The letter which the members and students of St. Benedict Center wrote, on September 9, 1948, to the Provincial of the Society of Jesus, Father McEleney, was signed by as many members as were present in the Center at the time of its writing. Included in the signatures were the names of Fakhri Maluf, David Supple, James Walsh and Charles Ewaskio. It flashed across my mind at the time that the endorsement might conceivably cost them their teaching positions, but I dismissed the thought as petty and improbable. The Jesuits were an old teaching Order, and the men would be protected by their right of academic liberty.
This, however, did not prove to be the case. Dr. Maluf returned to Boston College for the year 1948-1949 to find that the head of the Philosophy Department, Father O’Brien, had been made President of Holy Cross College, and the new head of the Department, Father Duncan, seemed to have definite instructions with regard to the treatment of him and Mr. Walsh. Dr. Maluf had taught at Holy Cross College for three years, and the present academic year was his third at Boston College. For none of these years had he received a written contract. It had apparently been understood that he would go right on from one year to another.
In the fall of 1948, however, Dr. Maluf received the following letter from the Dean of Boston College:
Dr. Fakhri Maluf,
24 DeWolfe St.,
Dear Dr. Maluf:
I invite you to continue as an Assistant Professor in the Philosophy Department. With the regular increment I understand that your salary will be $3800 for the ten month period from Sept. 1948 through June 1949.
If these terms are acceptable to you will you please reply in writing and include the terms proposed?
Sincerely in Christ,
(signed) Ernest B. Foley, S.J.
Dr. Maluf replied, accepting the appointment, wondering at the same time if perhaps this unusual procedure might have an implication of a change of policy with regard to him. He was carrying, along with this teaching schedule in the undergraduate school, classes in the Graduate School of the College of Arts and Sciences; in the Boston College Intown School; and in the Adult Education Institute of Boston College. Dr. Maluf tells the story of Father Duncan’s policy with respect to his courses at Boston College:
“When Father O’Brien was the head of the Philosophy Department, he asked me (last year) what I would think about a course in the history of philosophy. I told him I did not think that the students needed to get interested in the modern sophists who were deliberately evading and dodging the Christian challenge, but that a course on the development of Greek thought in the first term and of the Scholastic tradition in the second term might have its value. I found later that Father O’Brien had taken my advice from the fact that a course with this exact description appeared in the catalogue of Boston College. Then I was told by Father O’Brien that I would teach the course.
“When Father Duncan took over as head of the Philosophy Department, he told me that the course on the history of philosophy was still in question, not sure to be given, and that he would let me know later whether I was to give the course or not. I came to know that the course was not placed on the mimeographed sheets from which the students make their selections — and very few students refer to the catalogue for that purpose.
“Just at the beginning of the term, Father Duncan finally said to me that no one had registered for the course, and therefore the course would not be given. A few hours later, while I was still on the campus, a student, Larry Azar, came to me and asked if I knew who was going to teach the course on the history of philosophy, and where and when it was to be given, because he had registered for it and there seemed to be no way of knowing anything further about it. Innocently, in full good faith, I told him that I was informed that no one had registered for the course, and if he had, he must have been the only one to do so. As I was talking, I saw Father Duncan in the distance, and I said to Larry: ‘Why don’t you go to Father Duncan? He is now the head of the Department.’ He hurried on to Father Duncan, and I finally joined them. Father Duncan told Larry that not enough people had registered for the course, and that therefore they had decided not to give it. But he was evidently extremely disturbed that Larry was discussing the course with me, and he became even more so when I joined them. Later he told me that I should not put the students in bad faith, and that I was wrong in discussing the matter with Larry Azar and in sending him for further information to him. I had not the slightest idea about the cause of his most unnatural behaviour, and thought that he was naturally a very scrupulous and legalistic sort of person. And I tried to explain to him how innocent and coincidental the whole thing was.”
In October, the following letter came:
College of the Holy Cross
Worcester 3, Massachusetts
Office of the President
Oct. 2, 1948.
Mr. Fakhri Maluf,
24 DeWolfe Street,
Unofficial reports and rumors that have come to me here, have led me to think that the situation at the Center has reached a critical state. If that is so and if you and Jim Walsh would think it advisable, I would like to talk to you both about it.
I shall be away from here from Wednesday evening, October 6 until Friday noon, October 8. But, if you both are free and would be willing to discuss the matter with me, I could see you sometime Wednesday afternoon, October 6 or Friday afternoon, Oct. 8. Would it be possible for you both to come here at either of those times or if not, when would be a convenient time for me to see you?
Kind personal wishes to you and Mary and to Jim and his wife.
(signed) John A. O’Brien, S.J.
To which, Fakhri answered:
90 Putnam Avenue,
Cambridge 38, Mass.
Rev. John A. O’Brien, S. J.,
College of the Holy Cross,
Worcester 3, Massachusetts.
Dear Father O’Brien:
We received your note only Wednesday evening, on account of the change in our address. Tomorrow (Friday) afternoon we have the first department meeting which both Jim and I must attend. The reports and rumors about the Center are greatly exaggerated. We have already gotten into an excellent start of a very promising year, and have been already blessed, through Our Lady’s help, with many fruits. We are very grateful to you for your concern about the Center, and would be very happy to discuss it with you as soon as we can find our way to Worcester, or in case you find yourself in or around Boston and would honor us with a visit. In the mean while, there is no cause for any great concern.
I have not yet had the opportunity to congratulate you on your appointment to the presidency of Holy Cross. We are very, very lonesome for you at Boston College. We miss your leadership, your guidance, and your loyalty to the Catholic tradition of liberal education. We certainly promise you our continual prayers for success in your aims. Mary joins with me in the expression of our deepest regards and our gratitude.
Dr. Maluf did not hear again from Father O’Brien, but he did receive, about a week later, a note from Father Duncan, asking him to report to his office, after class. Mr. Walsh found a similar request in his mail box. The conversation between Dr. Maluf and Father Duncan, when they met at the appointed time, was as follows:
Fr. Duncan: “I asked you to come to see me about a letter (p.113) from St. Benedict Center to Father McEleney, the Provincial, which carries your signature. Father McEleney would like to know whether this was a demand or a presentation. I have not seen the letter, and the matter has not come up to me officially yet.”
Dr. Maluf: “Father Duncan, is this in any way a threat that I may lose my position at Boston College on account of that letter?”
Fr. Duncan: “I am surprised that you should draw this inference. I am talking to you unofficially as a friend and not as your superior in the Philosophy Department.”
Dr. Maluf: “I am surprised that you should be surprised that I drew that inference. And I don’t believe that you have the right to discuss this matter with me except in your official capacity. We sent the letter to Father McEleney after he had refused us rudely any occasion to present our case to him. I don’t see why Father McEleney, instead of meeting our just demands, should try to solve the problem of St. Benedict Center by threatening our means of livelihood. And why should he refuse to meet us on the issues? I consider that this is not government by justice, but tyranny, by threats and intimidations.”
Fr. Duncan: “Of course, personally I know nothing about the issues and have never seen the letter. We are merely concerned here to know that our professors have due respect for authority.”
Mr. Maluf: “I have been with you for three years, and before that I was three years at Holy Cross. You can find out from my superiors that in all this time I had respect for authority. But in this case I believe we had the full right at least to present our case. I did not believe that there was any ruler in the Church who would not be available to receive a Christian with a just grievance. I believe that Father McEleney’s treatment of us was outrageous.”
Father Duncan at this point said, “Supposing Father McEleney gives you and Father Feeney a hearing and then sends Father Feeney to Holy Cross all the same ?”
Dr. Maluf: “I am shocked that you should make this remark so cynically. You are indicating that the facts we have to present would not receive a fair consideration. I know that we are working for the cause of our Holy Faith, and I know that we have a case worthy of being presented even to the Holy Father himself.”
Fr. Duncan: “If you think that your letter to Father McEleney has made an impression which you did not intend, would you be willing to write him a letter explaining your real intentions?”
Dr. Maluf: “I must insist again, Father Duncan, on expressing my great resentment at the fact that you should be asked to discuss this matter with me in this manner. I believe that our two letters (and I here explained to Father Duncan that there were two letters, and not only one- which he did not know) to Father McEleney were clear and self-explanatory, and obviously I am willing to take responsibility for anything contained in them.”
Fr. Duncan: “Again, I want to make sure that you realize that I am talking to you as a friend, and not in any official capacity.”
Mr. Walsh’s interview with Father Duncan followed upon Dr. Maluf’s. Father Duncan said to Mr. Walsh:
Father Duncan: “The Provincial is very much concerned about a letter he has received from St. Benedict Center, on which your signature appeared. He does not know whether the letter is in the tone of a demand designed to dictate to him what he should do, or is merely a strong representation. The situation is complicated, of course, by your being a member of the faculty of an institution under the authority of the Provincial, and in this regard he is concerned lest your signature on the letter be an indication of your general attitude to his authority.
“I am bringing this to your attention as a friend,” Father Duncan assured Mr. Walsh. “I am not speaking officially, and I have not seen the letter in question. There is, however, the possibility that at some time in the future the matter may come up officially, in which case it would be much more serious. If I were you, I would write to the Provincial, telling him exactly what you understood by the letter when you signed it.”
Mr. Walsh: “I think that the intent of the letter was clearly contained in it, and I am prepared to take full responsibility for having signed it. I cannot remember the exact wording of it, but as I remember it in substance I don’t see how it could be misunderstood.”
Fr. Duncan: “Sometimes the cold, written words can be misleading. I would suggest that you reread it and perhaps you might find it stronger than you intended, and you might wish to clarify your position on that basis to the Provincial, or you might even find that you would wish to withdraw your signature completely.”
Mr. Walsh: “It has now been more than a month since that letter was sent to the Provincial, and I assure you that in view of the deliberation I have made since then, I would sign the same letter today were the opportunity to present itself.”
The interview was brought to a close. Both Dr. Maluf and Mr. Walsh came away from Father Duncan’s office with grave misgivings.