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Recalling Father Lawler
Msgr. David Q. Liptak
The Great Life is the title of a recently published Festschrift in honor of the outstanding American theologian, Father Ronald Lawler, O.F.M. Cap., who died in 2003. (Edited by M. Aquilina and K. Ogorek; Steubenville, Emmaus Road Publishing, 2005) The Foreword is written by the new Ordinary of Washington, D.C., Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl, a personal friend of Father Lawler and a collaborator with him on the very popular and doctrinally superb Catechism for Adults, The Teaching of Christ (4th ed. OSV, 1995), still used alongside the official Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Among the contributors to the Festschrift are Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley and Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput (both studied theology under Father Lawler). Both are extraordinary theologians as well as respected writers. Another contributor is Professor William E. May of the Pope John Paul II Center on Studies in Marriage and family, an internationally acclaimed moral theologian and bioethicist. Father Augustine DiNoia, O.P., currently with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome, Professor Scott Hahn of the Franciscan University of Steubenville, Princeton University’s Robert P. George, Australian physicians Evelyn and John Billings, (known for their contributions to natural family planning), Father Thomas Weinandy, O.F.M. Cap., writer Russell Shaw, as well as several other scholars, authors and academicians, regarded as defenders of the Gospel Truth, contributed articles.
Father Lawler’s reputation in Connecticut resulted largely from his two terms as Rector/President of Holy Apostles Seminary in Cromwell, beginning in 1988. It was there that I worked with him – under his guidance, I should say. Philosopher Father Francis J. Lescoe, formerly Rector/President of Holy Apostles, recruited Father Lawler, while he was Director of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Catholic Doctrine at St. John’s University in Queens, N.Y. Earlier, in 1982, he had been appointed to the Pontifical Roman Theological Academy (for several years the only member from the United States). Following his first term at Holy Apostles, he moved on to the Pope John XXIII Center for Bioethical Research, then in Braintree, Mass., currently the National Bioethics Center, located in Philadelphia.
Besides working on the Catechism for Adults, Father Lawler co-authored, with Dr. May and Joseph Boyle, Catholic Sexual Ethics, which Archbishop Wuerl rightly labels as “the definitive introductory text in its field.” (It really is the best textbook available, one which I have used in theology class for several years.)
I was privileged to have co-edited, with Father Francis Lescoe, another of Father Lawler’s works, one of the two chapters in Perspectives in Bioethics Vol. I, (Holy Apostles Seminary, 1983). And I was also graced by Father Lawler’s providing the Introduction to a book I co-authored with physician Leo T. Duffy on the ethics of technological reproduction, The Gift of Life (Liturgical Publications, 1988).
Father Lescoe placed great emphasis on Karol Wojtyla and Lublin Personalism. Father Lawler’s emphasis was the same, as witness his The Christian Personalism of John Paul II (1981).
Among the most memorable events which I experienced with Father Lawler was the Second International Congress in Moral Theology, in Rome, in November 1988. We were both asked to present papers; the publisher was Edizioni Ares/Milano. The highlight of the convention was an audience with Pope John Paul II in the Clementine Hall.
It was Father Lawler who chose the Basilian priest, Father Douglas L. Mosey, as Vice President of the Seminary; Father Mosey eventually suceeded Father Lawler as Rector/President and fortunately is still at the helm. And Father Lawler also brought in another superb scholar as Academic Dean: Capuchin Father Maurice Sheehan, an Oxford University alumnus, still serving as Academic Dean, with distinction. Indeed, the superb faculty at Holy Apostles today began to take shape under Father Francis J. Lescoe and Father Ronald Lawler. We all owe them so much.
While he was seriously ill, Father Lawler wrote me a note in which he fondly recalled his days at Holy Apostles and the academic strides made there when Father Lescoe was Rector/President. It is a note that I read and continue to recall with a sense of deep appreciation for the quarter century I have experienced in seminary work, not only as a professor but also in administration, even though my main work remained in the Archdiocese as an editor and pastor.
“Father Ronald” was a giant in the American theological scene, who ranked among the finest theologians this country has recently produced, a scholar of surpassing intellect and faith, so deserving of this Festschrift.
Msgr. David Q. Liptak is Executive Editor of The Catholic Transcript and censor librorum for the Archdiocese of Hartford.