Forerunners in the United States (1954-1967)

The American edition of The Phenomenon of Man was published by Harper & Row in 1959 (it had appeared in France in 1955 and in England in 1959). The Divine Milieu came out in 1960. By 1961 The Phenomenon of Man had already sold 90,000 copies in France and over 50,000 in the United States.

Early in the 1960s Fordham University became a center for the critical study of Teilhard, the first such center for serious study in this country. Teilhardian studies started slowly with Dr. Louis Marks in Biology and Joseph Donceel, S. J., in Philosophy introducing his thought in their lecture courses. There was also a short-lived Teilhard Circle under a former colleague of Teilhard, J. Franklin Ewing, S. J., whose object was to stimulate critical appraisal chiefly from an anthropological point of view. Ewert Cousins, who went to Fordham in 1960 to teach in the Classics Department and also to study in the Graduate Philosophy Department, remembers discovering a lively interest there.

At Fordham from the summer of 1962 through the summer of 1964 there was a graduate student in biology, Fr. Robert Francoeur, who brought with him an already highly developed interest in Teilhard. He had been introduced to Teilhard's thought in 1954 while writing a master's thesis on Lecomte du Noüy at the Seminary of St. Vincent's in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. His mentor had criticized it on the grounds that he had come to too many conclusions based on his own ideas. Shortly afterwards Bob Francoeur had picked up a copy of Cross Currents in which he read an article on Teilhard de Chardin by Msgr. Bruno de Solages ­ the first article (translated from French) to appear in English in an American periodical ­ and he realized not only that Lecomte du Noüy and Teilhard were kindred spirits but also that here were the substantiations his mentor had wanted.

Robert Francoeur wrote to de Solages in Toulouse, and a lively correspondence ensued. This grew to include Claude Tresmontant, a lay biblical scholar living in Paris, who had written a book on Teilhard. Bob translated it into English. Then, in 1959, he saw an advertisement put out by Helican Press in Baltimore for a forthcoming edition by another translator. Pointing out to Helicon's Dr. McManus that the proposed book would lack a glossary and a bibliography, he was commissioned to supply these items and also to review the translation. This book, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin: His Thought, was published in 1959, the first book on Teilhard, albeit a translation, to be published in English in this country.

About this time the Knights of Columbus in Baltimore sponsored a television program on Teilhard in which Gustav Weigel, S.J., Professor of Theology at Woodstock in Baltimore, J. Franklin Ewing, S.J., of Fordham, Dr. John Walsh, a lay professor of history at Pace College in New York City, and Robert Francoeur took part. A transcription was published in Jubilee, the first article written in English on Teilhard to appear in the United States.

In the spring of 1961Robert Francoeur went to Paris where he met Claude Tremontant and was introduced by him to an American woman, Dorothy Poulain, who was married to a Frenchman, with a good reputation as a writer on Catholic topics. Her articles appeared in both French and American periodicals, and she was a member of a liberal Catholic circle that included Jean Danielou, S. J., and Henri de Lubac, S. J. Fr. Francoeur was to have an extensive correspondence with her. She put him in touch with her friend, Mlle. Jeanne Mortier, and became the translator in a correspondence that developed between Mlle. Mortier and Fr. Francoeur.

In 1961-1962 Robert Francoeur was in Baltimore where he became friends with Gustav Weigel, S.J., and John Courtney Murray, S. J., both of them pioneer spirits in the Vatican Council. While there he put together the first anthology of articles written in English in this country, The World of Teilhard de Chardin. Among the contributors were Dr. John Walsh, Gustav Weigel, S.J., John Lafarge, S.J., and Dr. Karl Stern, the noted neurologist and psychiatrist. Mention of its forthcoming publication was made in a footnote to an article that appeared in the American Benedictine Review, a small magazine with a circulation of only 800, and before it was even in print a Monitum was issued by the Apostolic Delegate in Washington prohibiting its reading by American seminarians. After much correspondence with the Apostolic Delegate the book was published in 1961. It was well reviewed, but it never did receive an imprimatur.

The summer of 1962, then, found Robert Francoeur at Fordham working on his doctorate in biology and building a network of kindred spirits who were also interested in Teilhard. These included Beatrice Bruteau (a Ph.D. candidate in Philosophy and Managing Editor of the International Philosophical Quarterly, a publication founded at Fordham in 1960 and produced in collaboration with the Jesuits at Louvain), Dr. Pierre Dansereau (Assistant Director of the New York Botanical Gardens) and others outside the University such as Dr. George Barbour at the University of Cincinnati, Teilhard's colleague in China.

Through Robert Francoeur, the group at Fordham became aware of an intense power play that had sprung up in Europe between Mlle. Mortier in Paris and a Mme. de Wespin in Belgium. Mme. de Wespin was making an effort to establish branches of the Centre Belge Teilhard de Chardin throughout the world and was pushing Bob to set one up in the United States. Mile.Mortier was opposed to her strong-handed approach, and this problem was discussed at length in her correspondence with Bob. The American group felt their allegiance to be with Mlle. Mortier.

At this point, in the summer of 1962, soon after he had arrived at Fordham, Robert Francoeur consulted a group of eminent scientists ­ Dr. Theodosius Dobzhansky, Dr. Loren Eiseley, Dr. Pierre Dansereau, and Dr. Alexander Wolsky. With their encouragement a group of people, some at Fordham and others outside of the University, formed The American Teilhard de Chardin Association, a very informal group. They had stationery printed, using as a logo the reverse of the Teilhard medal struck by the French government. Through the efforts of Mme. Poulain and Fr. de Lubac they became affiliated with the Association des Amis de Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in Paris.

In order to be free from Vatican censorship, it was decided to have a layman as President. Fr. Robert Francoeur was passed over and Dr. John Walsh was elected to that office. Meetings were held every four to six weeks at White's Inn, a restaurant near Pace College in downtown New York City close to City Hall. Other persons, besides those mentioned above, attended these meetings: Ewert Cousins, Dr. and Mrs. Thomas Patrick Melady, Sig. and Sigra. Carducci-Artemisio, Dr. Theodosius Dobzhansky and others. At each meeting one of the members read a paper, and discussion followed.

The fall of 1963 saw Teilhard activity at Fordham entering a wider phase, stimulated by the visit of Maurtis Huybens, S.J., the Belgian editor of the International Philosophical Quarterly. Fr. Huybens, a philosopher working on his dissertation on Teilhard, suggested to Beatrice Bruteau that he give some lectures to introduce Teilhard's thought to American students. She persuaded James Somerville, S. J., Chairman of the Philosophy Department, to offer a series of six public lectures. To everyone's surprise the audience grew to more than 600 persons, not only students and faculty from Fordham and surrounding institutions but many people from New York City also. At the conclusion of each of the two-hour lectures, members of the audience approached Fr. Huybens and testified with deep feeling to the insight Teilhard had given them into the religion they had all but abandoned because they could not reconcile it with modern scientific views of the world. It was a period of high excitement, of hope that a new world-view synthesizing religion and science would bring a breakthrough of the greatest importance.

During that same autumn some faculty members in various departments, deciding that The Phenomenon of Man might provide a fruitful focus for an interdisciplinary faculty seminar, held discussions every three weeks in the faculty lounge. Each session was introduced by one or several work papers given by representatives of various fields of knowledge. These continued into the spring of 1964, and in the final sessions, devoted largely to Teilhard's "hyper-physics," an attempt was made to test the substance of Teilhard's affirmations. It was realized, however, that only a threshold of Teilhardian study had been reached. As a result of these various expressions of growing interest in Teilhard, Beatrice Bruteau in October of 1963 proposed to Fr. Somerville that an interdisciplinary research institute be founded "to illuminate our experience of an evolving reality in a way that is appropriate to the evolutionary process itself, that is, by structuring our experience not only conceptually but non-conceptually or supra-conceptually as well, and by seeking such structures as will not only represent our present experience but also will promote and advance that experience in the direction of the evolutionary trend so far as we can discern it." Fr. Somerville asked her to write up her proposal for the Teilhard Research Institute. She did so, and he presented it to Joseph Frese, S.J., then Academic Vice-President of Fordham University.

The proposal stated that the Institute's purpose was to make a critical study of the work of Teilhard, and then pass on to "new questions, new criteria, and new fields of investigation." Its commitment was to fundamental research in "the philosophies," those "new alloys of arts and sciences which we expect to see emerging." As a first step the Institute would sponsor public lectures and conduct special working seminars. The following summer, for instance, it would arrange a five-week intensive study of Teilhard's work for a limited number of scholars from a variety of disciplines. This seminar would be followed by a one-week conference open to the public.

These proposals were approved by Fr. Frese before Christmas, and in early 1964 Beatrice Bruteau and Fr. Somerville proceeded to set up the Institute by inviting a representative from each of six disciplines to serve on its Executive Committee: Robert O'Connell, S.J., just returned from his doctoral studies at the Sorbonne (Assistant Professor of Philosophy), Dr. Joseph Budnick (Associate Professor of Physics), Richard Zegers, S.J. (Associate Professor of Psychology), Robert Namara, S.J., (Assistant Professor of Sociology), Dr. Louis Marks (Professor of Biology), and Ewert Cousins (who in 1963 had moved from Classics and was now Assistant Professor of Theology). Robert Francoeur, representing the American Teilhard Association, was an important member of the research team. Fr. O'Connell became Chairman of the Executive Committee and Beatrice Bruteau was Coordinator.

That spring the Teilhard Research Institute sponsored an extra-curricular lecture series in which the thought of Teilhard was examined by specialists in the fields that Teilhard had built into his synthesis-physics and chemistry, biology, anthropology, history, philosophy, religion.

Just as the publicity for these lectures was about to be printed, a difficulty arose. The Jesuit Provincial had forbidden the use of the name Teilhard for the Institute. The Vatican had issued a warning to all Catholic seminaries about the "errors" in Teilhard's work, and no doubt the religious superiors of the Society wished to pursue a prudent course and avoid any unnecessary unpleasantness. This move forced the Institute's committee to choose another name very quickly. The obvious one seemed to be Teilhard's own suggestion "We need and are irresistibly being led to create, by means of and beyond all physics, all biology and all psychology, a science of human energetics." (The Phenomenon of Man, Harper Torch book, p. 283). Later, the name "Teilhard" was restored, but the Institute began work under the name "The Human Energetics Research Institute." The American Teilhard Association could be visible because it had a layman, Dr. Walsh, as President, and it had no activities at Fordham.

The momentum of Teilhard studies continued to increase and, in the summer of 1964, the Institute's intensive Workshop was held, climaxed by a week to which members of the general public were invited. The Workshop, which ran from the second week in July through August 15th, was a team exploration by a body of young scholars and graduate students who met for private critical study and evaluation of Teilhard's thought. Again, based on the structure of The Phenomenon of Man, there were representatives from the natural sciences (physics and chemistry), biology, psychology, sociology, philosophy, and theology. Among those who took part in the Workshop were Ewert Cousins, Petro Bilaniuk (from St. Michael's College in Toronto), Bill Birmingham (publisher of the Omega series of the New American Library), Michael Tanner, S.J. (a very articulate teacher of literature in Jesuit schools), and Fr. Robert Francoeur.

The big event of the summer was the week following the Workshop ­ the 1964 Teilhard Conference (August 17 to 21) which was open to the public. This was financed by contributions, including one from Henry Luce for $1000. Established scholars were invited to address themselves to the familiar topics and Workshop members acted as panelists. Among the speakers were the following: J. Franklin Ewing, S.J., anthropologist, a personal friend of Teilhard and his chief link to Fordham. Robert Johann, S.J., who spoke on "Teilhard's Personalized Universe." Fr. Thomas Berry, cultural historian, who talked on "The Threshold of the Modern World." Barry Ulanov, who spoke to the humanist expression of Teilhard. Petro Bilaniuk, whose topic was "Christology of Teilhard de Chardin." Robert O'Connell, S. J.,who spoke on "Teilhard's Synthesis: Some Criteria for Criticism."

Pierre Dansereau, ecologist, who talked on "Teilhard and the Languages of Science." Werner Stark, who spoke on "Teilhard and the Problem of Human Autonomy." Owen Garrigan, who spoke on "Chemical Evolution." John Page, S.J., who talked on "The Phenomenon of Urbanization and Teilhard."

The Conference was hugely successful. It was also an important venture, the first sizable conference on Teilhard to be held in the United States. Henry Luce attended, and another member of the public audience was Minna Cassard who was to become the first Secretary of the future American Teilhard de Chardin Association, Inc. A number of papers read at this conference were published by the Human Energetics Research Institute under the title of 1964 Fordham Conference Proceedings, (Fordham University, Bronx, N.Y., $2.80).

At the end of the conference, Fr. O'Connell announced that the Institute for Human Energetics had received a $20,000 grant from the Ford Foundation to continue its work, and it was decided to hold a conference of experts the following summer. It was Fr. O'Connell who initiated the proposal and who received the grant, and it was he who shaped the issue.

At Fordham, during the following year, work revolved around the planning of the 1965 Conference. A closed conference, held in the beautiful surroundings of the Conference Center at Lake Forest (near Tuxedo), New York, had as its purpose the exploration of the possibility of dialogue among the disciplines of science, the humanities, philosophy, literature and theology. Some fifteen high-level experts were invited to have dialogue among themselves, with members of the planning committee in attendance only as auditors. As the week went by, however, the experts urged planning committee members to speak out, and Fr. O'Connell took a very active part and became the discussion leader on many occasions. The conference was stimulating and much enjoyed by the participants, but no conclusions were made because no agreements could be reached on basic concepts. And, though a report was made to the Ford Foundation, no papers were ever published.

The Human Energetics Research Institute sponsored one more Conference, in 1966, based on a newly published book by Harvey Cox, The Secular City, which was considered to have an important bearing on Teilhard's thought. Ewert Cousins was Chairman, and five public lectures on the topic "Sacred and Secular" were given from February to April.

The years 1966-1967 saw Beatrice Bruteau, the dynamic force behind the Teilhard Research Institute, leaving Fordham to become Executive Director of the Foundation for Integrative Education and Bob Francoeur withdrawing from the Fordham doctoral program and transferring to the University of Delaware. Also, Fr. O'Connell was on sabbatical at Harvard, but, in any event, his interest was moving in directions other than Teilhard. An Italian scholar at Fordham, Enrico Cantori, S.J., a physicist who had been in touch with Werner Heisenberg, suggested a program of dialogue between science, philosophy and general culture, but this idea never got off the ground. With the leaders of the Institute and the Teilhard de Chardin Association dispersed, no one seemed to have the time and energy to carry ideas forward into a new stage of development.

It was at this time also that Fordham expressed a lack of sympathy for institutes founded independently of the program of the university. In this climate the work of the Teilhard Research Institute came to a halt. There was no official termination; it simply ceased to operate.

For several years it had been felt that the small, informal American Teilhard de Chardin Association should be established on a wider base. What was envisioned was a national organization such as had been set up in Paris, Munich and London, and so the way was opened to the founding of the American Teilhard de Chardin Association, Inc.