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Saint Xavier marks 40th anniversary of Pope John XXIII Symposium

Special event looks at past, future of Catholic Church

Chicago (Oct. 11, 2006) – Saint Xavier University will host a presentation to mark the 40th anniversary of the historic Pope John XXIII Symposium, a controversial event of unprecedented proportions, on Thursday, Nov. 2.

The event is free and open to the public and will be held in Saint Xavier’s McGuire Hall, 3700 W. 103rd St., Chicago.

Titled “Remembering the Pope John XXIII Symposium: A Forty-Year Retrospective and Prospective – The Theological Task Confronting the Church Today,” the presentation will reflect on the theology born at the Second Vatican Council and explore the energy, wisdom and daring that produced such an extraordinary episode in the history of the Sisters of Mercy of Chicago and Saint Xavier University.

“The gathering will provide context for telling the story afresh and passing on the wisdom gleaned from four decades of reflection on the turmoil and triumph that produced the original event,” said Avis Clendenen, professor and chair of the religious studies department at Saint Xavier who is organizing this year’s event.

Clendenen said it “celebrates the 40th anniversary of the symposium that brought together the major theological architects of the Second Vatican Council.”

The 1966 symposium was described as the “stuff of legend and the source of enduring consequences,” according to Sister Joy Clough, R.S.M., author of First in Chicago: A History of Saint Xavier University. The purpose of the symposium was to analyze the major theological challenges facing the Church in the 1960s.  

The original symposium also raised questions about academic freedom, faculty governance and the roles of both religious and ecclesiastical authority, according to the book. “The controversy over the John XXIII Theological Symposium reflected the turmoil of the times. . . . It was a conference that revealed the diverging paths of religious and academic authority.”

Patrick Burke, Ph.D., the founding director of the Pope John XXIII Institute and professor emeritus at Temple University, will give a presentation on the significance of the original symposium and facilitate a discussion on the current theological challenges facing the church today. Burke’s plan for the 1966 symposium was to invite a number of the Second Vatican Council’s theological experts to prepare original papers exploring the implications of the Council documents for the future of the Church, according to Clough’s book. Burke wanted to make this exploration into the future an ecumenical venture.

“What began to happen was ‘amazing for this little women’s college on the south side of Chicago,’” Sister Olivia Barrett, R.S.M., then Saint Xavier’s president, was quoted in Clough’s book. “The genius of Pat Burke’s plan was that it was future-oriented and broke new ground, asking…where the new theological edges were.”

The original symposium became, in the words of one planner and participant, “a feast for the mind as well as a social feast, a wonderful opportunity to be with other people in a time…excitingly alive with theological ideas,”’ according to Clough’s book. Approximately 4,000 people attended some part of the four-day symposium.

This year’s event will open with a Eucharistic Liturgy of All Souls at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 2, in McDonough Chapel. Bishop John R. Gorman will preside and Judith A. Dwyer, Ph.D., president of Saint Xavier University, will offer reflections.

A public presentation will take place at 7:30 p.m. in McGuire Hall with Burke offering remarks both retrospectively and prospectively on the symposium that made history, as well as stimulating conversation with the audience on the theological tasks confronting the Church today.

For more information or to RSVP, please contact Clendenen at (773) 298-3440 or clendenen@sxu.edu. 

Founded in 1846 by the Sisters of Mercy, Saint Xavier University is a comprehensive Catholic university serving more than 5,700 students at its campuses in Chicago and Orland Park. The University offers 35 undergraduate majors and more than 40 graduate program options in arts and sciences, business, education and nursing with day, evening and weekend courses to fit busy schedules.


Contact Avis Clendenen at (773) 298-3440 or clendenen@sxu.edu 

Saint Xavier University, a Catholic institution inspired by the heritage of the Sisters of Mercy, educates men and women to search for truth, to think critically, to communicate effectively, and to serve wisely and compassionately in support of human dignity and the common good.

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