuhaus, First Things, Randy Boyagoda, Image Books, religion, politics,


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