The Magazine

Richard John Neuhaus, 1936-2009

A gaping hole in the public square.

Jan 19, 2009, Vol. 14, No. 17 • By JOSEPH BOTTUM
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Even his conversion to Catholicism in 1990, and his ordination as a Catholic priest the next year, could be understood as a standing-still while the world altered around him. This was a man, after all, who titled his account of conversion "How I Became the Catholic That I Was."

Still, all such pilgrimages have costs, and one of the great things about Fr. Neuhaus was that he was always willing to pay them. His mind was a grown-up mind, and when he decided on a position, he advanced it with the same rhetorical power and energy with which he had advanced his earlier positions.

I remember him, sitting on the couch, taking me through the argument of a book he had just finished reading--and making the argument clearer than the author had ever managed. I remember his puffing on his cigars, and his constant jaywalking across the streets of Manhattan in utter confidence that the cars would stop, and his Lutheran-style preaching, and his bad coffee. I remember the way he would tilt his head when he smiled, and the way he used his hands when he talked, and the brilliant conversation about a book only a month back.

Only a month. But in that time, for those who knew him, the world has been inverted. Present still are all the noise and bustle of New York, the work in the office, the ringing phones, the demands for attention. But they all seem weak and gray and ghostly. Only his absence now is real.

Joseph Bottum, a contributing editor to THE WEEKLY STANDARD, is editor of First Things.