Campus & Community

Head of Divinity School Hehir to retire

5 min read

Father J. Bryan Hehir to assume presidency of Catholic Charities USA

Father J. Bryan
Father J. Bryan Hehir

Harvard University announced yesterday (June 13) that the Rev. J. Bryan Hehir, professor in religion and society and chair of the Executive Committee of the Faculty of Divinity, will resign as head of Harvard Divinity School (HDS) at the end of 2001 to become president and CEO of Catholic Charities USA, a network of more than 1,400 social-service agencies across the country. Catholic Charities USA made a concurrent announcement yesterday at its headquarters in Alexandria, Va.

“Bryan Hehir’s appointment as president of Catholic Charities USA will continue and enlarge the work he has been engaged in as a teacher, minister, and administrator for many years,” said Harvard President Neil L. Rudenstine. “It will enable him to use all his many gifts, to their full extent, in order to serve literally millions of people who live in poverty and need across the United States.”

Hehir, an internationally renowned theologian who specializes in Catholic social teaching as well as international relations, came to Harvard in 1992 as a member of the Faculty of Divinity and a faculty associate of the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs. When he accepted leadership of the Divinity School – first on an interim basis in December 1998, then officially in August 1999 – he did so with the understanding that he would continue to fulfill his pastoral responsibilities at St. Paul’s Church in Cambridge and his obligations as counselor to Catholic Relief Services, which is based in Baltimore. In that demanding context, he has presided over a highly productive period for the School – leading the campaign to raise the money to expand and renovate Andover-Harvard Theological Library, an $11 million project scheduled to be completed in the fall; and overseeing the establishment of newly endowed professorships that will greatly enhance HDS’s work in Buddhist studies, Islamic studies, and religion and international conflict.

“This is a time in the history of our nation and of our world when institutions that study religion – and, of course, religious institutions – can play a vital part in serving the human family,” Hehir said this week. “I’m proud that Harvard Divinity School is poised to enter an enormously rich period of engagement in this regard. I will certainly continue to view myself as a participant in the School’s mission, though my specific ministry will now be elsewhere.”

“Thirty-five years of my life as a priest have been lived at the intersection of the Church’s teaching role and its social ministry in the public arena of American society,” Hehir added. “The responsibilities ahead of me grow directly out of my academic work in Catholic social ethics and in public policy analysis. Harvard University has been a superb academic setting in which to pursue the work of teaching and research on religion, ethics, and public policy. Catholic Charities is a uniquely challenging organization to continue these themes in the service of the Church and society.”

“Harvard will be more than sad to lose Father Hehir,” said Rudenstine. “He has been an exceptional leader for the Divinity School, strengthening the School as a human as well as an intellectual community. He has, in addition, been a wonderful University citizen, especially through his activities at the Center for International Affairs, the Kennedy School, and the Dean’s Advisory Group. Finally, he has been a valued colleague and friend to me during these past few years. I would like – on behalf of Harvard, as well as myself – to congratulate him on his new appointment, to say how much he will be missed, and to wish him all good fortune as president of Catholic Charities.”

Catholic Charities USA, which was founded in 1910 as the National Conference of Catholic Charities, provides leadership, technical assistance, management training, and resource development to local agencies that employ more than 300,000 staff members and volunteers. The Catholic Charities agencies offer a wide range of services – including emergency food and shelter assistance, drug-abuse counseling, job training, and care for the elderly – directly to people in need, with an emphasis on developing self-sufficiency. The headquarters in Alexandria also focuses on legislative advocacy and policy analysis in the areas of welfare, affordable housing, and child and health care.

Before coming to Harvard, Hehir had been the Joseph P. Kennedy Professor of Christian Ethics at Georgetown University’s Kennedy Institute of Ethics. He is the recipient of numerous honors, including a MacArthur Fellowship and honorary degrees from more than 25 institutions. In 1983, he played a key role in drafting the influential Catholic Bishops’ Statement on Nuclear Weapons. He holds B.A. and M.A. degrees from St. John’s Seminary in Boston and a Th.D. from Harvard Divinity School.

Hehir, 60, will be officially designated as the successor to the Rev. Fred Kammer, SJ, at Catholic Charities USA’s annual conference in September, and will assume his full-time duties at Catholic Charities USA on Jan. 1, 2002. Details about the search for a new dean of Harvard Divinity School, and about an interim period of leadership transition, will be forthcoming after the arrival of the new Harvard president, Lawrence H. Summers, in July.