February 19, 2004 • Volume 12 Number 11

Rev. Kenneth Himes, OFM, associate professor and chairman of Theology (right), and his brother, Theology Professor Rev. Michael Himes, in a familiar pose. Photo: Suzanne Camarata

Theology Department Now 'Himes Square'

University welcomes the 'other Fr. Himes' as new chair of Theology

By Mark Sullivan
Staff Writer

With the arrival of Rev. Kenneth Himes, OFM, as associate professor and chairman of Theology, Boston College can lay claim to the outstanding brother act in the field.

Fr. Himes, a Franciscan friar, past president of the Catholic Theological Society of America, and former longtime professor of moral theology at Washington Theological Union, joins his brother, Rev. Michael Himes, a BC theology professor much praised for his preaching and teaching.

No surprise some have dubbed their corner of 21 Campanella Way "Himes Square."

"It's been a pleasure," Fr. Kenneth Himes said of the reunion with his brother and co-author of the 1993 book, Fullness of Faith: The Public Significance of Theology.

"Mike and I are close, and that Michael was here was a big draw," he said. "Maybe Michael's being here heightened expectations, but it has also eased the way. As soon as you say 'Himes,' people have a good feeling."

His elder brother, Michael, a priest of the Brooklyn Diocese who was voted Teacher of the Year at BC in 2002 and whose Wednesday noon Masses at St. Mary's have a devoted student following, expressed delight at his brother's arrival.

"It's wonderful to have him here," he said. "Ken has always been one of my primary dialogue partners. We've written articles together, we've written a book together. It's wonderful to have him right down the hall."

He added, with a laugh: "Ken's arrival on the faculty allows me to refer to someone as I never have before: as my colleague with whom I shared a bedroom for 15 years."

Other BC theologians also welcomed their new colleague.

"I think he should bring a rich religious commitment to his office as chair of the department," said Prof. Stephen Brown of the Institute of Medieval Philosophy and Theology. "Almost all of his teaching has been in a seminary atmosphere, so his writings and courses show the deep spiritual dimensions of his teaching and a lasting dedication to the Church and its mission of bringing the good news of the Gospel to all. Being a Franciscan, he also brings to us the life and message of St. Francis of Assisi and the rich theological tradition bequeathed to Francis's followers by St. Bonaventure. Our prayers and best wishes are with him."

Rev. Robert Imbelli, an associate professor of theology, said: "I served on the Board of the Catholic Theological Society of America during the years of Fr. Kenneth Himes' presidency. His leadership, at a sensitive moment in the society's history, was marked by openness, collegiality, and good humor. He brings all those traits and more to Boston College's Theology Department. We are fortunate to have him."

Fr. Kenneth Himes said he sees the job of administering an academic department where the "Church does it thinking" as part of his calling.

"If Boston College's is not the best Catholic theology department in the English-speaking world, it's close," he said. "I see my role as chairman as helping other members of the department flourish.

"I see it as a ministry. Theology is 'the Church thinking.' If I can help our faculty be better and more creative in their thinking, that will only enrich the Church in the long run.

"There are three audiences for theology: one, the academy; one, the Church, and one, the public. I want us to serve all three. I want us to be a full-fledged and respected member of the university, a resource for the Church at large, and a place that speaks for the wider human hungers in the world."

Fr. Himes said the range of philosophical opinion should be represented in the scholarly dialogue. "There has to be a place at the table for everyone in the conversation," he said. "We do not want to become ideological; what we want are good scholarship and civil discourse.

"John Courtney Murray used to say, 'To achieve good argument is a genuine achievement.' It means we've passed the point of misunderstanding each other, and can have a good and civil argument about it. That's how you clarify thought.

"At a Catholic university, the theology department is at the heart of the mission," Fr. Himes said. "I want to see we hold up our end of the bargain."

The second Fr. Himes to arrive at the Heights is also the second prominent Franciscan to arrive in the past year in the vicinity of Commonwealth Avenue and Lake Street. Boston Archbishop Sean Patrick O'Malley, OFM Cap., is a Capuchin Franciscan friar.

Archbishop Sean and both Himes brothers will celebrate Masses in the annual Lenten Liturgy series that begins later this month at St. Mary's Chapel [see separate story].

Fr. Kenneth Himes, a native of Brooklyn, was professed in the Order of Friars Minor (Franciscans) in 1975 and ordained to the Catholic priesthood in 1976. He served in the provincial administration of the Holy Name Province of the Order of Friars Minor from 1987 to 1996.

He earned his doctorate in religion and public policy from Duke University in 1981 and for the past 23 years was professor of moral theology at Washington Theological Union. He served as president of the Catholic Theological Society of American from 2000 to 2001, and as editor of New Theology Review from 1997 to 2002. He has served as a consultant to the Office of Social Development and World Peace at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

His areas of academic focus include Catholic social teaching, American Catholic social reform, Christian social ethics, and ecclesiology and ethics. A regular contributor to both general and academic periodicals, he co-edited a popular textbook, Introduction to Christian Ethics, and the book he authored with his brother Michael, Fullness of Faith, won first prize among theology books from the Catholic Press Association.

His most recent book is Responses to 101 Questions on Catholic Social Teaching. Due out this year is a two-volume collection of commentaries he has edited on the documents of Catholic social teaching.

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