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Cardinal Avery Dulles, friend of NCC's Faith & Order,
dies affirming his faith and cautioning secular society

New York, December 16, 2008 -- The death December 12 of Cardinal Avery Dulles was a sad event for ecumenists related to the National Council of Churches USA, both because of the Cardinal's friendship with the NCC's Faith and Order Commission and because of his father's close relationship with the Council in its early years.

The late John Foster Dulles, a Presbyterian layman and Avery Dulles' father, was active in both the National and World Councils of Churches before he became Secretary of State in 1953. The elder Dulles chaired the Federal Council's "Just and Durable Peace Conference" at the outbreak of World War II in 1942.

Cardinal Avery Dulles became a Roman Catholic following a period of deep soul searching while a student at Harvard in 1941. He joined the Society of Jesus after his discharge from the Navy in 1946, and was ordained to the priesthood in 1956.

As the Laurence J. McGinley Professor of Religion and Society at Fordham University in New York, and as a visiting professor at more than a dozen colleges and seminaries around the world, Dulles had a profound impact on the education and spiritual development of thousands of students -- including Dr. Antonios Kireopoulos, the NCC's Senior Program Director for Faith & Order and Interfaith Relations, who earned his Ph.D. degree under Cardinal Dulles's tutelage at Fordham in 2003.

"Cardinal Dulles was first and foremost a great teacher of the faith," Kireopoulos said Monday, expressing his sadness at his professor's passing. "He imparted to me and his other students his wisdom, but what I learned most of all from him was the importance of precision when articulating theological positions. Words were never to be wasted or used superficially when discussing Christian belief."

Kireopoulos noted that Cardinal Dulles was a friend of the Faith and Order Commission of the National Council of Churches and in 2007 gave an address at Faith and Order's 50th anniversary conference in Oberlin, Ohio. Cardinal Dulles' address to the Oberlin conference challenged the ecumenical community with regard to the present and suggested a way forward. 

Cardinal Dulles, 90, was the oldest U.S. cardinal at the time of his death.  Funeral masses were slated for Tuesday, December 16 and Wednesday, December 17 at the Fordham University Church, and Thursday, December 18, at St. Patrick's Cathedral.

In recent years, Dulles' health had declined due to leftover effects of a youthful bout with polio. On Tuesday April 1, 2008, he gave his Farewell Address at Fordham. Dulles was unable to speak so the former President of Fordham University Father Joseph O'Hare, S.J. read the Cardinal's address.

"Suffering and diminishment are not the greatest evils but are normal ingredients of life, especially in old age," Dulles said at the time. "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."

On April 19, 2008, Pope Benedict XVI visited the ailing Cardinal Dulles during his visit to the United States.

Avery Dulles was widely acclaimed for his groundbreaking 1974 work Models of the Church -- one of 22 books published under his name -- in which he defined the church as institution, mystical communion, sacrament, herald, servant and community of disciples, and critiqued each.

"Many people learned from his writings over the decades," said Kireopoulos. "In his later years while some continued to embrace his teaching and others disagreed, all continued to respect the intellectual vigor with which he expressed his views."

Kireopoulos recalled visiting Cardinal Dulles just weeks ago in early October. "He could not speak due to his illness but his mind was as sharp as ever. It was difficult to see a man who had preached so brilliantly not being able to communicate verbally with those who came to see him in his last days." 

NCC News contact:  Philip E. Jenks, 212-870-2228,


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