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Obituary: Rev. William Barnaby Faherty, St. Louis' most prolific historian

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Aug. 24, 2011 - The Rev. William Faherty was on location in Mexico with Charles Bronson and Anthony Quinn for the filming of MGM's 1968 spaghetti western "Guns for San Sebastian." A few years later, when James Michener was doing research for his epic tome  "Centennial," he flew to St. Louis to visit Rev. Faherty.

Michener set some of "Centennial's" action in St. Louis and he wanted historical details from Father Faherty, who had built a formidable reputation as a local historian. Rev. Faherty was on the movie set because the film was based on his first novel "A Wall for San Sebastian."

Following more than six decades as a sought-after historian and historical novelist, Rev. Faherty died Monday (Aug. 22, 2011) at Saint Louis University Hospital. Despite declining health since breaking a hip several years ago, he had continued to live at Jesuit Hall at Saint Louis University until he was admitted to the hospital last week. He was 96.

A funeral Mass for Rev. Faherty will be celebrated this afternoon (Wed., Aug. 24) at Saint Francis Xavier (College) Church.

Elder Statesman

"He was a seminal St. Louis historian," said Matt Heidenry, whose company, Reedy Press, had published Rev. Faherty's books for the past seven years. "Father and James Neal Primm were the elder statesmen of St. Louis history, but Father was much more prolific."

No one seems to know exactly, but it's estimated that Father Faherty authored more than 50 books. He was known for his work on St. Louis and Catholic history, but he also delved into topics as diverse as the human mind, space travel and baseball.

He wrote history books, novels, articles, even limericks. In 1993, he penned a booklet titled "The Book of Cardinalimericks" about his sports obsession. The booklet was illustrated by former St. Louis Post-Dispatch cartoonist Amadee Wohlschlaeger.

He wrote about space exploration in "Moon Port: Apollo Launch Facilities and Operations," published by NASA in 1976, and women's rights, which he explored in "The Destiny of Modern Women in Light of Papal Teachings," in 1952, followed by "Living Alone: A Guide for the Single Woman." In "The Call of Pope Octavian," Rev. Faherty brought his authority on Vatican history, black Catholics and women's rights to bear in a novel focused on the selection of a new pope after the retirement of Pope John Paul II.

Father Faherty did not hedge when asked which of his books he favored.

He told the Post-Dispatch in 2000 that his best book was probably "American Catholic Heritage: Stories of Growth," published in 1991. The book boldly avowed that the Vatican did not understand the Catholic Church in America.

He wrote: "Rome has never allowed the church in this country to develop in such a way that it would reflect the American genius while remaining totally Catholic."

But Heidenry speculates that Father Faherty's most popular books were "Dream by the River: Two Centuries of Saint Louis Catholicism, 1766-1967," which was published in 1973, and "Henry Shaw: His Life and Legacies," from 1987. Both have been in great demand by history scholars.

His most recent work was a 2007 novel, "Daughter of Rising Moon," about Native Americans. The book won the Missouri Writers' Guild Conference Award in 2008.

The accolades had begun early. He won a writing contest hosted by the old St. Louis Star-Times while a senior in high school. Other honors included the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000 from the Historical Society of St. Louis County and a Saint Louis University Alumni Merit Award that was named in his honor.

A Matter of Pride

William Barnaby Faherty was the grandson of Irish immigrant grandparents who settled in the first English-speaking Catholic parish in Illinois in 1851. His parents, William and Angeline Faherty, along with most second-generation Irish, migrated west to St. Louis. Father Faherty was born on Arsenal Street on Dec. 17, 1914.

In 1931, he graduated from St. Louis University High School and entered the Society of Jesus at St. Stanislaus Seminary in Florissant. He earned a Master's in medieval history at Saint Louis University in 1938, and was ordained to the priesthood in 1944, at St. Mary's College in St. Marys, Kan.

He returned to Saint Louis University, where he completed a Bachelor of sacred theology in 1945 and a Ph.D. in theology in 1949.

Father Faherty taught history and sociology at Regis College in Denver from 1948 to 1956, where he was also a ski team coach and swimming instructor.

He came home to St. Louis in 1956, and for the next seven years, he was a writer and pamphlet editor for Queen's Work magazine. Over the years, he wrote many articles for magazines, encyclopedias and historical quarterlies. He had also served as the archivist for the Catholic order of Jesuits in St. Louis, the Society of Jesus, Missouri Province, and as curator of St. Stanislaus Museum in Florissant 1976-2000. He retired as a professor of history from Saint Louis University in 1984, after serving for 21 years.

Saint Louis University archivist John Waide met Rev. Faherty when Waide was a SLU undergraduate and Rev. Faherty was teaching. The two would eventually work together on a radio program, This is Catholic St. Louis, on WRYT.

"We had literally hundreds of conversations over the last five years about history topics, most related to St. Louis history," Waide said. "In virtually every conversation, I came away having learned something. That's pretty remarkable.

"He wanted people to be aware of their history," Waide said. "He was proud to be from St. Louis, proud to be a Jesuit priest, proud to be Irish."

His friend of nearly 40 years, Edward Cody, verified the Irish part.

"Ask any Irishman in St. Louis," Cody said. "They all know him."

Finding Joy

In recent years, photographer Mark Scott Abeln had provided photos for some of Father Faherty's publications and had assisted him with speaking engagements. Upon hearing of his death, Abeln wrote: "He was opinionated ... but he was a gentleman, and I found him to be kind even under painful circumstances."

Abeln recalled what Father Faherty told him about religious life.

"He said that you will know that you have a true vocation if you find joy in it. He seemed to have found joy."

Rev. Faherty was preceded in death by his parents and older brother and sister, Daniel Faherty and Louise Harris. Among his survivors is a niece, Sheila Harris of St. Louis.

Visitation for Father Faherty will be from 4 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. today, Wed, Aug. 24, at Saint Francis Xavier (College) Church, Grand at Lindell. Mass of Christian Burial will follow immediately at 7:30 p.m.

Father Faherty will be buried at 9:30 a.m. on the Feast of King St. Louis IX (his date of death in 1270), Thursday, Aug. 25, at Calvary Cemetery.

If desired, expressions of sympathy may be made to the Jesuits of the Missouri Province. 4511 West Pine Boulevard., St. Louis, MO 63108.

Gloria Ross is the head of Okara Communications and the storywriter for AfterWords, an obituary-writing and production service. To reach her, contact Beacon contributing editor Richard H. Weiss.

Gloria S. Ross is the head of Okara Communications and AfterWords, an obituary-writing and design service.

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