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Consultor of the Pontifical Commission for Motion Pictures, Radio and Television; Executive Secreatry of the National Legion of Decency

Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters



On May 24, 1844, the art of human communication after centuries of effort finally broke through the space-time barrier with its first instantaneously recorded message. That message was sent from the Capitol in Washington to the city of Baltimore. The sender of the message was one of America's outstanding scientists. The message was brief: "What hath God wrought?" In those simple words Samuel F. B. Morse announced to a waiting world that the first telegraph line was a success. It was a happy omen that this first telegram was a tribute, not to the cleverness of man, but to the power and wisdom of god. It was indeed an act of adoration. Who will say that this message did not call down God's blessing on man's ceaseless efforts to communicate with his fellow men. Two decades passed, and the new world and the old were linked by the magic strands of the Atlantic cable. More decades came and went, and the human voice, and then the human eye, was able to span the thousands of miles that separated the continents of the globe. The whole world, it is said, has become a neighborhood, but is has not yet become a neighborhood of Samaritans. Radio, television, the cinema - not to speak of the airplane - have conquered the physical distances that in the past separated the members of the human family. However, there is another kind of distance that separates, not nations and continents, but the hearts and minds of men. Ignorance, misunderstanding, suspicion have created chasms of segregation between differing races, classes, and religions. Physical separation has yielded to the wizardry of science, but physical proximity does not of itself cement union of hearts and minds and wills. The arts of communication are among the choicest blessings bestowed on us by Almighty God. But, as with all gifts, the bounty of the Giver can be thwarted by the folly of the recipient. Radio, television, the cinema, and journalism are supremely adapted to achieve their God-given purpose of perfecting and uniting men intellectually, spiritually, socially, artistically. Used wisely, they lead men to share as brothers in the highest and best human values. Yet, these same arts, if prostituted to the service of Mammon, become channels of corruption, dishonesty, and anarchy. The Catholic Church, alert equally to the advantages and to the dangers of these magical arts, urges her sons and daughters to exploit to the fullest the contribution which these arts can make to the service of God and of humanity, and to guard most zealously against their degradation. Tonight the University of Detroit wishes to pay honor to four ever-growing groups of men and women who have dedicated themselves to the spreading of Christian truth through the use, the advancement, and the refinement of the communication arts. These four groups are eloquently represented at the commencement by four men whose brilliant work in their respective fields has not only attracted nationwide attention but has stimulated great numbers of admirers to emulate them in their glorious apostolate. [The four men honored are Monsignor Thomas H. Little, S.T.L, Rev. Louis A Gales, Monsignor John J. Dougherty, Most Reverend Fulton J. Sheen. The citation for each honoree is found alphabetically by his last name.] In ancient Greece and medieval Europe the art of theatre was born of man's preoccupation with religion, and religion is always preoccupied with the conflict between good and evil, between God and Satan. It unfortunately happens at times that in the theatre, as in life, Satan overplays his part and assumes the role of protagonist. This has been only too true of the cinema. The Church has never doubted the vast power of the cinema for good. And so when the motion picture industry became aware of the disaster which threatened on account of its excesses, and like a wayward child called for help, the Church gladly offered a code of morality which would restore its integrity. To insure the effectiveness of this code, the Church organized and has perpetuated what is known as the national Legion of Decency. It was founded in 1934 to define and popularize moral standards for the judgment and patronage of motion pictures. Though the Legion of Decency has not escaped hostile criticism for so-called liberal groups, it has been an effective guide both to producers and to conscientious patrons of the cinema. During the thirteen years in which Msgr. Thomas H. Little has been associated with the direction of this movement, he has been alert and tireless in performing his twofold duty of maintaining good public relations with producers and of keeping the general public informed of what is wholesome and profitable as well as what is objectionable in current films. Thanks to his constructive efforts, we can count on the Legion of Decency to preserve for this generation the important role which the art of the cinema plays in the cultural life of America. Reverend President, I present Very Reverend Monsignor Thomas H. Little, executive Secretary of the national Legion of Decency, for the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Humanities. Commencement, University of Detroit, June 16, 1960.

University of Detroit

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