The Rev. John F. Cronin, S.S., described by a colleague as having been the "pre-eminent popularizer of Catholic social teaching in the United States," died Sunday of a circulatory illness at St. Charles Villa, the Sulpician retirement community in Catonsville. He was 85.
The former professor of moral philosophy at St. Mary's Seminary and University had moved to the villa in 1978, three years after he retired from the seminary, ending a second teaching assignment there that began in 1967.
He had first joined the faculty of St. Mary's in 1933, teaching economics and philosophy until 1944.
Active in labor relations, he became known in Baltimore for his knowledge of socioeconomic issues. In 1944, he was called to Washington to do research on communism for the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, then known as the National Catholic Welfare Conference. He became assistant director of the conference's Department of Social Action the next year.
Monsignor George G. Higgins, who was director of the social action department, said of him in a prepared eulogy, "In the 1940s and 1950s, Father Cronin, a competent scholar and gifted writer, was the pre-eminent popularizer of Catholic social teaching in the United States. His several excellent books on this subject -- long out of print, unfortunately -- were required reading in seminaries, colleges and universities. Perhaps no other American writer did as much as he to acquaint his contemporaries in the United States with the essentials of Catholic social thought."
Father Cronin wrote books, such as "Social Principles and Economic Life," a text last published in 1966, and pamphlets for the conference. He was also a speech writer for several bishops and public figures including Richard M. Nixon when he was vice president.
He was also active in the Baltimore community, most recently as president of the board of Project Equality, an ecumenical group fighting job discrimination.
Born in Glens Falls, N.Y., he attended St. Mary's Elementary and High School there and then attended Holy Cross College before deciding to enter the priesthood.
Then he began his studies at the Catholic University of America, where he earned bachelor's degrees in philosophy and sacred theology, and a master's degree in philosophy before his ordination in 1932.
By that time, he had also decided to join the Society of St. Sulpice, the order devoted to operating and teaching in seminaries. After a year in the order's novitiate program, he was assigned to St. Mary's.
In 1935, he was awarded a doctorate in philosophy by Catholic University. In 1947, he was awarded an honorary doctorate by Holy Cross College and in 1957 was awarded the Papal Benemerenti Medal. Three years later, he received another papal decoration for his service to the church, the gold cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice.
A Mass of Christian burial was to be celebrated at 11 a.m. today at St. Isaac Jogues Roman Catholic Church, 9215 Old Harford Road in the Parkville area. His brother, Monsignor James J. Cronin, is pastor of the church.
Other survivors include a sister, Margaret T. Cronin of Washington; and several nephews and nieces.