In his position at the Conference, Higgins became known by many as the “Dean of Catholic Social Action.” He began as the Conference’s “labor man,” the one the bishops went to for guidance and leadership in matters related to labor. When McGowan died in 1962, Higgins was appointed chair. He used the position to advance not only labor-related justice from the Catholic perspective, but economic justice generally, as well as civil rights and interfaith relations.
In 1945, he took over the writing The Yardstick from Fr. Raymond McGowan. The Yardstick, a weekly commentary on economic, labor, and social problems, was syndicated to the Catholic press by the National Catholic Welfare Conference News Service, now known as the Catholic News Service. In 1984 the Catholic Press Association gave him its St. Francis de Sales Award for his journalism. In 1992, after writing the column weekly for 47 years, he modestly reduced the column to every other week. Higgins announced his retirement from The Yardstick in the September 2, 2001, Labor Day column, after 56 years.
Outside the NCWC, Higgins took part in numerous activities to promote Catholic social thought. He was elevated to Papal Chamberlain with the title of Monsignor in 1953, and was named a Domestic Prelate in 1959. Upon the advent of the Vatican II Council, Higgins used his experience and knowledge for the Preparatory Commission on the Lay Apostolate and as a Consultant to the Council. He attended all four sessions of the council, 1962-1965. He was on the drafting commission for its document on the laity, the first U.S. priest to receive such an appointment.
 Costello, Without Fear or Favor, chapter 3.