Cardinal Avery Dulles, U.S. Rep. James Oberstar to receive honorary degrees at UST commencement celebration

Cardinal Avery Dulles, who is regarded internationally as a premier Catholic scholar, teacher and theologian, and U.S. Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn., who is serving his 14th term in Congress, will receive honorary degrees at the University of St. Thomas’ spring commencement exercises on Saturday, May 18.

Dulles, 83, is the Laurence J. McGinley Professor of Religion and Society at Fordham University, a position he has held since 1988. Last year Pope John Paul II named Dulles as the first U.S. theologian to the College of Cardinals.

The son of former U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and his wife, Janet Pomeroy Avery, Avery Dulles was raised a Presbyterian and at one time was a self-professed agnostic. His account of his conversion to Catholicism, A Testimonial to Grace, published in 1946 and republished in 1996 on its 50th anniversary, is now recognized as one of the great conversion memoirs.

A 1940 graduate of Harvard College, 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 1942. He served in the Atlantic, Caribbean and Mediterranean areas and attained the rank of lieutenant. In 1945 the French government awarded him the Croix de Guerre for his liaison work with the French Navy during World War II. Later that year he contracted polio in Naples, Italy, and returned to the United States in 1946.

He joined the Society of Jesus as novice in 1946, was ordained to the priesthood in 1956 and received a doctorate in sacred theology in 1960. A prolific author, Dulles has more than 20 books to his credit, including Models of the Church (1974), Models of Revelation (1983), The Catholicity of the Church (1985), The Splendor of Faith: The Theological Vision of Pope John Paul II (1999) and his latest book, The New World of Faith (2000).

In addition to teaching at Fordham, Dulles has taught theology at Woodstock College in Maryland and at the Catholic University of America; he also has held numerous visiting appointments, including positions at Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, the University of Notre Dame, Yale University, Princeton Theological Seminary, and others. Since 1997 he has been a member of the editorial board of Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture, published at St. Thomas.

Dulles is a past president of the Catholic theological Society of America and the American Theological Society and has an impressive collection of awards, including 21 honorary doctorates.

Oberstar, 67, grew up in Chisholm, Minn. He was elected to Congress in 1974. He is a 1956 alumnus of St. Thomas, where he earned a B.A. in French and political science, summa cum laude, and in 1998 received the university’s Distinguished Alumnus Award.

After graduate studies in Belgium, at Laval University in Quebec and at Georgetown University, he taught in Haiti for three years, then returned to the United States to become an aide to his predecessor in Congress, Rep. John Blatnik.

Oberstar is the senior Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and a former chairman of subcommittees on aviation, investigations and oversight, and economic development. He has worked to improve airline safety and efficiency, has taken a leading role in improving railroad infrastructure and encouraging the development of high-speed rail systems, authored the Environmental Management Plan for the Upper Mississippi River and pressed for a stronger Clean Water Act in 1984. An avid bicyclist, he has received numerous honors for bicycle advocacy.

St. Thomas has two commencement ceremonies: ceremonies for 780 recipients of graduate degrees will begin at 9 a.m. Saturday, May 18, in Schoenecker Arena, and about 850 recipients of bachelor’s degrees will be honored in ceremonies scheduled at 2:30 p.m. in O’Shaughnessy Stadium. Oberstar will give the commencement address at both ceremonies and receive his honorary degree at the morning exercises.

Dulles will give the homily at the St. Thomas commencement Mass at 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 17, in the Cathedral of St. Paul. He will also deliver the invocation and receive his honorary degree at undergraduate ceremonies on Saturday afternoon, May 18.


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