Today a funeral mass is being held in New York City for Father Richard John Neuhaus. Perhaps best known as the founder and editor-in-Chief of the journal First Things, Neuhaus was a prominent theologian, prolific writer, and ordained priest. Both in America and around the world, he exercised considerable influence on public discourse relating to faith and public life.

Neuhaus was a guest of The Heritage Foundation on several occasions, most recently at a 2007 event honoring the 30th anniversary of his book To Empower People: The Role of Mediating Structures in Public Policy. Written with Peter Berger, the book proposes the thesis that a healthy nation relies on the institutions of civil society—especially neighborhoods, families, churches, and voluntary associations—to mediate between individual citizens and the bureaucratic “megastructures” of big government, big labor, and big business. Such mediating institutions, they claimed, can serve as alternate mechanisms to provide welfare-state services, allowing the public to continue to respond to major social problems, yet without creating the sense of alienation characteristic of welfare bureaucracies. The intellectual framework sketched by Berger and Neuhaus shaped the landmark 1996 welfare reform as well as the creation in 2001 of the White House Office of Faith Based and Community Initiatives.

Neuhaus’ other books include The Naked Public Square: Religion and Democracy in America, Doing Well & Doing Good: The Challenge to the Christian Capitalist, and Death on a Friday Afternoon: Meditations on the Last Words of Jesus from the Cross. He is remembered by many for the breadth of his intellectual, theological and cultural interests, the depth of his passionate faith, and the energy with which he promoted issues such as religious freedom and the dignity of human life. Neuhaus, who was 72 years old, passed away on January 8th due to complications with cancer.