The American Catholic Psychological Association:

A Brief History and Analysis[1]

Robert Kugelmann, University of Dallas




The American Catholic Psychological Association (ACPA) existed from 1948 until 1970, when it re-organized as Psychologists Interested in Religious Issues, a non-denominational interest group.  The ACPA had two aims: (1) Assimilation or efforts to advance the professional development of Catholic psychologists and to promote psychology in Catholic higher education.  (2) Integration or bringing Catholic teaching to bear on psychology.  In the changing institutional contexts of the late 1960s, stagnant membership numbers and perceived realization of assimilation promoted re-organization.  In the new structure, assimilation became professional autonomy in relation to the Church.  Integration became promotion of the psychology of religion.


The American Catholic Psychological Association:

A Brief History and Analysis


            The American Catholic Psychological Association (ACPA) began in 1948 as an organization devoted to bringing Catholics to psychology and psychology to Catholics.  The ACPA re-organized in 1970 as Psychologists Interested in Religious Issues (PIRI), a non-denominational interest group advocating the study of religion in academic psychology and its relevance in applied psychology.  In 1975, PIRI joined the American Psychological Association (APA) as Division 36.  The history of the ACPA is the story of the seismic changes that occurred in the Catholic Church, higher education and in American psychology during those years.  The purpose of this paper is to sketch out the main lines in this story, concentrating on the early years and on the transition from ACPA to PIRI.[1]



When in 1947 William C. Bier, S.J., a graduate student of Dom Thomas Verner Moore, O. S. B., organized a meeting of 110 Catholic psychologists during the APA meeting in Detroit, out of which meeting came the ACPA, there was much ferment in psychology and higher education, two of the three institutional structures in relation to which the ACPA defined itself.  The third was the Catholic Church itself.  Psychology was expanding in sheer numbers:  “From 1945 to 1970, [the American Psychological] Association grew more rapidly than during any 25-year period before or since,”[2] from about 5,000 to about 30,000 members.  The APA reorganized in 1945, creating 19 divisions, reflecting increased specialization in psychology.  Clinical and other applied areas in psychology were beginning to dominate employment opportunities, catalyzed in part by the creation of the National Institute of Mental Health in 1946.[3]  The “psychological society” came into being in the post-war period.

American colleges and universities grew, with returning veterans filling many of the seats.[4]  Catholic higher education participated in this growth,[5] and graduate programs at Catholic universities increased.[6]  In the midst of this expansion, Catholic higher education strove to actualize the ideal it had conceived in the 1920s and would seek until the convulsions of the 1960s:  The ideal of a Neoscholastic framework for the undergraduate liberal arts curriculum.  Pope Leo XIII’s 1879 Aeterni Patris helped to ignite a “Catholic Renaissance” of the second quarter of the twentieth century.  Of particular importance for psychologists was the role of Desiré Mercier, whom Leo XIII had helped to install at the University of Louvain in the 1880s, for Cardinal Mercier championed the new experimental psychology, seeking to integrate its findings within a Thomistic framework.  Gleason stresses that the articulation of Neoscholasticism as the core of the liberal arts education took place at a time when higher education was modernizing, taking on the now-familiar structure of academic departments, major studies and the credit system.[7]  This structure meant that the study of psychology in principle took place within a philosophical context that was defined for it at Catholic colleges.

            In terms of both institutional and intellectual history, the aims of the ACPA were assimilation and integration in a number of areas.  The impetus behind the organization embraced them both, but they proved not to be equally capable of achievement.  The assimilation of Catholic psychologists and Catholic university departments of psychology into the mainstream of American scientific and clinical psychology was, by 1970, accomplished.  The integration of the science of psychology with the Catholic Faith and with Catholic philosophical thought eluded the collective efforts of the ACPA. 

            By assimilation I mean that the raison d’être of the ACPA was to (a) increase the participation of Catholics in mainstream psychology; (b) overcome prejudices by some non-Catholics about that possibility; and (c) overcome prejudices by some Catholics against scientific psychology.  As the purpose statement of the ACPA stated this aim:  “to interpret to Catholics the meaning of modern psychology and to advance its acceptance in Catholic circles.”[8]  The ACPA conceived itself as a bridge between the Church and Psychology, and its emblem embodied that conception (Figure 1).

            The membership rules served this bridge function.  From the onset, in order to become a constituent member of the organization, one must be already a member of the APA; in order to become an associate member, one must qualify for APA membership.  Bier stated in a ten-year retrospective that “it was desired to have an organization of professionally trained psychologists rather than a mere interest group.”[9]  Especially in the early years of the Newsletter, there was much concern over Catholic participation in mainstream psychology.  This anxiety reflected a sense that Catholics were outsiders in scientific psychology, existing on the margins of the profession.  The primary identification, presumably of the reader as well as the author of the Newsletter, was a Catholic who was also a psychologist.[10]  An early survey showed that 12 percent of ACPA members were Fellows of the APA, the highest type of membership, whereas 20 percent of overall APA members were Fellows.  The implication:  “It is evident, therefore, in proportion to our numbers we have only about half the expected number of fellows.”  There may have been other reasons for the difference, including random statistical variation.  But it was evident to the author (Father Bier) that the problem lay elsewhere.  The article noted that 25.7% of ACPA members were associates, meaning that they could have been but were not APA members.  The Newsletter called them to task for lack of professional ambition, because this high number “indicates that our Catholic colleagues are slow to take their places with their professional colleagues, and it would appear that this same tendency continues as a reluctance to assume the higher professional status of fellow.”[11]  After all, the ACPA was not to be a “separatist” group, but a bridge for Catholics into psychology and for Catholic psychologists to participate more fully in the mainstream.

            Throughout the 1950s, a perceived lack of Catholic ambition and recognition produced anxiety.[12]  Henryk Misiak, reviewing a 1955 survey, remarked “we must note with satisfaction and gratification that Catholic psychologists here have become even more productive and have begun to contribute significantly and effectively to psychology in general.”[13]  Bier, later the same year, was less sanguine.  By his estimation, only four to five percent of APA members were Catholic.  He remarked that this under-representation was “a special case of the more general problem of the disproportionately small number of Catholics in science in general.”[14]  It would be another decade before this assessment was revised, with a sense in the ACPA that Catholics had “arrived.”

            The ACPA urged the development of psychology departments at Catholic colleges.  One of the first topics addressed by the ACPA was “Problem Areas in Undergraduate Psychological Training.”[15]  Bier presented a plea for “the place and function of the department of psychology in the liberal arts college” at the 1953 meeting of the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA).[16]  In that address, Bier stated that the ACPA would not be able to meet its objectives without Catholic colleges forming psychology departments.  Bier assumed that the Catholic component of a Catholic psychologist’s education would primarily be a function of the student being at a Catholic college, and that education would include philosophical psychology.  He argued that “modern scientific psychology should also find a place in that curriculum,”[17] because psychology was becoming increasingly an applied field, with clinical psychology being the most prominent.  For Bier, the stakes were not only academic:  “It is a real question to what extent a counselor’s religious convictions and philosophical viewpoint, even though verbally unexpressed, can be kept out of the counseling situation.”[18]  There is a real distinction between therapeutic skill and a religious attitude, he stressed, but a confluence of the two was most desirable.  Only Catholic colleges promised to develop both attributes in the student. 

            Bier’s recommendations were specific, and he addressed the particular content of an ideal undergraduate psychology program: 

In answer to the question what courses must be included in such a program, the Committee [of the ACPA] replied:  General psychology, Experimental psychology and statistics.  What courses should be given:  Social, Child, Adolescent, Testing.  What courses may be offered:  Learning, Personality, Abnormal, Developmental.[19]

Bier’s vision was of psychology as a natural science.  Moreover, he stressed (and developed at Fordham University) an applied emphasis, which he clearly differentiated from training in how to live in the “deep spiritual and philosophical sense,” which a student should also obtain through Catholic education.  What psychology could contribute was training how to live in the “practical sense of individual adjustment and social contacts.”[20]  Both on the theoretical and practical level, then, Bier differentiated psychology from philosophy and theology.  The inclusion of psychology into the curriculum, as a means to train Catholics to participate in this natural science and profession, would only enhance education at Catholic colleges and extend Catholic influence in psychology.[21]

            Catholic colleges’ acceptance of scientific psychology was sometimes a struggle.  James F. Moynihan, S.J., wrote that “Catholic undergraduate departments of psychology were thus forced to steer a wary course between a veritable Scylla and Charybdis,” between the philosophers and theologians who suspected psychology of being anti-religious and psychologists at non-Catholic institutions who believed that “Catholicism and scientific psychology were ‘irreconcilable.’” [22]  Moynihan cited LeRoy Wauck’s observation that because of these pressures, especially the latter, psychology programs at Catholic colleges imitated those at non-Catholic colleges.  In fact, Wauck argued that Catholic psychology programs, conforming to their secular counterparts, did not really attempt integration between psychology and Catholic thought:  “we do not have many who are capable of teaching a really integrated approach, nor are there very many striving to achieve such an integration.”[23]  Imitation here, as often it does, provided a measure of protection.

            Bier, Moynihan, Gannon[24] and others had to argue for the inclusion of psychology into the undergraduate curriculum and had to differentiate psychology clearly from philosophical psychology.  Misiak and Virginia Staudt, in their historical and apologetic work, declared:  “Now there is unanimous agreement among psychologists that psychology should be a separate autonomous science.”[25] Assimilation took the form it did because it moved in at least two directions at once.  First, the aim of assimilation assumed that Edwin G. Boring’s vision of psychology was correct:  Psychology since 1879 had emerged from philosophy and had become an experimental natural science.  This was the received view of American psychologists in general, and any attempt on the part of Catholics to take up what they saw as their proper place in psychology practically demanded this conception of psychology.  Second, this view was the underpinning of applied psychology in the United States and had been since the 1890s.[26]  So for Catholics to reap the professional and economic benefits of psychology, the natural scientific approach was, in the 1950s, the sine qua non.

The conception of psychology as a natural science thus played a determining role in the drive to assimilate Catholics into mainstream psychology and mainstream psychology into Catholic higher education.  The autonomy of psychology also functioned in the drive to integrate the findings of psychology with Catholic thought and teaching.  For the divorce, as it was called, between psychology and philosophy—and the assumption was that psychology had filed suit, an assumption based on a positivist version of the history of psychology challenged recently by Reed and Smith[27]—gave Catholic psychologists practical and theoretical independence from philosophy and theology departments in the colleges.  As Bier presented the case to the NCEA, “this relative newcomer in the field now wants to usurp exclusive title to the name ‘psychology,’ suggesting that what has gone traditionally by that name was not psychology at all, but philosophy.”[28]  Only that which is separated can be integrated.

The desire for integration proved difficult to define.  Walter J. Coville recalled that originally the second goal of the ACPA was “to provide a forum for the discussion of psychological questions of special interest to Catholics,” but that this statement of purpose was altered in 1953 to read “to work toward the integration of psychology with Catholic thought and practice.”[29]  The restatement defined the position of the ACPA as desiring to bridge not only Catholics into psychology but also Catholic thought into psychology. 

The goal of integration of psychology with Catholic thought and life presupposed the goal of assimilation, insofar as assimilation assumes that as a science and a profession, psychology has autonomy.  Many Catholic thinkers since the end of the nineteenth century had viewed psychology suspiciously because of the implicit and sometimes explicit materialism of psychological theory.[30]  After all, much of what was new about scientific psychology from the late nineteenth century was that it was “psychology without a soul,” and the philosophical positions of William James, Sigmund Freud and James B. Watson, to name but a few, did little to ease Catholic concerns.  As Monsignor Timothy J. Gannon reminded the ACPA in 1958:  “However unwarranted, the pursuit of scientific psychology very early became associated with defections from the Faith.”[31]  Apart from affirming their positions as both Catholics and psychologists, and pointing to the evidence of “the work of Mercier, Pace, Froebes, Michotte, Lindworsky and Moore . . . [to] give the lie to the fiction that scientific psychology and Catholicism are incompatible,”[32] the ACPA promoted integration in a number of areas.  Studies of the ethics of lie detection, non-directive therapy and guilt were some of the topics treated, the authors taking moral bearings from Church teaching.  Joseph G. Keegan, S.J., discussed “Psychotherapy and the Action of Grace.”  He argued that the psychotherapist must know more than his own discipline in order to treat successfully a psychologically suffering person.[33]  There were hopes that as clinical psychology expanded, Catholics would make increasingly significant contributions because of their background in moral theology.

Another important area of integration concerned the relationship between Neoscholastic philosophical anthropology and scientific psychology.  Catholic psychologists in the 1940s and ‘50s argued that the independence of psychology from philosophy was a benefit for both disciplines.  Their position was that scientific psychology did not have a particular philosophical basis and thus was open to a variety of philosophical interpretations.  Thus, scientific psychology as such could be integrated with Neoscholastic thought.  Misiak and Staudt, among others, cited the work of the Neoscholastic thinkers Mercier and Pace as examples of such integration.[34]  Within this schema, psychology contributes empirical findings, with philosophy providing the ultimate context and meaning for the findings, and calling psychology to task if it slid into materialistic conceptions of man, even if materialistic methodologies were permitted it as a natural science.

There were questions, however.  Misiak and Staudt, for example, indicated that while Catholic psychologists “accept” Neo-Scholasticism, this acceptance was not the same as their acceptance of Faith:

Catholic psychologists accept the Neo-Scholastic philosophy and, with it, its philosophical psychology, because in their opinion it is the best system at present.  In the past . . . a great many Catholic scholars followed Descartes in psychology, not St. Thomas.  And now, although the basic principles of the Neo-Scholastic philosophy are almost universally accepted in the Catholic Church, there are nevertheless many differences and different orientations among Neo-Scholastics. . . .  If another philosophical system were to be developed which would harmonize better with the two other sources of knowledge, science and faith, the same Catholic scholars might embrace this system.[35]

While this proviso was directed as much toward non-Catholics who might have thought that Catholic thinking was rigidly stuck in medieval curiosities, it also indicated that psychology was not simply the passive recipient of philosophical wisdom.  Subsequent work of both Misiak and Staudt demonstrated that while they recognized the distinction between scientific psychology and philosophy, they emphasized the necessity for psychology itself to ask philosophical questions.[36]

            Integration was not a one way concern in the 1950s.  Pope Pius XII delivered three addresses on moral aspects of psychological practice.  In response to “Morality and Applied Psychology,”[37] Gannon deferred to Papal authority on matters where psychology bordered on philosophical and theological grounds, noting in particular that the Pope’s definition of personality—“the psychosomatic unity of man in so far as it is determined and governed by the soul”—meant a restoration “to scientific psychology [of] a workable concept of the soul, something that it has sorely needed all these years.”[38]  Albert F. Grau, S.J., viewed this same address as providing not restrictions on psychological practice, but “clarifying directives,” especially about respect for the person in counseling and his or her transcendent destiny.[39]  In general, Papal pronouncements provided a touchstone for these Catholics who saw themselves as psychologists.[40]


Re-Organizing the ACPA:  Autonomy and dissent, 1967-1971


The three institutional contexts that had defined the ACPA in the early years underwent dramatic changes in the 1960s.  American psychology continued to grow, clinicians and other practitioners coming to dominate the APA.  Higher education underwent a “shift from elite to mass education and to universal access to higher education” after 1960.[41]  Catholic education participated in this change, and events at the Vatican Council profoundly shaped its story.  The Neoscholastic glue with which integration of the curriculum and the student’s mind was to be achieved, dissolved, its inner antagonisms weakening it and outer ecclesiastical supports giving way.  By the end of the 1960s, Catholic higher education had lost much of its hitherto distinctive character.

The year 1965 marked the high point of the ACPA.  In her presidential address that year, Virginia Staudt Sexton could say that “the ACPA is truly established—and well established.”[42]  However, dissatisfaction was beginning to show.  In 1966, an ACPA committee (Raymond McCall, LeRoy Wauck and Sister Annette Walters, C.S.J.) examined anew the purposes of the ACPA, in part because “the viewpoint has been expressed, both inside and outside the ACPA, that the Association is no longer relevant to the post-conciliar, ecumenical world,”[43] and in part because the ACPA’s own growth had slowed noticeably, younger psychologists not joining.  The McCall committee reported a “disappointing” return to a questionnaire sent to the membership.  No clear conclusions were drawn from the results, although the return itself was taken as telling.  That same year, Daniel C. O’Connell, S.J., and Linda A. Onuska stated that “the ACPA represents a divisive, sectarian, ghetto mentality on the American scene.”[44]  The only good that such an organization could do, according to O’Connell and Onuska, would be as a division of religious and pastoral psychology in the APA.  The ACPA had “retarded the weaning of scientific from philosophical psychology among Catholics.”[45]  The passion of this diatribe was matched by some responses to a questionnaire sent out by ACPA president Walter J. Coville to the membership in 1968.[46]  These examples suffice to show that, even if a minority opinion, there was then dissent over the very existence of the ACPA.[47]

Coville, in a 1968 report on the results of this second survey, proposed that “the ACPA is keenly aware of the changing needs of our society, desires to restructure itself to meet these needs, and is about ready to emerge as a more active, vital, and mature association.”[48]  He noted that compared with 1948, the “status of psychology in Catholic circles was significantly improved,” and he recommended adding two further purposes to the ACPA, retaining its two initial ones:  “(3) to focus on serving the needs of the Church by identifying vital issues that need to be interpreted in the light of modern psychology; and (4) to work with interfaith and religiously oriented interdisciplinary groups toward a mutual understanding and an application of modern psychology to common problems.”[49]  After Coville’s speech, the Board of Directors “worked out a tentative restructuring of aims in keeping with this orientation, together with a suggested change of name for the Association.”[50]  The incoming president, Paul Centi, formed a committee to study re-organization further.

After more than a year of work, Centi’s committee submitted to the membership the final draft of proposed changes, and the membership approved the changes at the 1970 ACPA meeting.  Coville’s recommendations had been altered in an ecumenical direction.  The new organization, PIRI, was seen as continuing the basic work of the ACPA with notable differences:

A key feature in the reorganization was the decision to eliminate the designation ‘Catholic’ both in the name and in the statement of purpose of the new Organization. . . .  The thinking behind this decision is essentially the following:  When the ACPA was founded in 1948, there was a need to win acceptance for psychology in Catholic circles.  This was the first goal of the Association and it has been attained.  Now, in the post-Vatican and ecumenical Church, the need is for Catholic psychologists to work with their professional colleagues.[51]

In other words, the goal of assimilation had been achieved and the second purpose had to be redefined in broader terms in order to reflect the situation of assimilated Catholic psychologists.

            Bier’s 1975 retrospective of the ACPA contained language that never appeared in earlier official statements:  “The first [problem in starting the ACPA] was the fear that the Organization might serve to constitute Catholics as a separatist group in the field of psychology, reinforcing their inferior, ghetto-type mentality.”[52]  The first half of this sentence repeated verbatim Bier’s early formulation.  Perhaps the second half of the statement reflects a more frank self-assessment of the early situation, from the standpoint of having achieved APA status, or perhaps it reflects a re-assessment of the early situation, based on a shift in identity by members of the former ACPA.  PIRI, after all, did not represent Catholics in psychology, it represented psychologists convinced that psychology needed to study religion.  Eugene Kennedy sounded the new confidence:  “Becoming a division of A.P.A. is an accomplishment that reflects the American Catholic presence in many professions.  We no longer need to be isolated in our research interests and we no longer need to explain or defend the authentic professionalism of our scientific commitment.[53]

            How were these changes viewed from the perspective of PIRI?  Vytautas Bieliauskas described “an evolutionary process,”[54] and Kennedy an “organic growth”[55] from ACPA to PIRI to Division 36.  Bier by contrast, spoke of an “identity crisis”:

What was very appropriate and even needful twenty years earlier when the ACPA was founded, was no longer acceptable after the middle ‘60s to many Catholics.  This appeared to be particularly true of many younger Catholic psychologists, who could not envision a professional group organized along denominational lines.  The need for Catholic solidarity which gave us strength in 1947, began to sap our strength after 1967.[56]

Bier recounted how the membership faced the decision either to disband or to reorganize, and the latter option prevailed.  PIRI, said Bier, “was clearly identified as an interest group—the interest being the psychological study of religious issues.”[57]  While “evolution” and “organic change” did not gainsay radical discontinuity, neither did they necessarily emphasize it.  Bier’s account, however, did stress the existential dilemma faced by many ACPA members in the late 1960s.  The decision to form PIRI represented the resolution of the identity crisis by altering the identity of the group.  It ceased to be an organization of Catholics who were also psychologists and became one of psychologists, some of whom were also Catholics.

            By 1970, then, the goal of assimilation was achieved.  But in the process, it had altered meaning, in large part because of discontinuities in the institutional structures surrounding the ACPA and to which the membership of the ACPA also belonged.  In 1970, assimilation could be better described as professional autonomy.  This altered meaning of assimilation affected the other motivating force, integration.  It was not lost sight of, either, but was redefined as “psychology of religion.”  Already a possibility in the 1950s, the psychology of religion approach meant less integration in the original sense than psychological investigation and consideration of the religious affiliations and experiences of subjects, especially clients.

            I would not, however, overstate the discontinuity motif, for there was ample continuity as well, not only among the membership but also in terms of attitudes.  PIRI sought and gained APA membership, a goal that was consistent with the earliest efforts of the ACPA.  PIRI also sought to promote the scientific study of religious phenomena and to have the religious dimension taken into account in personality theories and counseling practice, two goals also consistent with the ACPA.[58]  Given the increasing influence of clinical and counseling psychologists in the ACPA in its later years—Coville noted in 1968 that about 49% of the membership was in that field, a dramatic change from 10% in 1951—the applied emphasis of PIRI was certainly in line with trends within the ACPA.  The “conservatism” of the organization, even within dramatic change, was evident primarily in the continued desire to be fully involved with the mainstream of psychology, as represented by the APA, rather than be outside that structure.

            If there was both continuity and discontinuity regarding the purpose of assimilation, what about that regarding integration?  The picture is more complex, but one series of events stands out that marked the increased professional autonomy of the membership.  In July of 1968, Pope Paul VI released Humanae Vitae.  The letter obviously dealt with matters of interest to the ACPA.  The response to the encyclical, however, differed dramatically from the submissive attentiveness that characterized the ACPA’s response to the letters of Pius XII on psychology.  Sixty members of the ACPA, in a public announcement at the 1968 meeting, “strongly suggested . . . that Pope Paul VI’s condemnation of birth control rested on a false psychology of man.”[59]  The statement included fifteen questions addressed to the encyclical, beginning with:  “What is the theory of human nature which is implicit in the encyclical?  Does it reflect adequately contemporary psychological thinking and research?”  The final question was:  “Is there sensitivity to the dilemma which such a document presents to Catholic men of science insofar as it does not integrate the latest scientific findings about man?”[60]  While ACPA membership was not alone in raising questions about Humanae Vitae, what is significant for present purposes was the reversal of the theme of integration.  Speaking as scientific psychologists, this group within the ACPA asked Rome if it integrated the findings of psychology.  This alone would establish the conclusion I draw about the reformulation of the ACPA:  It represented a shift in the stance or subject-position of the Catholic psychologist at the end of the 1960s.  This psychologist now spoke from the ground of scientific psychology, which has an autonomous position vis-à-vis Catholic thought and teaching.

            Announcing the questions on Humanae Vitae in 1968 were Sherman McCabe, Louis Gaffney, S.J., Vytautas Bieliauskas and Sister Margaret Gorman.  In 1969, the ACPA held a symposium on conjugal love and birth control (organized by Bieliauskas) and another, a psychodrama, on authority and dissent in the Church (organized by Gorman).[61]  Gaffney reviewed historical attitudes hostile to the body and sex in western history and their influence on church teaching, and he cited first-person experiences of married couples.  He found that modern biology and married couples contradicted “much of what has been taught about marriage”[62] by the Church.  Bieliauskas argued that scientific research gainsaid the encyclical’s views of female and male sexuality:  “since the Pope found it necessary to deal in the encyclical with human nature and to use knowledge from the fields of medicine, biology, and psychology, it is reasonable to assume that he wanted to include the newest available knowledge provided by the these disciplines.”[63]  That such questioning was syntonic with the membership is suggested by the facts that Bieliauskas and Gaffney were nominated for president of the ACPA in the spring of 1970 (Bieliauskas won), and the following year, Gaffney and Gorman were nominated for president of PIRI (Gaffney won).[64]  This dissent represented a position different from that of the early years of the ACPA.  For it was not left here for philosophical and theological light to shine upon the brute data of scientific research in order to reveal its truth.  Now scientific psychology was autonomous from philosophy and theology, and faced them on equal terms to an extent:  the latter had to contend with scientific findings that implied particular images of the human person.  The old separation of psychology from philosophy, which protected psychology when it lacked status or position in Catholic education from unwanted restrictions by philosophers and theologians, now took on a new significance.  Scientific psychology’s autonomy meant that it had something to say about the meaning of its data for philosophical anthropology and the moral implications drawn therefrom.[65]  Assimilated psychology was other than pre-assimilated psychology in its dialectical role with Catholic thought and teaching:  Having gained a place, it insisted on being heard.



            The history of the relationships between psychology and Catholic thought and teaching did not originate in 1948, nor did it end in 1975.  The institutional contexts for Catholics in psychology—mainstream psychology, higher education and the Church—have not remained static.  Nor has the broader social situation gone unchanged.  But what conclusions emerge from this brief history and analysis of the ACPA, especially as the history sketched here is one in which Catholics in psychology still participate?

The initial goal of assimilation was the decisive one, for it set the trajectory of the ACPA.  For in addition to the intellectual considerations that led the charter members to move in that direction, there were encompassing structures that made that direction necessary.[66]  In the United States, where education meant social mobility, where Catholics after the war were climbing into the middle class, psychology was a means of social advancement.  In that context, then, assimilation was a social presupposition.  The primary vehicle within psychology for such a trajectory was the natural scientific approach to psychology.  Moreover, that approach dominated graduate programs in psychology, Continental philosophical influences rare, even in Catholic universities.  To assimilate, Catholic psychologists had to become “scientists.”

Emphasizing as they did the autonomy of psychology as a science, Catholic psychologists in the next two decades then sought to integrate psychology with Catholic thought.  To say it another way, only because a natural scientific psychology seemed inevitable did integration become necessary.  Other approaches, those that might not easily be assimilated by mainstream psychology—because they did not divorce psychology and philosophy—might have produced other futures beside attempted integration, understood as philosophy providing the ultimate meaning for psychological findings.  But the founders of the ACPA understood that other beginnings, indeed others with which they were aware, would have kept Catholic psychologists out in the cold, outside the APA and its many benefits.  If the ACPA had followed those paths, it would have had another history.  The ACPA actualized a historical possibility.

            Assimilation achieved in the eyes of the ACPA, by the late 1960s, however, the ACPA could not continue with increasing confidence to the second task, integration as the association defined it.  With what would it integrate scientific psychology?  Neoscholasticism seemed dry as dust, its institutional framework crumbling as winds of changes swept through higher education and the Church.  For whom would it integrate scientific psychology?  Young psychologists in the late 1960s were avoiding the ACPA, the organization was graying.  The ACPA, like a reed, bowed to the wind and changed. 

            Assimilation and integration as bringing Catholics to psychology and psychology to Catholics has not yet occurred.  There is no integration:  Since 1970, Catholic critics have charged that psychology has usurped religion.[67]  Psychology so encroaches when it ceases to be science and smuggles ethical norms incompatible with Church teachings into the classroom or therapy session.  This indictment does not affect psychology per se, only aspects or fragments of it, precisely those critical of the natural scientific approach that imagined it could avoid making philosophical and ethical pronouncements.  Psychology has fragmented, and while there are bits of it that are natural scientific, there are others that are not.  At this juncture, Sigmund Koch’s vision has been realized:  there is no psychology, pure and simple, there is but a disparate collection of psychological studies.[68]  It is no longer a question of integrating psychology with the Faith, for this reason.  The dream of integration assumed a unity of psychology and it assumed a philosophical and ethical virginity, neither condition existing.  There is no assimilation:  That desire assumed cohesiveness among American Catholics and while it was reasonable to do so in 1947, it appears doubtful today.  The dreams of the ACPA require other aims, other forms. 


[1] Published:  Catholic Social Science Review, 5 (2000), 233-49.

[1] The Chicago Association of Catholic Psychologists, headed by Rev. Charles Doyle, S.J., Chairman of the Psychology Department at Loyola University, was first:  “In a way, the ACPA was an ‘outgrowth’ of the Chicago Society, which was in effect absorbed by the ACPA” (Personal communication, LeRoy Wauck, October, 1999).  The ACPA’s official publications included a Newsletter, published continuously from November 1950 (Volume 1, No. 1), with William C. Bier, S. J. as editor.  With Volume 21, it became the PIRI Newsletter.  The Catholic Psychological Record was published from 1963-68 (6 Volumes, 2 issues each).  Publication was suspended when the editor, Alexander A. Schneiders, died.  With re-organization, it was not continued.

[2]           Meredith Crawford, “Rapid growth and change at the American Psychological Association: 1945 to 1970,” in 100 years: The American Psychological Association: A historical perspective, ed. R B Evans, Virginia Staudt Sexton, and T C Cadwallader (Washington: American Psychological Association, 1992).


[3]               Paul D Nelson and George Stricker, “Advancing the teaching of psychology: Contributions of the American Psychological Association, 1946-1992,” in Teaching psychology in America: A history, ed. A E Puente, J R Matthews, and C L Brewer (Washington: American Psychological Association, 1992)., p. 346:  “By midcentury, Clark (1957) reported that half of those awarded their doctorates in 1950 were employed primarily in an academic setting, a reduction from the 64% so employed among those who completed their doctoral programs between 1930 and 1944.  By contrast, less than one third are so employed today.”

[4]               Philip Gleason, Contending with modernity: Catholic higher education in the twentieth century (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995)., p. 210.

[5]  Gleason, p. 209.

[6]  Gleason, p. 220.

[7]  In fact, Gleason’s thesis is, in part, that the Thomistic “revival in turn reinforced the Catholic identity of the colleges at a time when they were undergoing a process of institutional modernization” (p. 139).

[8]  American Catholic Psychological Association Newsletter 3, No. 3 (May 1953), 2.

[9]               William C. Bier, “Ten years of the ACPA,” American Catholic Psychological Association Newsletter Supplement No. 28 (1957)., p. 2.  In the reformulation of the ACPA as PIRI, the latter was defined as “an interest group.”

[10] That is, the “subject position” of the ACPA’s discourse was this Catholic outsider.  For discussion of the concept of the “subject position” of a statement, see   Michel Foucault, The archaeology of knowledge, trans. A. M. Sheridan Smith (New York: Harper & Row, 1972)., p. 122.

[11]             “ACPA constituent members and the 1950 APA Directory,” American Catholic Psychological Association Newsletter 2, no. 1 (1951): 1-2.

[12]             Mary Amatora, “Encouragement of leadership by Catholics in psychology,” Catholic Educational Review 52 (1954): 587-596. asked why no Catholic psychologist appeared on a list of “highly visible” psychologists compiled that year.  This article is important for documenting the identity of the ACPA members as Catholics who were also psychologists.

[13]             Henryk Misiak, “What Catholics are doing in psychology at home and abroad,” American Catholic Psychological Association Newsletter Supplement No. 16 (1955, July): 1-2.

[14]             William C. Bier, “ACPA survey on status of psychology in Catholic colleges,” American Catholic Psychological Association Supplement No. 18 (1955, November): 1-2.

[15]             Virginia Staudt, “The use of extra-curricular training facilities in undergraduate departments of psychology,” Journal of Psychology 31 (1950): 29-35.

                John W Stafford, “Undergraduate psychology at Catholic University,” American Psychologist 5 (1950): 670-672.

[16] American Catholic Psychological Association Newsletter 3, No. 3 (May 1953), 3.

[17]             William C. Bier, “The place and function of the department of psychology in the liberal arts college,” National Catholic Educational Association Bulletin 50 (1953): 193-198.

[18]  Bier, “The Place and Function of the Department of Psychology,” p. 195.

[19]  Bier, “The Place and Function of the Department of Psychology,” p. 197.

[20]  Bier, “The Place and Function of the Department of Psychology,” p. 197.

[21]  Bier’s vision was a variant on a movement in Catholic higher education that took root earlier in the century:  The Catholic university movement.  Gleason (Contending with Modernity, p. 96) writes that this movement “represented a response to both the galloping professionalization of one aspect of American life after another, and to the mobility aspirations of American Catholics, increasing numbers of whom perceived the connection between higher education and enhanced life chances.”

[22]             James F Moynihan, “Reflections of a departmental chairman: Retrospective and prospect,” Catholic Psychological Record 1 (1963): 43-46.

[23]             LeRoy Wauck, “The status of psychology in Catholic colleges and universities,” in Selected papers from the A.C.P.A. meetings of 1960, 1961, ed. Alexander A Schneiders and Paul J Centi (New York: American Catholic Psychological Association, 1962), 49-59. p. 56.

[24]             Timothy J Gannon, “Function of psychology courses in a Catholic college,” Catholic Educational Review 51 (1953): 596-603. 

[25]             Henryk Misiak and Virginia Staudt, Catholics in psychology: A historical survey (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1954). p. 271.

[26]             William James, “A plea for psychology as a 'natural science',” Philosophical Review 1 (1892): 146-153.

[27]             Edward Reed, From soul to mind: The emergence of psychology from Erasmus Darwin to William James (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997).

                Roger Smith, The Norton history of the human sciences (New York: Norton, 1997).

[28]  Bier, , “The Place and Function of the Department of Psychology,” p. 193.

[29]             Walter J Coville, “Changing directions of the ACPA,” Catholic Psychological Record 6 (1968): 70-90.

[30]             LeRoy Wauck, “On casting out a devil,” America, 15 November 1947, 131-132.

[31]             Timothy J Gannon, “The general significance of the Papal Address for the practice of psychology,” in Selected papers from the ACPA meetings of 1957, 1958, 1959, ed. William Christian Bier and Alexander A Schneiders (New York: American Catholic Psychological Association, 1960), 61-66. p. 62:  “In the early years . . . the names of Stumpf, Messer, and Marbe were added to the more celebrated apostasy of Brentano.”

[32]  Gannon, “The General Significance of the Papal Address,” p. 62.  Misiak and Staudt’s Catholics in Psychology also addressed the question of apostasy and scientific psychology, concluding that there was no necessary connection between scientific psychology and loss of faith.

[33]             Joseph G Keegan, “Psychotherapy and the action of grace,” American Catholic Psychological Association Newsletter Supplement No. 14, no. Supplement No. 14 (1955, March): 1-2.

[34]  Misiak and Staudt, Catholics in Psychology.

[35]  Misiak and Staudt, Catholics in Psychology, p. 279.

[36]  One notable contribution by members of the ACPA to the question of integration was the publication of   Magda B. Arnold and John A. Gasson, The human person: An approach to the integral theory of personality (New York: Ronald Press, 1954).  The title page adds:  “In collaboration with Charles A. Curran, Vincent V. Herr, S.J., Frank J. Kobler, Noël Mailloux, O.P., Alexander A. Schneiders, Walter Smet, S. J., Louis B. Snider, S.J., Annette Walters, C.S.J.”  As an example of Catholic psychological thinking outside the Neoscholastic context, see                 Henryk Misiak and Virginia Staudt Sexton, Phenomenological, existential, and humanistic psychologies: A historical survery (New York: Grune & Stratton, 1973).

[37]             Pope Pius XII, “Morality and applied psychology: An address to the Congress of the International Association of Applied Psychologists, Rome, April 10, 1958,” Catholic Mind, July 1958, 353-368.

[38]  Gannon, p. 63.

[39]             Albert F Grau, “The Pope's remarks and the limits of counseling,” in Selected papers from the ACPA meetings of 1957, 1958, 1959, ed. William C Bier and Alexander A Schneiders (New York: American Catholic Psychological Association, 1960), 71-77. p. 73.

[40]  Another example of this work of integration and response to a Papal address was            William C Bier, Freud and Catholics (New York: America Press, 1957)..

[41]  Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, Missions of the college curriculum. San Francisco:  Jossey-Bass, 1977, p. 5.  Cited in                 Antonio E. Puente, “General issues in the teaching of psychology,” in Teaching psychology in America: A history, ed. A E Puente, J R Matthews, and C L Brewer (Washington: American Psychological Association, 1992). p. 14.

[42]             Virginia Staudt Sexton, “Catholics in psychology: 1965,” Catholic Psychological Record 3 (1965): 81-86.

[43]  American Catholic Psychological Association Newsletter 17, No. 3 (Summer 1967), 2.

[44]             Daniel C O'Connell and Linda A Onuska, “A challenge to Catholic psychology,” Catholic Psychological Record 5 (1967): 29-34.

[45]  O’Connell & Onuska, p. 32.

[46]             Walter J Coville, “Changing directions of the ACPA,” Catholic Psychological Record 6 (1968): 70-90.

[47]             Alexander A Schneiders, “Catholics and psychology: An editorial reply,” Catholic Psychological Record 5 (1967): 102-110.  made a spirited reply to O’Connell and Onuska, affirming the necessity for such an organization, especially in light of the contemporary situation.

[48]  Coville, “Changing Directions of the ACPA,” 84.

[49]  Coville, “Changing Directions of the ACPA,” 84. The year before, Paul D’Arcy, M.M., in his 1967 presidential address, had urged such developments:                  Paul F D'Arcy, “Psychology and the contemporary church,” Catholic Psychological Record 5 (1967): 93-101.

[50] American Catholic Psychological Association Newsletter 18, No. 4 (Autumn 1968), 3.

[51] American Catholic Psychological Association Newsletter 19, No. 4 (Autumn 1969), 2.

[52]             William C. Bier, “PIRI--Bridge between the ACPA and the APA,” Psychologists Interested in Religious Issues Newsletter 25, no. 4 (1975): 43-45; 53-54.

[53]             Eugene Kennedy, “President's message,” PIRI  Newsletter 25, no. 4 (1975, October): 40-41.

[54]             Vytautas J Bieliauskas, “Editorial,” PIRI Newsletter 25, no. 4 (1975, October): 42, 54.

[55]  Kennedy, “President’s Message,” p. 41.

[56]  Bier, “PIRI—Bridge between the ACPA and the APA,” p. 53.

[57]  Bier, “PIRI—Bridge between the ACPA and the APA,” p. 53.

[58]  In fact, Misiak and Staudt suggested (p. 287) that in the future, Catholic psychologists would most likely make significant contributions in the areas of “psychology of religion, pastoral psychology, and psychotherapy.”

[59]             “Catholic psychologists question Pope's Encyclical on artificial contraception,” New York Times, 3 September 1968, 15.  Also reported was a symposium on celibacy, at which Eugene Kennedy stated that clerical celibacy, “ordered to the service of an institution rather than people, is collapsing in our day.”

[60]             “Statement on Encyclical Humanae Vitae,” American Catholic Psychological Association Newsletter 19, no. 2 (1969, Spring): 3.

[61] American Catholic Psychological Association Newsletter 19, No. 3 (Summer, 1969), 2.

[62]             Louis Gaffney, “Psychological reflections on marital love and contraception,” Journal of Religion and Health 10 (1971): 11-22.

[63]             Vytautas Bieliauskas, “Masculinity, femininity, and conjugal love,” Journal of Religion and Health 10 (1971): 37-49..

[64] Father Bier was president of PIRI in 1974, Eugene Kennedy in 1975.

[65]  It was in 1969 that George Miller, in his APA presidential address spoke of a positive image of man drawn from scientific psychology that differed from the cultural image that emphasized external controls.  Miller also claimed that psychology was revolutionary in its potential to transform society based on this allegedly new image:            George A Miller, “Psychology as a means of improving human welfare,” American Psychologist 24 (1969): 1063-1075.

[66]  A comparative study would no doubt show that in other countries, Spain, Colombia and Hungary, for example, that trajectory would not have occurred:  In the Spanish-language countries because a kind of Neoscholasticism was imposed from above, by authorities of the state, and in Hungary because after 1949 Marxist-Leninism as a philosophical system was enforced, except in those areas which could claim to be natural scientific--that is, those studies with no practical application.

[67]  See, for example,              Paul Vitz, Psychology as religion: The cult of self-worship, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1994).

[68]             Sigmund Koch, “Afterword,” in A century of psychology as science, ed. Sigmund Koch and David E Leary (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1985), 928-950.