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Daniel Harrington, SJ: New Testament Scholar, Beloved Teacher

02/13/14
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Daniel Harrington, SJ (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)

By Jack Dunn & Sean Smith | Chronicle Staff

Published: Feb. 13, 2014

A funeral Mass was celebrated last night in St. Ignatius Church for Daniel Harrington, SJ, eminent scholar, author, editor and professor of sacred scripture at the School of Theology and Ministry, who died at Campion Center in Weston on Feb. 7 after a four-year battle with cancer. He was 73. 

Fr. Harrington’s dedication to Biblical scholarship was reflected in the more than 60 books he authored, shedding light on Scripture and the life and times of Jesus, and his decades-long tenure as the general editor of New Testament Abstracts, summarizing literature on the New Testament from hundreds of books and journals throughout the world. He also wrote “The Word” column for America magazine for three years.

A longtime faculty member at the Weston Jesuit School of Theology in Cambridge, Fr. Harrington – who held two degrees from Boston College, and was awarded an honorary degree in 2009 – returned to his alma mater in 2008 as part of Weston Jesuit’s re-affiliation with BC and joined the newly established School of Theology and Ministry.

Last November, after Fr. Harrington had announced that this was to be his final year of teaching, STM hosted a tribute that was attended by family members, friends, colleagues, and current and former students. Among the speakers was best-selling author and media commentator James Martin, SJ, who described the powerful impact of Fr. Harrington’s teaching.

Fr. Harrington’s Introduction to the New Testament class “changed my life,” said Fr. Martin, who dedicated his forthcoming book Jesus: A Pilgrimage to Fr. Harrington. “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. Harrington’s five decades as a Jesuit were also marked by his pastoral service to the faithful. Every Sunday for more than 42 years, he celebrated Mass at St. Agnes Parish in his hometown of Arlington, Mass.; he also presided at the noon Sunday Mass at St. Peter’s in Cambridge for more than 20 years. Fr. Harrington delighted in telling fellow Jesuits that a parishioner once said to him, “You know, I used to think you were boring until I started listening to you.”

Fr. Harrington was born in Arlington and attended St. Agnes Grammar School, where he was taught by the Sisters of St. Joseph.  He won a full academic scholarship to Boston College High School where he also played hockey and baseball. Citing his positive experience with his Jesuit teachers, he chose to enter the Society of Jesus upon graduation and was in the first class of novices to enter the Jesuit Novitiate in Gloucester in 1958. 

In 1962 Fr. Harrington studied philosophy at Weston Jesuit School of Theology, where he met Rev. John J. Collins, SJ, then editor of New Testament Abstracts, who enlisted his help in writing abstracts and book notices. He would be associated with New Testament Abstracts for more than 50 years, serving as its editor from 1972 until his death.

Following Weston Jesuit School of Theology, Fr. Harrington went on to study Ancient Near Eastern languages at Harvard University, where he received his doctorate. While studying at Harvard, he took courses at Hebrew University and the Dominican École Biblique de Jerusalem. Fr. Harrington completed his theological studies at Weston Jesuit in 1969. He was ordained in 1971 at St. Ignatius Church, and after serving as a professor of sacred scripture at St. Mary of the Lake Seminary in Illinois, became a faculty member at Weston Jesuit School of Theology in 1972.
He is survived by his brother Edward, of Braintree, Mass.

Fr. Harrington will be buried today following a 10 a.m. Mass for the Jesuit community at the Chapel of the Holy Spirit in Campion Center in Weston, Mass.