Skip to main content

Avery Cardinal Dulles

Avery Cardinal DullesAvery Cardinal Dulles, S.J.
Laurence J. McGinley S.J., Professor of Religion and Society,
Fordham University
First U.S. Theologian Named to the College of Cardinals
(Inducted in 2012)

Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J., the Laurence J. McGinley, S.J., Professor of Religion and Society at Fordham University from 1988 until his death in 2008, was the first American theologian who was not a bishop to be appointed to the College of Cardinals. His extraordinary story made headlines beginning with his 1956 ordination at Fordham: The son of a former U.S. secretary of state, Dulles was raised as a Presbyterian and converted to Catholicism while at Harvard Law School. But it was his unmatched and prolific volume of books, essays, and lectures examining Catholic thought, and how the church could honor dissent and still remain authentic, that is his greatest legacy.

“A man of prodigious intellect and great holiness, Cardinal Dulles devoted his entire life to the task of advancing the dialogue between faith and reason,” said Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of Fordham University.

As an undergraduate at Harvard, Dulles declared himself an agnostic. His affinity for the great philosophers and Catholic writers, combined with personal moments of revelation, led to his conversion to Catholicism during a brief stint at Harvard Law. In 1946, following service in the U.S. Navy, he entered the novitiate of the Society of Jesus in Poughkeepsie, New York.

Revered by colleagues and students for his work ethic, modesty, gentility, and sense of humor, Dulles taught philosophy at Fordham in 1951, leaving two years later to prepare for ordination. After earning a doctorate in sacred theology in Rome in 1960, he held professorships at the Jesuit seminary Woodstock College and at the Catholic University of America. In 1988, at age 70, he returned to Fordham to take up the McGinley Chair. He delivered 39 McGinley lectures on theological subjects that were sometimes controversial, including the death penalty, Pope John Paul II and human rights, and church reform. The cardinal referred to these years as the happiest and most satisfying of his life.

In February 2001, Dulles was elevated to the College of Cardinals by Pope John Paul II on the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Of this great honor, he said, “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.”

Dulles served as the president of both the Catholic Theological Society of America and the American Theological Society. He was one of the inaugural recipients of the Fordham Founder’s Award in 2002, and served on the University’s Board of Trustees from 1969 to 1972.