Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Avery at 90

His body ravaged by the post-polio syndrome that's left him unable to communicate, but with his mind still said to be sharp as ever, the Fordham Jesuit community hosted an intimate 90th birthday celebration last week for its own Cardinal Avery Dulles.

Confined to his wheelchair, the famed convert -- whose 28th book rolled out earlier this year, with another (on evangelization) said to be on the way -- even got an assist from his classmate at the consistory of 2001 as New York's Cardinal Edward Egan moved onlookers by rolling Dulles to his place for a special Mass, staying at the Jesuit's side in house cassock as opposed to vesting for the altar. At a subsequent reception, the Gotham prelate -- ever more a "Big Daddy"-figure to the New York Jesuits -- led a toast to his Bronx-based confrere before cutting the birthday cake in his stead.

Visited by Pope Benedict a month before his farewell address had to be delivered for him while he looked on, the condition of the only American priest directly elevated to the college of cardinals has declined significantly over recent weeks. So cerebral that he once put his laundry in a dishwasher, a friend said that "even now, you can still see the mind just working away" in his room at Fordham's Jesuit infirmary, where his longtime circle of confreres, friends, students and admirers -- led by his top aide of 20 years, Dominican Sr Anne-Marie Kirmse -- still keep him close company and appraised of everything.

A Navy man in World War II who invariably outpaced much younger company into his late 80s, Dulles traveled extensively -- often by himself -- until last year, when his collaborators finally prevailed on him to decline any further invitations. Now in his twilight, the following passage from his memoir is made all the more poignant:
"Although I cannot rival the generous dedication of St. Paul and Ignatius of Loyola, I am, like them, content to be employed in the service of Christ and the Gospel, whether in sickness or health, in good repute or ill.

"I am immesurably grateful for the years in which the Lord has permitted me to serve him in a society that bears as its motto: Ad maiorem Dei gloriam.

"I trust that his grace will not fail me, and that I will not fail his grace, in the years to come."
PHOTO: The City and the World(1)