WEST HARTFORD – Father Richard P. McBrien, retired University of Notre Dame professor, author of many books on Catholicism and “Essays in Theology” columnist, died on Jan. 25 following a long illness.
He was born in Hartford on Aug. 19, 1936, a son of Thomas H. and Catherine (Botticelli) McBrien. He attended St. Joseph Cathedral School in Hartford before studying at St. Thomas Seminary in Bloomfield from 1950-54. He earned an associate’s degree in 1956 and then went on to receive a Master of Arts degree from St. John Seminary in Brighton, Mass., in 1962.
He was a priest of the Archdiocese of Hartford, ordained on Feb. 2, 1962, by Archbishop Henry J. O’Brien. He served as assistant pastor at Our Lady of Victory Parish in West Haven before being assigned to Rome in September 1963 for graduate studies.
Father McBrien earned his doctorate in theology in 1967 from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. Upon his return from Rome, he became a professor of theology at Pope John XXIII Seminary (now Blessed John XXIII National Seminary) in Weston, Mass., later being named dean of studies.
After serving there for five years, he went to Boston College as a theology professor and, later, director of its Institute of Reli-gious Education and Pastoral Ministry.
In 1980, Holy Cross Father Theodore Hesburgh, former pres-ident of the University of Notre Dame, invited Father McBrien to chair the university’s theology department. Father McBrien held that position for 11 years until 1991, and continued to write and teach as the Crowley-O’Brien Professor of Theology until his retirement in 2013. He also served as president of the Faculty Senate from 1994-97. He was the first Visiting Fellow in the John Fitzgerald Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in 1975-76. He was also a past president of the Catholic Theological Society of America (1973-74) and was the recipient of the John Courtney Murray Award for distinguished achievement in theology in 1976.
Father McBrien wrote 25 books, including Catholicism, Lives of the Saints, Lives of the Popes and The Church. He also served as general editor of The Encyclopedia of Catholicism. He wrote a weekly column, “Essays in Theology,” for almost 50 years. This column appeared in many Catholic newspapers, including the Catholic Transcript.
Father McBrien was a television commentator for Catholic events for major television networks and several cable TV stations. He also lectured extensively throughout the country.
He served on the Board of Overseers of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston and was the theological consultant for the movie “The DaVinci Code.”
Besides his parents, Father McBrien was predeceased by a sister, Catherine Berard, and a brother, Thomas McBrien. He is survived by a sister, Dorothy Heffernan of Farmington, and brother, Harry McBrien of West Hartford, and many nieces and nephews.
Archbishop Leonard P. Blair was the principal celebrant of a Mass of Christian Burial on Jan. 29 at the Church of St. Helena in West Hartford. Interment followed in Mount St. Benedict Cemetery in Bloomfield.
A memorial Mass was scheduled to be celebrated at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart on the campus of the University of Notre Dame.