Heythrop graduations: a celebration of Christian witness

Francis Clooney SJ hears the citation from Michael Barnes SJ
Francis Clooney SJ hears the citation from Michael Barnes SJ

On Tuesday 12 December Heythrop College welcomed graduands at Kensington Town Hall for a celebration of achievement with friends, family and academics.

In his address to launch the proceedings the University of London Vice Chancellor Professor Sir Adrian Smith commented on the need for advanced critical intelligence in a climate of “threats and uncertainty”, saying “[the imperative] to criticise and challenge the status quo requires constant intellectual challenge like that offered by graduates of Heythrop College.”

In her speech of welcome Heythrop College Principal Professor Claire Ozanne offered the statistic that two thirds of Heythrop graduates go on to work in “people professions” serving society as teachers, health and social workers and in the third sector. She referred to the Jesuit principles of care of the person and a personal approach to learning which are at the heart of Heythrop College’s values, and quoted feedback from a graduating student who noticed Heythrop’s “inspiring vision of deep-rooted openness.” 

Five Honorary Doctorates were awarded. Two of the recipients were Jesuits: Bishop Antoine Audo SJ, Bishop of the Chaldean Church in Syria, and Rev Professor Francis X Clooney SJ, Parkman Professor of Divinity and Professor of Comparative Theology at Harvard University.

Antoine Audo SJ was consecrated Bishop in 1992.  He is a member of the Vatican's Congregation for Oriental Churches, the Catholic Committee for Dialogue with the Assyrian Churches of the East, and the Council for Interreligious Dialogue.  He has been the President of Caritas Syria since 2011.  In his citation Anthony O'Mahoney described him as a “modern Church Father reading the signs of the times for our Church today”.  He said that Bishop Audo had helped hundreds of thousands of people in a time of deeply challenging conflict, and that ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue was central to his work.

Before taking his Chair at Harvard Rev Professor Francis X Clooney SJ was Professor of Comparative Theology at Boston College until 2005 and had taught there since 1984.  He is a leading scholar Hinduism and in the developing field of comparative theology. In his citation Rev Professor Michael Barnes SJ described him as “one of the most inquisitive and imaginative theologians alive today.”  He described how during the time of their first encounter at Boston College in 1992, he found Prof Clooney “getting his students to read a Christian text alongside a Hindu text on a similar theme… thus inventing comparative theology”.  Prof Barnes concluded that this inquiry is based on the Jesuit conviction that God is to be found in all things, including the beliefs and practices of other faiths.

Also awarded Honorary Doctorates were: Rev Canon Professor Sarah Coakley,  Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald MAfr and Rev Dr Nerses Nersessian. Former Chair of Governors Andrew Kennedy KSG and Rev Dr James Sweeney CP were awarded College Fellowships.

In her vote of thanks on behalf of Fellows and Honorary Graduates Prof Coakley noted the sadness shared by so many that Heythrop College is to close next year, but gave thanks for its “historical Christian witness and the ineradicable marks it has left on society.”

Heythrop College was founded in 1614 in Louvain by the Jesuits for the study of philosophy and theology. It has been a College of the University of London since 1970.

Hon Doctors and Fellows

Pictured above left to right Rev Dr James Sweeney CP, Mr Andrew Kennedy KSG, Bishop Antoine Audo SJ, Rev Dr Nerses Nersessian, Prof Claire Ozanne, Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald MAfr, Rev Prof Francis Clooney SJ, Rev Canon Prof Sarah Coakley