Posts with the tag: FBI

The Archivist’s Nook: Old Baltimore, a Bonaparte, and the Young University

Aside from belonging to the branch of American Bonapartes, Charles Joseph Bonaparte (June 9, 1851–June 28, 1921) is perhaps best known for serving as Attorney General in the administration of Theodore Roosevelt. A prominent Baltimorean and a devout Catholic, he was also one of the men responsible for seeing that The Catholic University of America survived its teenage years.

1906 photograph of Charles Joseph Bonaparte by Frances Benjamin Johnston.

The story of the American Bonapartes begins two generations earlier with a pair of star-crossed lovers: Elizabeth “Betsy” Patterson (1785–1879) and Jérôme Bonaparte (1784–1860), Napoléon’s youngest brother. Legend has it that Betsy escaped from her father’s summer estate in Sykesville, Maryland and rode a mule twenty miles east to Baltimore to attend the ball where she’d heard Jérôme would be. When they danced that night, the two supposedly became entangled… his gold chain in her hair, or her necklace on one of his buttons… accounts vary, but the symbolism stands up. They were married on Christmas Eve in 1803 by none other than John Carroll, the first American archbishop. Significantly, although Napoléon eventually succeeded in breaking them up by imperial decree, preferring that his baby brother make a marriage of convenience to Catharina of Württemberg, the Pope refused to annul Jérôme’s first marriage—a moral victory of perhaps some consolation for the heartbroken Betsy who lived bitterly ever after in Baltimore. Her only son, Jérôme Napoléon “Bo” Bonaparte (1805–1870), would go on to have two sons by a wealthy American woman; Charles was the younger.

A graduate of Harvard Law School, Charles Bonaparte shared Teddy Roosevelt’s interest in civil service reform. He served as Roosevelt’s Secretary of the Navy before being appointed Attorney General in 1906. In that capacity Bonaparte successfully prosecuted the American Tobacco Company (a major victory on the trust-busting front) and established, in 1908, the Bureau of Investigation—which, in 1935, would become the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Meanwhile, founded in 1887, Catholic University was facing financial ruin by 1904. Detailed accounts of the financial crisis can be found in C. Joseph Neusse’s Centennial History (1990) as well as in the chapter on Charles Bonaparte in Martin J. Moran’s Luminaries (2018), but for now, suffice to say: “The crisis was caused by the University placing its entire endowment in the control of one man [Thomas E. Waggaman], with no oversight” (Moran, p. 169). (Loyal Nook reader and CatholicU alumnus Paul Rybczyk, 1972 and ‘77, recently brought this Washington Post article mentioning Waggaman to our attention!) In January 1904, an “extraordinary meeting” took place at which “Bonaparte of Baltimore” was present; a Finance Committee was formed and Bonaparte was appointed to it; his motion requesting that the “Committee be entrusted with full control over all property […] whether real, personal or mixed” was adopted unanimously. Still the situation took years to straighten out. (For the play-by-play, see the Board of Trustees Meeting Materials, Box 67, especially Folder “Nov. 1904”—which contains correspondence between Waggaman and Bonaparte, albeit by proxy, that was reproduced as exhibits in the relevant legal proceedings.) In the end, Bonaparte recommended that the University accept a settlement which would allow it to recoup 40% of the funds that Waggaman (who had since died) owed. As Moran explains, because Bonaparte was living in D.C. then—serving in T. R.’s administration—he was “available on short notice for consultation during this critical time”; as a result, he “became the principal decision maker right from the start” (Moran, p. 170).

Cardinal Gibbons and ex-President Theodore Roosevelt with warm greetings for each other in 1918. (CUA Archives)
Cardinal Gibbons and ex-President Theodore Roosevelt with warm greetings for each other in 1918. The two were supposedly introduced at Bonaparte’s home in 1891 (Moran, p. 171).

Although in Catholic University history Charles Bonaparte is best remembered for his role in averting the financial crisis, his involvement with the University neither began nor ended with the Finance Committee. Not long after the University first opened in 1889, it planned to add a School of Philosophy, Letters and Sciences; on April 27, 1892, the cornerstone of the new Hall of Philosophy [i.e., McMahon] was laid during a ceremony at which both Bonaparte and his good friend and fellow Baltimorean Cardinal James Gibbons spoke. (According to Moran, Bonaparte actually introduced Cardinal Gibbons to Teddy Roosevelt at his home in 1891; all three were lifelong friends (Moran, p. 171).) As The Church News reported on May 1, 1892, “The lecture hall of the divinity building [Caldwell Hall] was crowded at 4:30 o’clock Wednesday afternoon by invited guests, when the addresses preceding the laying of the corner-stone were delivered.” In his address, Bonaparte called out the mistaken idea that a seminary or university “primarily denot[ed] a building”—a “fairly logical corollary to the view,” he argued, that “education” meant the injection of “book learnin,’” and that “schools of every grade constituted intellectual hypodermic syringes of varying calibres to perform the operation” (Bonaparte, p. 292). “According to this theory,” he added jokingly, “a young man is loaded with information for his life as a camel with water for its desert journey.” Further on, Bonaparte expressed what he believed should be the mission of any education: “to keep ever present to the student’s mind the immensity of his ignorance” (p. 295).

Letter from Charles Bonaparte to the University Rector dated April 11, 1892, describing his intention to “go into temporary retirement for four or five days […] for the purpose of getting [his] address in shape”—presumably referring to the address he gave when the cornerstone of McMahon Hall was laid on April 27, 1892. (Office of the President/Rector, Box 1, Folder 5.)
Humility was a theme with Bonaparte. In his 1907 Commencement Address—delivered in the Assembly Room of McMahon Hall—Bonaparte advised the graduates, should they ever attain “undeserved eminence through holding public office,” and find themselves showered with compliments as a result, “to disclaim deserving such praise, so as to increase their reputation for modesty” (see CU Bulletin, Vol. 13, 1907, p. 500). Furthermore, if they were ever invited to give speeches, Bonaparte counseled them not to talk about themselves, “and not too long about anything.” On the same occasion, Cardinal Gibbons remarked: “You all may not be Attorney-Generals or Ministers, but that is not essential. […] If you are faithful to your post, you will be honored by God and man, and though your name may not be written on history’s pages it will be found glorious on the pages of the book of life.”

In 1915 Bonaparte was awarded an honorary LL.D. from the University—which celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary that year, having officially opened in the fall of 1889. (Incidentally, Lawrence Francis Flick was also among the men to receive an honorary degree on that occasion.)

This year marks not only the bicentennial of Napoléon’s death on May 5, 1821, but also the centennial of Charles Bonaparte’s death on June 28, 1921, just weeks after his seventieth birthday—and just months after the death of Cardinal Gibbons on March 24, 1921.

Works Cited

Bonaparte, Charles J. “Address of Charles J. Bonaparte, Esq.” Year Book Vol. 1, 1889–1894, pp. 290–300.

Moran, Martin J. Luminaries of the Catholic University of America. Moranco Publishing, 2018.

Nuesse, C. Joseph. The Catholic University of America: A Centennial History. CUA Press, 1990.

The Archivist’s Nook: Richard John Neuhaus – A Catholic Lutheran in the Public Square

Fr. Neuhaus, then a Lutheran pastor, with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., ca. 1960s (Courtesy: National Catholic Register) Neuhaus Papers, box 88, The American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

Today’s post is guest authored by Undergraduate student in Social Work, Emmanuel A. Montesa, who expresses his thanks to the professional Archives staff.

On October 19, 1999, the Reverend Richard John Neuhaus gave a lecture entitled “My American Affair” here at The Catholic University of America, only a few months after he had converted to Catholicism. As a former Lutheran pastor, he was heavily involved in the liberal causes in American politics of the 1960s such as the Civil Rights and the Anti-War movements. He even considered himself to be a radical, seeing the War in Vietnam as “God’s instrument for bringing the American empire to its knees.”¹ On December 4, 1967, Neuhaus led a service at St. John the Evangelist Lutheran in Brooklyn where over 300 people turned in their draft cards in protest, drawing the attention of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Neuhaus was arrested twice in his life, the first for participating in a sit-in at the New York City Board of Education headquarters demanding for the desegregation of city public schools and the second for disorderly conduct during the chaotic 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. In addition, he unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination for New York’s 14th Congressional district.

Neuhaus meeting with President Ronald Reagan at the White House, Feb. 26, 1986. Neuhaus Papers, box 88, The American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

However, by the time he was invited to speak at the national university of the Catholic Church in the United States, Neuhaus was one of the leading neo-conservatives in America, along with George Weigel and Michael Novak. Neuhaus strongly believed that politics can and should only exist within the context of Christian morality, calling for Christians to find their place in what he called “the naked public square,” a reference to the absence of values emanating from faith-based communities in public life. His 1984 book of that title, which addressed the complex relationship between faith and politics, arguably paved the way for Ronald Reagan’s landslide re-election to the American presidency. In addition, Neuhaus served as a catalyst in the solidification of the political alliance of Catholics and evangelical Protestants. He served as an unofficial advisor to President George W. Bush on social matters which included abortion and same-sex marriage. As the editor-in-chief of First Things from its founding in 1990 until his death in 2009, Neuhaus voiced his discontent with the social liberalism that had taken hold of America. In 2005, Time Magazine named Neuhaus as one of 25 most influential evangelicals in America despite being a Roman Catholic.

Neuhaus’ renunciation of the Lutheran profession and conversion to Roman Catholicism is, in a sense, related to his political shift from the liberal left to the conservative right. His 1999 lecture at the Catholic University offers great insight into his reasoning for his conversion, both political and theological. He saw that the theory of the twofold kingdom of God, on which Lutheran political ethic is based on, “leads to Christian passivity and quietism in the face of social and political in justice.”² This theory holds that God rules the temporal earth with his left hand and the divine world with his right, and in the same way, theology should not muddy itself with human politics. However, Neuhaus believed that the Church should necessarily engage with the world, but the Church must first have a “vigorous ecclesiology” that can stand what St. Paul calls “the principalities and powers of the present age.”³ He  concluded that the only the Roman Catholic Church possessed such a vigorous ecclesiology.

Neuhaus being ordained a Catholic priest, 1991. Neuhaus Papers, box 88, The American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

Furthermore, in another lecture given at Catholic University in March 2000 titled “A Consistent Ethic of Strife,” which would later be published in CUA’s Journal of Law, Philosophy, and Culture, Neuhaus spoke about what he called the Catholic Moment. He first defined the term as a Lutheran in his 1987 book The Catholic Moment: The Paradox of the Church in the Postmodern World, where he posited that the “premier responsibility for the Christian mission rest with the Catholic Church.”⁴ Now speaking on the Catholic Moment as a Catholic priest, he asserted that the Church should not fall into the passivity that his old profession had fallen into, but should continually play an active role in the world to establish the Kingdom of God. He declared that the Catholic Moment had not passed even 13 years after he first coined the term, because every single day since the first Pentecost until the end of time is the Catholic Moment.  In this framework, he distinguishes that there is a difference between an American Catholic and a Catholic American. The former is a corruption of the religion, but the latter is what we should strive for as Americans. There is a distinctively Catholic way of being an American.

Please see the newly completed finding aid (our 200th) for the voluminous Neuhaus Papers, a recent and welcome addition to the Catholic University Archives, joining the significant papers of other notable public priests such as Bishop Francis J. Haas, Msgr. John A. Ryan, and Msgr. George G. Higgins.


¹Daniel McCarthy. “Richard John Neuhaus by Randy Boyagoda,” The New York Times, March 26, 2015, accessed December 6, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/29/books/review/richard-john-neuhaus-by-randy-boyagoda.html.
²Richard John Neuhaus, “My American Affair” (speech, Washington, D.C., October 19, 1999), The American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.
³Ibid.
Richard John Neuhaus, “A Consistent Ethics of Strife” (speech, Washington, D.C., March 2000), The American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.