Charles M. Whelan: A Life in the Service of Others
Charles M. W helan: A Life in the Ser vice of Others
John D. Feerick 0 1 2
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1 Fordham University School of Law
2 It is with nostalgia that I offer this tribute to Father Charles Whelan , S.J. , on the occasion of his retirement from the full time faculty of the Law School. He has served the school for more than four decades with a degree of humanity, humility, and generosity perhaps never equaled by anyone in the school's 100 year history. He has combined these personal qualities with a mastery of teaching, scholarship, and service, personifying the very best of our profession. Father Whelan joined the Fordham faculty after having graduated at the top of his class from Georgetown University Law Center and then serving his alma mater as a teaching fellow and adjunct professor. The legendary Dean William Hughes Mulligan wrote to him in
3 Norris Professor of Law, Fordham University School of Law
Recommended Citation John D. Feerick, Charles M. Whelan: A Life in the Service of Others, 75 Fordham L. Rev. 2835 (2007). Available at: http://ir.lawnet.fordham.edu/flr/vol75/iss6/2
other things, a different style and tone. His dedication to teaching me
how to approach legal writing is greatly appreciated.
Another student said,
A colleague wrote,
[Father] Whelan was the best tutor [I] ever had because he was able not
just to teach [the] subject, but to tailor his lessons so that they focused on
[my] problems. 2
Throughout almost 30 years in which Father Whelan was first my legal
consultant, my teacher and then my colleague in the Legal Writing
program at Fordham Law School, I saw his commitment to his students,
to learning and to the law. While constantly reminding students that they
were competing, not with each other, but with excellence, he gave each
one the time and attention needed to do [his or her] best work. While
holding students to the highest standards, he had patience with their
difficulties and above all respect for them. 3
Another colleague of Father Whelan wrote,
When I began teaching legal writing at Fordham ... Father Whelan was
the person we would go to for help in figuring out how to do the course.
He was the legal writing guru who would take as much time as young
teachers needed to figure out how to make the course work. My most
vivid memories of him are the amount of time he would spend with
students going over their writing .... 4
Assistant Dean Robert J. Reilly, who was in his class, told me,
Father Whelan had a wonderful ability to make the workings, analysis and
historical context of [U.S.] Supreme Court decisions come alive in the
Each week he would analyze and relate to us the most recent decisions of
the Court as they were reported in The New York Times. It was like
having a Supreme Court Justice as your tutor.
His concern for faculty and students was matched by his concern for
staff. As two staff members, both of whom were already at the Law School
when Father Whelan arrived at Fordham in 1962, noted,
As far back as we can remember (we go back to 1962 when he arrived)
Father Whelan has always been this low-key (maybe shy), kind and
thoughtful person. We never knew him to raise his voice or say an unkind
word to anyone. There was always a smile for all of us (staff and students
Also a funny thought comes to mind as we picture him with his trusty
pushcart as he shopped for his fellow Jesuits at America House. 6
Father Whelan's scholarship is prolific, with books, book chapters,
essays, and journal articles too numerous to list but all noteworthy because
of his clarity of thought. He has written four books on church-state
relations and civil procedure, while his innumerable articles, essays, and
book chapters range from the First Amendment, church-state relations, tax
law, the ERA, race and religion, evolution and the law, to issues of
censorship and the constitutional concept of morality. America magazine,
to which he has been connected for almost fifty years as author, assistant,
and editor, reflects his writing on many different subjects such as religious
belief and morality, race, education and tax exemptions, equal protection,
divorce for Catholics, school aid decisions, and textbooks and the
Beyond Father Whelan's teaching and scholarship, he has excelled at
service within the school, chairing and serving as a member of the most
important of faculty committees and always being available to help out with
a special assignment. He served in the University Faculty Senate, on the
advisory board to the Fordham University Press, and as a member of search
committees for deans of schools. He contributed enormously to the student
journals at the Law School by reviewing articles and drafts of student
writings, often when other faculty were away on leave or vacation or when
there was an urgent need for extra assistance. As a Jesuit priest, he felt a
special obligation to provide religious and personal counseling to members
of the Fordham Law School community, and he gave hundreds of hours
each year to such areas. A law school alumna recently wrote to me:
I truly valued the conversations that I regularly had with him in his office
or on the benches outside the law school. During these discussions, he
often imparted a funny anecdote and always had an interest in my
professional plans and aspirations. Father Whelan is a man of great
kindness, patience and knowledge. As fortunate as I feel to have had him
6. E-mail from Susan Santangelo, Dir. of Faculty Admin., Fordham Univ. Sch. of Law,
and Estelle Fabian, Assistant Dean for Master of Laws Program, Fordham Univ. Sch. of
Law, to John Feerick, Norris Professor of Law, Fordham Univ. Sch. of Law (Feb. 2
15:16:26 EST) (on file with the Fordham Law Review).
as a professor, I feel even more fortunate to be able to consider him an
advisor and a friend.7
Another alumna said in a note to me:
He treasured the law, not as an academic exercise, but rather as a means
of serving values. When I first spoke with him about making a career
change and attending law school, he opined that the world did not need
me as another professional. Rather, as a member of a Roman Catholic
religious order, I should consider learning the law and putting it at the
service of the values that [we] profess. That advice has become a
personal mission statement for me.
Beyond the Law School, Father Whelan's range of services has been
Olympian in scope. For all of his years as a Fordham professor he has been
consulted by religious and other groups for his insights into matters of
church-state and the U.S. Constitution, especially subjects involving
education, tax, and the relationships of religious orders and their ministers.
He has served as a consultant to the United States Catholic Conference, the
National Council of Churches of Christ, and the Order of Cistercians of the
Strict Observance. Father Whelan also has been drawn on by public
officials and journalists for background assistance with respect to the most
difficult and sensitive of matters.
The respect in which he is held is evidenced by the number of federal
cases with which he has provided important legal assistance. He has argued
successfully in the U.S. Supreme Court and his name appears on the briefs
of many other cases of considerable significance, particularly in matters of
church-state and education, such cases as Board of Education v. Allen, 9
Walz v. Tax Commission ofNew York,10 Lemon v. Kurtzman, 1 and Roemer
v. Board ofPublic Works. 12
How does one sum up a career such as Father Whelan's? First, let me
quote the words of someone who was first a student and then a colleague of
Father Whelan is truly Fordham's own version of Chaucer's Oxford
Not one word spoke he more than was his need;
And that was said in fullest reverence
And short and quick and full of high good sense.
Pregnant of moral virtue was his speech;
And gladly would he learn and gladly teach. 1
Mention also needs to be made of his masterly sense of fashion that, if
not world-renowned, is known to all around the Law School: a plaid shirt
and a bolo tie, 14 occasionally accessorized with the ubiquitous
multipocketed "professor's vest." He also had a penchant for growing tomatoes
on the roof of America House. 15
In 1991, as part of Fordham University's 150th anniversary, Fordham
Law School decided to call itself a School in the Service of Others, an
appropriate title for a school founded by Jesuits. Father Whelan has
expressed that ideal in all of his years at Fordham Law School and
remarkably so. We bid him farewellk, but he will always remain part of us.
14. This kind of tie was also worn by other such luminaries as Isaac Asimov, George
Balanchine, and Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek. The bolo tie was made the
official state tie of Arizona in 1973 and on March 1
, the official tie of the state of
New Mexico. See Shaveta Bansal, Bolo Ties Declared Official Neckwear in New Mexico,
Allheadlinenews.com, Mar. 1
15. In his activities report for the academic year 1977-78, Father Whelan wrote, "Grew
150 pounds of tomatoes on the roof of the Jesuit residence at America [House].... Not as
good as last year, when I grew 240 pounds." Fordham Univ., Faculty Activity Report
(197778) (prepared by Charles M. Whelan) (on file with the Fordham Law Review).
Notes & Observations
1. E-mail from Lauren Frank, Graduate, Fordham Univ. Sch. of Law, Class of 2006 , to John Feerick, Norris Professor of Law, Fordham Univ. Sch. of Law (Feb. 20 , 2007 , 14 : 22 : 12 EST ) (on file with the Fordham Law Review) .
2. Telephone interview with Anne Strickland-Squadron, Graduate , Fordham Univ. Sch. of Law, Class of 1974 , in N.Y., N.Y. ( Feb. 8 , 2007 ) ( on file with the Fordham Law Review) .
3. E-mail from Sister Bernadette Kenny , to John Feerick, Norris Professor of Law, Fordham Univ. Sch. of Law (Feb. 28 , 2007 , 17 : 16 : 41 EST ) (on file with the Fordham Law Review) .
4. E-mail from Jacqueline Nolan-Haley, Professor of Law and Dir . of ADR & Conflict Resolution Program, Fordham Univ. Sch. of Law , to John Feerick, Norris Professor of Law, Fordham Univ. Sch. of Law (Feb. 8 , 2007 , 14 : 13 : 57 EST ) (on file with the Fordham Law Review) .
5. E -mail from Robert J. Reilly , Assistant Dean for the Feerick Ctr. for Social Justice and Dispute Resolution, to John Feerick, Norris Professor of Law, Fordham Univ. Sch. of Law (Mar. 21 , 2007 , 18 : 13 : 04 EST ) (on file with the Fordham Law Review) .
7. E-mail from Lauren Frank to John Feerick, supra note 1.
8. E-mail from Sister Bernadette Kenny to John Feerick, supra note 3.
9. 392 U.S. 236 ( 1968 ).
10. 397 U.S. 664 ( 1970 ).
11. 411 U.S. 192 ( 1973 ).
12. 426 U.S. 736 ( 1976 ).
13. E-mail from Sister Bernadette Kenny to John Feerick, supra note 3 (quoting Geoffrey Chaucer,The Canterbury Tales 9(J.U.Nocolson trans ., Dover Publ'ns, Inc . 2004 ).