Brief Biography of Msgr. Fenton

Msgr. Joseph Clifford Fenton

According to information found on the Catholic University of America website, the Right Reverend Msgr. Joseph Clifford Fenton was born on January 16, 1906. He was Dean of the School of Theology at the Catholic University of America (CUA) and also served as the editor of the American Ecclesiastical Review from 1944 to 1963. He received his undergraduate degree from Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, and completed his ordination in Rome, receiving a Doctor of Sacred Theology degree. Fenton was a curate at Immaculate Conception Church in Easthampton, MA (1931 to 1933) and at St. Joseph’s Church, Leicester, MA from 1933 to 1934. He taught philosophy at Saint Ambrose College, Davenport, IA (1934 to 1935).

According to an entry in Wikipedia, Fenton was a familiar figure with his cassock and biretta on the campus of The Catholic University of America (CUA) for 25 years. His students remember him as an imposing teacher who lectured dramatically and often challenged them with unexpected questions. Fenton’s colorful expressions and trenchant observations became legendary.

During his career, Fenton received many ecclesiastical honors from Rome. The Holy See named him a papal chamberlain (1951), a domestic prelate (1954), and a protonotary apostolic (1963). Under Pope Pius XII, he also was a recipient of the prestigious papal medal, Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice (1954). He belonged to the Pontifical Roman Theological Academy and served as a counselor to the Sacred Congregation of Seminaries and Universities (1950–67). Fenton also served on the Pontifical Theology Commission in preparation for the Second Vatican Council.

He retired from CUA in 1963 and died in his sleep from a heart attack on July 7, 1969. He is probably best remembered as an aggressive opponent of Jesuit John Courtney Murray regarding religious freedom and the issue of Church and State.

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