That Was Then: April 1957
The Rev. Hugh Halton outside the historic St. Thomas Aquinas House in January 1957.
The Rev. Hugh Halton outside the historic St. Thomas Aquinas House in January 1957.
Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

“Colleges Labeled Stronghold of Reds” reported the Los Angeles Times April 14, 1957, when the Rev. Hugh Halton gave a fiery right-wing speech in California as part of a 21-stop nationwide tour. In Nassau Hall, administrators cringed at this latest assault from the young priest who had been badmouthing them for two years, calling eminent Princeton faculty atheistic and incompetent.

This felt like betrayal: After all, Halton was the University’s Catholic chaplain.

Unlike William Buckley, whose book God and Man at Yale had raised similar objections against left-leaning academics, Halton had no genius for building political movements. Instead, he carried on a one-man crusade against modernity, starting with sermons and letters-to-the-editor excoriating philosophy professor Walter Stace, a self-professed atheist whose teachings, Halton said, aimed at “enthroning the devil.”

Other faculty members were drawn into the fray, Halton using his influence over students to steer them away from supposedly atheistic courses. The Oxford-educated Dominican regarded intellectualism as impossible without the “fixed standard of God.” Increasingly he hinted of Communist inroads in the Academy.

In fall 1957, Princeton got a new president, Robert Goheen ’40 *48. On his first day he announced the severing of all official ties with Halton, who had accused the administration of “malfeasance” and who, Goheen said, had “resorted to irresponsible attacks upon the intellectual integrity of faculty members.” (Halton remained in charge at Princeton’s Aquinas Institute for another year, however.)

Time and other media outlets spread the story nationwide as conservatives howled that Halton had been muzzled. The firebrand priest left for Oxford, charging “authoritarian censorship” and an “attempt to impose thought control.” 

In the end, Communists didn’t take over Princeton, but the ’60s lay right around the corner, bringing secularization far beyond Halton’s imaginings.