Remembering Fr. Andrew M. Greeley, Philosemite

The Reverend Andrew M. Greeley, a priest of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago and well-known sociologist, novelist, theologian, controversialist, and leprechaun, died Wednesday at his home in the Hancock Building in Chicago.  He was 85.

He was my professor of sociology when I was an undergraduate at The University of Chicago.  We were friends from the first, which was his way, and remained so to the last.

He once accelerated a course for me, exams and all, so that I could complete it well before the normal end of the quarter so that I could head off early to Egypt and Israel on a traveling seminar where I was employed by Indiana University.  He said, “Far be it from me to stand in the way of peace — or, more likely in your case, trouble — in the Middle East!”

He had a house right on Lake Michigan at Grand Beach, Michigan — my recollection is that it had a big sign in front reading “Ballindrehid”, which Andy said meant “House of the Priest” in Gaelic.  He wrote there, sitting in a window from which, on clear days and nights, one could see the towers and lights of Chicago across the water.

He was at the beach many weekends year-round, but especially in summer, and he would often invite students and other friends to join his family and him for cook-outs and fun.  He had a power boat and loved to water ski.  He tried on several occasions to teach me to ski, but I couldn’t stay up out of the water for more than a few seconds at a time.  It may have been his only failure as a teacher of anything.  (His evaluation of me:  “Well, you float!”)

Nearly every day he would say Mass and ask his whole beach crowd to attend.  Weather permitting, Mass was at a picnic table right on the beach (Andy in full vestments;  the rest of us in swimsuits).  In bad weather Mass was in the big room in the house.  There was always a homily, and it was always informative, funny, and memorable.

He was a predictable contrarian.  He’d go to meetings at the Archdiocese of Chicago wearing a suit and tie;  he’d teach his classes at the University wearing a Roman collar.

Once, years later, when I was the Chief of Staff and General Counsel at USIA under President Reagan, I called him from Washington to ask advice on public opinion surveying overseas and to offer him a consulting contract.  He was then one of the leaders of the National Opinion Research Center at the U of C, and survey research was always one of his academic specialties.  USIA conducted a huge amount of polling and surveying of foreign populations, in sometimes very difficult circumstances in communist countries and other tyrannies and in countries with highly undeveloped infrastructures;  we prided ourselves that we often understood public opinion in a country better than the local dictator did.

He turned me down on the contract but was always generous with advice over the phone.

He told me that he “loved” me “because” I was a Jew (“like my Boss”) and “despite the fact” that I was a “benighted Republican”.  He liked to refer to himself as “an unrepentant Daley Democrat”.  The “Daley” in question was the first Mayor Daley.  “Why do you spend so much time with me, then?” I would ask.  “Sinners are my business,” he would answer.

I once asked Fr. Greeley how I should describe him in a memorandum, in which I was quoting him, that I was writing for the President, the Secretary of State, and the Director of USIA.  I meant, of course, which academic credentials and institutional affiliations I should set forth.  His answer:  “Just put down, ‘Andrew Greeley is a loud-mouthed Irish priest.’  That says it all.”

Amazingly, before his death Andy posted on his website the texts of sermons for every Sunday in June.  For example, his sermon for Sunday, June 9, 2013, will be found here:

Each of his on-line sermons typically tells, in addition to the Gospel passage of the week, a little story that he made up.  A recurring character in his stories, as in the sermon for June 9th, is a twinkly-eyed, mischievous priest.  These tales leave little doubt as to how he saw himself.

He was a fabulous teacher and a dear friend.  He will be deeply missed.

Joseph A. Morris is a Vice President of the Temple.