Ross, John Elliot

views updated


Priest, sociologist; b. March 14, 1884; d. Sept. 18, 1946, New York. Ross's family could trace its roots back through the colonial period to William the Conqueror. Among this lineage was George Ross who had signed the Declaration of Independence, as well as George's daughter-in-law, Betsy Ross. Ross grew up in Maryland, and after graduating from Loyola College in Baltimore he worked in the District of Columbia's Engineering Department while pursuing a master's degree at George Washington University. In September 1909, he joined the Paulist community at the Catholic University of America, where he began doctoral work in sociology under Monsignor William Kerby. He produced a dissertation that was later published as Consumers and Wage Earners: The Ethics of Buying Cheap. Two weeks prior to his graduation from CUA, on May 24, 1912, he was ordained to the priesthood at St. Paul the Apostle Church in New York.

After a brief period of studying in Rome, Ross was sent to a parish in Chicago, where he stayed for a year. In 1915, he was assigned to the University of Texas at Austin as chaplain to Catholic students. While in Austin, Ross wrote four books and was a mentor to the social historian Carlos Castañeda. During this period he began research into the effects on Catholics attending nonsectarian colleges for the United States bishops. The studies were never published. In 1923, when the Paulist general, Thomas Burke, sought to reassign Ross, the University administration asked the governor of Texas to intervene on Ross' behalf. In 1924, Ross was back in Washington teaching moral theology at the newly completed Saint Paul's College. The following year, he returned to chaplaincy work, this time in Columbia University's Newman House.

In 1929 Ross was given a long-awaited opportunity to join a non-sectarian faculty as a full professor. The University of Iowa had founded a School of Religious Studies, supported by private money, and sought out Ross for its faculty. A conflict arose when his superiors denied him permission to move to an institution that had no contact with the Paulist Fathers and very few Catholics. With the prospect of becoming the first Catholic clergyman in the history of the United States to teach in a secular department of religion, he resigned from the Paulist congregation. The resignation was canonically mishandled and although eventually he would be reinstated, between 1929 and 1930 he was in ecclesiastical noman's land. He left Iowa the following year, only to return to chaplaincy, this time at the University of Virginia. He would remain in Charlottesville from 1932 to 1943. While a resident there he suffered the first two of three strokes. His incapacitation forced him to return to the Paulist community at St. Paul's Church in New York where he died on Sept. 18, 1946, at the age of 62.

Ross was one of the leading Catholics attached to the former National Conference for Christians and Jews. Between 1929 and 1943, he was the principal Catholic consultant for NCCJ's projects, often detailing these in articles for Commonweal magazine. The most important project was a seven week, nation-wide "pilgrimage" to promote tolerance among Catholics, Protestants, and Jewsan effort that put Ross on the edges of ecclesiastical policy prohibiting Catholic involvement in "intercredal cooperation." The pilgrimage, which took place in 1933, consisted of a priest (Ross), a minister (Everett Clinchy, director of the NCCJ), and a rabbi (Morris Lazaron of Baltimore). The archdioceses of Cincinnati and Chicago refused to allow Catholic participation in this event, although Ross was permitted in every other see the trio visited. The group reached thousands, either through direct contact or radio broadcast, establishing local networks for improved relations between the monotheistic faiths.

Bibliography: Ross' papers are housed in the Paulist Fathers Archive, St. Paul's College, Washington, D. C. j. lynch, "A Conflict of Values, A Confusion of Laws," The Jurist 56 (1996) 182199. p. robichaud, "J. Elliot Ross," Paulist History, v. 1:4 (1991) 415.

[p. j. hayes]