In Memoriam: Dean Hoge

A reflection on the life of a deeply respected professor of sociology at The Catholic University of America

Last month, at age 71, the Catholic Church in the United States lost an important friend: sociologist Dean Hoge.

Several years ago I had the privilege of working with Dean Hoge and two other scholars, Bill Dinges and Juan Gonzales, on a national study of Catholics in their 20’s and 30’s. The study was published in a book entitled Young Adult Catholics: Religion in the Culture of Choice.

At the time of our research study, Dean was a professor of sociology at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. In fact, Dean taught at Catholic University for 34 years and only retired in 2004.

On the Catholic University website, Father David O’Connell, the president of the university, wrote, “It is hard to imagine Catholic University without Dean Hoge.”

The same can be said about the field of sociology of religion, the community of social scientists who study Catholicism and the countless scholars and practitioners who work with Catholic organizations.

Dean’s influence was deep and broad. He wrote articles, books and delivered presentations on a host of issues that were critical to the life and mission of the Catholic Church in the United States. In addition to his studies on young adult Catholics, he explored issues related to the priesthood, helped many Catholic organizations craft surveys for their own internal and external work and studied mainline Protestantism in the United States. For me, I saw his scholarly work as informed by deep values that I want you to know about as well.

A Man Seeking Truth

I believe that Dean believed his research was in service of the Lord. Dean saw no split between religion and social science. He pursued his research so that the members of the Catholic Church, bishops, clergy and laity would have the correct data in order to make informed decisions.

Dean believed social sciences could help the Church better understand itself and the needs of the world.

Dean was an active Presbyterian who used to tell us he was “49% Catholic.” Over and over again, I heard Dean described by others as an outstanding Christian. I believe people use that designation because his work and life were seamless. He lived what he believed, whether it was sensitivity to the environment or concern for the poor. His scholarship was not divorced from action. Every day, in every way, he sought truth.

Never Afraid to Ask Questions
Dean was fearless in sharing his research findings and analysis. He did so against a challenging backdrop. Even though the Second Vatican Council affirmed the role of social sciences as a tool for the Church to come to a deeper self-understanding, there continues to be a tension between Catholicism and the social sciences.

As one of my professors in graduate school told us, “Don’t ask the question if you don’t want to hear the answer.”

Today, some are saying, “Don’t even think about asking the question in the first place.”

Dean railed against that. He believed that the Church was best served when questions were asked, answered, analyzed and acted upon. He believed social sciences could help the Church better understand itself and the needs of the world. Dean had a deep regard for the role of the Catholic Church in the world. He loved us enough to always tell us the truth.

Grounded for God
Finally, Dean was a grounded and balanced human being. While he had a national reputation, was quoted often in the media and was visible at Church conferences and gatherings, Dean kept his two feet on the ground

Dean knew his work was not about him. He communicated that, not through words, but through the example of his well-lived life. Dean understood that life is lived on the local level, not the national.

He showed us in so many ways that he valued his colleagues and friends at Catholic University and his neighbors and members of his congregation in Takoma Park. It was also clear he cherished his dear wife Josephine, their children and grandchildren.

Because of his obvious talents and myriad accomplishments, Dean’s ego could have been the size of the Catholic University campus. Instead, we mourn now the loss of a humble, hard-working, and deeply committed scholar, teacher, family man and friend.

Dean, may we, your friends and students, carry on your unyielding commitment to all that is True.