Fr. John F. Kavanaugh died Nov. 5, at Saint Louis University Hospital in St. Louis, Missouri, after a battle with a blood disease. 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.
Kavanaugh rejoined the faculty at Saint Louis University in 1976 where he would serve for the next 36 years. He established a reputation as an exceptional teacher, combining scholarly rigor with profound insights into human life. His courses included philosophy of human nature and medical ethics.
"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."
"John represented the very best of Saint Louis University,” said University President Fr. Lawrence Biondi. "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."
Highly regarded for his scholarship, Kavanaugh was awarded visiting professorships at Chishawasha Major Regional Seminary in Zimbabwe in 1987 and Creighton University in 1991. 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.
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, 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.
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).
Kavanaugh served the Society of Jesus in a variety of ways. He was a highly regarded teacher and spiritual director for generations of young Jesuits studying at Saint Louis University. He inspired and challenged his brother Jesuits to lives of simplicity and solidarity with the poor, both in his words and the example of his life. His witness was particularly evident as a member of Markoe House Community from 1976 to 1984 and the St. Matthew Parish Community from 1991 to 1995. He also generously served as the Missouri Provincial Assistant for Social Apostolates from 1978 to 1984.
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. In recent years he contributed to “Ethics Notebook” in America. John received several National Catholic Press Awards for general commentary.
America magazine has posted a list of some of Kavanaugh's best columns; view the list ...