Father Luis M. Dolan, C.P. (1921-2000): The Gospel of World-Wide Service

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[Father Luis M. Dolan, C.P. died suddenly of a heart attack on October 15, 2000 in New York City. Through the kindness and initial organizing efforts of Mario A. Dolan, M.D., Father Dolan’s brother, and Ms. Marie-Claire Cournard, Father Dolan’s secretary, the Passionist Historical Archives in Union City, New Jersey received his papers. Father Dolan an Argentinian Passionist, held leadership positions in the Argentine Passionist province, worked with the Conciliar and post-Conciliar efforts of The Better World Movement, and in his later years directed the Temple of Understanding which was a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) with the United Nations. The office operated out of St. Emeric’s Catholic Church in New York, City. Now, the Passionist Historical Archives has over seventy boxes of Father Dolan’s papers. We will catalogue the collection and then find a permanent home for his papers at a research or university archives that would allow others to learn from the life and ministry of Father Luis Dolan, C.P. Anyone with suggestions of an appropriate archives for the Dolan collection or those who wish to offer a financial contribution to defray inventory expenses may contact the Passionist Historical Archives. The following summary of his life is based upon a thirty-nine page autobiography which he wrote in the last years of his life. -Rob Carbonneau, C.P., editor]

Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina on March 11, 1921 Luis Dolan was the fourth of nine children. His early religious education was from a Passionist nun. He received his First Communion in a Passionist parish. After a sound academic and Anglo-oriented education at Belgrano Day School, in 1934 he entered the Passionist Seminary where he was provided with the Irish perspective of his immigrant parents who arrived in Argentina because of the 1850 potato famine. Passionist Fathers William Cushing and Julius Boyd exacted early influence on the young man. In 1936 he proceeded to the Passionist novitiate in rural Argentina. Strict socialization in the seminary gave way to strict monastic and spiritual exercises. He took his first vows on January 30, 1938. From 1938 until his ordination on August 12, 1945 Dolan studied four years of philosophy and three years of theology. He had little contact with the outside world. Students were obliged to use Latin. “My whole education,” wrote Dolan, “pivoted on three spokes: the centrality of the Catholic Church, the total security of Thomistic philosophy, and the need for personal humility as one became more learned. Other religions were secondary; Asia and Africa,” Dolan went on to write, “were faraway regions where missionaries went to convert people from paganism and religions other than Catholic Christianity.” Behind monastery walls, World War II was far away. This was the time Dolan gained his first, though limited, preaching experience. Preaching received more direct attention during the special year of sacred eloquence which was required during the year immediately after ordination. “I had a particular knack,” wrote Dolan, “with men, especially those who were anti-clerical and non-believing. I managed to attract them by joining them in bars, called boliches locally, and through preaching getting them back to church on their knees for confession.”

Father Dolan spent his first ten years of priesthood in Argentina, and some time in Uruguay preaching parish missions in big cities or at the estancias farms of the region. He also began to preach to male and female religious orders and priests where he was introduced to personal counseling and the healing of confession . The ensuing power of God’s presence began to personally strengthen Dolan’s personal spiritual life which grew along with his increasing love of Catholic theology.

However, Father Dolan received a “traumatic” experience when he had to leave Buenos Aires to become Rector of the Passionist Seminary for twenty aspiring Passionists. This was during the reign of terror of President Juan Peron against the Catholic Church. The secret police began to follow him. One day they tried to seize him after he preached in a Buenos Aires church. Like other priests, Father Dolan had “group of men protecting me” as bodyguards. Nevertheless, on June 14, 1955 at 2 o’clock in the morning while chanting matins on the Feast of the Sacred Heart, the doorbell rang and a contingent of police from the nearby town of Carmen de Areca arrested Father Dolan and accused him of burning ten churches in one night by forces under the command of priests. Father Dolan and others were imprisoned for two days. While treated well, tensions were high. First, officials told Dolan he could leave at night, but Dolan had been cautioned that might mean bodily harm. So they were released in the morning and the local people jubilantly escorted them back to the monastery. “We went straight into the Chapel, which was overflowing with people, and chanted a Te Deum in thanksgiving.” By the fall of 1955 Peron’s government had fallen. Father Dolan served only one year of the three year term as superior. He was needed again as a preacher.

In 1955 Father Dolan began his international journey. In the late 1950s he was sent to Colombia as part of a Spanish-American group of missionaries to hold a series of revivals. Dolan’s cousin, Father Peter Richards, C.P., Latin American founder of the Christian Family Movement, also requested Dolan form youth and young adult groups in Latin America. These seven months changed Father Luis Dolan in that it inspired him “to seek new fields of action and link different cultural groups. Today,” he wrote, “this is called global consciousness and intercultural and inter-religious dialogue.”

Father Dolan, having never kept a daily journal, is not exact as to the actual timing of his overseas assignments. But it was in Cali, Colombia where he first experienced culture shock in the change of diet; he realized he “wanted to love all countries, not just my own” and finally he developed “an unclear but strong questioning that would eventually become a quest to know other religions and a powerful commitment to create dialogue among them.” This was also a time of social unrest in Colombia. Eventually, Father Dolan went to El Salvador where he got word from Father Huelin, S.J., the Director of the team, that Cardinal Francis Spellman of New York desired to establish a series of spiritual programs in New York City. Father Luis Dolan was picked as the bilingual priest. Father Dolan arrived in the United States via New Orleans, Louisiana where he witnessed the racism and segregation of the South in the 1950s. In contrast his arrival at “desolate, decrepit” LaGuardia airport left him with the question as to why people speak so highly of New York City. The preaching of several months in New York was a positive experience with meeting the people, the “solemnity of meetings” with Archdiocesan officials, and the acquaintance of Father Dan Fitzpatrick, S.J., a sociologist. Again, it was culture shock.

After about six months, Father Dolan was recalled to Argentina by the Passionists and told he did not have permission to stay in the United States. With slow confidence Father Dolan engaged in retreat work and spiritual direction. Then in 1962, the Passionist superior who recalled him to Argentina informed him that post-World War II Italian evangelist Father Ricardo Lombardi, S.J., founder of the Better World Movement (BWM), requested that Dolan begin training in Spain and Italy so as to preach the BWM in Latin America. “I was stunned” wrote Dolan. With the encouragement of his local Passionist superior Father Dolan consented to the assignment and his first trip to Europe. The BWM training was four months in Madrid with Don Juan Alonso Vega outside Madrid, Spain then at Rocca di Papa outside Rome, Italy where Father Lombardi led the program. Thus commenced a twenty-five year relationship.

After training he went to Venezuela to conduct the BWM for seven months. In 1963 he was sent to the United States. The seminar program stressed dialogue in prayer and communication along with personal and social integration and application. In 1964 Father Lombardi called Dolan to serve with him to give programs to the bishops at the Vatican Council. Again, Father Dolan’s world expanded. After the Council, Dolan worked in the United States and English-speaking countries. The world became his parish as he went to Asia and Africa. This ushered in a time of service, diplomacy and learning. He helped the BWM achieve NGO status at the United Nations.

When it came time to conclude his experience with the BWM Father Dolan took a sabbatical and pursued an emerging interest in interreligious dialogue while residing in New York City. Key to this time of discernment was Dolan’s time with Passionist Father Thomas Berry. He led Father Dolan on a spiritual and intellectual journey into Teilhard de Chardin and questions of faith and the universe. Berry suggested that Dolan forget about getting an MA and study with him. Reluctantly, Dolan, who thought the degree title would assist him, agreed, and entered Fordham University in New York to study global spirituality with Berry. In the end Dolan got the MA even as he preached throughout the world.

Father Luis Dolan’s autobiography ended without reference to the Temple of Understanding and his work at the United Nations. Yet, what is evident in what he did write is that, ordained in 1945 at the end of World War II, his Passionist priesthood is representative of the emerging Catholic Church from that of a national church to that of a world church. Prayer, preaching, administration, travel, language skills, risk to new opportunities, dialogue, culture shock, openness to change, as well as sorrow, disappointment and elation all combined in his priestly and Passionist ministry.

There is no doubt that the papers of Father Luis Dolan provide ample material to teach and explain how he experienced the Gospel of world-wide service throughout his life.  

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