“To Believe Is to Exist: Theological Reflections for a Time of Crisis” by The Most Reverend John R. Sheets, SJ, STD, DD

Posted on Amazon
From Bishop Sheets’ pre-episcopacy writings
May 5, 2008
By Father Brian Van Hove (St. Louis, Missouri) – See all my reviews

The Most Reverend John R. Sheets, SJ, STD, DD

The Most Reverend John R. Sheets, S.J., Auxiliary Bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend in Indiana, was an eminent Catholic theologian and author in the last half of the twentieth century. He was particularly esteemed for his scholarly and insightful works in the areas of Christian faith, morality, and spirituality. “To Believe Is to Exist: Theological Reflections for a Time of Crisis” illustrates the quality of his intellect and spiritual depth.

John Richard Sheets was born 21 September 1922 in Omaha, Nebraska, the second of five children of Fred H. and Agnes O’Donnell Sheets. He grew up in the Catholic community of Omaha and entered the Society of Jesus in 1940. His preparation for the priesthood included studies for a bachelor’s degree at St. Louis University and a licentiate in theology at St. Mary’s College in Kansas. He was ordained a priest on 17 June 1953. In 1957 he obtained a doctorate in theology from the Jesuit theologate in Innsbruck, Austria. Among his teachers were Karl Rahner and Josef Jungmann.

He joined the faculty of theology at Marquette University after tertianship and final vows. Along with Bernard Cooke, he founded the doctoral program in theology. He served as novice master at St. Bonifacius, Minnesota, for one year, 1966-1967. The following year, 1968, he was one of only two professors of theology at Marquette University who refused to sign the protest against Pope Paul VI’s encyclical letter Humanae vitae. The other was William J. Kelly, S.J.

Father Sheets also taught theology at Creighton University. Eventually he held the Chair of the Theology Department at Creighton University. Today, in memory of his pursuit of excellence in study and ministry, graduate students in theology at Creighton enjoy the opportunity for financial support through the Bishop John R. Sheets Scholarship for the Masters of Arts in Theology. In 1974 he founded Creighton University’s Summer Program in Christian Spirituality, which soon attracted students from across the nation. That same year he visited Switzerland to collaborate with Hans Urs von Balthasar, the founder of Communio: International Catholic Review.

Father Sheets’s scholarly career made him a frequent contributor to major spiritual periodicals and the author of many books and articles on Christian faith. He was in frequent demand as a retreat master and guest lecturer on theological topics. He was an early opponent of the supposed ordination of women in the Catholic Church.

On 14 May 1991, Father Sheets was appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend, and he was ordained Bishop on 25 June 1991. Bishop Sheets retired from his pastoral responsibilities on 23 September 1997 and died in Milwaukee on 16 April 2003. He was a priest for fifty years and a bishop for twelve. He suffered from Alzheimer’s Disease at the end of his life.

Besides his academic and pastoral contributions, Bishop Sheets was an enthusiastic outdoorsman and prayerful mystic. He often gazed at the sun and the moon. He loved poetry and serious European films. It was said that he could perceive the gift of all God’s creation in a drop of water.


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