BOSTON — Father Michael J. Himes, who retired last year after nearly three decades on the faculty of Jesuit-run Boston College, died June 10 at 75. No cause of death was given.
Himes, a priest of the Diocese of Brooklyn, New York, was popular among both students and other faculty members for his work in pastoral theology and his award-winning books.
A funeral Mass for the priest was celebrated June 14 at St. Ignatius of Loyola Church at Boston College.
His talk “What Makes a Great University?” at orientation sessions for freshmen students and their parents often won him standing ovations on campus.
Himes developed a vocational discernment framework called the “Key Three Questions” at Boston College: “What brings you joy? What are you good at? And who does the world need you to be?”
In his homily at Boston College’s sesquicentennial Mass at Fenway Park in 2012, Father Himes exhorted all Boston College-educated students to “give away” the gift of receiving an education at the university: “The measure of the success of your education at Boston College,” he said, “is the measure to which people’s lives are richer, fuller, and more genuinely human because you did go to Boston College.”
Himes began teaching theology at Boston College in 1993. He got to work alongside his brother, Franciscan Father Kenneth Himes — literally, as their faculty offices adjoined each other’s.
They also co-wrote “Fullness of Faith” in 1993, which won an award from the Catholic Press Association the following year.
“Michael was a natural storyteller and public speaker,” said his priest-brother in a statement. “When we were growing up in Brooklyn, if it was a rainy day and we could not go outside to play, Michael would gather a bunch of us kids on the stairwell in our apartment building and amuse us with stories from Aesop, the Brothers Grimm, Walt Disney or Arthurian legends. All his life he used that talent to entertain, to teach, to inspire others.”
Father Michael Himes, at the 2011 National Catholic Educational Association convention said Catholic educators have the task of nurturing human beings who care for others.
“If that doesn’t happen, we will become a society … with wonderful doctors who cannot relate to human beings; we’ll provide splendid engineers who produce structures but have no idea how they will unite the communities,” he said. “What we are about is shaping humanity. In the Christian tradition, humanity is what we share with God.”
At the 1994 Heartland Conference, Himes called tradition “the story of how everything changes.”
The idea that tradition is somehow frozen in time is “a particularly destructive heresy,” he said. “It takes a moment in the history of the church and says, ‘This is final and absolute.’ Any attempt to say that this or that formula cannot be changed is idolatry,” he said.
During the 1997, Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, Himes said, “The word of God is as dead as a doornail if the community does not make the word come to life. And if love is not the guiding principle of that community, then God is dead.”
He added, “You cannot proclaim that God is love to one who has never experienced love.”
To proclaim God’s love effectively, said Himes, “you must be a person of service. That is why we receive sacraments of baptism, Eucharist, confirmation — for the good of one another, not for ourselves. Why else are they community celebrations?”
He was among critics, who included bishops, of a 1997 Vatican document on the role of the laity in ministry titled “Instruction on Certain Questions Regarding the Collaboration of the Nonordained Faithful in the Sacred Ministry of the Priest.”
The Vatican instruction praised the growing involvement of laypeople in the liturgical and ministerial life of the church, but it warned that certain abuses can cause Catholics to misunderstand or ignore the different vocations, roles and responsibilities of priests and laypeople.
At a 1998 conference in New York City, Father Himes called it “a counterproductive attempt to say from the top what life at the bottom looks like.”
The document highlighted church laws limiting lay-run pastoral councils to a strictly consultative role, which he said contradicted the experience of parishes and dioceses.
Ordained May 27, 1972, Himes was a professor and academic dean at the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception in Huntington, New York, from 1977 until 1987. After that and prior to his time at Boston College, he taught at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana from 1987 to 1993.
He had a bachelor’s degree from Cathedral College of the Immaculate Conception, which was in Douglaston, New York; a master’s degree from the Huntington seminary; and a doctorate in the history of Christianity from the University of Chicago. He also had four honorary degrees.
Besides his priest-brother, he is survived by his sister, Eileen M. Himes, and a nephew.