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Paul Marx Papers

Identifier: MRX

Scope and Content

Fr. Marx's papers consist primarily of twenty years of correspondence between Marx and church officials; brother priests and men and women religious interested in HLI's pro-life activity; fellow Benedictines regarding Marx's work with HLI and business related to the order and to St. John's Abbey; HLC/HLI personnel and members of the HLI Board of Directors; the leaders of other pro-life groups including, notably, Judie Brown of the American Life League and Dr. Jack Willke of the National Right to Life Committee; speakers and contributors at HLI symposia; individuals involved in various controversies surrounding the organization during the 1980s; contacts Fr. Marx made during national and international speaking tours; HLI members and donors; hostile critics complaining about HLI techniques and aims, particularly the organization's mass mailings and visual propaganda; and persons requesting Masses celebrated by either Fr. Marx or an HLI-affiliated priest commissioned for this purpose.

A second large portion of the papers consists of reference files covering a multitude of issues that interested Fr. Marx as founder and director of both HLC and HLI. Although individual items pre-dating 1960 may be found in various parts of the collection (e.g., some of Marx's homily notes date from the late 1940s), the majority spans Marx's work with HLI, beginning with the events that led to his departure from the Human Life Center in 1979. Several of Marx's writings for the HLI newsletter and other publications appear in a subseries of writings and course materials along with a number of chronicles and diaries that Marx kept, mainly during his international travel on behalf of HLI.

The manuscripts in the collection reflect neither a systematic office structure within HLI nor a rigid filing system within Marx's office: no such system existed prior to the records' transfer to the University of Notre Dame Archives. The papers begin with Marx's correspondence, arranged according to the quite broad categories by which Marx himself kept them filed. While Marx maintained clearly marked files for correspondence with church officials, his fellow Benedictines, and international contacts (grouped primarily by nation), he also singled out other individuals with whom he presumably corresponded frequently enough in order to keep their letters in individual files. Aside from other correspondence relevant to particular "controversies" and the Mass requests of HLI supporters which Marx stored separately, the collection features thirty boxes of general correspondence. Some of the general correspondence overlaps with the categories mentioned above while the remainder consists of Marx's day-to-day business as the president and chairman, and after 1992 as the founder and advisor, of HLI. The chronological overlap in the reference files subseries that follow the correspondence reflect three distinct sets of files that cover the same general range of topics.

For reasons of preservation and efficiency, oversize items, memorabilia and graphic items (photographs and souvenir postcards) have been separated from the papers and each filed together. The memorabilia include bumper stickers, a rosary, a button and a stenographer's tape. The postcards are kept in small albums that presumably correspond to Fr. Marx's various trips abroad and have no writing or postmarks; the photographs include several images of Marx and document various HLI events without commentary.


  • Creation: 1947-2010


Language of Materials



Summary: Influential pro-life activist and writer; pioneering advocate of natural family planning (NFP); professor of sociology and department chair at St. John's University, Collegeville, Minnesota (1957-1965); founder and executive director of the Human Life Center at St. John's (1972-1981); founder, president, and chairman of Human Life International (HLI)(1981-1992).

Widely recognized as one of the most important and influential figures in the American pro-life movement, Father Paul Marx, O.S.B., built his career as a crusader in defense of human life first as a newly ordained Benedictine priest in 1947 and then as a professor of sociology teaching at the order's St. John's College in Minnesota during the 1960s and 1970s. One of the youngest of fourteen surviving children born to a Belgian mother and Bavarian father in St. Michael's, Minnesota, Marx entered the Benedictines in 1942 after finishing college. He did various studies at Berkeley, Harvard and American University and completed his Ph.D. at the Catholic University of America in 1957 with a dissertation on the life and work of fellow Benedictine and liturgical movement leader Virgil Michel. Marx chaired the sociology department at St. John's from 1957 to 1965 and began to focus his intellectual energy on reproductive issues during that time.

In 1971, after attending a conference entitled "Therapeutic Abortion: A Symposium on Implementation," held at the International Hotel in Los Angeles, Marx wrote THE DEATH PEDDLERS, a short book in which he charged government, business and the medical profession with a conspiracy to legalize contraception, abortion and forced sterilization programs throughout the country. Marx followed with three less well-known books, THE MERCY KILLERS (1973), DEATH WITHOUT DIGNITY (1975), and ABORTION INTERNATIONAL (1978). It was during this period, as the American legal and political climate shifted in anticipation of the United States Supreme Court's controversial 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, that Marx entered the activist fray. Marx's organizational leadership in the militant pro-life movement began at Collegeville when he founded the Human Life Center (HLC), an independent organization headquartered on the St. John's campus but administratively and financially separate from both the school and the order. After a series of disputes among HLC leadership as well as with the school administration regarding Marx's vision and methods, Marx secured leave from the abbey to reorganize in Washington, DC, where he founded Human Life International (HLI) in 1981. HLI moved headquarters twice: first to Gaithersburg, Maryland in the mid-1980s and then to Front Royal, Virginia in 1994. The Center remained at St. John's until the late 1980s when it moved to Steubenville, Ohio.

Encouraged by Pope John Paul II's 1979 intimation that Marx's efforts on behalf of unborn infants, and to a lesser extent, the disabled and elderly, had him doing "the most important work on earth," Marx led his organization to national prominence and oversaw the creation of HLI offices and affiliated organizations in dozens of countries around the world. As a recognized leader of the militant pro-life movement, Marx traveled constantly. He maintained correspondence with associates in each of these countries while building HLI as a resource for organized pro-life protest; as a center for the organization of symposia, seminars, and workshops on abortion and the promotion of NFP techniques; and as a lobbying springboard that kept its supporters informed of legislative and political developments on life issues.

Although conscious of and at times outspoken in promoting Catholic moral teaching on such issues as euthanasia, the AIDS crisis, homosexuality and women in the priesthood, Marx firmly maintained his focus upon fighting abortion and what he termed the "contraceptive mentality," the rapid disassociation of the pleasure of human sexuality from its inherently reproductive nature, which he and others argued actually increased the number of clinical abortions performed both domestically and abroad each year. Closely related to Marx's struggle against abortion were his efforts to promote NFP as a medically safe and statistically more effective method of pursuing healthy sexual relationships and parenting among married couples. Marx's high-profile career embroiled him in almost perpetual controversy. This persisted even after he retired from his position as president of HLI in 1992. He continued to travel, organize, speak, and teach as the founder of HLI and a member of its board of directors until his full retirement in 1999, when he was appointed Director Emeritus. At that time he returned to his community at St. John's Abbey.


100 linear feet of manuscript material. 2.5 linear feet of photographs. 0.5 linear inches of objects.


Paul Marx Papers
University of Notre Dame Archives
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Script of description
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Repository Details

Part of the University of Notre Dame Archives Repository

607 Hesburgh Library
Notre Dame Indiana 46556 United States
(574) 631-6448