The pro-life community lost two giants on Saturday: Father Michael Scanlan and Nat Hentoff. I knew them both. They were two of the most courageous men I ever met.
Father Scanlan not only saved the College of Steubenville, he turned the renamed Franciscan University of Steubenville into a citadel of Catholic higher education. The renaming in 1985 was not a nominal change: Father Scanlan put the school on the map, making it a home for serious Catholic scholars. Moreover, his commitment to the pro-life cause was unequivocal.
I taught at a Pittsburgh school, La Roche College, during Father Scanlan’s early years, and had the chance to meet him; the colleges are about an hour away. He was gregarious and kind, and completely dedicated to academic excellence in the Catholic tradition. Indeed, he quickly became an inspiration to Catholics across the nation. He also served on the board of advisors of the Society of Catholic Social Scientists since its inception.
Nat Hentoff is mostly known for his work as the nation’s leading jazz critic, but he was also active in many causes, ranging from the black civil rights movement to the pro-life movement.
I encountered his writings as a young boy reading Down Beat magazine. I would later tell him how profound that experience was: it was through reading about jazz musicians that I was moved by the injustices that black musicians had to endure. That inspired me to pursue sociology, the discipline I received my Ph.D. in at New York University.
Hentoff was the victim of vicious attacks by the circles he traveled in, namely liberal-left quarters. He lost friends, as well as jobs, for his defense of the unborn. For him, it was not a matter of religion (he was an atheist Jew); rather, it was a matter of Biology 101—life begins at conception. His colleagues on the board of directors of the ACLU took it out on him in the late 1970s by refusing to reelect him.
Father Scanlan loved the work of the Catholic League, and Nat Hentoff never stopped singing our praises (for many years, he called me several times a month).
Father Mike and Nat were two brilliant men who never ran from a fight. While their lives were very different, their persistence in trumpeting the pro-life cause is what united them. May they rest in peace.