Theologian Avery Dulles remembered at Fordham event


On Sunday Sept. 25, Fordham hosted a day of events celebrating the 60th anniversary of Cardinal Avery Dulles’ arrival at the campus. Fordham University Press and the President’s Office took the opportunity to fete the college’s most famous personage in recent years and to collaborate in hosting a book launch and signing for “The Legacy of Avery Dulles, S.J.: His Words and His Witness,” a volume co-edited by Dulles’ long-time assistant Dominican Sister Anne-Marie Kirmse and his former doctoral student and Star Herald columnist Michael Canaris.

The Jesuit theologian died Dec. 12, 2008, in Murray-Weigel Hall at Fordham University. He was 90 years old.

The day began with a Mass of Thanksgiving celebrated by Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Archbishop Emeritus of Washington, D.C., and former archbishop of Newark. His reflections were quite personal, as young Ted had known then-Mr. Avery Dulles when he was teaching at Fordham as a Jesuit regent and moderating their sophomore Solidarity in the early 1950s. A long-lasting friendship developed.

Half a century later, in 2001, the two were to receive the red hat and be named princes of the church by John Paul II together on the same day. Neither could likely envision such a path when Cardinal McCarrick was planning the party and luncheon for Cardinal Dulles’ ordination all those decades ago.

A recurrent theme in Cardinal McCarrick’s comments was the humility of Cardinal Dulles, the unassuming thinker and professor whose writings and life have unquestionably shaped the church in the United States and beyond.

He commented on how one would never realize by his demeanor that the former Naval officer was the son of the Secretary of State and classmate of John F. Kennedy at Choate Prep and Harvard. (Cardinal McCarrick reflected such a virtue himself, downplaying the attention when Fordham President Father Joseph McShane welcomed him “home” not only to his beloved Fordham, but also from Iran where he was instrumental in negotiating the release of the hiker hostages from Iran just hours before.)

Cardinal McCarrick blessed a memorial to Cardinal Dulles which included his galero (the tassled hat which since the medieval period has represented the office of cardinal), his and Dulles’ coats of arms which adorn the sanctuary along with other ecclesiastical leaders that have been a part of Fordham’s history, copies of both the new volume and Cardinal Dulles’ earlier groundbreaking books, and a simple wooden plaque marking Cardinal Dulles’ time at Fordham, the bookends to his storied career, which appropriately rests on the base of a statue of St. Ignatius.

After the event, President McShane, Vice President of Mission Joseph Quinn, and Provost Stephen Freedman joined Cardinal Dulles’ successor to the McGinley Chair, Patrick Ryan, S.J., in hosting a cocktail hour and symposium where Kirmse and Canaris spoke of their experiences writing the book.

A number of Cardinal Dulles’ former students and colleagues from around the country, many of whom are distinguished scholars themselves now, gave brief presentations on his thought and his witness to the world in both his theology, and perhaps more profoundly, in his patient suffering and death.

Mute and paralyzed from post-polio syndrome, Cardinal Dulles continued to write through a series of nods, blinks and small motions which were interpreted by those closest to him and typed out a letter at a time. He published a number of books, articles, correspondences and advice to theological bodies, including the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the ecumenical group Evangelicals and Catholics Together, during this difficult time.

These and other stories, including a personal visit to Cardinal Dulles by Pope Benedict XVI when visiting the United States in 2008, were shared by those who knew him best. A dinner on Arthur Ave in the Bronx’s Little Italy followed.

Sister Kirmse and Canaris’ book is available through Fordham’s distribution relationship with Oxford University Press and on Amazon. It has recently received positive reviews from Leo O’Donovan, S.J., President Emeritus of Georgetown University, award-winning author and professor Patrick Carey of Marquette University, James Massa of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and First Things theological journal.