A ‘model theologian’ prepares to step aside

Cardinal Avery Dulles has this to say about being made a cardinal in St. Peter’s Square in 2001:

I enjoyed it, but that’s not really what counts. I prefer to spend my time reading, thinking, writing, teaching. I’m not particularly made for ceremonies.

tjndc5-5b5eubsc5×1qd2q5ezi_layout.jpgDulles is profiled in the current issue of the Fordham alumni magazine. Dulles, who will turn 90 in August, is retiring at the end of the academic year as the Laurence J. McGinley Professor of Religion and Society at Fordham.

He will deliver his 39th and final McGinley lecture at Fordham’s Bronx campus on Tuesday. It is billed as his farewell address.

His story is legendary among people who follow these things. The son of John Foster Dulles, secretary of state under Eisenhower and a prominent Presbyterian, Avery Dulles made quite a splash when he converted to Catholicism and was ordained a priest in 1956.

Dulles has written 25 books and published hundreds of articles. He is considered one of Catholicism’s keenest American minds. He is often described as having taken the usual journey from moderation to conservativism, but it’s more complicated than that, of course.

He has said that it is the theologian’s job to “show why the church is teaching what she is.”

I’ve had the opportunity to interview Dulles twice. He was gracious, humble and chose his words carefully. I don’t think he’s too smitten with the secular media.

I asked him in 2001, weeks before he was made a cardinal, why theology should matter to Catholics in the pews. He answered:

When one believes, you should want to know more about what and why. What are the implications of belief? If you understand marriage as a sacrament, for instance, like the marriage between Christ and the church, you may have a better marriage than those who do not. Theology has real relevance.

He told me in 2005 that he had no plans to write a memoir. That’s too bad.

Gary Stern

Gary Stern covered education in the Lower Hudson Valley for several years during the early 1990s. Now's he back on the beat. He believes that schools are one of the main reasons that people live around here and that educational issues -- from curriculum to financing -- are among the most challenging things that journalists can write about. He continues to be amazed by the complexity of educational jargon. Gary got his B.A. at SUNY Buffalo and his M.A. from the University of Missouri Journalism School (where his master's thesis was about the best ways to cover education). He lives in White Plains with his wife and two sons, who attend public schools.