I never met John S. Dunne, C.S.C., longtime theology professor at Notre Dame, but I felt I lost a good friend when I heard he had died recently. We became friends through his books, and I felt sad that we had lost a religious voice that was so authentic, so passionate, so filled with grace.
Although Father Dunne received the conventional Roman theological education so characteristic of the pre-Vatican II church, I don’t think he ever had a conventional theological thought. Early on, he seemed to intuit how stories, myths, and images both guide and challenge us, and his theology was original, provocative, even breathtaking in its narrative form. He freely welcomed readers into his life as he followed the heart’s desire as it made its way in and toward God. His passion for God was infectious.
In the days before computer registration, Notre Dame students camped out all night to get a place in his classes. My guess is he taught the way he wrote: intuitive, meandering, even infuriating. But if you stuck it out with him, the reward was often an insight that was electric in its brilliance.
I feel honored that Father Dunne read a piece I wrote about getting older and sent me an email that read: “Thanks for your good words that stretch from the deadly clear path to the highway at night where it is ‘one step at a time out of the heart.’” I can only use his own words to thank him, instead.