In the summer of 2015, Dr Michael Canaris will join the faculty of Loyola University Chicago’s Institute of Pastoral Studies (IPS) as an Assistant Professor of Ecclesiology and Systematic Theology. Canaris was a member of The Lay Centre community from 2014-2015 while working on a postdoctoral Licentiate (which he will complete in the summer of 2016) in Sacred Theology, with an emphasis on ecumenism, at The Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas – also known as the Angelicum.
A native of New Jersey, he completed his BA at the University of Scranton, his MA at Boston College and his doctorate at Fordham University. He has also taught at Jesuit academic institutions such as Fairfield and St. Joseph’s Universities. “I have spent years learning and teaching in Jesuit schools, and my pedagogy has been very much informed by Ignatian spirituality,” he said. He also spent a year at Durham University’s Centre for Catholic Studies in the UK.
During his time as a doctoral candidate, Canaris was under the tutelage of the great theologian Cardinal Avery Dulles, S.J., who served as his dissertation director until his death. “Cardinal Dulles was not only a brilliant thinker with an encyclopaedic memory, but he was also one of the holiest people that I have ever met,” Canaris said. “If we were listening to one side of a phone conversation, we would have no idea whether the call was from one of his students, or a Vatican diplomat, university president, or politician. I admired the respect and sincerity he showed to everyone he encountered.”
Canaris worked with Cardinal Dulles until his death in 2008 from complications due to polio, which he suffered in his youth. “During the last two years of his life he was completely incapacitated, he could not even swallow or talk,” Canaris said. “We worked out a communication system based on blinks, nods, and small motions where his thought could appear on a screen a letter at a time. In spite of this, his mind was a sharp as ever. Being with him at this point allowed me to witness the dignity and grace of transformative suffering, in a way that continues to shape my theological method and spirituality.”
It was during his time at Fairfield University that Canaris’ work took on an unexpected, practical direction. He collaborated with a number of theologians, sociologists and law faculty across a number of Jesuit universities to address issues of immigration in higher education. “My goal was to emphasize reception, and to cultivate an appreciation for the Ignatian heritage of dedication to the most marginalized.” His collaboration in a project funded by the Ford Foundation culminated in helping organize a presentation of the research findings in the U.S. Senate and to work to bring 60 undergraduates to meet individually with their House/Senate representatives about issues related to immigration reform, moral duty, and public policy. The campaign galvanized twenty-five presidents from Jesuit universities to sign a public statement re-affirming their intention to realize the worth, dignity, and rights of all their students, whether immigrant or not.
During his time at The Lay Centre, he taught patristics at the Pontifical Beda College, which proved to be a perfect segue for his work at IPS. “One of the reasons that I look forward to teaching at the IPS is that it is a graduate professional school that consists of a diverse community of students with rich life experiences. In this context, teaching and learning becomes an exchange,” he asserted. “My time at The Lay Centre also prepared me for this work. Life there reflected the globalized world of today, where people of different histories, religions and cultures can and do interact with civility, mutual learning, and authentic friendship.”
Canaris is looking forward to returning to Rome next year to celebrate The Lay Centre’s 30th anniversary, and plans to teach at Loyola’s local campus here in future summers and semesters. He is scheduled to be among many distinguished keynote speakers in a conference entitled, Full, Conscious and Active: Lay Participants in the Church’s Dialogue with the World, which will be sponsored by The College Theology Society and The Lay Centre from 6 – 9 July 2016.
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