Founding of the American Teilhard de Chardin Association, Incorporated (1967)

Fr. Robert Francoeur was a leading force in this new phase of Teilhardian activity. Many of the people who had been part of the Teilhard Research Institute ­ either as members of the planning board or as participants in the programs ­ became involved in the new venture: Beatrice Bruteau, Pierre Dansereau, Ewert Cousins, Louis Marks, Thomas Berry, and Henry Elkin. There were also the members of the small American Teilhard de Chardin Association: Ruth Nanda Anshen, William Birmingham, James Budnick, Sig. and Sigra. Carducci-Artenisio, The Rev. Pieter de Jong, Dr. Theodosius Dobzhansky, Jean Houston, Robert Johann, S. J., Dr. and Mrs. Edgar Taschdjian, Dr. Alexander Wolsky, and Dr. John Walsh. (Claire had been Teilhard's secretary in Peking, and she and Edgar Taschdjian had been married there by Fr. Teilhard.)

Another member of this group should be singled out here, because she was to play an important role in the formation of the national Association and was to become its secretary. This was Minna Cassard who had attended the public lectures of the 1964 Fordham conference. Though not a member of the community of scholars, Minna, a devoted High Church Episcopalian, had been reading Teilhard since 1959, devouring the French editions as they appeared, as she later described it, sitting at the kitchen table with a cold, wet towel pressed to her forehead, a French dictionary and a glossary of scientific terms at her side. Aware of subtle and not so subtle mistranslations into English, she was always to claim that Teilhard could not be truly understood unless read in French. Minna was thorough. Though not a scholar, and with a distaste for lectures and intellectualizing, she had an ardent concern that Teilhard's thought be understood in all its rigorous development and spiritual implications and not used solely to elucidate other intellectual or theological positions. She was always to urge members, in the words of one of the Prayer Book collects, to "read, mark, learn and inwardly digest" the work of Teilhard. Over and above this concern she was eminently practical and disciplined, and she was to give the Association a working structure without which it could not have survived. She also had a sense of style and of worldly values that attracted people outside the academic community.

On February 24, 1965 a group of about twenty persons came together at the Faculty House of Columbia University for the first of a series of informal discussions under the leadership of Dr. John V. Walsh, Fr. Robert Francoeur, and Dr. Pierre Dansereau.

Fr. Francoeur was now teaching in the Biology Department of Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison, New Jersey, beginning his work in experimental embryology, a field in which he was to become an authority. He was authorized to use his office as headquarters of the Association. Mrs. Peter Sammartino, wife of the President, was interested in Teilhard and agreed to serve as Chairman of a Benefactions Committee. University officials sought government and foundation grants for Teilhard research and planned to ask the National Endowment for the Humanities to finance summer courses on evolution to introduce high school science teachers to the thought of Teilhard. None of these plans, alas, found fruition, although various lectures were given under the Association's name.

There was a growing consensus that the Association should be incorporated as a nonprofit organization because it could not survive without some structure and a tax-exempt status, especially if it were to become national in scope. Minna Cassard consulted a corporation lawyer, Edward Maguire, Jr., who was a member of her church. She and Beatrice met with him in November of 1966 and, though still without funds, plans were laid to launch the association, without benefit of any umbrella protection from an established institution. It was a venture of faith. Mr. Maguire of the law firm of Jackson, Nash, Brophy, Barringer & Brooks contributed his services. A draft of Articles of Incorporation was drawn up in December of 1966, and finally on April 4, 1967 the Articles of Incorporation of the American Teilhard de Chardin Association were formally accepted by New York State. Tax-exempt status was granted soon afterwards. The territory of operation was to be principally the United States. Its stated purpose was

To promote, stimulate interest in and assist further development and study of the writings and philosophy of the Jesuit paleontologist and scholar, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin; to encourage and sponsor critical research in and exposition of Teilhard's theories; to serve as a center of information and to make available consultation and advice on such studies; to organize and superintend meetings of those interested in the development and growth of such studies; to promote fellowship and cooperation among those interested in the life, work and thought of Teilhard.

The signers of the certificate were Beatrice Bruteau, Minna Cassard, Ewert Cousins, Pierre Dansereau, Henry Elkin,Robert Francoeur, and Louis Marks.

The Bylaws stipulated that the Association was to be open to memberships of various categories and that an annual meeting was to be held during the months of April or May, at which time the voting members of the Corporation (made up of the Board of Directors and the Advisory Board) should meet to elect Board members, officers, and committee members for the following year, and to fix annual dues for all members. Mlle. Mortier granted affiliation with the Fondation Teilhard de Chardinin Paris.

The first organizational meeting of the Board of Directors (the signers of the certificate plus Theodosius Dobzhansky, Michael Murray and Alexander Wolsky) was held on May 8, 1967.Robert Francoeur was elected President, Pierre Dansereau and Beatrice Bruteau, Vice-Presidents, and Minna Cassard, Secretary and Treasurer. Elected to the Board of Directors were Ewert Cousins, Theodosius Dobzhansky (Professor of Genetics at Rockefeller University), Henry Elkin (Jungian analyst), Louis Marks (Professor of Biology at Fordham University), Michael Murray (Episcopal Minister) and Alexander Wolsky (Professor of Biology at Marymount College). The members of the original American Teilhard de Chardin Association were named charter members and elected to the Advisory Board together with some thirty other persons. (Dr. Loren Eiseley regretfully resigned soon afterwards because of pressure of his own work.) Annual dues were set at $10.00 for regular members (rising through the categories of contributing and sustaining members) and $3.00 for students.

The Board, undaunted by the prospect of high rents, felt that the Association should have its center in New York City, and a happy solution came about through Minna Cassard. For several years she had been a volunteer worker in a small Anglican theological library, The Library of St. Bede's, founded and administered for some thirty years by a group of non-professional women of the Episcopal Church. It had been housed in a main-floor apartment in a safe, desirable, rent-controlled building on the east side of New York, but it had so outgrown its space and the abilities of its amateur staff that it was moved to the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee.

Minna made inquiries. Room Main B of that apartment was available, and a three-year lease was signed to take effect on July 1st. The address was 157 East 72nd Street, about three blocks away from the apartment in which Teilhard had died and in the general neighborhood in which he had spent his last years. The room was small and looked onto an areaway, but there was switchboard service and 24-hour doormen. St. Bede's Library donated some of its unwanted furniture and library supplies, and gifts from publishers provided the nucleus of a Teilhard library.

Minna arranged that she should be at the Association headquarters on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons (other times by appointment) functioning, as she wrote later, as secretary, treasurer, librarian, interior decorator, cleaning woman, and errand boy. She brought with her from St. Bede's a devoted and admiring friend, Mrs. Alice Leighton, whose excellent typing skills built up the membership records. Two months' rent was generously contributed by a Board member, and the Association set down its roots at last.