RIP: Jude Dougherty

Jude Patrick Dougherty (1930-2021), the legendary dean of the Catholic University of America (CUA) School of Philosophy, was buried on Monday. He was the first layman to hold that post, succeeding the equally legendary Msgr. John K. Ryan in 1966, a year after the close of Vatican II and at a troubled time in the Church and the world. It was a near miracle that, despite the turmoil inside and outside the university, he was able to hold the School of Philosophy on a basically steady course – a Catholic course that remained close to the great neo-Thomist tradition, but also actively engaged modern philosophical currents, without losing its footing.

I’m not sure how I met Jude – it was decades ago now. But he had a rare way of making friends and welcoming people – notably in 1976 a then-obscure bishop of Krakow named Karol Wojtyla whom he invited to lecture at CUA and remained friends with throughout his long papacy. In 1999, St. JPII made him a Knight of the Order of St. Gregory for his many services to the Church.

But his hospitality embraced multitudes, even young people just starting out, as I was back then. In several ways, I think it was partly his influence, not intentionally but indirectly, that kept me from being tempted to go down a Washington political rabbit hole at the think-tank where I was working. Such personal influence is hard to gauge, but for me – and I know for many others – it certainly existed and made a difference.

It was at one of the dinners he hosted frequently at his home to bring together people from different places and walks of life that I came to know Virgil Nemoianu (later my dissertation director) and his wife Anca (both dear friends of many years); Msgr. Robert Sokolowski, the great American phenomenologist (who gave a heartfelt and brilliant homily at the funeral Monday); Rocco Buttiglione, the Italian philosopher, politician, and confidante of Pope John Paul II; and many others.

On one of these occasions, a well-known Catholic artist half-joked that Jude was hosting a regular intellectual salon. If you put aside the kind of superficiality and social snobbishness that French word can suggest, it’s true. It was one of the places where over simple but good food and wine you could meet and talk with stimulating people you were glad to spend time with, even if you didn’t always agree with one another. Not least Jude’s wife Patricia, and their four sons Michael, John, Thomas, and Paul, men of whom any father would be proud.

Jude’s own father, he once told me at a conference our Faith & Reason Institute organized in Chicago, was a hotel manager in that city before the construction of Lake Shore Drive. Back then, hotels lined Lake Michigan and Jude felt, as a child, that he’d grown up along the Mediterranean. Or at least that was how he remembered it. (He apparently didn’t experience many Chicago winters.) His mother died when he was seven, and he and his sister had to be put in an Ursuline orphanage in Louisville, Kentucky.

It was typical of Jude that he didn’t think of the six years he spent there as somehow a disadvantage. He flourished under the care of the sisters, grew both in faith and intellect, and always held them in high esteem. In fact, the family has encouraged people who want to honor his memory to make charitable donations in his name to that Saint Joseph’s Children’s Home (for details click here).


His intellectual abilities took him steadily through various institutions of higher learning, including CUA, where he did his Ph.D. He was elected dean of the School of Philosophy after only one year as a professor there, and remained dean for over three decades.

Not surprisingly, Jude was not universally admired – or even liked – during those years. Which I regard as a badge of honor. It’s worth recalling that in his early years as dean – when he was only in his mid-thirties – CUA was torn, as many Catholic institutions were, by dissent. Fr. Charles Curran – then a professor of moral theology at CUA – was actively pushing contraception in 1967; led a public revolt of theologians in 1968 after the publication of Humanae Vitae, Paul VI’s encyclical reaffirming the ban on contraception; and a few years later was arguing in favor of homosexuality. And Fr. Curran was only the tip of the spear.

In those fevered days, it was amazing that anything robustly Catholic survived anywhere. Whatever conniptions were roiling the theology department at the Catholic University of America, Jude navigated the waters in those years such that the School of Philosophy continued to be conspicuously Catholic and was one of the strongest Catholic philosophy departments in America.

Besides his administrative strengths, Jude was a serious philosopher in his own right – but he focused a lot of attention on the philosophy of science and American philosophy, two areas that don’t typically lead to philosophical celebrity. The family chose to highlight some passages from Jude’s work at the funeral the other day. One in particular sounded much like him:

Catholic thought. . .is essentially and historically a system of intellectualism, of objectivism grounded in a philosophical realism embraced for the most part by the Fathers of the Church. The basic principle of Catholic thought asserts the reliability of intelligence – that is, that we are equipped with intellects that are able to ferret out the secrets of an intelligible nature: we are able to achieve objective truth.

There’s much to repair in the Church and its various institutions. That work is never finally done, and is especially urgent just now. But we often overlook the courage and tenacity of those who in the generation just prior to ours, kept alive the Faith in extremely difficult circumstances. And are models to us now. Among these, Jude Patrick Dougherty deserves our special notice and gratitude.

Well done, good and faithful servant.


*Image: The Mourners by Jean de La Huerta and Antoine Le Moiturier, 1443–1456 [Musée des Beaux-Arts, Dijon, France]. Each of the alabaster statuettes is about sixteen inches high. They were created for the tomb of John the Fearless, Duke of Burgundy, and his wife, Margaret of Bavaria.

Below is a photo taken at Professor Dougherty’s funeral Mass on Monday at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC. during Msgr. Sokolowski’s homily.

Robert Royal is editor-in-chief of The Catholic Thing and president of the Faith & Reason Institute in Washington, D.C. His most recent books are Columbus and the Crisis of the West and A Deeper Vision: The Catholic Intellectual Tradition in the Twentieth Century.