When people remember Fr. John Kavanaugh, S.J., they remember his insight and encouragement.
"He was a great Jesuit, a great member of the community, a joy to be around," said Fr. Daniel Daly, S.J., of the Jesuits of the Missouri Province.
St. Louis University philosophy professor and writer Fr. John Kavanaugh, S.J., died Monday, Nov. 5, 2012, at St. Louis University Hospital after a battle with a blood disease. He was 71.
Kavanaugh was born on March 14, 1941, in St. Louis.
In 1959, he enterted the Society of Jesus – a religious order of the Roman Catholic Church – at St. Stanislaus Seminary in Florissant. He was ordained a priest in 1971.
After completing his doctorate in Social Philosophy at Washington University in St. Louis in 1974, he accepted a position with St. Louis University's philosophy department.
The next year, Kavanaugh spent some time in India. While there, he worked with Mother Teresa in Calcutta.
When he returned to the U.S. in 1976, he rejoined the faculty at St. Louis University. He founded the university's "Ethics Across the Curriculum" program and was elected twice to the University Rank and Tenure Committee. He taught there until his death.
He was awarded a visiting professorship Chishawasha Major Regional Seminary in Zimbabwe in 1987, and another at Creighton University in 1991.
Brother Bill Rehg, S.J., was a student of Kavanaugh's at St. Louis University in the late 1970s. He appreciated Kavanaugh's willingness to take a stance in his teaching.
"He was not the kind of neutral teacher who would say 'Here's this view, and here's that view,'" Rehg said. "He would definitely argue for a position."
Rehg credits Kavanaugh for encouraging him to pursue philosophy further – now, Rehg teaches philosophy at St. Louis University. Although he never taught a course with Kavanaugh, he enjoyed being a faculty member with him.
"He was very encouraging to people," Rehg said.
Kavanaugh loved ministering to Catholics who were working with the poor.
"He was a priest kind of in Dorothy Day mode," Rehg said. "He was very committed to attending to people on the margins and attending to issues of justice, but on the other hand, he was very orthodox in terms of the church itself and his understanding of Catholicism."
He also authored a few books: "Following Christ in a Consumer Society", published in 1981; "Faces of Poverty, Faces of Christ," published in 1991; and "Who Count as Persons? Human Identity and the Ethics of Killing," published in 2001. His syndicated columns appeared in the St. Louis Review, and he wrote for "America," a national Catholic weekly.
"He was a man of great integrity," Daly said. "He'd reflect on an issue and realize that a particular direction inviduals or the nation was taking was wrong, and he'd state it as clearly and compassionately as he could."
Along with his insight, integrity and encouragement, his sense of humor stands out in memory.
"It was Irish," Daly said.
"He recognized human foibles, and at the same time had great confidence in God's love," Daly said. "So he could laugh about human foibles because he knew that ultimately, our hope doesn't depend on us – our hope depends on God. He could laugh at himself, and he could see the humor in ridiculous situations."
He also played tricks on his dinner guests from time to time. As a student, Rehg spent two years in a small house with Kavanaugh and a few other Jesuits. He remembers Kavanaugh's classic coffee trick.
Kavanaugh would enter the room with a cup of coffee, then suddenly drop it – right into the lap of his guest. Of course, there was no coffee in the cup, but the guest didn't realize that until after the fact.
Those two years spent in the house with Kavanaugh in the 1970s are among Rehg's favorite memories of him.
The two also spent more time together than usual during the past few months. "It was difficult, since he was in decline and in the hospital a lot," Rehg said. "But I really am grateful for those times together with him."
John is survived by his brother, Thomas Kavanaugh, and several nieces and nephews.
Visitation is from 5 to 7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 9, at St. Francis Xavier (College) Church, 3628 Lindell Blvd., in St. Louis. Funeral mass begins at 7:30 at the same location. Burial will be at 8:15 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 10, at Calvary Cemetery, 5239 West Florissant Ave., in St. Louis.
Condolences can be sent to Jesuit Hall Community, 3601 Lindell Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63108-3393, or emailed to email@example.com.
Condolences can also be sent to Thomas Kavanaugh, 5538 Gresham, St. Louis, MO 63109.