John LaFarge, SJ, worked for interracial justice in the first half of the 20th century. The Jesuit John LaFarge was a long-time editor and writer for America magazine.
LaFarge was born in 1880 to a family with deep roots in the American story. His father, John LaFarge (1835-1910), was a well-known artist. His mother, Margaret Mason Perry, was the granddaughter of Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, victor of the Battle of Lake Erie (1813). When the young LaFarge expressed his desire to study for the priesthood, his vocation was supported by a family friend, Theodore Roosevelt.
LaFarge was ordained in Innsbruck, Austria, in 1905. In 1906 he entered the New York-Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus. The next 20 years would be filled with study and pastoral work.
Especially important for LaFarge was 15 years he spent in pastoral work in the Jesuit rural missions of St. Mary’s County, Maryland. In these missions LaFarge worked with both white and African-American parishioners, and he learned firsthand the issues of racial injustice in American society. Fr. LaFarge worked to establish a complete school system, elementary and secondary, for white and African-American youth.
In 1926 LaFarge was appointed associate editor of America magazine, where he would remain until his death in 1963.
Seeing the need for ongoing conversation on interracial matters, John LaFarge, SJ, gathered lay leaders to establish the Catholic Interracial Council of New York. This proved to be a model for similar councils around the country. The various councils would ultimately form the National Catholic Conference for Interracial Justice in 1960.
Along with his work in interracial justice, LaFarge was actively involved in groups promoting better interfaith relations. He had a lifelong interest in art, architecture, and music, especially as they related to the liturgy. In addition to writing many articles and editorials, LaFarge published a number of books, including No Postponement: U.S. Moral Leadership and the Problem of Racial Minorities (1950), The Catholic Viewpoint on Race Relations (1956), and Reflections on Growing Old (1963). His autobiography, The Manner Is Ordinary, was written at the request of his Jesuit friends and was a critical and popular success.
John LaFarge, SJ, died in 1963, a few months after he participated in the Civil Rights March on Washington.
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