Regis A. Duffy, O.F.M.
died: January 4, 2006
On the death of academic scholars and teachers, an obituary will usually include a list of positions held, achievements and publications. That done, a friend might add a few words of a more personal nature, recalling the individual as a human person. In the case of Regis Duffy, who died on January 4, 2006 at St. Bonaventure Friary in upstate New York, the academic contribution fits with the life and the personality in such a way that it cannot be considered except as integral part of the whole life. Regis was a friar, a preacher, a pastorally minded teacher, a lover of music and art, a linguist, and an excellent cook who could make a wonderful meal from simple ingredients. Without this background, it is impossible to appreciate his contributions to sacramental and liturgical theology. Life’s journey and the journey of peoples were his points of reference and compassion towards the suffering a dominant concern.
A few of his books are singled out here for special comment. One of his early publications in book form was A Roman Catholic Theology of Pastoral Care. That both gave the setting for his interest in liturgy and provided an integration of sacrament and liturgy into life’s journey by taking the catechumenal journey as model for growth and commitment in faith. As the publisher’s blurb put it, this was a form of praxis theology and one that was ecumenical in character, rather than narrowly confessional. Pastoral care and compassion show through in all his academic work and it is not surprising that his last book publication was entitled Made in God’s Image: the Catholic Vision of Human Dignity. This was what his whole life and academic career had been about and one can well imagine how this vision sustained him in his own final years of suffering. In Real Presence Regis was concerned with the place of sacraments in the life cycle and in ongoing faith development and looked at each sacrament from this perspective. In this book, one sees his capacity for the interdisciplinary development of liturgical theology and in his appreciation of effective symbols one finds as undercurrents the interests of the lover of music and art, and the chef who knows how to treasure the things of earth. In An American Emmaus Regis brings these interests to bear on the American scene, keeping to the fore the issue of how within the history of North America and within its cultural story, sacraments served or could serve the participation of lives in the Paschal Mystery of Christ, spiritually, socially and indeed politically. He looks at the story of the Catholic Church in North America as a cultural journey for peoples negotiating cultural challenges and bringing to birth and fruition a Church that is embedded in this cultural and social experience. The paradigm of sacramental imagination looms large in this work, challenging the Church to integrate the traditions of Christian imagination with the imaginative constructs born of the singular reality of the American experience.
It was not only through his own books that Regis Duffy made his contribution. There are also his articles in reviews and his chapters in books edited by others. He was good at collaborative work and knew how to blend his interests with those of others, in cooperation with other liturgical scholars and with scholars of other disciplines. In some of his work one sees his interest in a communications model of human relations and community: this is applied directly to liturgical theology but it also fits liturgy into the wider of Church and society and it was operative in his work with others. Those of us who benefited from this sensitivity in working with him were blessed.
May his memory live on in his works and in those whose lives he touched academically and pastorally. May he now enjoy the ultimate communication, the divine perichoresis of the Blessed Trinity.
David N. Power, O.M.I.
Professor Emeritus, Catholic University of America