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Famed Theologian To Return To Harvard

Former Divinity School head will teach at Kennedy School of Government

By Daniel J. Hemel, Crimson Staff Writer

A renowned Catholic theologian who formerly served as head of Harvard Divinity School will return to campus in the fall—this time as a professor at the Kennedy School of Government.

The Rev. J. Bryan Hehir, who in 1999 became the highest-ranking Catholic administrator in the Divinity School’s history, will take a part-time position at the Kennedy School in September while retaining his current full-time post as president of Catholic Charities for the Archdiocese of Boston.

Kennedy School Dean Joseph S. Nye announced Hehir’s appointment as Parker G. Montgomery professor of the practice of religion and public life on Tuesday, heeding the recommendations of a search committee and the school’s faculty.

Hehir led the Divinity School through a period of tumult after his predecessor, Ronald F. Thiemann, stepped down in the fall of 1998. Thiemann, an ordained Lutheran, was forced to resign from his deanship after technicians found pornography on a computer at his University-owned mansion.

When Hehir, a 1977 graduate of the Divinity School, succeeded Thiemann, he declined to take the title of “dean” or live in University housing in order to show that his first duty was to the Catholic Church.

The only other Catholic leader of the Divinity School, Rev. George W. MacRae, served as acting dean for several months in 1985 before dying of a heart attack at age 57.

Hehir left the school in 2001 to become president of Catholic Charities USA and teach at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service.

An expert in international relations, Hehir helped orchestrate an effort among Catholic leaders to advocate nuclear disarmament in the early 1980s, winning a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant for his work in 1984.

In December 2002, he voiced opposition to the invasion of Iraq at an Institute of Politics forum, invoking the “just war” theory of early Catholic philosopher St. Augustine. “War is only moral when it is absolutely necessary,” Hehir told students.

Also that month, when Cardinal Bernard F. Law ’53 resigned amidst a sexual abuse scandal, The Boston Globe reported that Hehir—a vocal critic of the Church’s handling of the scandal—was a “longshot” candidate for the archbishop post.

The job instead went to Archbishop Sean P. O’Malley, who last September tapped Hehir to be the archdiocese’s charity chief.

Hehir assumed control of the archdiocese’s vast network of social services programs this year with an annual budget of nearly $40 million. While some observers were stunned by Hehir’s decision to leave his national post for a local one, advocates for sexual abuse victims hailed O’Malley’s appointment of Hehir.

“He is a vibrant and energetic man, and we do not anticipate that his appointment to the JFK School of Government will affect his position in any way,” said Catholic Charities communications director Cullen Buckland.

At the Kennedy School, Hehir will be affiliated with the Hauser Center’s Program in Religion and Public Life, according to the program’s chair, Bradshaw Professor of Public Policy and Management Mary Jo Bane.

“He will be a terrific colleague and a terrific teacher. He will bring a familiarity with social services in Boston at the ground level,” Bane said.

—Staff writer Daniel J. Hemel can be reached at

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