Page 5, 16th February 2001

16th February 2001
Page 5
Page 5, 16th February 2001 — The kindly giant

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Locations: Washington


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The kindly giant

Fr Michael Seed remembers Avery Dulles as being more than a major theologian My first encounter with Fr Dulles was as a student some 20 years ago at the Catholic University of America in Washington; it induced in me a combination of great awe and sleep.

Awe, that is with the author of Models of the Church and The Survival of Dogma, epic books from the 70's, pointing to a "new" direction in theological thinking. Sleep, in that I had the misfortune to take Dr Dulles in the midafternoon, finding it very difficult to keep awake after several lectures in the morning in the Washington heat.

We students would rush to find seats behind very large columns. As I was always a little late and the columns were taken. I would have to suffer in full view of the great doctor.

Because Dr Dulles would hand out wonderful notes to us before every lecture, one could, if semi awake, study the wonderful ties Dr Dulles would wear (it was the tradition at that time for ties to be worn by the majority of the faculty).

My first personal meeting with Fr Dulles was when I was having problems in study. I had never taken a written exam before, my exams had always been spoken (I had never since childhood been able to write things down in exams).

My first exam with Fr Dulles produced a blank sheet of paper. He asked to see me and I told him my problem, he was most kind and then gave me spoken exams: he sadly had the problem of telling me to stop talking!

However, he went further and with his faculty colleague, Fr Charles Curran (who taught me Moral Theology) they sent me off to be analysed to find the reasons for my inability to do written exams, so that 1 would be safe in facing 4 more years of other members of the faculty who might not be so helpful and understanding.

After being analysed for an afternoon my claim was found to be justified. One lecturer had said that I could never be ordained for not doing written exams and that I should become a religious brother (as I was a Franciscan) I told the said lecturer that that was an insult to the religious life! I survived thanks to my special "certificate" helped by Fr Dulles and Fr Cumin.

I am so happy at Fr Dulles becoming a Cardinal. Fr Dulles is a man that has in his personal and public life perhaps examined every model of the Church.

He was brought to faith by a Fr Feeney who was given to preaching in the open air at that time. The young Avery was from a strong Presbyterian family but deeply moved by the preaching of Fr Feeney. Fr Feeney was condemned by the Church as a heretic as he had a rather exclusive view, to put it mildly, of salvation.

For the son of then US Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles (a "Father" of the United Nations), of the great Dulles family, to become a Catholic and a Jesuit priest was itself an amazing thing in American society.

Fr Dulles is one of the most loyal and solid theologians of the Second Vatican Council. He was quick to remember that there is nothing new under the sun, and he brings out in his writing and teaching "things old and new" and teaches us, to quote him, that "what is new in Christianity always grows out of the past and has its roots in Scripture and tradition".

Fr Dulles, Ad multos annos, from a sleepy student!

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