The Question of Ourselves: A Convocation for Richard P. McBrien

The first theological questions we ask ourselves are, “Who am I?” and “Who are we?” Every other theological question comes back to these. We cannot understand God, or Jesus Christ, or the Church, or anything else unless we come to terms with the question of ourselves. 

– Fr. Richard P. McBrien

My friend, the theologian, keeps on writing.
What is the use of such a long endeavor?
Nothing, unless it’s true that bread alone
will not suffice to heal the heart’s desire.

– “My Friend, the Theologian,” Edward R. Burns

Our special thanks to Fr. Michael S. Driscoll, Sally Vance-Trembath, Kern Trembath, Liza Peters, and Mária Dominika Vanková for joining us in our convocation for Fr. Richard P. McBrien on May 20, 2024. Guided by the spirit of his generosity and humanity, our panelists drew a collective portrait of Fr. McBrien that helped renew our sense of mission—not only at TAC, but in our individual and collective lives as members of the church as well. Panelists shared personal memories, ways that Fr. McBrien shaped their theological understanding, and how they feel his life and work continue to speak to us today. We also heard from attendees who knew and studied with Fr. McBrien in the early years of his vocation.

Lives of the Popes (2006 Reissue)

Lives of the Saints (2006 Reissue)

Fr. Richard P. McBrien was a son of the Archdiocese of Hartford (Connecticut), where Today’s American Catholic was founded and is still based. He authored 25 books and hundreds of weekly syndicated columns on theology. His magisterial reference work Catholicism was hailed as “the clearest and most competent guide in the English language to the Catholic Church’s origins, teaching, traditions, and developments,” while theologian Charles Curran once said of him that “no Catholic theologian in the United States has made a larger contribution to the reception of Vatican II.”

Our Panelists

Fr. Michael S. Driscoll is a priest of the diocese of Helena, Montana. He has spent the majority of his years in priesthood teaching—first at Carroll College, the diocesan college in Helena, and then at the University of Notre Dame since 1994 to the present. He entered into emeritus status in January of 2016 and still teaches. Fr. Driscoll’s writings on the liturgy have brought him into the area of social justice as the lived experience of faith flowing from the Eucharist, as seen in Sacraments and Justice (Liturgical Press, 2014).

Sally Vance-Trembath earned her MA and PhD at the University of Notre Dame. She has worked in Catholic education all her professional life and has been particularly interested in the relationships among the church, the school, and the wider society. She has published articles in Theological Studies, Consensus, and other venues. She was national vice president of Voice of the Faithful, the lay organization that was formed to respond to the abuse of children by clergy and the leadership crisis in the church, and appears frequently on television and radio to talk about Catholic issues.

Kern Trembath graduated from the University of California at Berkeley with a degree in political science. He is the author of Evangelical Theories of Biblical Inspiration and has worked as a professor and administrator. For several years he managed the digital archive of Richard McBrien’s writings. He is the founder of HelioRoast, a fully sustainable coffee-roasting company on Treasure Island in San Francisco.

Liza Peters is the director of youth and young adult ministry at Holy Family Passionist Retreat Center in West Hartford, Connecticut. Prior to joining the retreat team in 2011, she served as director of religious education at a parish outside Dayton, Ohio, and worked and lived in community at the St. Peter Claver Catholic Worker House in South Bend, Indiana. She holds a BA in psychology and a Master of Divinity from the University of Notre Dame.

Mária Dominika Vanková is a writer from Slovakia. She has worked with peace-building and poverty alleviation initiatives in Southeast Asia, and is currently compiling archives of Fr. McBrien’s syndicated columns on theology. She is the founder of the Club of Friendship Slovakia–Cambodia and a coordinator of humanitarian aid to Cambodia.

Image: Detail of a portrait of Richard McBrien by Luke V. Lauretano

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