March 5, 2013
A Chance Encounter
Saying Hello and Good-bye to the Holy Father
The restaurant where Monsignor Irwin met then Cardinal Ratzinger in 2000.
I first met then Cardinal Ratzinger in 2000 in a Roman restaurant. His residence while serving as Prefect for the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was an apartment at the end of a street called the Borgo Pio near the Vatican. For years I have stayed at a family-run three-star hotel just off the Borgo. At the corner of the hotel street and the Borgo is a restaurant frequented by many Vatican officials called Da Roberto (a photograph of Cardinal Donald Wuerl hangs in the restaurant!).
One day at the lunch hour (1:30 in Rome) I went into Da Roberto to meet a priest friend. On the way to our table I walked past Cardinal Ratzinger who was with a bishop from Germany. I dared to introduce myself. His piercing eyes and gentle demeanor were vivid memories for me. He said he knew of our University and wished me well as a professor and mentor of doctoral students. He said how much he missed teaching. But, I replied, “You still teach by writing.” He chuckled and said, ‘Thank you for noticing!’ ”
Like many others, I have had a number of reactions to the Pope’s resignation. But, I want to offer one from the perspective of my vocation as a priest professor and former dean of the School of Theology and Religious Studies (STRS). About two and a half years into my time as dean, former distinguished professor (and now resident of Curley Hall), Rev. Gerard Sloyan was hospitalized. Late one morning I slipped over to Providence Hospital to visit him, unannounced. I entered the room, and he immediately smiled and thanked me for coming. After he spoke briefly about his condition and about when he planned to return home, he looked me directly in the eye and said, “So, how’s your job? I bet you thought it was about ideas!”
I paused and smiled and said to the former administrator, “Yes, I did and what I have learned on the job.” Being a dean is about ideas, but not only. It is about faculty nurturing, hiring, and tenuring with the consensus and support of faculty search committees and the Committee on Appointments and Promotions. It is about working closely with the heads of the academic areas that comprise STRS. It is about working even more closely with associate deans and meeting with them regularly.
|A family-run hotel in Rome, where Monsignor Irwin often stays.|
It is about staff development and regular staff meetings. It is about working toward national accreditation for the school and with the school as part of the Middle States accreditation. It is about serving on a committee for the University’s strategic plan. It is about serving ex officio on the Academic Senate and other University committees like the Graduate Board and the Grant in Aid Committee. It is about being on the Deans’ Council and Academic Leadership Group. And it is also about mentoring doctoral students and teaching a course when possible.
All this is to say that I judge Pope Benedict XVI to be an “idea guy” who wants to go back to ideas. I can sympathize very well with someone who loved being a university professor. While serving on the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he continued a steady stream of publications on a number of pertinent theological topics. He did that even while serving as Pope John Paul II’s right-hand man about theology and the sexual abuse crisis. As Pope, he continued with “the Jesus books” and his encyclicals, homilies, and talks. But, at the same time he was responsible for the governance of the entire Catholic Church. With that burden and responsibility alone, how can one sleep at night?
In one of my favorite chapters of the New Testament, (Rom 6: 12), St. Paul says that we all have “gifts that differ.” He fleshes this out a bit more when, in his first letter to the Corinthians, he speaks about the different spiritual gifts and yet the same Spirit who inspires us in them (vs. 4-12). Clearly one of Pope Benedict XVI’s gifts is theological scholarship and writing. His stated expressed desire in stepping down — to read, pray, and write — reflects the man I met 13 years ago at a Roman restaurant. It is that Pope I prayed with and for at his last Angelus greeting on Feb. 25.
Soon a new Pope, who will bring different gifts and talents to the papacy, will be elected. All because of the abiding gift of the Holy Spirit.