Ed. Ronda is co-author with Msgr. Kevane of Love of Wisdom, An Introduction to Christian Philosophy (Ignatius Press; currently out of print)
“Before that dinner out, I want you to seriously meditate on St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans.” It was with this surprising demand made by Msgr. Eugene Kevane, one of the foremost Catholic scholars of the twentieth century, and founder of the Notre Dame Apostolic Institute for Catechetics, that I was first introduced to the vision of Fr. Elias Friedman, founder of the Association of Hebrew Catholics.
Knowing that as a convert to the Catholic faith from an atheistic background, I might not immediately understand the need to preserve my Jewish identity, Msgr. Kevane chose this authoritative way to usher me into the movement he was so sure I should be fostering.
It turned out that Msgr. Kevane had met Fr. Elias many years before his first meeting with me in the late 70’s. What had sealed the bond between the two scholars was the divine providence to be found in the coinciding of the apostasy of the Gentiles predicted by St. Paul and described in detail in Msgr. Kevane’s book The Lord of History; and the return of the Jewish people to the Holy Land, a sign to Fr. Elias, as explained in Jewish Identity, of the beginning of a new era regarding the Roman Catholic Church’s attitude towards the Jewish people.
Who was this far-seeing Msgr. who died on October 13, 1996 and was one of the greatest supporters among all priests of our Association?
First off, there is nothing in his background as a child that would make anyone suppose he would become a champion of Hebrew-Catholics. Born on June 5, 1913 on a family farm in the parish of St. Mary’s, Storm Lake, Buena Vista County, Iowa, little Eugene attended a one room country elementary school, and a public high school. After college Eugene Kevane spent four years in the seminary including studies at the Gregorian in Rome.
It was during these years on the Continent, that the seminarian would follow with horror the growth of the Nazi movement and be able to trace the policies so destructive of the Jewish people to the philosophies of the 18th and 19th centuries.
After his studies, Eugene Kevane was ordained as a priest for the Diocese of Sioux City, Iowa. Besides his duties at the Cathedral, he taught at the school. The years 1942-1946 saw Fr. Kevane as a chaplain in the U.S. Army Air Force, where he was discharged with the rank of Major. After earning an M.A. from Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, he founded Heelan High School in 1949 where he was ten years Principal.
In 1959, as Msgr. E. Kevane, he joined the faculty of the Catholic University of America where he received a Ph.D. in Philosophy of Education with a doctoral thesis later published as Augustine the Educator. After some years as Dean of the School of Education at Catholic University, Msgr. left for St. John’s University in Long Island, New York. Later he would found the Notre Dame Pontifical Catechetical Institute in the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia, designed to provide an M.A. program in Catechetics totally in line with Magisterial teachings, at a time when such studies were hard to come by. His work as head of this Institute still left him time to head the Center for Family Catechetics (out of which came his articles for Catholics United for the Faith) and also to teach as a Visiting Professor of Catechetics at St. Thomas Aquinas University in Rome and as a Consultant at the Holy Apostles Seminary in Connecticut, and to write and edit many books of great value.
The scholarly writings (9 books and innumerable articles in many languages) reveal a consummate grasp of the teachings of the Church as well as the underlying errors that make it so difficult for some contemporary Catholics to embrace those truths. Deeply immersed in the writings of St. Augustine and St. Thomas, Msgr. likes to trace in such books as Augustine the Educator, Love of Wisdom, and Lord of History, the way the truths of the pagan and classical ancients were seized upon by the Fathers of the Church and the way these truths found purification and fulfillment in the philosophical and theological writings of St. Thomas. With sometimes biting logic, Msgr. Kevane in his writings and teachings knew how to show the erroneous teachings of modern philosophers whose ideas would serve to undermine Catholic belief. During this time he poured energy into publishing a new translation of the Catechetical Documents of recent centuries so that a future catechist would never have to guess what the Church really taught about this unsung but absolutely necessary ministry.
A most private person, it has always been astounding to his colleagues and followers to discover some facet of Msgr. Kevane’s apostolic work they had never heard of. For example, how many know that this super-orthodox priest could be seen in his clerics and black beret entering the Marxist bookshop in New York City to find out what the enemy was really teaching!
Or, would you have guessed that the absolutely favorite saint of the world renowned scholar was Little Therese of Lisieux? Yes. When working on the book Love of Wisdom: An Introduction to Christian Philosophy with Msgr. Kevane I was amazed to find that on the final pages he chose to give tribute not to some famous theologian of ages past, but to Little Therese. Why? Few people knew that Msgr. Kevane was a Third Order Carmelite. What he found in the writings of St. Therese, the Little Flower, was a summary in popular spirituality of the essence of the Creed. The Holy Spirit brought this small saint through the horrors of doubt and fear by means of pure faith in objective Revelation; in the truths that transcend all the ups and downs of human history.
One of my favorite memories was a Fourth of July Mass celebrated by Msgr. at the Notre Dame Institute. We were all bemoaning the inroads of false teaching in the Church and feeling terrible about the United States because of the abortion holocaust. What a surprise when, in his sermon, Msgr. did not comment on these sad realities but instead exhorted us to hope with these words: “No priest who hears confessions could ever despair of America, the sincerity of our people is so moving to any priest.”
Due to an eventually fatal but long drawn out ordeal with heart trouble, Msgr. Kevane spent most of his last years in frailty and suffering, no doubt offering up all his pain and diminishment for the Church he loved so profoundly. With only enough energy to spend an hour a day on his beloved writing apostolate, he was able to complete the book Jesus: The Divine Teacher which will be published shortly by Franciscan University Press of Steubenville.
While he was still very active, however, Msgr. helped form the New York City chapter of the Association of Hebrew Catholic . He spent many years corresponding with Fr. Elias about their common concepts and discussing all Association matters with David Moss and myself.
Msgr. Eugene Kevane died on October 13, 1996. May he rest in peace, but always intercede for those of us he left behind to carry on the glorious work of defending the truths which are our salvation and promoting the vision of the Association of Hebrew Catholics.