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Biography explores political, religious transitions in priest's life


This is the cover of "Richard John Neuhaus: A Life in the Public Square" by Randy Boyagoda. The book is reviewed by Graham Yearley. (CNS)

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"Richard John Neuhaus: A Life in the Public Square" by Randy Boyagoda. Image Books (New York, 2015). 448 pp., $30.

Before his death in 2009, Richard John Neuhaus would become a Catholic priest, a public intellectual, a conservative commentator on religious and political affairs, an adviser to President George W. Bush on bioethical matters and the scourge of the American secular left.

But, surprisingly, he grew up neither a Catholic nor an American. Neuhaus was born into a large family of eight children in Pembroke, Ontario, and was baptized a Lutheran over the family kitchen sink when he was 12 days old by his father, Clem Neuhaus, a Lutheran pastor in the Missouri Synod.

For a man who would be known as an intellectual, Neuhaus was not a particularly gifted or committed student. But he did show an astonishing grasp of theology at a young age. So much so that one Sunday when he could not teach it himself, Neuhaus' father left young Richard in charge of Sunday school, teaching children four years older than himself, at the age of 10.

Neuhaus dropped out of high school at the age of 16 to run a gas station in Texas and became a naturalized American citizen. Finding working as a gas jockey unsatisfying and still drawn to theological debate, he attended a small school in Austin, Concordia Lutheran College, which accepted students for both high school and college graduation tracks.

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