Holy Cross Mourns Pioneer in Catholic Theological Education; Former Religious Studies Professor

June 7th, 2013 by 

Image by College of the Holy Cross Archives and Special Collections

Dr. Bernard J. Cooke, a member of the College of the Holy Cross faculty from 1980-1992 died on May 31, 2013, his ninety-first birthday, at the Village at Incarnate Word in San Antonio, Texas.

Rev. John E. Brooks, S.J., the longest serving president of the College, was responsible for bringing Dr. Cooke, an internationally recognized theologian and educator, to the College in 1980. He retired as Loyola Professor of Theology in 1992.

A pioneer in shaping Catholic theological education in colleges and universities for more than 40 years, he played a leading role in the United States in transforming theology from an irrelevant academic exercise into a means of vital contact with today’s problems and today’s people.  A very important leader of post-Vatican II Catholic life, the Holy Cross community had the privilege of his presence at Holy Cross for many years.

“Dr. Cooke will be remembered as one of the most important theologians of American Catholicism in the second half of the 20th- century,” shares Rev. Bruce T. Morrill, S.J., ’81, Edward A. Malloy Professor of Catholic Studies at Vanderbilt University, and a student of Dr. Cooke’s. “For those who had the privilege of studying, working, collaborating, or even only occasionally meeting him, Bernard Cooke will populate memories as an exemplar of faith in the power of the Spirit of the risen Christ, experienced sacramentally in the joys and sorrows, struggles and small triumphs of friendship and community.”

“In 1963, Bernard Cooke paved a path by starting the first Ph.D. program in Catholic theology intended for Catholic ‘lay’ people,” explains Marybeth Kearns-Barrett ’84, director of the chaplains’ office at Holy Cross and a former student of Dr. Cooke’s. “He also challenged me to think critically about Holy Cross and the place of women on campus.  Gentle and soft spoken as always, yet he was still challenging me as a feminist with his questions and insights.”

Dr. Cooke published more than 20 books and lectured in many countries, including Canada, France, Spain, Switzerland, Japan, Korea, Ireland, and East Africa. He recently taught grateful residents of the retirement center where he and his wife lived. Dr. Cooke’s areas of professional specialization were sacramental theology (religious symbol and ritual), New Testament, religious psychology, and history of theological method.

Dr. Cooke received his A.B. and M. A. degrees from St. Louis University, an S.T.Lic. from St. Mary’s College, Kansas, and an S.T.D. from the Institut Catholique de Paris, as well as honorary doctoral degrees from the University of Detroit and Marquette University.

He was chairman and a professor in the Department of Theology at Marquette University, where in 1963 he inaugurated the first Ph.D. program in the nation to train Catholic laypeople for careers in theological scholarship and teaching. He went on to hold faculty positions at the University of Windsor and the University of Calgary in Canada. A tireless and inspiring teacher, Dr. Cooke also held visiting professorships at Santa Clara University, Loyola University in New Orleans, the University of the Incarnate Word, and the University of San Diego.

Dr. Cooke’s leadership in the American theological academy included his presidency of both the College Theology Society and the Catholic Theological Society of America, who also honored him with the John Courtney Murray Award “for distinguished achievement in theology.” In addition to honorary doctorates, other awards included a research fellowship at Yale Divinity School, from which he produced his landmark volume, Ministry to Word and Sacraments, and a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship, from which followed another of his scholarly works, “The Distancing of God.” Others of his most widely read books include “Christian Sacraments and Christian Personality,” “Sacraments and Sacramentality,” “God’s Beloved: Jesus’ Experience of the Transcendent,” “The Future of the Eucharist,” and “Power and the Spirit of God.”

Dr. Cooke is survived by his wife, Dr. Pauline Turner, and daughter, Kelly Turner-Cooke, his brothers David Cooke (wife Leann) of Elk Grove, Calif., Tom Cooke (wife Margaret) of Oakland, Calif., as well as many nieces and nephews.

Dr. Cooke’s life will be celebrated in a Wake Service, Monday, June 10, 2013, 7 p.m. in the Assembly Room of the Village at Incarnate Word, 4707 Broadway, San Antonio, TX 78209 (phone 210-829-7561).  All are invited to share memories. A Memorial Mass will be celebrated by Fr. Jake Empereur, S.J., Tuesday, June 11, 10 a.m., Chapel of the Incarnate Word at the Motherhouse, 4503 Broadway. In lieu of flowers, people are invited to support the Bernard J. Cooke Memorial Fund, 150 Katherine Court, San Antonio, TX 78209.

For additional information, please contact Cristal Steuer at 508-793-2419.

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