Joseph A. Komonchak receives John Courtney Murray Award

This story appears in the CTSA 2015 feature series. View the full series.

by Heidi Schlumpf

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The Rev. Joseph A. Komonchak of The Catholic University of America was honored by fellow theologians with the John Courtney Murray Award, the highest honor from the organization, June 13 at the CTSA convention in Milwaukee.

Komonchak is professor emeritus of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at CUA and a retired priest of the Archdiocese of New York. He is a leading interpreter of the Second Vatican Council and co-editor of the English version of the five-volume history of the council (Orbis Books). He has taught courses on the church, ministry and, curiously, on the thought of the Vatican II Jesuit theologian for whom the award is named.

In presenting the award at banquet, CTSA president Susan Wood of Marquette University noted that Komonchak was in Rome during the council.

“He got past the Swiss guards at the opening day of Vatican II and made it all the way to the front door of St. Peter’s to see all the bishops and [Pope] John XXIII enter,” she said. “So perhaps he was fated to become the leading English-language scholar of Vatican II.”

Komonchak has licentiate in sacred theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome and a doctorate from Union Theological Seminary in New York. Ordained in 1963, he joined the faculty at CUA in 1977, where he was “greatly appreciated” by students, one of whom was Cardinal Tagle of Manila, Wood said.

He has served as a consultant to three committees of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, has published more than 150 articles and regularly contributes to Commonweal’s blog. Komonchak now lives in upstate New York with his brother, where he raises chickens.

In accepting the award, Komonchak thanked Jesuit theologian Bernard Lonergan, whom he studied with in Rome. “He basically saved my intellectual soul, which had begun to despair that there was any real Catholic intellectualism left,” he said.

He also thanked his family, his home parish, Augustine, Aquinas and theologian David Tracy, who started out in the same seminary system with Komonchak in high school and has been a long-time friend for 60 years.

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