On his death in 1985, Father William J. Ferree, S.M., Ph.D. was eulogized as “the second founder” of his religious order, the Society of Mary. Father Andrew F. Morlion, O.P., Ph.D., Belgian philosopher and founder and first president of the International University of Social Studies in Rome, referred to Father Ferree as “America’s greatest social philosopher.” But who was he?
|Father William J. Ferree, S.M., Ph.D.|
Born in Dayton, Ohio in 1905, Father Ferree was ordained a priest in the Society of Mary (“the Marianists”) in 1937. Following studies at the University of Dayton and University of Fribourg in Switzerland, he received his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in philosophy at Catholic University of America.
A number of moral philosophers consider Father Ferree’s book, The Act of Social Justice (1943), derived from his 1942 doctoral dissertation, a classic in the field of social ethics. He taught philosophy at Dayton University but left teaching, much to his regret, to become an administrator.
Father Ferree’s appointment as Assistant World General for the Offices of Education and Apostolic Action of the Society of Mary (1956-66) took him to over thirty countries. He served as Rector of Catholic University of Puerto Rico (1953-56) and President of Chaminade College in Hawaii (1966-68).
|Pope John XXIII|
From 1968 to his official retirement in 1973, during the turbulent years of student activism, he served as Provincial Superior of the Cincinnati Province of the Marianists and Chairman of the Board of the University of Dayton. He then founded and directed the Second Career Project, which allowed him to spend his leisure years lecturing and adding to his many writings, including drafting the outline of a treatise that links modern management theory to social ethics.
Pope John XXIII (Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, 1881-1963, elected 1958) appointed Father Ferree one of the consultants of the Pontifical Commission on the Apostolate of the Laity in Preparation for Vatican II. He was also a member and Chaplain General of Pax Romana, a federation of Catholic intellectual and student groups and movements.
In 1982, through his longtime admirer William “Bill” Schirra, Father Ferree found in the writings of Louis O. Kelso the answer to his lifelong search for an economic theory and methodology that would complement Catholic teachings as found in the social doctrine of Pius XI. As a result, in 1984 he became a co-founder of the interfaith Center for Economic and Social Justice. CESJ was intended to promote this new approach to global economic development and provide a “preferential option for the poor” through the application of modern techniques of corporate finance consistent with advanced theories of economic and social justice.
|Louis O. Kelso|
In this new mission, Father Ferree contributed new writings and lobbied in Catholic circles for CESJ’s “Just Third Way,” a paradigm that challenges both so-called democratic capitalism of the right and the socialistic wage and income redistribution systems of the left. He also helped strengthen support for CESJ’s successful initiative to establish the Presidential Task Force on Project Economic Justice, to apply the Kelso development model (“Make every worker an owner”) as an effective counter-strategy to Marxist Leninism in Central America and the Caribbean.
With the fall of the Soviet Union, the victory of capitalism seemed assured. Communist China’s adoption of limited free market reforms seemed to herald the end of socialism. Project Economic Justice was shelved.
Father Ferree’s importance as a social philosopher does not, however, rely on a proposal that applied his ideas as part of an overall program. It is, rather, in the ideas themselves, in his discernment of the breakthrough made by Pope Pius XI (Ambrogio Damiano Achille Ratti, 1857-1939; elected 1922) in moral philosophy. This was the realization that there is a type of virtue, “social virtue,” by means of which people can gain direct access to the common good.