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The Death of a “Catholic Atheist”

CHRIST & NEIGHBOR

By John C. Cort | October 1989

Michael Harrington is dead — on July 31 at the age of 61, of cancer of the esopha­gus. He once described himself as a “Catho­lic atheist.” Others have described him, with Eugene V. Debs and Norman Thomas, as one of the most prestigious U.S. socialists of this century. Although not as well-known as Debs or Thomas, he surpassed them both as a writer and thinker and was not far behind them as a speaker. Finally, he was right up there with them as a great and good human being.

On the day in November 1987 when he entered the hospital — only to be told that his cancer was inoperable — a friend and I visited him. I said, “Would you have any objections if I asked the readers of Religious Socialism [a periodical I then co-edited] to pray for you?”

He smiled and said, “No, not at all. If Dorothy Day comes down to save me, I’ll just have to change my thinking.” Before he lost his faith, Harrington had spent two years working at the Catholic Worker in the early 1950s.

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