The year was 1965, post Vatican II, and the siren song of ‘do-your-own-thing’ had infiltrated the Catholic Church. Many people, including members of religious orders, the Catholic media, and lay people who felt the Church couldn’t tell them what to do, worked against the Church teachings while still calling themselves Catholics. They taught in Catholic schools, spoke out from pulpits and at workshops with the same message of dissent.
Three Catholics decided to do something about it. Laurene and Stillwell Conner and Alphonse J. Matt Sr., editor and publisher of The Wanderer newspaper, conceived the idea for a foundation devoted to support true Catholic teaching and the religious and moral education of the Catholic laity according to the norms promulgated by Vatican II. To support this work, the Foundation would hold National Forums (most held in St. Paul, Minnesota) to provide educational and spiritual speakers for Catholics who were literally outcasts as many in the post-Vatican II Church, particularly in the United States, made a left turn. The National Forums were a place where orthodox Catholics could network with others who believed as they did in the Magisterium of the Church.
The first National Wanderer Forum was held in 1965, bringing together speakers to hold up the beacon of Catholic truth. From that success of the first National Wanderer Forum came over 35 years of annual gatherings featuring Cardinals such as Patrick O’Boyle and John Carberry in the early years, as well as many bishops and archbishops who spoke inspiringly about the Catholic faith. Hundreds attend the three-day conferences on topics which included:
- “I Came That You May Have Life”;
- “The Crisis of Belief and What Must Be Done”;
- “To Incorporate All Things in Christ”;
- “The Obedience of Faith.”
Because of overwhelming response to the Forums, the Foundation began publishing the texts of the talks from the National Forums in booklet form. Tape recordings were made of the speeches (first in reel-to-reel mode and later on cassettes) so people could hold fast to the uplifting words of so many true Catholic voices. In addition, and true to its mission of education, the Foundation made available copies of papal encyclicals for a nominal fee. Because Catholic bookstores did not stock these orthodox materials, the Wanderer Forum Foundation had to obtain copies from London.
Laurene Conner was a driving force behind the Wanderer Forum Foundation. As secretary she managed the annual forums, selecting topics and speakers to fit the yearly theme for the event: marriage, social teachings, priesthood, respect for life. She also managed the correspondence for the Foundation and discovered yet another need which had to be addressed. Many people would write to the Foundation asking for background information on ideas in vogue in church activities. Because of this, Laurene saw the need for a documentation publication against some of the subversive ideas in the church.
Teaming up with veteran journalist Frank Morriss in the mid-1980s, Laurene oversaw the Foundation’s quarterly publication (known variously as The Forum, Forum Quarterly, Forum Focus). Early issues proved insight on the Campaign for Human Development, religious communities and their political dabbling, the left-leaning bent of the bureaucracy at the U.S. Catholic Conference. Reviews were published of books such as McBrien’s Catholicism and Michael Warner’s expose of the derailment of true Catholic social teachings in the United States. Other topics included homosexuality and church teaching, feminism, New Age, RENEW, sustainable development, UN policy.
One issue of the Quarterly was Unholy Alliance concerning liberation theology, Jesuits, Communists, and their subversive activities in Latin America. Laurene and Morriss collaborated on this extensive study which included translated news articles by a Latin journalist about what was really going on. This issue is still available from the Foundation today and in fact has recently been sent to young Jesuits in El Salvador by a priest who had helped in the research. He reported the piece had a profound and positive influence in their thinking even today.
Yet another issue, “Turbulent Waves of Error” sought to correct the anti-Columbus bias in discussions about the discovery of theAmericas.
Research came to prominence in the late 1990s when Stephanie Block produced a volume entitled “Commentary on the Campaign for Human Development Prepared for the Catholic Bishops of America” which was mailed to every prelate in the United States. In this work, Mrs. Block outlined the many leftist organizations, whose activities were in opposition to Catholic teaching, who were receiving funds from this annual national collection for the poor. Mrs. Block followed up with articles on the Industrial Areas Foundation, Voice of the Faithful, and Call to Action, to name a few, giving direction to readers on the leftist bent of these organizations.
At the same time, while the National Forums continued, having been moved to Washington, D.C., people unable to attend because of travel costs began to request mini-forums in their local areas. Regional Forums continued for several years across the country in places such as Carmel, California, Seattle, Providence, upstate New York, and Milwaukee.
In 2003, the Wanderer Forum Foundation initiated a web site where several articles of past Forum Focus issues are still available. The Foundation also offered Focus on Faith Retreats. The latest effort of the Foundation was publication in 2007 of Saving Christian Marriage, based on the 1973 National Forum, “The Splendor of Christian Marriage.” That forum was sadly prophetic in its predictions of the priest shortage, rising divorce numbers, and rampant abortion. The remedies discussed at that forum are still applicable today.
In 2012, the Wanderer Forum Foundation changed its name to the Bellarmine Forum, placing ourselves under the patronage of the great Jesuit Cardinal, St. Robert Bellarmine. St. Robert was a champion of the natural law, the Faith, and a stanch defender of the papacy and thus is a natural fit for our efforts in our increasingly secular society. In 2012, the Bellarmine Forum Magazine debuted–a quarterly dedicated to strengthening the faith of Catholics and equipping them intellectually to take on the errors of our day.
For over 45 years, the Bellarmine Forum has continued its mission of educating Catholics about the true teachings of their faith. As long as this need exists, the work of the Bellarmine Forum will continue.