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The Legacy of Joseph P. Fitzpatrick, S.J., is Celebrated


One Church, Many Cultures

The legacy of Joseph P. Fitzpatrick, S.J., was explored during a daylong symposium.

Ronaldo Cruz, secretariat for Hispanic Affairs for the USCCB, said ministry for and by Hispanics within the Catholic Church is necessary for cultural outreach to be successful.
Photo by Bruce Gilbert

Joseph P. Fitzpatrick, S.J. (1913-1995), a sociology professor at Fordham University from 1949 to 1983, was a forceful advocate for the successful integration of Puerto Rican immigrants into New York City and the Catholic Church. In his book, One Church, Many Cultures: Challenges of Diversity (Sheed and Ward, 1987), Father Fitzpatrick argued that Catholics of diverse backgrounds should not have to abandon their cultural roots to fit into the American Catholic Church. Rather, ecclesiastical systems must be flexible enough to embrace diversity.

The life work of Father Fitzpatrick, an Irishman who was named “Puerto Rican Man of the Year” during the 1978 San Juan Fiesta in New York, was celebrated during an Oct. 22 symposium. Theologians, religious leaders and experts on diversity and Catholic culture shared challenges and explored ways to make Father Fitzpatrick’s dream of one church, many cultures a reality.

“Father Fitzpatrick was able to apply what he’d learned about the difficulties 19th-century Irish Catholics faced in integrating into the church and society to the experience of Hispanics,” said James T. Fisher, Ph.D., co-director of the Francis and Ann Curran Center for American Catholic Studies at Fordham University, which sponsored the event. “His work is a reminder of how much still needs to be done in regard to diversity.”

In order to fully embrace diversity, many of the panelists agreed that the ranks of minority clergy in the Catholic Church must be increased and outreach ministries need to reflect the multi-cultural, multi-ethnic makeup of the local population. Catholic education needs to be affordable, and Catholics of all races must speak out on behalf of diversity.

“Diversity will strengthen the Catholic Church as new minds with new views are added,” said panelist Beverly Carroll, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops secretariat for African American Catholics. “We can’t be quiet. Our church’s future depends on it.”

— Suzanne Stevens

Francis and Ann Curran Center for American Catholic Studies

U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

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