Egan bids farewell to a cardinal classmate

And now I’m back from St. Patrick’s.

The funeral Mass for Cardinal Avery Dulles was quite touching. There were dozens of Jesuits, as you might expect, not to mention five American cardinals (not counting Cardinal Egan). Egan, who gave the homily, seemed to have real affection for “our beloved Avery Cardinal Dulles.”

Egan told Dulles’ always fascinating life story, in detail. “He was born into a well-to-do illustrious family,” Egan said. “He was reared in comfort and given the best in academic formation.”

But Dulles gave it all up, Egan said, despite the family troubles that his conversion to Catholicism caused: “The young convert accepted their hurt and moved on.”

The Rev. David S. Ciancimino, head of the New York Province for the Jesuits, spoke of how much Dulles appreciated his friendship with Egan. He spoke of regular phone calls that Egan made to the ailing theologian and of how Egan accompanied Dulles this past April — when Dulles could no longer speak or hardly move — to a Mass for Dulles’ 90 birthday at Fordham.

It was back in February of 2001 that Dulles, Egan and retired Washington Cardinal Theodore McCarrick all got their red hats in Rome.

Egan also mentioned something else that he shared with Dulles: polio. Dulles was suffering from post-polio syndrome and Egan has battled the effects in recent years, as well.

At the conclusion of the Mass, as Dulles’ casket was carried up the center aisle of the cathedral and out of its great doors, the assembly cheered the life of a man of faith and intellect. It was quite a scene as cardinals and bishops accompanied the casket to a waiting hearse on 5th Avenue. Hundreds of people stopped to watch on both sides of the street, although I got the feeling that many of them did not know who had died.

Dulles, who had a good sense of humor, might have laughed at the sight of shoppers and tourists craning their necks to see the casket of a bookish theologian.

He didn’t act like a prince

I’ve been pretty busy this afternoon writing an obituary for Cardinal Dulles.

I had a great conversation with Dr. Patrick Carey, the William J. Kelly, S.J., Chair in Catholic Theology at Marquette University, who has been working on a bio of Dulles.

He just finished his first draft.

Carey — a very nice fellow (that’s him) — had some extensive interviews with Dulles and has been reading through his voluminous papers for several summers. He last visited Dulles last summer, but the cardinal could only nod yes or no.

When Dulles gave his farewell lecture last April at Fordham (read by Fordham President Joe O’Hare), he said:

The good life does not have to be an easy one, as our Blessed Lord and the saints have taught us. Pope John Paul II in his later years used to say, “The Pope must suffer.” Suffering and diminishment are not the greatest of evils but are normal ingredients in life, especially in old age. They are to be expected as elements of a full human existence.

Well into my 90th year I have been able to work productively. 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!”

Carey told me that Dulles remained close with his large, extended family for his entire life. He would attend family gatherings each summer and talk for hours with his nieces and nephews.

He also told me that Dulles spent hours each day writing letters to people who contacted him. Dulles would write 3- and 4-page letters to people about all sorts of things, incorporating his theological positions. There are thousands of such letters.

A few years ago, Carey said, he interviewed Dulles in the morning and had dinner with him later that day. He dropped him off at about 9 p.m. Dulles was in his late 80s, but said he still had about two hours worth of correspondence to write.

He may have been a Prince of the Church since getting his red hat back in 2001. But Avery Dulles — who was born into American royalty and gave it up — never acted like a prince.

I’m looking forward to getting Carey’s book a bit down the road…

I understand, by the way, that Dulles’ funeral will be at St. Patrick’s Cathedral next week. But I don’t know that the day has been set. A few cardinals may have to make travel arrangements.

Cardinal Dulles’ farewell lecture

I mentioned last week that Cardinal Avery Dulles would give his final lecture this past Tuesday as the Laurence J. McGinley Professor of Religion and Society at Fordham.

Dulles, who is almost 90, is retiring at the end of the academic year.

tjndc5-5b5fg0cx1h3vp5buezi_layout1.jpgHe has been in very poor health in recent years, and some of his major speeches have been read by others. This was the case on Tuesday, when Dulles’ farewell address by read by Father Joe O’Hare, a former president of Fordham. Dulles sat nearby. (The picture is at St. Joseph’s Seminary in 2005, when he looked a bit better.)

Dulles’ words wrapped things up like this:

When in these lectures I affirm that Jesus sacrificed himself on the cross, or that he makes himself substantially present in the Eucharist, or that the gate to salvation is a narrow one, or that priestly ordination is reserved to men, or that capital punishment is sometimes warranted, in each case I am willingly adhering to the testimony of Scripture and perennial Catholic tradition.

Several times in the past year or two, I’ve heard rumors that Dulles might be gravely ill. The word has been spreading again the past few days, probably because Dulles did not give his lecture.

In his speech, Dulles wrote that a Polio infection from 1945 (while he was serving in the Navy) had left him unable to teach. I’ve heard that while Dulles has difficulty speaking and walking, he is still writing…

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.