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Fr. Harrington Receives Heartfelt Tributes

12/02/13
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School of Theology and Ministry Professor Daniel Harrington, SJ, left, with STM Dean Mark Massa, SJ, at the Nov. 21 tribute for Fr. Harrington. (Photo by Caitlin Cunningham)

By Kathleen Sullivan | Chronicle Staff

Published: Dec. 2, 2013

Family members, friends, colleagues, and current and former students of School of Theology and Ministry Professor Daniel Harrington, SJ, filled the atrium of Cadigan Alumni Center on Nov. 21 to pay tribute to the Jesuit priest and New Testament scholar, who is battling cancer.

The event featured remarks from Rev. Frank Matera, Andrews-Kelly-Ryan Professor of Biblical Studies at The Catholic University of America, best-selling author James Martin, SJ, and STM Research Professor Christopher Matthews.

“When Dan announced that 2013-14 was going to be his final year of teaching, I thought it was very important that our school recognize and celebrate him and his great accomplishments,” said STM Associate Professor Thomas Stegman, SJ, who organized the event.

Among those in attendance was Fr. Harrington’s brother Ed, accompanied by his wife and children.

Fr. Matera addressed the importance of Fr. Harrington’s work as an editor and a writer. “As the editor of the 18 volumes of the Sacra Pagina series...Fr. Harrington has shown himself to be the good, the selfless and the generous editor who has enabled others to produce their best work.”

The “immensely popular” series is significant, Fr. Matera explained, because it was the first scholarly series written by Catholics in the United States. Intended for Biblical professionals, graduate students, theologians, clergy and religious educators, the Sacred Pagina series provides critical analysis while maintaining sensitivity to religious meaning. “It was and remains the best full commentary series on the New Testament. It was Fr. Harrington’s vision and editorial hand that made this possible.

“I will be forever grateful to Fr. Harrington for having recruited me to write the commentary on Galatians — a work that made me a lifelong student and devotee of Paul,” said Fr. Matera.

He also highlighted Fr. Harrington’s scholarly work as an interpreter of sacred Scripture, centered on his three theses: Second Temple Judaism is the proper matrix for understanding Jesus, Paul and early Christianity; the New Testament is not anti-Jewish, and the New Testament conveys a theological meaning.

Fr. Martin, a former student of Fr. Harrington’s, spoke about the impact Fr. Harrington has had on his studies and professional life. Fr. Martin recalled how as a student, he was encouraged by many Jesuits to take as many courses with Fr. Harrington as he could. “‘If Dan is teaching a class on how to change a tire, take it,’” he recalled being told.

Fr. Harrington’s Introduction to the New Testament class “changed my life,” said Fr. Martin, author of the Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything. “Today, I feel like I see the gospels through Dan’s eyes. What I mean is that I see the gospels with both the eyes of faith and a critical mind.

“In a sense, Dan’s teaching was very much like Jesus’ use of the parables, communicating complicated truths to us in simple ways. And as with Jesus’ parables, this was a great act of charity and love.”

Fr. Martin described clarity, patience and kindness as Fr. Harrington’s gifts, citing the understanding Fr. Harrington extended to him as a student struggling with carpal tunnel syndrome. “I think Dan is one of the kindest and most generous people I have ever met. That’s what I most admire about him.”

Fr. Martin, who noted that his forthcoming book, Jesus: A Pilgrimage, is dedicated to Fr. Harrington, said Fr. Harrington was “generous, friendly, mild, prayerful, faithful, hardworking — the model Jesuit, to my mind.”

Matthews, who has edited New Testament Abstracts with Fr. Harrington for 28 years, said, “It’s been my great privilege to rub shoulders with Dan every day.” Most of those days, he and Stegman noted, have begun with a recap of a Red Sox or Bruins game — evidence that Fr. Harrington is a scholar of sports as well as the Bible.

The event concluded with remarks from Fr. Harrington. “It has been my privilege as a member of the Society of Jesus for more than 50 years to immerse myself in the study of the Bible — the ancient languages, the forms of expression, the culture settings and the theological significance,” he said.

“The old saying ‘If you love what you do, you will never work a day in your life’ certainly applies to me. It’s all been a joy.”