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World Association of International Studies

Post Father Robert W Haire, 19th-Century Socialist Priest
Created by John Eipper on 06/28/20 6:43 AM

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Father Robert W Haire, 19th-Century Socialist Priest (Patrick Mears, -Germany, 06/28/20 6:43 am)

One fascinating personality I have come across in my research for my genealogy project is Father Robert W. Haire, a Roman Catholic priest born in Freedom Township, Washtenaw County, Michigan. Later, Haire converted from Presbyterianism to Catholicism as a result of boarding on a family farm in rural Genesee County just outside of Flint, while teaching in a nearby rural school.

Apparently, his decision to convert was heavily influenced by the piety and devotion to the Roman Catholic faith evidenced by that family. I have been trying to discover the name of that family, but have so far been unsuccessful.

I have recently ordered from the US the first edition (and probably only edition) of a small booklet published by the Socialist Party of America in 1916 at the time of Haire's passing in Aberdeen, South Dakota. This work recounts Haire's many-faceted life, including the creation and development of the "initiative" and "referendum" political reforms as a counterpoint to political corruption in the Gilded Age. See, e.g., https://www.southdakotamagazine.com/aberdeens-populist-priest , which contains my recent reader's inquiry about Haire and the Catholic family he boarded with near Flint.

Haire also was a delegate for presidential candidate Eugene Debs to the 1900 national convention of the Socialist Party of America. See https://dakotafreepress.com/tag/father-robert-haire/ . This article contains the text of Eugene Debs' tribute to Haire upon learning of Haire's passing in 1916.

Curiously, my home town of Flint, Michigan, elected a socialist mayor, John A.C. Menton, in 1911 for a one-year term. Menton was immediately succeeded by, of all people, Charles Stewart Mott, in that position. In another unusual twist, Menton's immediate predecessor as Flint Mayor was Guy W. Selby (1868-1971). The last school where my mother taught was named after Selby and I attended first grade there, taught by my mother! The school was brand-spanking new then, and I remember meeting Mr. Selby at the reception given for Selby and his wife at the school's ceremonial opening.

N.B.: Father Haire was not the only Midwestern, Roman Catholic cleric of these times who was a member of the Socialist Party of America. See the 2014 academic article on Father Thomas McGrady by Jacob H. Dorn of Wright State University, which can be accessed here:


JE comments:  Father Haire (1845-1916) was born just 20 miles or so from where I write.  His stern gaze and long beard (photos at first two links above) reminds the viewer of Tolstoy or an Orthodox priest.  He set up his ministry in territorial South Dakota, holding his first masses in a sod shanty.

A fascinating figure, who could rightly be called an early practitioner of Liberation Theology.

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