Noted theologian and Fordham University Professor Rev. Avery Dulles, S.J., raised as a Presbyterian and at one time a self-professed agnostic, is appointed Cardinal-designate by his holiness Pope John Paul II today. The son of former U. S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, Avery Dulles is the first U.S. theologian named to the College of Cardinals. The consistory, a ceremony in which his creation as cardinal will occur, will be held on February 21 at the Vatican. “I consider this appointment important not only for me personally but, more importantly, for the Church,” says Dulles. “The Holy Father, always sensitive to the symbolic value of his actions, presumably wishes to convey a message. I take the message to be threefold: to emphasize the centrality of theology in the life of the Church; to encourage the Society of Jesus to pursue its theological mission; and to acknowledge the growing contribution of the North American scholarship.”
Father Dulles is currently the Laurence J. McGinley Professor of Religion and Society at Fordham University, a position he has held since 1988. Regarded as the preeminent American Catholic theologian, he is the recipient of numerous awards including Phi Beta Kappa, the National Catholic Book Award, the Religious Education Forum Award, and the Cardinal Spellman Award for distinguished achievement in theology. He has received 21 honorary doctorates and, at age 82, is an internationally-known author and lecturer, having written 21 books and more than 650 articles, essays and reviews. Many of these interpret and communicate the messages of Vatican II. “In selecting Father Avery Dulles, S.J., to be the first U.S. Catholic theologian to become a Cardinal, Pope John Paul II has recognized the extraordinary contribution that Father Dulles has made to the life of the Church as the preeminent Catholic theologian in this country for nearly four decades,” says the Rev.
Joseph A. O’Hare, S.J., president of Fordham University. “The Holy Father also reminds us of the important service that the Catholic theologian, in communion with the Church, provides to the people of God by expanding our understanding of the content of our faith. Faith seeking understanding defines the mission of the theologian, even as it has consistently defined the life of Avery Dulles, whose intellectual integrity, fairness of judgment and lucidity of style set a high standard for all theologians. His many colleagues and friends at Fordham University and, most especially his Jesuit brothers in the Fordham community and around the world, rejoice with him and for him at this recognition of his life and work.” Avery Dulles was born in Auburn, NY, on August 24, 1918, to John Foster Dulles, and his wife, Janet Pomeroy Avery. He attended primary school in New York City and secondary education at private schools in Switzerland and New England.
Raised a Protestant, he was a self-professed agnostic when he entered Harvard in 1936. “I considered it a proved fact that the sufficient cause of the whole universe was physical matter … this matter congregated into masses… from one such mass, our earth was cast off, and, by a further accident, life had emerged,” says Dulles in A Testimonial to Grace, his account of becoming a Catholic published in 1946 and again in 1996, now recognized as one of the great conversion memoirs. Dulles says that his conversion was a gradual, rational process, and one that began during his undergraduate study of medieval art, philosophy and theology.
Additionally, the study of the philosophy of Plato, reading of the New Testament, and conversations with his Catholic tutor ultimately lead to his conversion. In A Testimonial to Grace Dulles acknowledges that his venture into the Catholic Church appeared foolhardy to his father and most of his friends. Yet, he writes, “If the Kingdom is the pearl of great price, the treasure buried in the field, one should be prepared to give up everything else to acquire it.” After graduating from Harvard in 1940, he attended Harvard Law School for a year and a half before being called to duty as an intelligence officer by the U. S. Naval Reserve. In 1945 the French Government awarded him the Croix de Guerre for his liaison work with the French Navy during World War II.
Later in 1945, he contracted polio in Naples, Italy. When Dulles returned to the United States in 1946, he entered the Society of Jesus. And an unusual novice he was. A convert to Catholicism, ivy-league educated, and from a family with a long history in matters politic. Both his great-grandfather, John W. Foster, and his great-uncle, Robert Lansing, had served as U. S. Secretary of State. When Avery Dulles was ordained to the priesthood at Fordham University by Francis Cardinal Spellman in 1956, his father was serving as U.S. Secretary of State to Dwight D. Eisenhower. The ordination was reported on the front page of The New York Times.
Father Dulles has had a distinguished career ever since. His teaching career started as a philosophy professor at Fordham in 1951, where he was moderator of the freshman and sophomore sodality.
Dulles went on to serve on the faculty of Woodstock College and The Catholic University of America before returning to Fordham in 1988. He has held fifteen visiting professorships and numerous positions in theological organizations including the presidency of The Catholic Theological Society of America and the American Theological Society, which was founded by a group of Protestant theologians including his grandfather, Allen Macy Dulles, a distinguished Presbyterian theologian. Avery Dulles is presently a consultor to the Committee on Doctrine of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.