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Avery Cardinal Dulles & Fr. Richard John Neuhaus: In Memoriam

Within a span of 30 days, the U.S. Catholic Church lost two of her most prominent and respected thinkers. On December 12, 2008, Avery Cardinal Dulles passed away at the age of 90 from complications arising from post-polio syndrome. On January 8, 2009, Fr. Richard John Neuhaus passed away at the age of 72 after struggling with cancer. The loss of these two Catholic intellectuals has left a gaping hole in the fabric of American religious thought.

Both men were converts to the Catholic faith from Protestantism: Avery Dulles from Presbyterianism, Richard John Neuhaus from Lutheranism. Both were Catholic priests; Dulles being raised to the cardinalate in 2001 by Pope John Paul II — he was the first American theologian to receive the red hat without having been ordained a bishop. Avery Dulles graced our masthead as a Contributing Editor of the NOR from 1990 to 2001. (He asked that his name be removed upon his incardination.)

Avery’s story is uniquely American. Indeed, it wouldn’t be a stretch to call him a son of the American establishment. A native of Auburn, New York, he was born in 1918, the second son of John Foster Dulles, Secretary of State under President Eisenhower. Avery’s uncle, Allen Welsh Dulles, was director of the Central Intelligence Agency during the Eisenhower years. His aunt, Eleanor Dulles, was a State Department officer for nearly 20 years. Robert Lansing, Avery’s great-uncle, was Woodrow Wil­son’s Secretary of State. His great-grandfather, John Watson Foster, filled the same post for Benjamin Harrison.

Avery’s lineage was strongly Protestant. His grandfather, Allen Macy Dulles, was a Presbyterian pastor and co-founder of the American Theological Society. His father, named Time magazine’s “Man of the Year” in 1954, once chaired a commission to the Federal Council of Churches, the predecessor of the National Council of Churches. So it was no small moment when the young Avery Dulles announced his conversion to Catholicism to his family in 1940, his first year at Harvard Law School.

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