“Anything to restrain the reverend father”: Catholic Clergy at the ASCSA, Pt. II

Posted by Dylan Rogers

Dylan Rogers holds a PhD from the University of Virginia, and he has been Assistant Director of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens since 2015. This essay, the second of two parts, was inspired by recent research in the ASCSA Archives about the Summer Session program.

In my last post, I began an exploration of members of the Catholic clergy at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or School). My curiosity was piqued by the acerbic comments of Gertrude E. Smith who was not in favor of selecting Fr. Schoder to lead the School’s summer program in 1961. Was the School against admitting Catholic priests and nuns in its programs or was Smith’s dislike of Fr. Schoder personal and exceptional?

Part I examined the figure of Fr. Quinn, an accomplished scholar of Ancient and Modern Greek at the turn of the 20th century. Subsequent to Fr. Quinn ten more priests attended the School’s regular program. In addition, the SS has hosted at least 16 priests and nuns, from 1936 until 1973. The clergy came from a variety of orders, including parish priests, Benedictines (O.S.B.), a De La Salle brother (F.S.C.), a Sister of Mercy (R.S.M.), a Sister of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (B.V.M.), a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur (S.N.D. de Namur), and two Sisters of St. Joseph (C.S.J.). But, by far, most of the priests (nearly 18) came from the Society of Jesus (S.J.), or the Jesuit order. And there were a number of interesting figures in this group, such as Fr. Thomas Bermingham, S.J. (1918-1998), a professor at Georgetown University, who had taught William Peter Blatty, the author of The Exorcist, Latin at Brooklyn Prep in the 1940s. Fr. Bermingham would later advise Blatty on the filming of The Exorcist, and eventually would play Tom, the president of Georgetown, in the film.

Fr. Thomas Bermingham, student at the ASCSA in 1961-62, as President of Georgetown University in The Exorcist.

Many of the priests were students of Classics with strong foundations in ancient languages, and they wished to come to the School to conduct doctoral research or to improve their knowledge of the Classical world for their own teaching in America. Fr. Charles Buckley, S.J., was a student of the School in 1951-1952. In his correspondence with Gertrude Smith about School membership, Fr. Buckley apparently had not mentioned his attainments in Latin, but Smith stated that “it is unbelievable that he has gone through Jesuit training without a large content of Latin. I have no doubt that he is well equipped in that language” (AdmRec, box 1001/3, folder 18, 9 May 1951). John L. Caskey, Director of the ASCSA, replied to Smith: “If a Jesuit should prove not to know Latin we’d better shut our doors and seek other employment!” (AdmRec, box 1001/3, folder 18, 14 May 1951).

Fr. Edward Bodnar. Source: Georgetown University Jesuit Community.

The School’s first Gennadeion Fellow in 1963-1964 was Fr. Edward Bodnar, S.J. (1920-2011), based primarily in the Classics Department at Georgetown University (for more see Keesling 2012). Fr. Bodnar, who devoted his entire life to researching Cyriac of Ancona, must have known of the School through his personal relationship with Homer Thompson, director of the Athenian Agora Excavations. Thompson’s papers in the ASCSA Archives reveal a correspondence that started as early as 1956 and continued to at least 1996. The two certainly met for the first time at Princeton, where Fr. Bodnar was completing his degree and Thompson was a faculty member of the Institute for Advanced Study. Indeed, the two must have forged a strong bond, as Fr. Bodnar would spend, after 1960, a great deal of time at the Institute, especially during summers. Thompson would also support Fr. Bodnar’s tenure and rise to full professorship at Georgetown University in 1970. An excerpt from Thompson’s letter of support for Fr. Bodnar’s tenure speaks volumes:

“Lest anyone infer that Dr. Bodnar’s concentration on Cyriac implies a narrow outlook I should like to emphasize the breadth of his training, knowledge and interest. He is at home in the literature, the history, the art and archaeology of both the Greek and Roman periods. The wide knowledge of the ancient world, coupled with intensive travels, has resulted in a personality of great urbanity. Add to this a genuine liking for people and the result must be an effective teacher” (Homer A. Thompson Papers, Box 4, Folder 7, 16 March 1970).

By emphasizing Fr. Bodnar’s scholarly breadth and not once mentioning anything about his affiliation with the Catholic Church, it would be safe to assume that there was really no discernable bias against Catholics, at least from one of the School’s leading figures. I now turn my attention to Fr. Raymond Schoder, who received the ire of Smith in that fated letter (see my earlier post).

Fr. Raymond Schoder: The Outlier

One of the most colorful priests to have come through the School’s doors was certainly Fr. Raymond Schoder, S.J. (1916-1987). Fr. Schoder, who entered the Jesuit order in 1933, began his training at West Baden College (Indiana), earning a BA in 1938 and a MA in 1940. He proceeded then to St. Louis University to complete a PhD in 1944, with a dissertation entitled, “The Classical Canons of Literary Character Portrayal” (Bolchazy 1994, 570). Fr. Schoder was also one of the co-authors of A Reading Course in Homeric Greek in 1945-1946 (Sutton and Creighton 1989). In 1947, Fr. Schoder was ordained as a priest.

Fr. Raymond Schoder. Source: Sutton 1989.

During the 1949-1950 academic year, Fr. Schoder was a junior fellow at the School. In the Annual Report for that year, it was reported that “Rev. R.V. Schoder has travelled widely with the School and alone, contributing his full share whenever reports were called for. He is an expert photographer and has been collecting a large series of lantern slides in color for use in teaching” (AR 69 (1949-1950) 29). That year, Fr. Schoder would also meet his later nemesis, Gertrude Smith, who was one of the School’s annual professors.

After his year at the School, Fr. Schoder returned to West Baden College, where he taught Greek and Latin from 1951-1959. In a letter to Caskey, upon his return to Indiana, Fr. Schoder confided that life seemed slow-moving after eight busy months in Greece. He also reflected on the importance of his year in Greece:

“Anyhow, I have that Greek background to draw upon, and it will mean a great deal to me and my students. […] I will always remember my year in Greece as a most memorable experience, and one fully enjoyed. […] I am among your enrollment boosters. […] I trust that you have had a good year, with a cooperative group and decent weather. Still, nobody should be allowed to leave Greece without knowing the unique merits of Boeotian mud; however, little danger of missing that” (AdmRec, box 1001/3, folder 18, 28 February 1951).

He also promises to act as an ‘enrollment booster.’ Indeed, just a few months after that letter, a Rev. Francis A. Sullivan, S.J., who was then in Rome, inquired about membership at the ASCSA in May of 1951, which “should be a good season as Fr. Schoder, S.J., assured” him (AdmRec, box 1001/3, bolder 18, February-March 1951). And throughout the years, there are indirect clues that Fr. Schoder promoted membership at the School, especially among his students and other Catholic clerics.

Fr. Schoder, however, was not limited to working in Greece. For seven summers, he directed the Vergilian Society’s Summer Study Tours at the Villa Vergiliana at Cumae for seven summers (1953-1957, 1961, 1965; “Participants in the Summer Study Tours” 1988, pp. 96-98, 101, 103). In addition, he helped to reestablish the summer programming for the Vergilian Society, which had lapsed during and after World War II. He often fought against harsh odds, including “rapacious custodians, surly and dishonest cooks, lethargic officialdom in Naples, collapsing fabric at Cumae, and the trials with the water supply,” believing that the mission of taking students around these ancient sites was of utmost importance (McKay 1987, 4).

Fr. Schoder repeatedly wrote to Caskey asking to have the Cumae program included in the ASCSA program (e.g., AdmRec, box 1001/4, folder 6, 11 April 1953; and box 1001/5, folder 8, 25 January 1957). But the response of the School to Fr. Schoder’s programs at Cumae was generally not favorable. From 1960 on, Fr. Schoder expressed interest in leading a Summer Session (SS) at the ASCSA.  Gertrude Smith’s response was not positive. The next year, while in the process to appoint a new director for the SS, deciding between Alan Boegehold and Charles Alexander Robinson, Smith made it clear to the Chairman of the Managing Committee, Alfred Bellinger, that they had to decide between those two candidates:

“Anything to restrain the reverend father. I had a report from a former student of mine of his conduct of the Cumae school this summer and it was anything but favorable—no encouragement toward fun or hilarity, prominence of Roman Catholicism with stupid remarks about ‘non-Catholics’, many minor acts that lacked consideration. I certainly do not wish to destroy what we have built up”(AdmRec, box 106/1, folder 3, 23 September 1961).

Reports such as this certainly colored Smith’s perception of Fr. Schoder’s ability to lead a SS for the ASCSA, even though the two had known each other for over a decade at that point.

Fr. Schoder would end up at Loyola University Chicago in 1960—until his retirement in 1981. In 1961-1962, Fr. Schoder was an Annual Professor at the ASCSA. For his seminar at the School that year, he taught a course entitled, “Ancient Sources on the History of Greek Sculpture and Painting,” which combined his training in philology (focusing on readings of Pliny, Philostratus, and Callistratus) and his passion for archaeology (AdmRec, Box 109/1, Folder 2).

One of the most significant contributions of Fr. Schoder to the field of Classical Studies was his aerial photography, which he began in the early 1960s, and culminated in his book, Ancient Greece from the Air (1974). With his training in photography, he was able to convince the Greek Air Force to fly him around Greece to take low lying (oftentimes at around 1000 feet) shots (in color) of ancient sites. With the rear door of the DC-3 airplanes open, Fr. Schoder would be strapped in, juggling a camera with four different lenses to capture the sites (Schoder 1974, 11-13; Dow 1989, 19-20). In 1962, Fr. Schoder made his first flight with the Air Force, which was connected to his time as an Annual Professor at the ASCSA (AdmRec, box 109/1, folder 2, Statement of Study Project of Schoder, S.J., for 1962). Most of the photographs that Fr. Schoder took for the book were actually completed in 1967 and 1968, in a series of 13 flights that lasted 5-7 hours each. It is reported that Fr. Schoder would often get airsick, which makes the success of these flights particularly relevant (private comm. with Jack Davis, 6 April 2017). Through Ancient Greece from the Air scholars and students were able to see shots of sites throughout Greece, which were rarely seen—particularly in color (Dow 1989, 19). Fr. Schoder made a point in various correspondences on the project that the photographs were also for the benefit of the wider archaeological community, especially his Greek counterparts, such as those in the Archaeological Service (AdmRec, box 109/1, folder 2, 10 November 1972; Dow 1989, 19).

Fr. Schoder photographing from an airplane. Source: Sutton 1989.

There is one final story to tell of Fr. Schoder: “Our Miserable, Inhumane Treatment in Greece” (AdmRec, box 109/1, folder 2, 8 September 1984). In June and July of 1984, Fr. Schoder led a tour group from Chicago around Greece on a yacht. Despite having noticed some problems with the condition of the boat initially in Athens, the group journeyed to Crete. While docked in the port of Herakleion, with most of the group out site seeing, the yacht caught fire and sunk in the harbor. Two of the American passengers were noticed to have been on board before the incident; they were immediately taken into custody and charged with arson. For nearly a month, the couple was detained in a Cretan jail, while Fr. Schoder fought on their behalf to get them out of jail and to have the charges dropped. The authorities of the time (remember, this was a period of great anti-Americanism in Greece) did not seem to listen to the evidence of expert testimony that Fr. Schoder was able to obtain on the couple’s behalf, prompting Fr. Schoder to send a scathing letter to the Greek Ambassador to the US, the US State Department, the Greek National Tourist Organization, and the Greek Consul General of Chicago, upon the release of the American couple. Fr. Schoder painfully asked: “Not only my testimony, but these experts’ reports were ignored—because they were favorable to the accused foreigners, perhaps?? This is Greek justice, in which visitors to the country of Aristotle and Solon are supposed to place their trust and security?” (AdmRec, box 109/1, folder 2, 8 September 1984). Ever the showman, Fr. Schoder invoked his occupation as a priest with the couple: “Finally, they both solemnly swore to me, a priest, in the name of God, with their hands on a Bible, that they did not cause the fire, or scheme to do so” (AdmRec box 109/1, folder 2, 8 September 1984).

One of Fr. Schoder’s aerial photos (the theater of Epidauros) on the fireplace mantel of an administrative office at the ASCSA.

Fr. Schoder was a consummate self-promoter. Countless numbers of people have commented on his ability to talk about his own accomplishments. In his Eulogy of Fr. Schoder, Fr. Robert Wild, S.J., said, responding to the fact that Schoder had authored eight books, 94 articles, 65 book reviews, and given 1500 lectures:

“We must ask, what was the driving force that kept Ray so busy and so active? Part of it, to be sure, was his own need for fame and recognition. He wanted his accomplishments known, and he himself very lovingly kept the statistics that I listed above. I suspect that he perhaps was a little bit afraid that if he himself did not remind us of the things that he had done, we might think that he was not contributing all that much. No chance of that! If Ray Schoder never had spoken a word, his many works would speak for themselves” (Wild 1989, 10).

Indeed, Fr. Schoder was prolific and dedicated to the field as a whole, and he let everyone know the fact. Indeed, this is where Smith was concerned with Fr. Schoder, despite their long-lasting relationship that was cordial in person, but more decisive in her private correspondence. Certainly she was reacting to his self-promotion—and maybe this was the largest part of her distaste for Fr. Schoder. But academics are often known for not being the most modest of human beings. Yet, does the collar of the Roman Catholic Church require a priest to be modest? Priests are certainly not above venial sins. Regardless of what comes down to us through the ASCSA Archives, it is clear that Fr. Schoder not only was a driving force to ensure that other Catholic clerics enjoyed the School, but he also wanted to advance the field of Classics (through various outlets) to the wider archaeological community in Greece and beyond.

Vatican II & the ASCSA

One last point should be made about the presence of Roman Catholic clergy at the ASCSA. The Second Vatican Council, the third worldwide ecumenical congress called by the Catholic Church since the Reformation, lasted from 1962-1965. While no doctrinal changes were made to the Church, the experience of the Church was modernized throughout the world through measures such as masses being not being offered in Latin but in modern languages.

There are clues that in the time before Vatican II, the rules of the Church impacted the lives of students at the School. Gertrude Smith would try to help Catholic students:

“In the two sessions which I have done I have had each time four or five Roman Catholics, but I could usually control that and get them meatless meals when they had to have them and get them to places where they could get to church on time and so on” (AdmRec, box 106/1, folder 3, 26 October 1960).

While Vatican II might not have caused the religious behavior of students to change drastically, they might have felt less inclined to adhere to its strict rules while traveling throughout Greece during their time at the School.

Further, there was an increase of Catholic clergy during the ASCSA Summer Sessions (SS), especially of nuns, after 1965. Brunilde Sismondo Ridgway, Director of the Summer Session for 1967 and a Roman Catholic herself, reported:

“The 1967 Session included a Roman Catholic nun among its members. Sister [Mary Joseph] Carton [B.V.M.] proved to be one of the greatest assets to the group: her cheerful attitude, her sense of humor, her ‘humanity’ were difficult to match. Though in her early fifties, she climbed and tracked with the youngest, and her modernized religious habit did not cause greater impediment than any common skirt. Although other nuns had been admitted to the Summer School in the past, none had ever actually attended because of the restrictive rules imposed on them by the Roman Catholic Church. It is encouraging to note that such rules have now been relaxed and permit full participation of the religious in the Summer program”(AR 87 (1967-1968) 64).

The relaxation of the strict rules of the Church, the product of Vatican II, finally allowed nuns to participate fully in the rigorous summer programming of the School.


I began my research intent to discover any bias within the ASCSA against Catholic clergy, especially given Smith’s often disparaging comments about Fr. Schoder. But he seems to be the outlier. Indeed, Smith, in correspondence with Caskey about Fr. Buckley, reveals that fact:

“I suppose we cannot expect all Jesuit priests to give as much color to the School as Father Schoder did, but I have found them always well trained and very serious students who get the most out of what is offered” (AdmRec, box 1001/3, folder 18, 9 May 1951).

Catholic priests and nuns were well qualified, with a strong background in philology, and flourished at the School. For many of them the School’s emphasis on archaeology opened up new worlds, altering their careers and ministries. And many had clearly heard about the School through other priests who had attended the program(s). In the end, the Catholic priests and nuns that came to the ASCSA, as students and scholars, were admitted based on their training and aptitude in the Classics, without any discernible bias towards their vocations.

Addendum: Catholic Clergy of the ASCSA (after Meritt 1984)

Allen, Sister Marjorie E., R.S.M.  (S1973)
Baxter, Rev. Robert S., S.J. (S1967)
Benda, Rev. Frederick J., S.J.  (S1969)
Bermingham, Rev. Thomas S., S.J.  (1961-1962)
Bodnar, Rev. Edward W., S.J. (1963-1964)
Buckley, Rev. Charles E., S.J.  (1951-1952)
Carton, Sister Mary Joseph, B.V.M  (S1967)
Christie, Rev. Frederick, S.J. (S1973)
Evans, Frances Taylor  S1936 (Sister Margaret Thérèse, S.N.D. de Namur)
Felton, Rev. John N., S.J.   (S1955)
Festle, Rev. John Edward, S.J. (S ?)
Fuerst, Rev. Barholomew, O.S.B.  (S1954)
Gerdes, Sister Florence Marie, C.S.J. (S1973)
Grimaldi, Rev. William M.A., S.J.  (1953-1954)
Infantino, Rev. Stephen S., S.J.  (S1970)
Kolar, Rev. Basil Charles, Benedectine  (1932-1933)
McCauley, Rev. Leo P., S.J.  (1947-1948)
Miller, Rev. Edward F., S.J.  (1976-1978)
Mitchell, Sister Eileen, C.S.J.  (S1973)
Moan, Rev. Francis X., S.J.  (S1965)
O’Neil, Rev. John J., S.J.  (1964-1965)
Quinn, Daniel  (1887-1889, 1892-1893, 1900-1902)
Ruegg, Brother S. Dominic, F.S.C.  (S1956)
Schlatter, Rev. Frederick William, S.J.  (S1961)
Schoder, Rev. Raymond V., S.J.  (1949-1950, 1972-1973)
Taylor, Rev. John H., S.J. (S1952)
Walter, Sister Maria  (S1971)
Yumont, Rev. Alphonsus Charles, S.J.  (S1962)

Works Cited: 

AdmRec: ASCSA Archives, Administrative Records

Bolchazy, L.J. 1994. “Schoder, S.J., Fr. Raymond Victor.” In Biographical Dictionary of North American Classicists, ed. W.W. Briggs, pp. 569-570. Westport, CT.

Dow, S. 1989. “Father Schoder and Ancient Greece from the Air,” in Sutton 1989, pp. 13-28.

Keesling, C. 2012. “Edward W. Bodnar (1920-2011).” The Classical World 105.4, pp. 553-554.

McKay, A.G. 1987. “RAYMOND VICTOR SCHODER, S.J. 11 April 1916, Battle Creek MI, 1 May 1987, Chicago IL.” Vergilius 33, pp. 3-5.

Meritt, L.S. 1984. History of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, 1939-1980. Princeton.

“Participants in the Summer Study Tours, 1937-1987.” 1988. Vergilius Suppl. 3, pp. 95-119.

Schoder, R.V. 1974. Ancient Greece from the Air. London.

Schoder, R.V. and V.C. Horrigan. 1945-1946. A Reading Course in Homeric Greek. Ann Arbor.

Sutton, R.F. (ed) 1989. Daidalikon: Studies in Memory of Raymond V. Schoder, S.J. Wauconda, IL.

Sutton, R.F., and M. Creighton. 1989. “Bibliography of Raymond V. Schoder, S.J,” in Sutton 1989.

Wild, R.A. 1989. “In Memoriam Raymond V. Schoder, S.J.: A Homily Delivered at the Funeral Mass of Father Schoder, May 5, 1987,” in Sutton 1989, pp. 9-11.