Feeney, Leonard

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Poet, essayist, founder and superior of a religious congregation of men and women, b. Lynn, Mass., Feb. 15, 1897, and d. Still River, Mass., Jan. 30, 1978. Trained in Jesuit schools, he entered the Society in 1914 and, after completing seminary studies, did graduate work at Oxford. He was ordained at Weston College in 1928.

Feeney quickly attracted attention in the Catholic literary world with his first book of poetry, In Towns and Little Towns (1927). This was followed over the next 20 years by a great variety of writings: essays, short stories, sketches, biography, dramatizations, and more poetry. Educated "in the hard school of wonder," as he put it, he was entranced with "the earthliness of heavenly things and the heavenliness of earthly things." With his buoyant, paradoxical style he was called by many the "American G. K. Chesterton." Among Feeney's popular books were: In Towns and Little Towns (1927); Fish on Friday (1934); Boundaries (1936); Riddle and Reverie (1936); Song for a Listener (1936); You'd Better Come Quietly (1939); Survival Till Seventeen (1941); The Leonard Feeney Omnibus (1943); and Your Second Childhood (1945).

Feeney insisted on the primacy of doctrine as the source of theology and devotion. "And by the way/Speaking of how to pray,/Dogmas come first, not liturgies." Frank Sheed, a long-time friend and one of his publishers, said of his writings, "For Father Feeney, dogma is not only true; it is breathlessly exciting. That is his special vocationto make his readers feel the thrill." Besides contributing to Catholic periodicals and broadcasting on "The Catholic Hour," Feeney was also literary editor of America and president of the Catholic Poetry Society of America. In 1943, at the height of his literary and lecturing career, he was assigned as permanent chaplain to St. Benedict Center, an intellectual and spiritual forum for Harvard and Radcliffe students, founded in 1940 by Catherine Goddard Clarke. His love of dogma made Feeney insist that the doctrine, extra ecclesiam nulla salus, must be held and professed without compromise. This stand bred a reaction which led to ecclesiastical censures on him and his followers.

On Jan. 17, 1949, with Catherine Goddard Clarke, he founded a religious community of men and women. In 1958, the community moved from Cambridge, Mass., to a farm in Still River, Mass., where they were better able to follow a monastic life of prayer, study, and manual labor according to the Benedictine spirit. In 1972, through the efforts of Bishop Bernard J. Flanagan of Worcester, Cardinal Humberto Medeiros of Boston, and Cardinal John Wright of the Congregation for the Clergy, all ecclesiastical censures against Father Feeney were removed. Subsequently the majority of the members of the community were reconciled with the church.

[s. m. clare]