John Kavanaugh, S.J. (A&S ‘65, Grad ‘66, ‘71) a renowned professor of philosophy at Saint Louis University, died Monday, Nov. 5. He was 71.
A Jesuit for more than 50 years, Father Kavanaugh entered the Society of Jesus in August 1959 and was ordained to the priesthood June 3, 1971.
A Saint Louis University alumnus, Father Kavanaugh completed his undergraduate and graduate degrees in philosophy at SLU.
He went on to earn a doctoral degree in social philosophy at Washington University in St. Louis in 1974. That same year, he accepted a position in SLU’s Department of Philosophy.
In 1975, he began a year of tertianship at Mount St. Joseph’s College in Bangalore, India. During his time in India, he worked with Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity at The House of the Dying in Calcutta.
He rejoined the SLU faculty and served from 1976 until his death. During his more than three decades at the University, Father Kavanaugh established a reputation as an exceptional teacher, combining scholarly rigor with profound insights into human life.
“John’s faith was powerful and ran deep,” said Theodore Vitali, C.P., chairman of the Department of Philosophy. “That motivated his commitment to social justice issues and concern for the poor. He was consistent in his theology and idealism.”
A beloved member of the SLU faculty, Father Kavanaugh’s classes filled up quickly, but his influence extended far beyond the classroom.
“John Kavanaugh touched so many lives because he was able to mediate to others the tenderness of Christ, and his own tenderness was in it, too,” said Eleonore Stump, Ph.D., the Robert J. Henle Professor of Philosophy. “Some sweet note has gone out of all gentle songs now that he is no longer here.”
As a great writer and preacher, Father Kavanaugh brought his knowledge and perspective to a wide audience through his compelling homilies at St. Francis Xavier College Church and other parishes, as well as his noteworthy books, and popular magazine and newspaper columns.
Father Kavanaugh’s most famous book, Following Christ in a Consumer Society, was first published in 1981, later translated into several languages and revised and reissued in 1991 and 2006. His other works include Faces of Poverty, Faces of Christ (1991) and Who Count as Persons? Human Identity and the Ethics of Killing (2001).
In addition to writing columns for the local archdiocesan newspaper, the St. Louis Review, for several years, Father Kavanaugh wrote for the national Jesuit magazine, America, for nearly two decades.
“John was a wonderful colleague and beloved by our readers,” said Matthew Malone, S.J., editor-in-chief of America, who worked closely with Father Kavanaugh for more than 10 years. “He had an incredible ability to offer insightful analysis, write elegant prose and be charitable and faithful.”
Beyond the written word, Father Kavanaugh frequently was invited to give lectures on the topics of consumerism, culture, advertising, faith and medical ethics.
He also founded the “Ethics Across the Curriculum” program at Saint Louis University, which helps faculty to reflect critically on ethical issues and incorporate ethical considerations into their courses.
“John represented the very best of Saint Louis University,” said University President Lawrence Biondi, S.J. “He influenced generations of SLU students, encouraging them to ask the great questions and inspiring them to seek meaningful answers rooted in our Jesuit tradition.
“I, like so many of his colleagues and former students, will miss John’s positive outlook, his wisdom and his steadfast faith. And I am certain that his lessons of hope and love will continue to resonate for years to come.”
Father Kavanaugh is survived by his brother, Thomas Kavanaugh, and several nieces and nephews.
Visitation will be held from 5-7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 9, at St. Francis Xavier College Church. A funeral Mass will follow at 7:30 p.m. Burial will take place Saturday, Nov. 10, at Calvary Cemetery with departure from the College Church at 8:15 a.m.
To read a Q&A with Father Kavanaugh that appeared in the fall 2008 edition of Universitas, the alumni magazine of Saint Louis University, click here.