The Hernon Affair, 1967

The Hernon Affair, 1967 

In January 1968, department head Manoel Cardozo replied to the letter from a student interested in Irish history, stating: “I am sorry to inform you that we no longer have a specialist in Anglo-Irish history. Professor Joseph Hernon was handling this for us but he got himself in trouble through academic activism and decided to resign from the Department last Spring.”[1] In his 1968 report to the Dean, Cardozo called Hernon “our firebrand colleague”.[2]


The affair around Assistant Professor Joseph M. Hernon (1937 -2007) and his resignation from Catholic University tells us a lot about the political climate at the time of the Vietnam War and how it affected the department.

Hernon was born in Washington, DC. [3] He described himself as the son of "a lawyer's lawyer" and a mother who was "a loving teacher of a sickly child,"[4] He attended Catholic schools (St Anne’s) and even St Mary’s Seminary (Catonsville, MD), from which he switched to Catholic University without taking the vows. Already before graduation with a B. A. in History (Magna Cum Laude, Phi Beta Kappa), Hernon became known as a politically active student. In 1958, he was elected president of the Shahan Debating Club and had grandiose ideas for the club, like money prices for winners and competitions with debating clubs of Notre Dame and Harvard.[5]

A year later, he won a fellowship and continued his studies at Trinity College in Dublin, where he finished with a Ph. D. in Irish History in 1963. But before going to Ireland, Hernon was elected to two offices for the Young Democrats and got involved in the election campaign of John F. Kennedy, the first Catholic president of the United States.[6] In 1963, Joseph Hernon started to teach history at Ohio State University, before he returned to his hometown in 1966, joining the faculty of CUA with a promotion to Assistant Professor.[7] Only one year later, Hernon, the Washingtonian Catholic, found himself at the center of a scandal, which would end with his resignation from Catholic University.


How could this happen? Here is what we can, so far, reconstruct:

In January 1967, Hernon seemed to still have had a good relationship with the head of the department, Manoel Cardozo. The head wrote two letters to scholars Hernon had met during the annual meeting of the American Historical Association (AHA), asking them to speak at CUA.[8]

These were Conor Cruise O’Brien (1917-2008), an Irish historian, politician, and diplomat (he had worked for the UN in the early 1960s), affiliated with New York University at the time.[9] The president of C. U. History Club, Br. Ryan asked O’Brien if he could speak about “African history” which “would be very timely” although he was a specialist of Irish History. This had to do with O’Brien’s experience as a diplomat in Africa.

The other speaker Hernon asked Cardozo to invite was Eugene Genovese (1930-2017), a Rutgers historian of the American South and of Slavery who had become the object of a heated controversy. Genovese was an outspoken Marxist who had stated during a 1965 teach-in at Rutgers, (the state university of New Jersey): "Those of you who know me know that I am a Marxist and a Socialist. Therefore, unlike most of my distinguished colleagues here this morning, I do not fear or regret the impending Viet Cong victory in Vietnam. I welcome it." [10] This statement had caused a big political uproar, and both President Nixon as well as the candidate for the governorship of New Jersey at the time, had started a massive Anti-Genovese campaign with New Jersey bumper stickers “Rid Rutgers of Reds!”. Wayne Dumont, the Republican candidate for governor, even made firing Genovese one of the central issues of his campaign. This was still known in early 1967, so the invitation was a statement if not in full support of Genovese but surely in protest against attempts to censor Genovese, who had moved to Canada during that time where he taught at Sir George Williams University in Montreal (1967–69).[11] Cardozo was known to be very conservative but he obviously did not object to the idea to invite Genovese.

On the same day, on which Cardozo wrote the invitation to Genovese, Hernon was the main voice in an article published on the front page of the New York Times. Under the title “Catholic U. Gets New Controversy”, John D Morris, Washington DC correspondent[12] wrote:

“A young professor accused Catholic U of discriminating against Non-Catholics in filling in a vacancy in the faculty. The controversy is the latest in a series between the administration and some members of the 600-member faculty. Joseph M. Hernon Jr., a 30-year old assistant professor of history, said the issue was a broad one.”[13] Morris quoted Hernon claiming that this was a question of “professional and personal integrity”, asking rhetorically: “Do we want to be a seminary or a university?” At the time, the article continues, Hernon was one of 12 Catholics among the 13 members of the history department. The only non-Catholic was a professor who taught American history, an Episcopalian.

The article also named the candidate for the position in Medieval History who was allegedly “vetoed” as Dr. Richard Kay from the University of Colorado. Hernon stated that Kay was “widely regarded as the leading young medievalist in the country”. Hernon considered it a scandal that the Executive Board of the university had asked the history department that they should select a Catholic candidate to teach medieval history. He argued that the best of the historians who were under consideration by the department was “an Episcopalian” who “had been vetoed by the Executive Board” and that  “many lay professors” were “really fed up” with the “anti-intellectual position of bishops” whose “ecclesiastical views” would take “precedence over our professional views”. The other candidates were “some Catholics”, another Episcopalian and two Jews. Hernon continued claiming that the history department “was of the almost unanimous opinion that religion should not be a consideration in filling this job” The public relations director of the university, Cannava, confirmed that Catholics “would be preferred” for the position because it included “the interpretation of certain documents of the medieval church”.

If we check the department meeting minutes of the Spring Semester 1967, the whole affair looks a bit different.[14] Only twelve days before the article appeared in the NYT, on January 10, 1967, the department held a meeting in the Lima Library where the (very small) offices of the faculty were situated at the time. Hernon and ten other faculty were present, two were absent. According to the minutes, the question of who would fill the position in Medieval History was still quite open:

“Dr Cardoso then discussed the various candidates for this position in Medieval history with whom he had spoken or acquired information about, during the AHA convention in New York. The candidates are:

-Dr Stanley Sussman, Ass Prof, Louisiana State U at N Orleans, age 35, Anglo-Byzantine relations

-James Bock, Ass Prof, U of Delaware, High and Middle Ages

-Raymond Schmant, Ass Prof St Joseph’s College, Philad. History of Papacy

-Leslie Domonkos, Ass Prof at Youngstown U, Western Medieval History

-Joseph F O’Callaghan, Assoc Prof at Fordham, Medieval History

-Edward M Peters, age 30, no Ph D (Yale) yet, but in 6 months. Highly recommended by Lopez of Yale

-Rev John E. Wrigley, Ass Prof at La Salle College, PhD U Pennsylv., 10 articles in the New Catholic Encyclopedia, Age 47

-A. H. de Oliveira Marques, age 33, Lic. From Portugal in 1951, Studied in Germany, publ. much, as Associate Prof

“Members of the department pointed out that consideration should also be given to Bernard Scholz, Richard Kay, and Robert Coolidge.”

Some discussion followed. There was general agreement that if the Department is seeking a senior man, offers should be made to Kay, O’Callaghan, Schmandt, and Marques. If a junior man is sought, Dr Hernon thought that an offer should be made to Peters.”


So, contrary to what Hernon was quoted saying in the newspaper article, there was no consensus about Kay being the “best candidate”. Instead, Hernon himself had mentioned another candidate! A week later (January 17), another meeting took place, only five days before the article. The minutes do not mention any discussion about the candidate search. Therefore, the department head, Cardoso, and many faculty must have been very surprised by the article and its content on the front page of the NYT. In fact, they were shocked. The very next day, January 23, Cardozo invited them to a special meeting. [15]

“Dr Cardoso announced that he had called the meeting in regard to an item that was published in The New York Timeslast Sunday. The article was based on statement issued by Dr Hernon to the effect that the Executive Committee (of the Board of Trustees), had failed to recommend the hiring of Dr Richard Kay for the position in Medieval History because he is not a Catholic. The article in the Times had been followed by one in the Washington Post the following day. Dr Cardozo indicated that he is distressed by such publicity. He feels that the stance of the Department should be determined.”[16]


A discussion on how to react and what to tell the press ensued. Dr Cardozo, and other faculty, felt that the department had been “hurt” by the article. But the five page long minutes of this meeting also show how unsure the department was about what to do. Some faculty wanted the department to remain silent (Bloomfield, Farrell, Zeender) while Langley thought this was not possible, so the chair and Farrell worked out a statement for the chair and the department voted in favor of having him read it to the press:

“The Department has not yet voted on the candidate because all its members have not had a chance to examine the pertinent dossiers. Also, no official word has been received from the Executive Committee concerning the eligibility of various candidates. Prof. Hernon’s statement was based on his own impressions of the views of the History Department faculty. While some members of the Administration and faculty prefer to hire Catholics for positions related to the history of the Church, the University has no policy against hiring non-Catholics. As Head of Department, I try to operate within the guidelines set by the Administration, insofar as they are known, as long as I feel that such guidelines do not weaken or jeopardize the integrity of the Department. Thus far they have not.”[17]


The faculty assembly of the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences discussed the case of Hernon on February 10th. He was then censored by a majority of two thirds (69-19) for his “irresponsible statement”.[18] What infuriated many, it seems, was mostly how he disregarded protocol and lacked respect for his colleagues. On the other hand, The Towerargued, Catholic University had indeed a problem with academic freedom and “religious prejudice” which needed to be discussed.

In mid-February, the Hernon affair was discussed again in a meeting. Dr Cardoso had asked Dr Farrell to prepare a resolution for the guidance of the department in order to avoid a similar “incident where Dr Hernon of the Department made statements to the press concerning affairs of the department” from happening.[19] The resolutions stated that “publicity given … in the press and through other media has seriously embarrassed the faculty of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and has tended to compromise the Department of History”. Further, in the future, “all matters relating to appointments and promotions under deliberation in the Department of History be kept confidential within the Department”. Msgr Moody proposed another resolution which passed unanimously: “It is the stated policy of the Department that all matters relating to promotion and hiring under deliberation be treated with professional reserve.”

Because of the scandal, filling the position of Medieval History had become difficult. Richard Kay accepted a position at the University of Kansas, where he would teach until his retirement in 1999.[20] Joseph O’Callaghan, who would become famous for his History of Medieval Spain declined the offer and stayed at Fordham.[21] On a motion by Fr Trisco, the department then invited Bernhard Walter Scholz, whose translation of the Carolingian Chronicles are still quoted today.[22] But Scholz would also not come to Catholic University. The scandal around Hernon and the NYT article surely did not help to make the position desirable.

During the last meeting of the semester, on May 9, Dr Cardoso announced that Hernon had decided to resign from his position.[23] The head could already present a replacement for him: It was Dr Catherine Cline of the Notre Dame College of Staten Island. At the time, Dr Cline was head of the department of history. She had published on the history of the British working class movement, the Labor Party, but also on the British Empire and on African Church History (post-doctorate studies at Columbia U) which the department regarded as very valuable. Since her salary at State Island was $ 11,000, the department needed to make “a firm offer” if they wanted to get her. In the end, Catherine Cline came, and stayed more than 30 years, taking over twice the chairmanship of the department. Ironically, Hernon’s resignation, which appeared as a failure for the “progressive cause” at the time, made it possible that the department would not only get its first female full professor but also its first female chair!


The department celebrated a farewell party for Dr Hernon on May 15, and Joseph Hernon continued his long teaching career as a very popular professor of Irish History at the public University of Massachusetts at Amherst. At Amherst, which has been known for its student activism, Hernon helped to organize a faculty and student movement to impeach Nixon for the invasion of Cambodia in May 1970.







[1] CUA Archives, History Department, Box #2- Misc. Correspondence 1968. My highlighting.

[2] CUA Archives, History Department, Box #4- Chairman’s Correspondence 1968, Letter to Dean O’Connor, June 25, 1968. My highlighting.

[3] Hernon’s obituary is found on the website of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where he taught most of his career:

[4] According to the obituary in the Boston Globe:

[5] The Tower, Friday, September 26, 1958; Page: 3.

[6] The Tower, December 11, 1959

[7] The Tower, Friday, March 18, 1966; Page: 3.

[8] At the AHA meeting taking place at Toronto in 1967, Hernon commented on a panel about Fenianism, an Irish Republican movement. In the program, Hernan’s affiliation is given as “University of Maryland”? Hernon was the only faculty member from CUA who attended the AHA meeting. It seems as if members of CUA’s department did not regularly attend the AHA meetings. Only in 1968, when the meeting was held in DC, Maxwell Bloomfield and Anne Catherine Clyne gave papers there.

[9] The letter is dated January 10, 1967, and to be found in the same Box # 2 (1968 Miscellaneous)..

[10]  Letter to Genovese is dated January 22, 1967.

[11] More on the scandal:

[12] About John D. Morris (1915-1975 ).

[13] “Catholic U. Accused: CATHOLIC U. GETS NEW CONTROVERSY” By JOHN D.MORRIS Special to The New York Times Jan 22, 1967; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times, pg. 1.

[14] CUA Archives, History Department, Box 4 (Chairman’s Correspondence). There is a black book “Minutes”, starting Jan 1963 to July 1968.


[15] CUA Archives, History Department, Box 4 (Chairman’s Correspondence). (black book) Department Meetings, Minutes, January 23, 1967.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Quoted in: “Show Cause”. The Tower, Friday, February 10, 1967; Page: 2.

[19] CUA Archives, History Department, Box 4 (Chairman’s Correspondence). (black book) Department Meetings, Minutes, February 13, 1967.



[22] Scholz, Bernhard Walter, (1931-) Carolingian chronicles: Royal Frankish annals and Nithard's Histories. Translated by Bernhard Walter Scholz, with Barbara Rogers. (Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Press, [1972, c1970]). Scholz would later become Provost of Seton Hall University.

[23] CUA Archives, History Department, Box 4 (Chairman’s Correspondence). (black book) Department Meetings, Minutes, May 9, 1967.