Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J.

The Church in New York, across the nation, and across the world has lost one of its most distinguished theologians. Avery Robert Dulles was born on August 24, 1918, the son of John Foster Dulles, who served as Secretary of State in the Eisenhower administration. In 1936, he enrolled in Harvard University as a self-declared agnostic but in his junior year experienced an extraordinary spiritual conversion that led him into the Catholic Church shortly thereafter.

Upon graduation from Harvard, the future Cardinal joined the United States Navy and, while serving in Naples, Italy, contracted poliomyelitis. He was treated in the Naval Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland, where he was told that he might never be able to write because of a paralysis that had attacked his arms, just as it had affected his shoulders and legs. The prognosis, however, proved to be unduly pessimistic; and in 1946 the former Naval Lieutenant entered the seminary to study to become a Jesuit priest. In 1956, he was ordained by Francis Cardinal Spellman in the Chapel of the Rosehill Campus of Fordham University.

After ordination, Father Dulles pursued post-graduate work in Theology first in Germany and then in Italy, where in 1960 he earned a doctorate in Sacred Theology from Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University.

The achievements of Father Dulles over the next almost 50 years are mind-boggling. He held professorships in Theology at Woodstock College, a Jesuit seminary in Washington, D.C.; at Catholic University of America, also in Washington, D.C.; and at Fordham University here in New York, where he was the Laurence J. McGinley Professor of Religion and Society from 1988 to 2008. During this period he was also a visiting professor in numerous seminaries and universities, authored 23 books and more than 800 articles, and served on several boards and committees of the Vatican, Jesuit institutions, and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Of particular interest to us in the Archdiocese is his dedicated service as a Professor of Theology from 2001 through 2007 in our Archdiocesan Seminary, St. Joseph’s in Yonkers, where he was not only a master teacher but also a wise counselor and a splendid example of priestly virtue and commitment.

On February 21, 2001, Father Dulles was named to the College of Cardinals by Pope John Paul II and thus became "The Cardinal Deacon of the Church of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary on the Via Lata" in Rome. It was my privilege to be one of his cardinalatial "classmates," as was Theodore Cardinal McCarrick, the Archbishop of Washington.

It was in Rome in the 1980s that I first came to know the then-Father Dulles. While at the time he had a limp that seemed on occasion to cause him pain, he never made any reference to it and walked through the streets of the Eternal City with remarkable energy and speed. Early in the 1990s, however, he began to experience difficulty in getting about and by 2001 was using a cane. Over the next seven years, the effects of the poliomyelitis that had afflicted him as a young man were manifesting themselves with ever greater intensity. Indeed, in his final months, they forced him into a wheelchair and deprived him of his power of speech. Nonetheless, when one visited him, he was bright, welcoming, and deeply interested in everything having to do with the Church he loved so dearly. Never will I forget the truly inspiring conversations I was honored to have with him at this time. Accordingly, it was with immense pleasure that we in the Archdiocese assisted in arranging a meeting between the Cardinal and Pope Benedict XVI on April 19, 2008, when the Holy Father was at St. Joseph’s Seminary for a rally with 36,000 young people. It was an unforgettable blessing for the entire seminary community

This morning, December 13, 2008, I received a faxed copy of a letter concerning Cardinal Dulles from the Vatican to the Papal Nuncio in Washington, Archbishop Pietro Sambi. In part, it reads: "The Holy Father again expressed his deepest sympathy at the loss of this faithful servant and requests that you communicate his desire that the funeral liturgy be celebrated in His Holiness’s name by His Eminence, Edward Cardinal Egan, Archbishop of New York."

There could be no assignment that I would more willingly accept.

Edward Cardinal Egan
Archbishop of New York