George Tavard, AA
died: August 17, 2007
On August 13, 2007, George Tavard died of a heart attack at Charles De Gaulle Airport in Paris while preparing to return to the United States after a short visit to family and friends in France.
He was born in Nancy, France, in 1922. As a young man he entered the religious community known as the Augustinians of the Assumption. Ordained in 1947, he then pursued doctoral studies at the Facultés théologiques de Lyon. Coming to the United States as a permanent resident in 1952, he lived first in a parish in New York City as a theologian in residence and pastoral assistant. Shortly after becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1960, he accepted a six-year position as professor of theology at Mount Mercy College in Pittsburgh, which coincided with his participation as a peritus in Rome at the Second Vatican Council. At the council he drew upon his expertise especially as an ecumenist and dialogue partner with the Jewish community. Following that experience he taught for 20 years at the Methodist Theological School in Delaware, Ohio. After his retirement from that divinity school, he held for two years the Presidential Chair of Theology at Marquette University, Milwaukee (where he subsequently donated his rich personal archives to its John Raynor Library). He served for many years on two international ecumenical consultations: the Roman Catholic/World Methodist Council, and the Anglican/Roman Catholic Consultation (ARCIC-I). In the United States he also served on the Lutheran/Roman Catholic Theological Dialogue from 1965 to 1982.
Author of some 55 books and numerous articles, his first publication in Paris in 1952 was entitled appropriately L’angoisse de l’unité. Two years later he published A la rencontre du Protestantisme which was subsequently translated as The Catholic Approach to Protestantism. He was a major figure in the discussions about the relationship between Scripture and tradition described in his Holy Writ or Holy Church (1959). His Two Centuries of Ecumenism (1960) is a standard work on dialogue. There followed Paul Tillich and the Christian Message (1962), The Quest for Catholicity: A Study in Anglicanism (1964), and his much heralded Woman in Christian Tradition (1973).
In the year 2003, when George was serving at the helm of the American Theological Society, he delivered his presidential address on the theme of the mystery of God’s Providence (subsequently published in Theological Studies vol. 64 (2003). In the course of that address he cited a 17th century ecclesiastic from Normandy, Henri-Marie Boudon (1624-1702), whom he identified as “my second cousin five times removed.” The gift of theological insight was clearly embedded in his genes.
[Obituary prepared by Michael A. Fahey, S.J., at Boston College]