Saint Meinrad Seminary & School of Theology

Formation and Education for the Life of the Church

Alumni Obituaries

Fr. Aidan Kavanagh, OSB

Father Aidan Kavanagh, OSB, monk and priest of Saint Meinrad Archabbey, St. Meinrad, IN, and a jubilarian of profession, died at his home in Hamden, CT. He was 77.Fr. Aidan was born in Mexia, TX, on April 20, 1929, to Joseph and Guarrel (Mullins) Suttle, and received the name Joseph Michael. He later adopted the surname of his foster father, Joseph Kavanagh.His elementary and secondary education took place in Waco, TX, at Provident Heights and Sanger Avenue grade schools and Waco High School. Following high school, he studied both at the University of the South in Sewanee, TN, and at Saint Meinrad Seminary.In 1951, Fr. Aidan was invested as a novice, professing his simple vows on August 1, 1952. He was ordained to the priesthood on May 3, 1957. Following his ordination, Fr. Aidan took the first steps in what would become a lifelong academic careerGÇöa career that spanned four decades and took place almost entirely away from Saint Meinrad. His first advanced degree, a licentiate in sacred theology, came from the University of Ottawa in 1958. Next followed a doctorate in sacred theology, summa cum laude, granted in 1964 by the University of Trier in Germany.Armed with impeccable academic credentials and a brilliant mind, he began a teaching and writing career that took him to three campuses. In the 1960s, he taught courses in liturgy at Saint Meinrad School of Theology. From there, he went to the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, IN, where he directed the graduate program in liturgical studies. In 1974, he went to Yale University, where he served until his retirement as professor of liturgy at the Yale Divinity School.In the eyes of many, Fr. Aidan was one of the most important influences in the Catholic Church in the United States when it came to the appropriation of the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council. A renaissance man of sortsGÇöartist, musician, scholarGÇöhe maintained a breadth of intellectual interests, all of which were blended into his approach to liturgy.His seminal work, On Liturgical Theology, was significant for capturing the importance of the liturgy as the GÇ£primordialGÇ¥ theology of the Church. He was intensely interested in the way people worshipped and, though a thoroughgoing academic, he never lost sight of the experience of the people in the pewsGÇöwhat has been called his GÇ£theology of the congregation.GÇ¥ As he wrote, liturgy is GÇ£festive, ordered, aesthetic, canonical, eschatological and, above all, normal.GÇ¥ The normal nature of the liturgy is something he reiterated in his work. It was clearly his view that ritual and worship are natural to the human person.His Elements of Rite: A Handbook of Liturgical Style continues to be used as a primary study guide for priests and other ministers. He emphasizes that the liturgy should be dignified and orderly, fastidious but not fussy. His other great work, The Shape of Baptism: The Rite of Christian Initiation, was tremendously influential in the development of the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) movement in the United States. His description of the early rites of initiation became standard fare for RCIA and mystagogia processes in this country.In his Elements of Rite, Fr. Aidan observed: GÇ£The liturgy, like the feast, exists not to educate but to seduce people into participating in common activity of the highest order, where one is freed to learn things which cannot be taught.GÇ¥