A Friend of the Gospel

By Madison Chastain

I was in one of Don’s first classes at CTU and often felt they were more of a retreat than simply imparting knowledge.

A gentle and humble guide, ever accessible.

He knew ‘where we live’ and could speak to our own journeys as seekers, as ministers, as people trying to witness to God’s abundant love.

To biblical scholars, he was their guide. And to the students, he was our scriptural Dad.

THESE ARE just a few tributes out of hundreds – from friends, family, fellow Passionists, former students, and former pilgrims from numerous trips to the Holy Land – that have been collected in the months since the passing of President Emeritus and Chancellor of Catholic Theological Union, Rev. Donald P. Senior, CP, on November 8, 2022. Of the words used to describe him, “warm,” “compassionate,” “joyful,” “scholar,” and “friend” are most frequent.

Father Don joined the faculty of CTU in 1972 – after completing his doctorate in New Testament Studies from the University of Louvain in Belgium – and impacted countless lives in his 50 years of teaching. He served as President  from 1987 to 1994, and again from 1997 to 2013, before being named Chancellor. In addition to these significant responsibilities, he wrote numerous books, articles, and reviews for both scholarly and popular audiences. He was General Editor of The Bible Today, co-editor of the twenty-two volume commentary New Testament Message, General Editor of The Catholic Study Bible, and most recently, he co-edited the Jerome Biblical Commentary for the Twenty-First Century alongside current President Sr. Barbara Reid, OP. He served on numerous boards including the Catholic Biblical Association of America, the Association of Theological Schools of the United States and Canada, and the Council of Religious Leaders of Metropolitan Chicago.

Father Don entered the Congregation of the Passion in 1960 and was ordained a Catholic priest in 1967. In the days following his passing, his Passionist community shared a beautiful video of Fr. Don telling in his own words the story of his life and vocation. You can view that video, and read the Passionist community tribute to Fr. Don, here.

Hundreds of family, friends, and members of the CTU and Passionist communities gathered at St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church in Hyde Park on November 14 for an evening vigil, and again on November 15 for a Mass of Christian Burial, to celebrate his life and mourn his loss. Present in a special way were Bishop Francis Kane, representing the Archdiocese of Chicago, and Bishop Timothy Senior, Fr. Don’s cousin, from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

CTU President Sr. Barbara Reid, OP, who presided over the Vigil Service on November 14, preached on Chapter 12 of the Gospel of Luke: “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit.” Her reflection challenged the central metaphor of the verses, that of slaves and masters: “Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes.” Said Reid,

The master-slave metaphor is no longer a very good one to speak about our relationship with God or Jesus. In the Gospel of John, Jesus offers a different metaphor: At the Last Supper, he says, “I do not call you slaves any longer, because the slave does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends.”

He says this as he’s explaining the meaning of his impending death that he acts out in symbolic form — by washing his friends’ feet, an action that encapsulates his self-surrender to love, affirming, “there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” … Friends of Jesus pour themselves out in loving service for one another, even to those who will not return the love in kind —even to Judas, who is about to hand Jesus over, even to Peter, who is about to deny he ever knew him. Jesus further instructs his friends to keep on expanding the circle of beloved friends, drawing all into God’s loving embrace.

In so many ways, Fr. Don embodied this gospel mandate, laying down his life for Jesus’ friends, and creating an ever wider circle of beloved friends.“Dear Friends,” was the way he most often began his homilies and his teachings.

The following day, at the Mass of Christian Burial, fellow Passionist and CTU professor Rev. Robin Ryan, CP delivered a moving homily commemorating the many facets and key moments of Fr. Don’s life. The homily, which you can read in full here, began with this evident truth:

Donald Senior loved Jesus Christ.
Because of his love for Christ he spent long hours studying the Jewish and Christian Scriptures. Because of that love he taught countless numbers of students to love the Scriptures and in that to love Christ. Because of that love he authored innumerable articles, essays, lectures and books in which he endeavored to instill knowledge and love of Christ in a wide variety of audiences. And because of that love he led many pilgrims to the lands of the Bible, especially Israel, the land where Jesus walked.

Tom Brown, Chair of CTU’s Board of Trustees, and pilgrim on Fr. Don’s Lands of the Bible trips, offered a eulogy, which you can read in full here. Of Fr. Don’s character and humility, Brown said this:

Not an iota of arrogance or entitlement or clericalism … not a scintilla of selfishness or pride or gamesmanship. His mission was spreading the good news of God’s love for us, and he spread that good news in every action he took and every idea he espoused. And he joyfully, joyfully wanted us to share in his innate enthusiasm for the good news at every step — in his many trips to the Holy Land, in the classroom, in his writings, in the inter-religious dialogue he fostered and in his astute leadership. At every step, he led with the good news.

The Holy Father, Pope Francis, sent a letter of condolence which was read during Mass alongside a letter from Cardinal Blase Cupich of the Archdiocese of Chicago. The former can be found HERE

Two funds at CTU honor Fr. Don’s unequaled legacy. The Rev. Donald P. Senior, CP Endowed Scholarship is designed to support lay women and men who are seeking master’s level degrees in theology and ministry and are committed to serving in a leadership position in their ministerial career.

The Rev. Donald P. Senior, CP Memorial Fund was established in his memory to provide funding to support initiatives that, as determined by the President, are designed to sustain institutional vitality and self-renewal. The DSMF is an empowering tool for CTU’s president to respond quickly to the institution’s greatest needs and highest priorities. Gifts to this fund give CTU the flexibility and resources needed to fulfill our mission and our vision for the future.