Robert F. Drinan

Name Robert F. Drinan
Born November 15 1920
Died January 28 2007
Birth Location Boston, Massachusetts

Jesuit priest, legal scholar, human rights activist, and U.S. Congressman. Father Robert F. Drinan (1920–2007), a priest who was also a five-term Congressman from Massachusetts, was a member of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (CWRIC) and part of the majority that favored individual monetary reparations.

Born and raised in the Hyde Park area of Boston, Drinan graduated from Hyde Park High School in 1938, going on to Boston College where he graduated in 1942. He went to law school at Georgetown, graduating in 1950 and also becoming an ordained Jesuit priest in 1953. He joined the faculty of Boston College Law School in 1955 and became its dean in 1956. He became nationally known in the 1960s for his support of the Civil Rights Movement and his opposition to the Vietnam War. Urged to run for Congress by peace activists, he was elected in 1970 and was reelected four times. As a Congressman, he became a fierce critic of President Richard Nixon, even introducing a resolution to impeach him for the secret bombing of Cambodia. The staunchly liberal Drinan also angered some in his church by opposing school prayer and favoring abortion rights. In 1980, he was forced to choose between the priesthood and elected office by a papal decree and choose reluctantly to end his political career. He was succeeded in office by another liberal icon, Barney Frank.

Just after his exit from Congress, Drinan was appointed to the CWRIC as a selection of the House of Representatives. Drinan had been a co-sponsor of the legislation that formed the CWRIC as a congressman and had indicated that he was "sympathetic" on the issue at the time of his appointment. As the hearings went on, he became a strong supporter of reparations and was one of the three commission members who favored larger payments than what was ultimately agreed on. He expressed "astonishment" that Congress passed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 and gratification that the legislation has had an international impact in encouraging countries to atone for past misdeeds. Drinan was subsequently a member of the board of Civil Liberties Public Education Fund in the 1990s. [1]

After leaving Congress, he joined the faculty of Georgetown University Law Center, where he remained for the rest of his life, becoming an influential teacher and mentor. He remained active in organizations promoting international human rights and racial justice, traveled frequently, and published extensively in academic, religious, and popular media. Among his many awards is the 2004 American Bar Association Medal, as well as honorary degrees from twenty-two universities. He continued to work until his death on January 28, 2007.

Authored by Brian Niiya , Densho

For More Information

Drinan, Robert F. "Nations Must Do Penance for Their Sins." National Catholic Reporter , June 20, 1997, 20.

Feuerherd, Joe. "Robert Drinan, Jesuit Priest and Congressman, Dies at 86." National Catholic Reporter , Feb. 9, 2007, 5–6.

Katz, Sanford N. "In Memorium—Robert F. Drina, S.J., 1920—2007." Family Law Quarterly 40.4 (Winter 2007): iv–xiii. Academic Search Premier EBSCOhost .

Murray, Alice Yang. Historical Memories of the Japanese American Internment and the Struggle for Redress . Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2008.

Schroth, Raymond A. "Hyphenated Priest." Commonweal , April 23, 2010, 7–9.

___. Bob Drinan: The Controversial Life of the First Catholic Priest Elected to Congress . New York: Fordham University Press, 2010.

Wood, James E., Jr. "Editorial: Remembering Robert F. Drinan, S.J.: Ardent Voice for Social Justice and Human Rights." Journal of Church and State 49.2 (2007):185–90.


  1. Alice Yang Murray, Historical Memories of the Japanese American Internment and the Struggle for Redress (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2008), 349, 353; Robert F. Drinan, "Nations Must Do Penance for Their Sins." National Catholic Reporter , June 20, 1997, p. 20

Last updated June 29, 2015, 9:08 p.m..