Fr. John Kavanaugh remembered by colleague, friend


John F. Kavanaugh, S.J. was a Jesuit in every sense of the word and he was it to perfection. John was first and foremost a member of this elite society of visionaries, missionaries, scholars, teachers and martyrs. He embodied in his life and in his scholarly, teaching, preaching and publishing activities all the marks of a true and committed Jesuit.

First and foremost, John was a Catholic priest. He was raised in the 50s and was committed to the deeply held orthodox faith and theology that was evident in the 50s and crystallized in the 60s.  John never wavered from his faith. He believed in every tenet of the Catholic faith and he did so with depth, power and courage. He never let the theological and/or philosophical trends of the time sway him away from his deepest held beliefs. But, John was also a vanguard thinker so much evident among the great Jesuits of our times and times before. He not only believed in the Gospel of Christ, he believed in the suffering Body of Christ, all those marginalized and poor people of the world … he believed in their sacredness and sought to serve them with all the gifts he possessed. John was as committed to the poor as he was to Christ Himself and, hence, he focused all his enormous intellectual gifts and energies in translating his orthodox faith in Christ Incarnate into his service to the poor. John did this principally through writing, teaching and preaching. But he did these things with passion and courage, often taking on the received attitudes and positions within and outside of the Church. This was especially true of his essays in ethics found in American Magazine. John sought to make a difference on behalf of the suffering Christ in the world … and he did.

In his teaching, John was always what he taught. There was no hiatus between the content of what he taught and what he believed and argued for. He was, as I just said, what he taught. This was as true for John in his writing as in his teaching. Last year, at the American Catholic Philosophical Meeting in St. Louis, there was a panel discussion on medical ethics, principally, as I recall, on the issues of death and dying.  There were a number of panelists, all learned in the field. Most speakers presented their arguments; John presented what he thought. In the dynamics of the session, it was interesting to note that no one chose to challenge or argue with John. Rather they sought only to hear what John thought about a particular issue. John was the master, the rest were learners. John was asked what he thought because what he thought had the authority of integrity and truth. John was the supreme master teacher. He taught what he knew and what he knew was what he was. John was special in that session and everyone knew they were in the presence of someone special.

John was a Jesuit, orthodox in faith, bold and courageous in the pursuit of truth and justice in the world, especially the world of the suffering Christ. John was a teacher beyond the classroom … beyond the subject matter; he was himself the subject of the course. John was indeed special.

Finally, John in life and in death was and will remain the soul of Saint Louis University, especially the Philosophy Department. He was a legendary teacher of immense impact on the lives of his students. He now joins the ranks of the true legends of Saint Louis University. I am honored and grateful for his friendship and companionship the past 23 years. He was a true Jesuit and I am so honored to have served with him in the service of the Church and of humanity.