Reverend John Francis Hotchkin, S.T.D., 1935 - 2001
Father John F. Hotchkin, Director of Bishops' Ecumenical Office, Is Dead at 66
Catholic News Service
June 26, 2001
WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Father John F. Hotchkin, one of the world's leading Catholic ecumenists, died June 24 of a severe bronchial infection. He was 66.
For more than 30 years he was executive director of the U.S. bishops' Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.
"Pastoral and scholarly, Father Hotchkin was a gifted ecumenist and a warm and kindly priest" who left an "extraordinary legacy" of ecumenical accomplishments, said Bishop Joseph A. Fiorenza of Galveston-Houston, president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Msgr. William P. Fay, NCCB general secretary, said, "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."
"The quest for Christian unity and interreligious understanding has lost a great champion," said Cardinal William H. Keeler of Baltimore, episcopal moderator of U.S. Catholic-Jewish relations.
"He has been the dean of ecumenists in the United States," said the Rev. John H. Thomas, general minister and president of the United Church of Christ. "He honored fully the Roman Catholic tradition but also cared deeply for us, with a deep respect for other traditions."
Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago said the Chicago priest "shaped and enriched the implementation of the ecumenical mandate of the Second Vatican Council not only in the United States but throughout the world."
"It's sad news. He was such a vibrant part of the ecumenical movement for so many years," said the National Council of Churches general secretary, the Rev. Robert W. Edgar.
He said Father Hotchkin was working closely with the NCC on its initiative to try to create a new, more inclusive national ecumenical organization. Father Hotchkin addressed the NCC Executive Board on that topic at its recent meeting in Washington.
Expressing the condolences of the Holy See's Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Msgr. John A. Radano said, "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."
He added, "These documents laid the groundwork for the historic Joint Declaration on (the Doctrine of) Justification" signed by top Catholic and Lutheran officials in 1999.
A memorial Mass was held June 25 in the chapel of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops headquarters, where Father Hotchkin worked for the past 34 years.
Bishop Fiorenza was scheduled to preside at an ecumenical celebration of solemn vespers with the body present June 28 in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington.
Cardinal Keeler was scheduled to preach at the funeral Mass, to be held July 3 at the Cathedral of the Holy Name in Chicago, with burial following at St. Mary Cemetery in Mokena, Ill.
Father Hotchkin had been with the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs since 1967, serving since 1971 as its executive director.
In that post he was chief coordinator of Catholic ecumenical and interfaith relations in the United States, a nation widely regarded as unequaled worldwide in those fields.
He was a consultor to the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity from 1973 until his death and to the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue from 1985 to 1990. He was one of the drafters of the Vatican's revised ecumenical directory in 1993.
He was a member of the international Catholic-Lutheran Commission from 1973 to 1984.
In 1978 he co-chaired the international Anglican-Roman Catholic Consultation on the Ordination of Women in Versailles, France.
He was part of the Vatican delegation to the Fifth Assembly of the World Council of Churches in 1975 in Nairobi, Kenya; the Sixth Assembly in 1983 in Vancouver, Canada; and the World Convocation on Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation in 1990 in Seoul, South Korea.
In 1970 he was an official Catholic observer to the Fifth Assembly of the Lutheran World Federation in Evian, France.
Since 1967 he has been a Catholic observer-consultant to the Consultation on Church Union. He has served on the Faith and Order Commission of the National Council of Churches and on various commissions jointly sponsored with the NCC.
He was a member, and in the 1980s chairman, of the National Ecumenical Officers Association, organizer of the annual national Workshop on Christian Unity.
He was on the board of the (Catholic) National Association of Diocesan Ecumenical Officers.
He was a trustee of the Washington Theological Consortium from 1995 to 2000.
In 1981 he developed the model for the Ecumenical Leadership Institute, a training program for Catholic ecumenical officers. He organized and led the first several of the 10 institutes that have been held. In addition, the program has had two more recent spin-offs based on the same model: interreligious institutes to train Catholic leaders in that field and advanced ecumenical institutes for experienced leaders seeking a deeper level of training.
At one time or another over the years he was personally involved in virtually every U.S. Catholic bilateral dialogue. He was often a Catholic observer at national meetings of other churches and an observer or consultant at a number of non-Catholic multilateral ecumenical endeavors.
He frequently addressed ecumenical and theological gatherings and contributed to numerous books, periodicals, encyclopedias and other reference works.
Born in Chicago Feb. 3, 1935, John Francis Hotchkin was ordained a priest of the Chicago Archdiocese in 1959 after studies at St. Mary of the Lake Seminary in Mundelein, Ill., and the North American College in Rome.
He served in pastoral assignments at the parishes of Christ the King and St. Therese of the Infant Jesus in Chicago before returning to Rome for postgraduate work in ecumenical theology.
He earned a doctorate in theology from the Gregorian University in 1966. On Jan. 1, 1967, he joined the bishops' ecumenical secretariat, which was then only three years old.
In 1997, The Catholic University of America gave him an honorary doctorate for his ecumenical contributions, and that same year the Chicago Archdiocese bestowed on him the Joseph Cardinal Bernardin Laureate in Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs. Last year the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement presented him with their Paul Wattson Christian Unity Award.
"He will be greatly missed," said Robert K. Welsh, president of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) Council on Christian Unity, which in 1991 honored Father Hotchkin as a "patron of Christian unity," its highest ecumenical award.
"We have lost a friend. We have lost someone who truly understood our own ethos, which is a passion for unity centered at the table (of the Eucharist)," Welsh said.
Father Hotchkin is survived by his mother, Sarah, and three sisters, all in the Chicago area, and by numerous nieces and nephews.
Fellow ecumenists reflect on Father Hotchkin's life, work
By Jerry Filteau
Catholic News Service
June 28, 2001
WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Father John F. Hotchkin rarely appeared in the public spotlight, but behind the scenes he was easily one of the most significant and influential Catholic ecumenists of the past third of a century, according to those who knew him best.
In interviews with Catholic News Service and public statements, other leading ecumenists painted a portrait of a man of grace, humility and a passion for Christian unity -- and one who perhaps more than any other person has shaped the Catholic ecumenical enterprise in the United States.
Father Hotchkin, 66, died unexpectedly June 24 from a severe bronchial infection. A Chicago priest, he was executive director of the U.S. bishops' Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs in Washington for more than 30 years.
Said a veteran ecumenist and Disciples of Christ leader, the Rev. Paul Crow: "I often teased Jack about being the only ecumenist of substance who didn't become a cardinal. ... He was a quiet, humble ecumenist who was profoundly involved in all important ecumenical matters in the Catholic Church. But he led more by his humility and his passion for the unity of the church than he did with fanfare.
"Many of us who are these up-front ecumenists sometimes get tangled up in our egos," Rev. Crow added. "Jack Hotchkin was of a different genre. Ecumenism was not something that was to bring him visibility and honor; ecumenism to him was faithfulness to Christ and to the prayer of Christ for the unity of all who belong to him."
"He was a keen observer of humanity," said Eugene Fisher, who worked alongside Father Hotchkin for the past 24 years as associate director for Catholic-Jewish relations and who is regarded as one of the world's leading experts in that field.
"The word I use is mentor," Fisher said. "He was very good at guiding me, helping me see why something I was thinking about doing might be done better a different way."
He added, "He would have been involved in framing the issues in virtually every bilateral consultation the church in the United States has had -- certainly since 1971 and I'll bet for a few years before that" as the secretariat's associate director, 1967-71.
Besides his hand in framing the topics and directions of the dialogues, Father Hotchkin played a major role in lining up the right bishops and theologians to form the Catholic side in each dialogue, Fisher said.
"It's no wonder some of the best theologians in the country were very close to Jack, because he knew how to use them," he said.
Jesuit Father John Long, an American who spent many years in Rome on the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, said Father Hotchkin "had a great deal to do with writing and bringing to the light of day" the unity council's 1993 "Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism." The directory is a basic reference guide for all Catholic ecumenical activity.
Cardinal William H. Keeler of Baltimore, who is deeply involved in Catholic dialogue with Jews, Muslims and the Orthodox, said: "When Pope John Paul II visited the United States in 1987 and met with other Christian leaders at Columbia, S.C., he found a spirit of openness that he repeatedly commended afterwards. So much of this was due to the work of Father Hotchkin and the staff who worked under his direction, building on the pioneering efforts of his predecessors.
"The quest for Christian unity and for interreligious understanding has lost a great champion," the cardinal said, adding that leaders throughout the ecumenical and interreligious field "constantly turned to him for advice."
One of the consultations in which Father Hotchkin was most directly and deeply involved over many years was the Catholic-Lutheran dialogue, staffing the U.S. dialogue for three decades and serving as a member of the international dialogue from 1973 to 1984.
When the Catholic and Lutheran churches approved the landmark "Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification" in 1999, "Father Hotchkin's fingerprints were all over it" Fisher said.
The Rev. Daniel Martensen, ecumenical affairs director of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, said, "One of the most important things for us to note would be the contributions he's made over these decades to the Lutheran-Roman Catholic bilateral dialogue here in North America."
He said that dialogue "is probably one of the leaders worldwide" with its contributions to a theological convergence in many areas, but especially on justification."
Father Leonid Kishkovsky, chief ecumenical officer of the Orthodox Church in America, noted the contrast between the fruitful Catholic-Orthodox dialogue in the United States and the difficulties elsewhere.
"What is painful on the international scene is not missing from the U.S. dialogue, but it is discussed in a fruitful way, rather than being the occasion for paralysis," he said.
He described Father Hotchkin as "theologically, organizationally and spiritually, a balanced and integrated presence" on the ecumenical scene.
Rev. Crow was the first general secretary of the Consultation on Church Union, through which nine U.S. Protestant churches are seeking to come to full communion. Father Hotchkin had been a COCU observer-consultant since 1967.
"He was our most consistent observer," Rev. Crow said. "In every major meeting he would speak a substantial word, as we were wrestling with some critical issue. ... The threads would be coming unraveled as these Protestants were debating each other, and Jack would get to the microphone and give an affirming word (of) confidence that this is of the faith."
He also cited Father Hotchkin's leading role in ecumenical formation -- both in the National Workshop on Christian Unity, which draws together about 500 ecumenists every year, and in developing a national formation program for Catholic ecumenical officers.
He said Father Hotchkin never tired of reaching out to Pentecostals, Missouri Synod Lutherans and others, "trying to open the door for those who were not yet in the ecumenical movement."
"His understanding of life, his understanding of the priesthood, his understanding of the mission of the church was that all who belong to Christ are one," Rev. Crow said.
The last public speech Father Hotchkin gave was at the 195th General Synod of the Reformed Church in America, which met June 8-13 in Pella, Iowa.
He was the first Roman Catholic leader to address the synod, and some of his comments could be seen in retrospect as a summation of his own life's work.
"Jesus Christ, in whose name our forebears separated themselves, is also the one who brings forgiveness and kinship," he said. "We cannot create unity; it can only be God's gift. What we can do is remove the obstacles we have created to receive this gift of grace, and that is what we have been doing."
Funeral held for Father John Hotchkin, noted ecumenist
By Michelle Martin
Catholic News Service
July 3, 2001
CHICAGO (CNS) -- Dozens of Catholic priests and bishops and dignitaries from other faiths joined the procession into Chicago's Holy Name Cathedral July 3 for the funeral of Father John F. Hotchkin.
Father Hotchkin, 66, was a Chicago priest who spent the last 34 years working in Washington for the U.S. bishops' conference. He had served as executive director of the bishops' Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs since 1971.
Father Hotchkin died June 24.
National representatives from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America attended, as did representatives of the Episcopal Church of the U.S.A., the Disciples of Christ, the United Church of Christ and the American Jewish Committee.
U.S. Ukrainian Orthodox Archbishop Vsevolod of Scopelos attended, along with Bishop Robert Nemkovich of the Polish National Catholic Church. The Greek Orthodox Church and the Orthodox Church in America also were represented.
In honor of Father Hotchkin's ecumenical work, the Rev. Lydia Veliko of the United Church of Christ gave the first reading and the Rev. Lowell Almen of the ELCA gave the second reading.
Auxiliary Bishop Edwin M. Conway, one of Father Hotchkin's former classmates, was the main celebrant.
In his homily, Cardinal William H. Keeler of Baltimore, episcopal moderator of U.S. Catholic-Jewish relations, said Father Hotchkin lived the beatitudes while coordinating meetings and dialogues between and among members of different faiths.
"He was mild of temper, forgiving of heart and a true peacemaker, even though his theological insights were clear, analytical and firmly held," Cardinal Keeler said. "In all of this, he reflected a hunger and a thirst for a world ordered by God's justice and design."
But that did not stop him from exercising a subtle sense of humor, Cardinal Keeler said.
"He would insert into detailed minutes of meetings some outrageous sentences, to make sure everyone read the minutes he prepared," the cardinal recalled.
Christian Brother Jeffrey Gros, associate director of the secretariat, and Eugene J. Fisher, associate director for Catholic-Jewish relations, said both sides of Father Hotchkin's personality served him well as he set up some of the first Catholic dialogues with members of other faiths in the United States.
Fisher and Brother Gros were among more than half a dozen staff members from the secretariat who attended the funeral.
"He was there at the beginning, just after the (Second Vatican) Council, when the question was, how do we go about these dialogues?" Fisher said.
"He had a real grasp of the theological concepts, and of the practical, how do you do it, questions," said Brother Gros, adding that Father Hotchkin had encouraged him to take a position with the National Council of Churches in the 1980s.
"At the time, they didn't know how committed the Catholic Church was to ecumenism, even in 1981," Brother Gros said.
Despite the outpouring of respect shown by members of other faiths at Father Hotchkin's funeral and memorial services, he was not well-known outside ecumenical circles. Even his family was surprised to find out the esteem in which he was held, Fisher said.
That did not surprise Jon Nilson, a professor at Loyola University Chicago and president-elect of the Catholic Theological Society of America.
"He was a very humble man," Nilson said. "He was also a very bright man, who studied and worked very hard. He was incredibly knowledgeable about what was going on in the various churches and across the various churches. Because of those two things, he was liked and trusted."
The Rev. John H. Thomas, general minister and president of the United Church of Christ's Office of General Ministries, said in his eight years as his church's ecumenical officer, he developed a great liking and trust for Father Hotchkin.
After the funeral, Rev. Thomas said Father Hotchkin was a good theologian. "And he had a marvelous pastoral presence as well," he added. "He helped us move through some issues and live with some difficult issues. He had great integrity when it came to Catholic teachings and, at the same time, great respect for the Protestant tradition."