Chicago—Five national and four international accrediting and professional organizations for graduate theological education have identified Rev. Dr. Larry Ulrich as the first Protestant minister to serve as a Dean in a Roman Catholic Seminary in the United States and most probably since the Reformation.
In June, 1982, Dr. Larry Ulrich was installed as the Dean of Supervised Ministry at DeAndreis Institute of Theology in Lemont, IL, which was a seminary of the Congregation of the Mission (Vincentians). At that time, the Vincentians were among the largest providers of Roman Catholic priestly formation in the United States. Following the charism of St. Vincent DePaul, Vincentians are dedicated to serving the poor and forming and educating Catholic men for the priesthood.
Rev. Ulrich is a minister in the Church of the Brethren, a historic peace church. At DeAndreis, he was also the Professor of Pastoral Care and Counseling, a Member of both the academic and formation faculties, and Director of the Deacon Internship program, which occurs in the year before their ordination as priests.
Msgr. Jeremiah McCarthy, Executive Director of the Seminary Department of the National Catholic Education Association, stated, “The Vincentian community affirms the outstanding leadership and training that [Dr. Ulrich] provided for the candidates for priestly ordination during [his] tenure . . .
“With distinction, [he] led the seminary to embrace the vision of ecumenical care
and service affirmed by the Second Vatican Council in its Decree on Ecumenism
For centuries the Vatican directly approves the appointments of seminary Rectors/Presidents, Academic Deans, and Deans of Formation. A Dean of Supervised Ministry doesn’t require Vatican approval. This mentoring and supervising ministry has only been a theological discipline in seminaries during the last sixty years. In the thirty interim years, there has not been another Protestant Dean in a Roman Catholic seminary, nor a Roman Catholic Dean in a Protestant seminary.
Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I., Archbishop of Chicago, commented, “For a Protestant minister to be engaged in the formation process of future priests through their four years of seminary training is note-worthy. This collaboration exemplifies the ecumenical openness of the contemporary Roman Catholic Church at this time [and] ecumenical cooperation continues.”
“No one involved in this event in 1982 had a glimpse of its uniqueness,” said Dr. Ulrich. “Kairos moments are often surprises, where it’s only later we discover new meaning in an experience. “This appointment was a step, when strides are needed. Preparing clergy and laity in an environment of ecumenical and interfaith cooperation challenges the cycle of fear, religious prejudice, and hatred of believers in “other” denominations or “other” religions. Honest dialogue and collegial action changes everyone involved and strengthens the faith and beliefs of all parties.
“Christianity and all major religious traditions share what His Holiness the Dali Lama calls a “kinship” of common teachings of compassion, care, and love for one another, including the acceptance of people following a different religion. Living these teachings faithfully isn’t easy. They were never intended to be easy.”
“The ecumenical and interfaith movements have experienced a renewal over the last several years, particularly in the years since 9/11. New tools, such as the internet, have served to facilitate communications and connections among Christians seeking unity and people of faith and conscience seeking mutual understanding and the betterment of society. It is in this context that Dr. Ulrich served in this historic role—a context he is well-equipped to navigate,” said Dr. Kathryn Lohre, President of the National Council of Churches.
“Christians, believers in other world religions, and humanitarians, who are not-affiliated with any religion, hold the potential of an effective moral force to challenge and change multiple human and social injustices—poverty, hunger, violence, environmental destruction, racism, and a hydra of other injustices and malice. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., stated concisely, ‘An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.’
“Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with believers of other churches and religions increases exponentially our commitment and capacity to grow sustaining relationships by accepting each other as we are, not like what we might want to be.” Dr. Ulrich continued, “Both individually and collectively, ecumenical and interfaith cooperation moves us beyond a stagnate “un-peace” and desperation to creatively encounter today’s chaotic suffering—together.”
Dr. Larry Ulrich is engaged in multiple ecumenical and interfaith roles. He is a past Secretary of the Council of Religious Leaders of Metropolitan Chicago, which is composed of the spiritual and executive leaders of over six-million believers in eight religious traditions—Baha’i, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Judaism, Sikhism, and Zoroastrianism. He‘s also a continuing member of Ecumenism Metro Chicago.
He serves on the National Council of Churches Interfaith Relations Commission, the Justice and Advocacy Commission, the Muslim-Christian Initiative, and the National Committee on Religious Liberty. A Fellow of GreenFaith, a national environmental think- tank, Dr. Ulrich is an Affiliate of the Harvard Pluralism Project.
Rev. Dr. Stanley Davis, Jr., Co-Executive Director Council of Religious Leaders of Metropolitan Chicago