Andrew M. Greeley

"I'm a priest, pure and simple.... The other things I do — sociological research, my newspaper columns, the novels I write — are just my way of being a priest. I decided I wanted to be one when I was a kid growing up on the West Side. I've never wavered or wanted to be anything but."

Andrew Greeley
Chicago Tribune, 1992




Andrew M. Greeley was born on February 5, 1928 in Oak Park, Illinois. His large Irish Catholic family lived in the Austin neighborhood of Chicago during the Great Depression, and Greeley attended nearby St. Angela Elementary School. At St. Angela's, he decided he wanted to be a priest by the second grade. Greeley then studied at Archbishop Quigley Preparatory Seminary in Chicago prior to receiving his AB degree, a Bachelor of Sacred Theology (STB), and a Licentiate of Sacred Theology (STL) from St. Mary of the Lake Seminary. He was ordained as a priest for the Archdiocese of Chicago in 1954.

Greeley was assigned as an assistant pastor to Christ the King parish in the Beverly neighborhood. While continuing his work as an assistant pastor, he received permission to study sociology at the University of Chicago. In 1962, Greeley received his Ph.D. and became senior study director at the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago. In addition to leading survey research, he also taught sociology at the University of Chicago, University of Illinois at Chicago, and the University of Arizona.  Fr. Greeley was released from diocesan duties to pursue his academic interests in 1965, and he remained a priest in good standing.

Greeley’s early work at the NORC disproved the widespread belief that Catholics had low college attendance rates. Greeley attributed the high rates of college graduation and advanced degree attainment among Catholics to the quality education that they had received in parochial schools. According to Michael Hout, a UC Berkeley sociology professor, the superiority of Catholic school education "is so widely accepted now that it is hard to grasp how new and controversial that idea was then." He said Greeley's early books on Catholic education, such as "The Social Effects of Catholic Education" (1961) and "The Education of Catholic Americans" (1966), were "path-breaking in their scope and stereotype-breaking in their findings."

Greeley led the influential High School and Beyond study from 1980-1992. From the longitudinal data, his team produced books and articles describing the effectiveness of Catholic schools. In particular, Greeley and his colleagues found that Catholic schools had the strongest positive effect on the most disadvantaged students: those from lower SES and minority backgrounds, those with low test scores, and those with disciplinary problems. They found that Catholic high schools offer greater academic support, more personalized attention, and increased community support, leading to significant achievement differences for students. In their seminal work, "Catholic Schools and the Common Good," Anthony Bryk, Valerie Lee, and Peter Holland independently verified the Catholic School advantages identified by Greeley and his colleagues.

Greeley authored over 100 works of non-fiction and at least 50 best-selling novels. He was awarded honorary degrees from the University of Arizona, Bard College (New York State) and the National University of Ireland, Galway. He received the prestigious F. Sadlier Dinger Award. The award, established by the William H. Sadlier, Inc. publishing firm in 1980, recognizes outstanding people in the field of Catholic education.