WASHINGTON (June 25, 2001) -- Father John F. Hotchkin, Executive Director of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops' Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs and a priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago, died at his residence in Washington, June 24. He was 66.
Father Hotchkin had been ill the past 10 days with severe bronchitis, according to Msgr. William P. Fay, General Secretary of the Bishops' Conference. "Father Hotchkin has justly been described as the leading Catholic ecumenist in the United States, and was certainly one of the leading Catholic ecumenists in the world as well," Msgr. Fay said.
Bishop Joseph A. Fiorenza, President of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, said: "I am saddened by the sudden death of Father John Hotchkin, a priest completely committed to the Church and to the cause of Christian unity. Pastoral and scholarly, Father Hotchkin was a gifted ecumenist and a warm and kindly priest. He devoted 35 years of his priestly career to the Committee and Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, which he served almost from the time of its creation by the Bishops of the United States during the Second Vatican Council. In this role he participated in and inspired countless interreligious dialogues and other projects which form an extraordinary legacy. Father Hotchkin will be sorely missed by all who knew and loved him. I pray for the repose of his soul and offer my condolences to his beloved family and colleagues."
Monsignor John Radano expressed the condolences of the Holy See's Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and its admiration and gratitude for his work with the Council over the years, especially with regard to the Catholic-Lutheran dialogue. "Father Hotchkin exercised crucial leadership for the Church in the U.S. and international Catholic-Lutheran dialogues that produced the documents which served as the key resources showing consensus on justification," Monsignor Radano said. "These documents laid the groundwork for the historic Joint Declaration on Justification."
John Hotchkin was born on February 3, 1935 and ordained to the priesthood in Rome on May 15, 1959. He became associate director of the ecumenical secretariat on January 1, 1967 and succeeded Cardinal Bernard Law as Executive Director in April, 1971. The Secretariat has been extensively engaged over the years since the Second Vatican Council with Christian churches, the Jewish community, and other major religious bodies on the national level, co-sponsoring with them a wide range of bi-lateral and multi-lateral dialogues.
In 1973, Pope Paul VI named him as consultor to the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. He served as Consultor to the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue from 1985 to 1990.
Father Hotchkin also served on the U.S. Faith and Order Commission and other joint commissions co-sponsored with the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA. Beginning in 1967, he served as one of the Catholic observer-consultants to the Consultation on Church Union. He was a voting member of the international Lutheran Catholic Commission from 1973-1984. Father Hotchkin co-chaired the Anglican-Roman Catholic Consultation held in Versailles in 1978. He was an officially delegated observer of the Catholic Church to the 5th Assembly of the World Council of Churches (Nairobi, 1975) the 6th Assembly (Vancouver, 1983), and the World Convocation on Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation (Seoul, 1990). He was an officially appointed Catholic observer to the 5th Assembly of the Lutheran World Federation in Evian in 1970, and took part in meetings of Russian and American representatives and in the International Conference on Religion and Peace. In the 1980's he served a term as Chairman of the National Ecumenical Officers Association.
He held a doctorate in sacred theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University and was awarded a Doctorate of Law honoris causa by the Catholic University of America in 1997. In 1990 he was the recipient of the James Fitzgerald Award for Ecumenism of the National Association of Ecumenical Officers.
Father Hotchkin was a contributor to the New Catholic Encyclopedia, the New Dictionary of Sacramental Worship, the Dictionary of Pastoral Care and Counseling, Origins, L'Osservatore Romano, and numerous other publications.
In 1991 Father Hotchkin was named a "Patron of Christian Unity," the highest ecumenical award of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). The honor was bestowed in recognition of his "faithful witness to ecumenism." On that occasion, Dr. Paul Crow, president of the Disciples Council on Christian Unity, said: "Father Hotchkin's life has taught Disciples of Christ and other traditions that priesthood is service in the name of Christ , especially in calling the Church to its witness to the reconciling love of God. Father Hotchkin has been a calm, wise and spiritual counselor for many people and groups in the ecumenical movement."
In 1997 the Archdiocese of Chicago bestowed upon him the Joseph Cardinal Bernardin Laureate in Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs. In 2000 he was the recipient of the Paul Wattson Christian Unity Award presented by the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement.
"Father Jack Hotchkin was widely known outside the Conference for his extraordinary achievements in promoting Christian unity and interreligious dialogue," said Msgr. Fay, the Bishops' General Secretary. "Those of us who lived with him at St. John's Hall also knew him as a wonderful friend and a delightful man to be with. Jack had a great sense of humor and a keen intellect. One minute he would have us laughing about our human limitations and foibles; in the next he could have us engaged in a theological discussion about the import of the latest document from the Magisterium. Above all, Jack loved being a priest and was a great model of what a priest ought to be. Those of us who were privileged to live with him as a brother priest will deeply miss his daily presence at home. He will certainly have a permanent remembrance in our prayer and especially at the Eucharist."