John Kavanaugh, S.J. (1941-2012)

America mourns the passing of our beloved colleague and friend, Fr. John Kavanaugh, S.J., who died yesterday in Saint Louis, MO following a long illness. Fr. Kavanaugh was a distinguished scholar, prolific author and dedicated Jesuit priest. He was a contributor to our pages for more than forty years and had been a regular America columnist since 1993. One of our most popular writers, America’s readers treasured his insightful analysis, his gentle wisdom and his Irish wit. He will be greatly missed. R.I.P.

UPDATE: Here are some of our favorite columns by Father Kavanaugh. We invite you to share your own below.


"Relish the Banquet," December 31, 2010

"A Personalist Lent," February 19, 2007

"Beyond Morality," April 17, 2006

"The Ocean of Life," January 31, 2005

"Last Words," January 21, 2002


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Marie Rehbein
6 years 5 months ago
Our loss, heaven's gain.
Eugene Palumbo
6 years 5 months ago
I met John Kavanaugh through the death of a mutual friend, Sister of Loretto Ann Manganaro.  I had heard her speak of him so often, and with such respect, when she, a doctor from St. Louis, was living here in El Salvador during the civil war, attending the civilian population in one of the worst conflict zones.   Shortly after the war ended, Ann learned she had cancer, and went home to St. Louis for treatment.  I went there to visit her, and while I was there I met John.  I still remember him preaching at her funeral mass.  The good news is that I’ve just found that homily, published in The Round Table, the magazine of Karen House, a Catholic Worker house in St. Louis. It’s here.

If you look at it, you’ll see some wonderful photos of Ann taken by her friend, Mev Puleo, whose collaboration with John on the book “Faces of Poverty, Faces of Christ” is mentioned in the comments above by Beth Cioffoletti and Chris and Lauri Pramuk.  Three years later, Mev died of cancer, and John preached at her funeral, too.  His homily is here:

Finally, for those who, like me, have wanted to read whatever we could find about John these days, here are the links for the obituary posted by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and another homily of his, published in the Malaysia Herald:
Eric Styles
6 years 5 months ago
In paradisum deducant te Angeli;
in tuo adventu suscipiant te martyres,
et perducant te in civitatem sanctam Ierusalem.
Chorus angelorum te suscipiat,
et cum Lazaro quondam paupere æternam habeas requiem.

I had the privilege of getting to know Father John Kavanaugh. John was a gentle and passionate man who used his intellect for the greater good of all. His regular contributions to America were always welcome, insightful and reassuring. He will be missed.
Rick Fueyo
6 years 5 months ago
So sad to read.  The passing of a moral giant, a great soul.  May he R.I.P until his reward.  his words were a challenge, but always powerful.  
Stanley Kopacz
6 years 5 months ago
Whenever I saw he had a column in America, I'd go straight to it.  I'm very sad to hear of his death, though I only met him through his words.
Bill Collier
6 years 5 months ago
So sorry to learn of Fr. Kavanaugh's passing. I also searched each issue for one of his trenchant essays. I'm jealous of those who had the benefit of his personal instruction. In addition to his many wonderful essays, his books "Following Christ In A Consumer Society" and "Who Count As Persons?" have had a lasting effect on me. May he rest in the peace of his Creator.A
Luke Hansen
6 years 5 months ago
One of John Kavanaugh's most significant contributions to public dialogue was his moral consistency. For example, he wasn't afraid to challenge the Democratic establishment on the issue of abortion. Moreover, he spoke the truth in a loving, reasonable and inviting way. In August 2008, he wrote to Barack Obama, a candidate for president, about the senator's ''abortion problem.'' In the column, Father Kavanaugh offered three suggestions for Obama:
1. Support the Rev. Jim Wallis’s “abortion-reduction agenda,” with its economic support for pregnant women and greater access to adoption as part of the Democratic platform.
2. If you are interested in diversity and mutual respect, give a place at the Democratic convention for Democrats for Life to show you are unafraid of difference and debate.
3. Engage the arguments and evidence offered in opposition to second- and third-trimester abortions.

Read more:
Matt Emerson
6 years 5 months ago
Truly a great man and great Jesuit.  It was Fr. Kavanaugh's bioethics class at Saint Louis University that first opened my mind to the huge and intersecting questions of law, ethics, and morality, and he later became a wise and generous guide to some of the thornier questions in Catholic theology. As brilliant as he was, he was never too abstract to ignore the real human lives that all our religious theorizing must serve.  It was an honor to know him, to study under him, and to learn from his deep and humble faith.  I am one of many SLU alums who will mourn his passing and celebrate his life.   
Beth Cioffoletti
6 years 5 months ago
In the early 1990s I traveled in Haiti with photographer (and SLU graduate) Mev Puleo.  Upon our return to the States, Mev sent me a copy of the book ''Faces of Poverty, Faces of Christ'' - essays by Fr. John Kavanaugh - which she had illustrated with her photographs.  This was my introduction to the essays of Fr. Kavanaugh, and from then on I knew that whenever I came across his writing, it would be well worth my while.  Like Stanley K., whenever I saw an essay in America, I went right to it.

I just found that old book from Mev on my shelf, and think I will spend some time tonight reading Kavanaugh's words and looking at Mev's photos.  RIP to both of them.
6 years 5 months ago
To echo Beth - Faces of Poverty was our introduction to Fr. Kavanaugh's work. Paired with Mev's photographs it was a kind of lectio divina unlike anything I've seen before or since. To this day, it is remains a ''go to'' book for me in the classroom - and in our prayer life as a family - calling us back to what is important. I met him once, and he was a gracious soul, quick to smile, but with a razor sharp intellect and prophetic sensitivity for the little and hidden ones, the least among us. I feel that one of our greatest lights in the American church has gone out.
Jim McCrea
6 years 5 months ago
He was (slightly) younger than I.  That's scary.


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