Cardinal Avery Dulles: humble servant to the end


When Pope Benedict XVI made his first pastoral visit to the United States last April, churchmen, politicians, and the lay faithful were all desperate to see and meet the Holy Father.

But during his three days in New York, there was one person the pontiff himself was especially interested in spending some time with: Cardinal Avery Dulles. At the explicit request of Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Dulles was brought to St. Joseph's Seminary, Dunwoodie for a special private audience with the Holy Father prior to his appearance at a gathering of 30,000 youth on the grounds of the seminary. It would be the final encounter between the two longtime friends and two of the world’s leading theologians. For last Friday at the age of 90, the Jesuit theologian and cardinal, Avery Dulles, died at Fordham University in New York.

In his telegram of condolence, Pope Benedict offered immense gratitude for the “deep learning, serene judgment and unfailing love of the Lord and His Church which marked his entire priestly ministry and long years of teaching and theological research.” The son of U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, he was raised a Presbyterian but converted to Catholicism while a student at Harvard University. Dulles soon entered the Society of Jesus and was ordained a priest in 1956 and was elevated to the College of Cardinals in 2001. The Times of London described him as “one of the greatest thinkers in the modern Roman Catholic Church and perhaps its most distinguished representative in the United States.”

A brilliant academician, a devout priest and a committed Jesuit, Father Avery Dulles spent the majority of his life dedicated to the sacred discipline of theology. His teaching and writing contributed greatly to the vitality of Catholic intellectual life and left a lasting legacy to the Church like no other American theologian. He was a Jesuit for 62 years, an author of 23 books and more than 800 articles.

Yet throughout his brilliant career Avery Dulles viewed himself simply as a humble servant of the Lord. In his final lecture at Fordham titled: “A Life in Theology,” which was read for him, he said: “Suffering and diminishment are not the greatest of evils, but are normal ingredients in life, especially in old age. They are to be accepted as elements of a full human existence. As I become increasingly paralyzed and unable to speak, I can identify with the many paralytics and mute persons in the Gospels, grateful for the loving and skillful care I receive and for the hope of everlasting life in Christ. If the Lord now calls me to a period of weakness, I know well that his power can be made perfect in infirmity. Blessed be the name of the Lord!”

May the noble soul of Cardinal Avery Dulles, Jesuit priest, theologian and servant of God, rest in peace.