Dr. Gerard A. Vanderhaar:
Tributes, Obituaries & Reflections
Obituary from the Commercial Appeal| World Class Husband & Peacemaker by Janice Vanderhaar | Pax Christi USA Obituary
Reflection by Thomas A. Kirchberg | The Fabric of Being by Linda Raiteri | Gerry & Harry Went to Nicaragua
Dr. Gerald 'Gerry' Vanderhaar loved this time of year.
Dr. Vanderhaar taught religion and peace studies at Christian Brothers University for 28 years and wrote numerous books and articles on peace issues. After retiring, he was named professor emeritus.
In 2003, he and his wife received the Bishop Carroll T. Dozier Award for Peace and Justice from CBU.
"He was very dedicated to peace and I'm sure none of his work will be wasted," said Arun Gandhi, grandson of Mahatma Gandhi and founder of the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence at CBU.
"He sowed the seeds of peace and nonviolence in the minds of young people and I'm certain they will flourish."
In addition to Pax Christi USA, Dr. Vanderhaar was instrumental in getting the Gandhi Institute to locate in Memphis and was a founder of the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center.
The Louisville, K., native pursued peace in everything, most often teaming up with his wife of 35 years.
"We got out there when no one else wanted to go and in places no one else wanted to be," Janice Vanderhaar said. "Our marriage was a peace-making vocation."
Dr. Vanderhaar was working on his memoirs at the time of his death, a project his wife is sad will never be completed. But he did finish a book on peace that will be published this fall and many of his works are available.
Dr. Vanderhaar's survivors include sisters Margaret Allen and Maria Porter of South Bend, Ind., and brother James Vanderhaar of Louisville, Ky.
The family asks that in lieu of flowers, contributions be made to Pax Christi USA, the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center, the Gandhi Institute or the World Cataract Foundation.
There will be a mass of celebration at noon Thursday at Church of the Holy Spirit.
Gerard Vanderhaar– A "World Class Husband and Peacemaker"
By Janice Vanderhaar
from the Fall 2005 Mid-South Peace & Justice Center Newsletter
On June 21, 2005, the longest day of the year, a day that my husband usually called attention to, commemorating a moment to be celebrated and enjoyed in a special way, he took his last breath on earth. That night, the moon was full and the closest to the earth since 1987. The Ethiopians have a saying that, "when a holy man dies, there is a full moon." Truly that was the case of Gerard Vanderhaar. Having lived with him for over 35 years I can attest to the fact that he indeed was holy in the best sense of that word. He was an extraordinary man with whom I was blessed to have shared an intimate life.
He was my soulmate, lover and best friend, life companion, cheerleader, and mentor. He changed my life not only personally, but spiritually, intellectually and politically. We met in 1966 when I was Sister Janice Marie, a Sister of Providence. He was then Father Anthony Vanderhaar, a Dominican priest and Director of the Masters Theology Program at Catherine Spaulding College (now Spaulding University) in Louisville, KY. It was a four-year summer program. It was not "love at first sight" for I had just taken my final vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and was not in any way looking for a man. I was committed to being a nun for the rest of my life. It was during the summer of 1968 that things began to happen between us and moved us out of our commitments to our Orders to our commitment to each other. It was as clear to us that we were meant for each other as it was when we entered our religious communities many years before. In December of 1968 we decided to marry and in December of 1969, having received our dispensations from Rome, we married. One person described our marriage as a "vocation in peacemaking."
And in many ways it was right from the beginning. Hopefully, someday, I will write that story.
We had an incredible life together and only grew in our love and respect for one another's gifts. Gerry would always quote Eileen Egan's famous phrase "no one has all the gifts." And so it surely was in our life together. We both grew in our appreciation of each other's gifts and worked together for a more nonviolent world.
Gerard was everything people said of him and more. All those who had met him, whether it was a peace activist on a street corner protesting a war (take your pick – Vietnam, Persian Gulf or Iraq) or a person serving him in the hospital, or working with the neighborhood association, or at the check out counter at the grocery store, repeated comments about how caring he was, how kind, how listening, how gentle. He felt all people had a goodness in them and there were no evil people even though he knew people were capable of doing evil things.
Each day he lived with a centerness and a conviction to live and work for a more perfect and nonviolent world.
Each day he greeted me with a smile and an expression of love and appreciation.
Each day he read the paper with his coffee and juice with "peace eyes."
He had a passion for peace that was profound. He never faltered or deviated through the years. Never doubted his mission.
He knew he had not changed the world, but he knew he had lived the life he felt called to live.
When he was in Intensive Care a few days before he died, I asked him if he was afraid to die. After thinking about this question for a while he said: I have four points regarding that question:
1. I love my life now and would like to stay here and continue living.
2. My dying will be trouble for others, cause them pain for a while and I don't like to make you and others unhappy.
3. However, I do not want a prolonged illness like my father had.
4. Finally, I am not afraid to die.
His answer will stay with me the rest of my life. It was so peaceful, balanced and reflective of how he lived his life.
He leaves a Legacy of Peace which will only grow in his work and in all those thousands of lives he influenced in some way. He shifted the planet a little closer to peace. As one of his former students said, "I knew that he was a great peacemaker, but I didn't realize until I looked on the internet to do a news story on him, that he was a giant in the peace movement."
I knew him as my beloved husband, who I miss enormously and will carry in my heart forever as I continue to carry on our peacemaking mission.
Gerry was the 'personification of nonviolence' and a mentor to those in the Catholic peace and justice movement.
Pax Christi USA, the national Catholic peace movement, mourns the loss of Gerry Vanderhaar, one of our founding members and a long-time academic and activist in the Catholic peace movement. Vanderhaar passed away on Tuesday, June 21, at 12:30 AM.
Vanderhaar was one of the founding members of Pax Christi USA when it was formed in 1972, and a member of its very first executive committee. He was a retired professor of religion and peace studies at Christian Brothers University in Memphis, and the author of numerous books on peacemaking and nonviolence. Gerry was named a Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace in 1992, and serve as one of the current coordinators of Pax Christi Memphis.
Dave Robinson, executive director of Pax Christi USA, said that Vanderhaar was a dear friend of the Pax Christi movement, and a seminal thinker on Christian nonviolence.
"Gerry was consistently and continually a guiding force in working to make sure the Catholic Church embraced and followed the nonviolent tradition," said Robinson. "Gerry firmly believed that by pursuing the path of personal nonviolence, we could start to become the very best we could be in this troubled world. Gerry lived this philosophy daily, and it is this dedicated legacy for which he will be remembered in the Catholic peace movement."
Vanderhaar was a prolific writer on Christian nonviolence. His book, Beyond Violence: In the Sprit of the Nonviolent Christ was awarded the 1998 Pax Christi USA book award, and he wrote two publications on nonviolence for Pax Christi USA: Nonviolence in the Christian Tradition and Words of Peace: Gerard Vanderhaar on Personal Nonviolence. He was also the author of the 1993 book When Good People Do Bad Things.
Jo Clarke, Development Director of Pax Christi USA, said that Vanderhaar was a founding father of Pax Christi USA, and a friend to all.
"Gerry was the personification of nonviolence," said Clarke. "Gerry has continued these past thirty years and more to be a guide and mentor to those in the peace movement. Whether in his writings on in his role as professor, Gerry touched the lives of thousands of people of all ages and from all cultures around the globe. He will be sorely missed by his friends at Pax Christi."
Gerry Vanderhaar was 73 years old, and is survived by his wife, Janice, a long-time friend and member of Pax Christi USA, and herself a notable peacemaker, who in 2004 was named one of "50 Women Whom Make a Difference" by the magazine Memphis Woman. A Memorial Mass for Gerry will be celebrated on Thursday, June 30, 2005 at 12 noon, at the Church of the Holy Spirit (2300 Hickory Crest Drive, Memphis, TN). In lieu of flowers, it is asked that donations be made to the following organizations: Pax Christi Memphis, Pax Christi USA, the M.K. Gandhi Institute, the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center, and the World Cataract Foundation.
It is an honor for me to speak to you about my friend and your friend, Gerry Vanderhaar. At the outset, I think it is best for me to tell you of al east one bias of mine: I believe in the Communion of the Saints. Consequently, I will continue to refer to Gerry in the present tense as appropriate. When Gerry asked me to speak, i suggested that it might be better for a number of persons to make remarks, but he was clear and insistent that I was to speak about him at the close of the Mass and that other people should be offered the opportunity to make remarks at the luncheon following the Mass. He was equally clear that I am to speak for no longer than ten minutes.
I believe in the Communion of Saints and so I know that Gerry is indeed here among people he loves. I will not tempt him regarding his request that I limit my remarks to ten minutes. Should I finish in less than ten minutes, I suppose it might be the result of actual grace granted me through his intercession. Those of you who are Catholics my age or older might explain "actual grace to younger Catholics and our non-Catholic friends at the luncheon as I don't want to waste my ten minutes.
How do I talk about Gerry without talking about his wife, Janice? The short answer is that I can't talk about Gerry without talking of Janice too. They are a dynamic duo. God's loving providence brought them together many years ago and God's grace has kept them steadfast in their love for one another and in their ministry of building a world of peace and justice. Meister Eckhart (1260-1328) a Dominican, with whom Gerry is now communing, wrote a poem that in some measure describes the love of Janice and Gerry.
What keeps us alive, what allows us to endure? I think it is the hope of loving, or being loved. I heard a fable once about the sun going on a journey to find its source, and how the moon wept without her lover's warm gaze. We weep when light does not reach our hearts. We wither like fields if someone close does not rain their kindness upon us.
The words of Meister Eckhart capture what Gerry and Janice have been doing for years for one another and in turn for us. We know the old saying, "Behind every great man stands a woman." In the case of Janice and Gerry, I've always seen them standing together–side-by-side–basking in one another's light. I sat next to Gerry last year when Janice received an award as one of 50 Women who make a Difference in Memphis. He was beaming when she went up to receive her award. Gerry stood up to lead the clapping, and without turning his gaze from her, leaned over and told me, "Janice is a great woman." I could see the pride and joy as he gazed at his beloved. Gerry frequently told me that he felt very fortunate to have Janice for his partner and wife.
I will attempt to tell you something of my experience of Gerry Vanderhaar. Just know that much of what I shall attempt to say applies to Janice equally well. I have always found them both most proud to hear the other spoken of with love and honor.
As you enter Gerry's study in their home, your eyes are drawn to the wall on the right where hangs his diploma from the University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome. He received his doctorate in Sacred Theology from the University sometimes called the Angelicum after St. Thomas Aquinas, the Angelic Doctor. Gazing benevolently from the diploma is an image of St. Thomas. To the left, as you enter his study on the top of a bookcase sit the well-worn volumes of the Summa Theologiae of St. Thomas Aquinas.
St. Thomas knew the power of the Latin word integritas. St. Thomas found the word integrity implied not only the possibility of wholeness, but also the active sense in us that knows when we are deviating from the possibility of wholeness. Gerry Vanderhaar was known by the integrity of his interactions with others. Gerry Vanderhaar was a man of integrity, indeed a man of unflinching integrity. In this world, his work as a peacemaker was marked by integrity.
Make no mistake about it, Gerry's integrity as a peacemaker was tested by fear and desire, hunger and fatigue, discontent and anger, setbacks and pain. He was human and so Gerry experienced defeat, frustration, embarrassment, and hurt in his struggle for integrity, that is, to be true to the deepest in himself as he worked out his vocation as peacemaker.
"Blessed are the peacemakers, for the will be called the sons and daughters of God." "Blessed" means more than "happy." Happiness is so often dependent on outward circumstances. Whereas, "Blessed" as in the beatitudes of Jesus, "refers to the ultimate well-being and distinctive spiritual joy" of those who are called "forward in hope, forward toward the New Jerusalem and the Kingdom of God."
In the heart of the peacemaker there is an anxiety born of integrity. The peacemaker wonders, "Did I act with integrity?" And in the wondering, the peacemaker experiences anxiety as a function of his or her integrity. Our culture teaches us to rid ourselves of the anxiety associated with integrity through material things, through seeking to better our outward circumstances. Integrity depends upon self- questioning driven by an uneasiness or discontent at the core of the questioner. Who I am or who I might be is in the balance.
Gerard Vanderhaar has pursued his vocation as peacemaker with uncommon integrity. I believe he will not be offended if now I quote a Jesuit to make the point that Gerard is a peacemaker whose life is marked by integrity.
The most pious prayer can become a blasphemy if he who offers it tolerates or helps to further conditions which are fatal to mankind, which render him unacceptable to God, or weaken his spiritual, moral or religious sense.
These are the words of Father Alfred Delp arrested by the Nazis on July 28, 1944. Gerry's interactions with others were respectful. No matter how firmly Gerry believed in a position he did not seek to diminish his opponent, to render him unacceptable, or to weaken him spiritually or morally. Gerry sought understanding and reconciliation when disagreements broke out among peacemakers.
We frequently talked of the men and women with whom I work – veterans of war. He spoke to me of his respect for soldiers as men and women who are seeking integrity in their lives. Gerry recognized soldiers as men and women struggling to follow their conscience. Gerry Vanderhaar struggled with the reality that a soldier's conscience might require of him something other than what Gerry desired for him. Gerry was interested to know how we in VA Medical Centers work to heal those who have borne the burden of battle.
On his last full day on this die of eternity, I gave Gerry the latest edition of the journal of the Peace Psychology Section of the American Psycholgical Association. Gerry was anxiously waiting for me to finish a new book, The Psychology of Hate. He wanted to read it. We frequently found that our discussions of war and peace, increasing neighborhood violence, and marital discord, were enhanced by Jung's concept of the Shadow as a personal and social reality. It was stimulating and encouraging for me to engage in conversation with Gerry.
Gerry's powerful and inquiring intellect was surpassed only by his love and compassion. When you engaged in dialogue with Gerry Vanderhaar, he did not seek to make you feel unacceptable nor in any way weakened. His nonviolent opposition did not seek to weaken you spiritually, morally or religiously. Quite the opposite. His methods were not fatal to those opposite him.
His life is marked by simplicity and solidarity with the poor and oppressed. As you may know, teaching peace studies at a small Catholic college does not typically render a large salary. So it was in the case of Gerry. He taught many years at Christian Brothers College that in later years became Christian Brothers University in Memphis. We talked about the financial sacrifice teaching at Christian Brothers entailed. Yet, he was always grateful for the opportunity that Christian Brothers, a Catholic College, offered him a former Dominican. Though it was a challenge financially, he said he enjoyed the financial creativity the situation engendered. He told me that the position allowed him to do what he loved, teach young people and engage in the peace work that took him and Janice around the globe.
Gerry lived simply in this world, using fewer resources so that others might somehow share in the wealth of the earth. This was not easy for Janice who worked hard to find bargains during clothing sales at Macy's and Dillard's. He was keenly aware that our consumer culture in the words of Father Delp "tolerates or helps to further conditions which are fatal to mankind."
And yet, Gerry the chef knew how to enjoy life in this world. Gerry the chef! My favorites are his Fettuccine Alfredo and the Kentucky Fried Chicken–not the one made famous by the Colonel. I haven't had as much Fettuccine Alfredo or his Kentucky Fried Chicken in recent years because managing cholesterol became a prominent concern for both of us. Needless to say, Gerry and I rejoiced to hear the medical news suggesting that a "reasonable amount of alcohol on a daily basis" seems to insure one against the ravages of cholesterol and coronary artery disease as well as Alzheimer's dementia. Apparently red wine is the best. But after much study, Gerry and I came to the conclusion that Kentucky Bourbon in its incarnation as Mint Juleps is also salvific. To ensure its salvific properties, I got Gerry to commit to using only Heaven Hill Bourbon from Nelson County Kentucky.
Perhaps, you know Gerry grew up in Louisville and then spent some of his Dominican formation years not far from Louisville at St. Rose Priory in Washington County. Washington County, Nelson County and Marion County are called the Catholic Holy Land of the United States. Historically that is due to the large number of Catholic settlements and institutions in the area dating from the late 1700s including Gethsemane Abbey where another peacemaker, Thomas Merton, lived out his earthly existence. Gerry told me of his frequent "pilgrimages" to Gethsemane with his father during his childhood and adolescence. Perhaps you are aware than many of us in Memphis have also been blessed by the ministries of the Dominican sisters from Springfield Kentucky in Washington County; by the ministries of the Sisters of Charity in Bardstown in Nelson county and the Sisters of Loretto in Marion County. Gerry was steeped in that culture and I have fond memories of our conversations about days in Kentucky. St. Rose Priory, where Gerry studied remains along with other sites important to Catholics. However, my seminary, St. Mary's in Marion County, not far from St. Rose, is now a prison. Gerry and I frequently enjoyed that irony as we shared a glass of bourbon. In any event, the area is alleged to be the birthplace of American Catholic spirituality although bourbon may now have the greater spiritual claim.
Well, my ten minutes is now likely close to expiring. Allow me to conclude with a poem by another Jesuit, perhaps his namesake, Gerard Manly Hopkins. The poem speaks to me of Gerry's humanity and the positive influence of his passing through this world. He was not just a visitor in this world. He was called to something larger than his capacity, or for that matter, anyone's capacity to understand. And I believe Gerry struggled with that mystery to the end, for he was a man of uncommon integrity.
The Lantern out of Doors
Sometimes a lantern moves along the night, That interest our eyes. And who goes there? I thin; where from and bound, I wonder where, With all down darkness wide, his wading light? Men go by me whom either beauty bright In mould or mind or what not else makes rare: They rain against our much-thick and marsh air Rich beams, till death or distance buys them quite. Death or distance soon consumes them; wind What most I may eye after, be in at the end I cannot, and out of sight is out of mind. Christ minds; Christ's interest, what to avow or amend There, eyes them, heart wants, care haunts, foot follows kind, Their ransom, their rescue, and first, fast, last friend.
When I was a child and asked my mother certain types of questions, she would tell me to go look it up. When I hesitated or protested with a "Can't you just tell me?" her invariable response was, "Where's your intellectual curiosity?"
Reading through the early drafts of Gerry Vanderhaar's memoirs, one realizes that intellectual curiosity is another of the characteristics fundamental to Gerry's way of being in the world. I can't imagine intellectual curiosity being encouraged by the parochial schools he attended growing up in Louisville, KY in the 1940s or by the training he received prior to being ordained as a Dominican priest in the Communist-fearing 1950s. Yet, while assigned to a clerical position at the Vatican, Gerry took advantage of his vacation time to travel in Europe. While staying with a fellow Dominican in Germany, he wanted to visit Salzburg, the city of his parents' favorite musician, Mozart. Because of a lack of the proper papers, he couldn't take the borrowed car there, so he checked the map for another nearby city and decided to go to Dachau.
At the time, the World War II concentration camp was bustling with activity. The women hanging their wash on clotheslines were refugees from Hungary who were being housed there. Gerry joined a group to tour the concentration camp. Walking to the parking lot after the tour, numbed by the travesty of the holocaust, Gerry heard himself saying, "Never again." A second later, came the awareness of the imminent threat of thermonuclear war. Not long afterward, Gerry added another vow to those he had taken in the Dominican order: he would work for peace.
Fortuitously, he was in Rome at the beginning of the Second Vatican Council and, because he was working at the Vatican and a member of the Dominicans, he was privy to inside information about the conference. But it was a fellow member of his Order who, during a train ride in the Netherlands, explained to him a different vision of salvation, the vision that the Second Vatican Council would embrace, at least on paper. Called "World Theology" at the time, and explored in books such as Harvey Cox's Secular City, the revised view was that salvation was no longer solely dependent on strict adherence to the rules of the Church – exact practice of prescribed rites and rituals – but on the way we treat others. Gerry describes it as a change from the vertical model to the horizontal. If God was judging us, it was in terms of how we treated, how we loved, our fellow humans.
He was transferred from the Vatican back to the United States. At the airport before his flight back, he saw a magazine, Soviet Life. Gingerly, he thumbed through the magazine. After all, it was forbidden fruit: full-color photographs of the "godless atheistic Communists" showing them to be like any other people in the world – farmers, family members, school children, merchants, workers in industry. While part of him dismissed it as propaganda, another part of him – the intellectual curiosity that had led him to pick up the magazine – was opening to the humanity of all peoples. For Gerry, the purchase of the magazine was probably like committing a sin, but purchase it he did. That magazine was another fissure in a wall of insularity. His mind, his heart, and his vision continued to open out.
When the lay faculty at St. John's College in New York City staged a sit-in, he supported them and told a New York Times reporter covering the story that he did. That resulted in a guest slot of a talk radio show. One of the callers asked him why he was doing this when there was a war going on. Gerry took the question to heart. Why indeed? Had he not vowed to work against war? He joined other clergy in the protests against the war in Vietnam. And with that, Gerry began publicly fulfilling his vow to work for peace. With the work came a deepening understanding of nonviolence, of the necessity of social and economic justice.
By the time I invited him to speak to the local chapter of N.O.W. on Conflict Resolution in the early 1980s, he was teaching at Christian Brothers College, had helped found Pax Christi USA, Pax Christi Memphis, and was assisting in the creation of the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center. Surprised to be invited, and undaunted by the organization's media-propagated man-hating, bra-burning, vitriolic image, Gerry made his presentation humorously, earnestly, concisely, charmingly. I think he found us to be pretty ordinary women, and a few men, concerned about the same things he was concerned with.
During the last two years, I served with him on the Pax Christi Planning Team where his insight and organizational skill shone particularly brightly. All four members would come to the meetings with long disparate lists. Like Michelangelo sculpting, Gerry would chisel away all that wasn't the human form. Gently, with good humor.
At the luncheon following the mass for Gerry and in our remembrances at the Memphis Pax Christi meeting in August, I learned so much more about him. Clare tiffany remembered him when he was a child running and playing in Louisville. Tom Kirchberg told of long conversations about Carl Jung's concepts. Underlying all is the partnership of equals Janice and Gerry created in their 35 years together as they became the faces of the peace movement in Memphis. And isn't that what Gerry brought? Isn't that what he was saying and doing, writing and practicing – that we are all part of what he came to call The Mystery, that we are all threads in the fabric of being. We are equal partners in the creation of peace. Peace is where we all can live and flourish.
It was after the “evil Soviet Empire” had collapsed, and President Reagan was seeking a hate object to keep America on an even keel. He chose the Sandinistas and deployed what he called “freedom Fighters” to drive them out of the region. His “freedom fighters” or Contras were a horde of hired guns, mercenaries, who raped the land, and forced young Nicaraguan boys, as young as 12 or 13, into the war. Reagan illegally funded this band of ruthless warriors by illegally selling arms to Iran.
Well, it was during this mini-war that Gerry and I decided to go to Nicaragua to see what was happening.
At the American embassy, we found no official who defended what we were doing there. We attended a Rotary Club meeting and met the bourgeoisie. They had no sympathy for the Sandinista Revolution, and the considered Gerry and me bleeding heart liberals who were duped by the Sandinistas. We saw the unrelenting pain of wall to wall poverty, and we saw the indomitable spirit of a people who wanted to breathe free and enjoy the fruit of their labors. We learned about Cesar Sandino, a patriot who led an uprising in an earlier era to secure Nicaraguan freedom who was ruthlessly assassinated.
In Managua we saw cattle grazing in the front yards of its citizens. We saw primitive carts pulled by oxen, followed by a Mercedes Benz, followed by rattletrap busses and trucks. Everything was old and creaky. Everything was in short supply. The home in which we stayed leaked. We woke up with several inches of rain in our cots. We lived in a city that gave water to each of the city every other day. We used a bathroom had improperly insulated electrical outlet that could have electrocuted us.
Looking back, we recalled that President Reagan made a paper tiger of a tiny powerless Central American country. We were amazed at how many Americans were convinced by Reagan’s sleight of hand oratory. Nicaragua was o threat to anybody.
In Nicaragua, Gerry and I got an eyeful of what life was like in the third World. We learned that the policies of our government helped establish and perpetuate poverty there. I am sure Gerry would join me in saying that there will be no peace in the world until we address the needs of the world’s poor.
I will miss you dear courageous friend. You were an inspiration to me.