In Memoriam: Tomás Cardinal Špidlík, S.J.

News Story: April 1, 2010
Tomás Cardinal Špidlí

Sacred Heart University honorary alumnus and long-time friend, Tomás Cardinal Špidlík, S.J., died on Friday, April 16th, 2010. He was 90 years old.

For more than half a century, Cardinal Spidlik was a towering presence within Roman Catholicism and well beyond. Through a deep spirituality, acute theological vision and extensive learning, this gifted Jesuit scholar left his mark on both the Western and Eastern “branches” of Christianity. His humanity and rich sense of humor were a gift to all who knew him.

The cardinal’s body will be in the Chapel of Centro Aletti near the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome till Monday evening. The Funeral Mass will be celebrated in the Vatican Basilica on Tuesday, April 20th, at 11.30 am.

Last December, Pope Benedict XVI hailed the Czech-born Cardinal Špidlík for his global leadership in theological dialogue between the East and the West and offered a Mass in honor of the cardinal's 90th birthday. The Pontiff emphasized the important contributions of Cardinal Špidlík, "interweaving through the years a lively and, in many senses, original theological vision, in which the Christian East and West come together organically, mutually exchanging their respective gifts."

Pope Benedict XVI celebrates the funeral mass of Cardinal Špidlík.
Photo credit/Osservatore Romano

The Pontiff reflected on the work carried out by the Aletti Center in Rome, "which seeks to take up his precious teaching, making it fruitful with new intuitions and new investigations, also through artistic representation." Benedict stated that it seemed to him "particularly beautiful to emphasize the link between theology and art that flows from the cardinal's thought."

The special Liturgy in honor of the cardinal was celebrated in the Redemptoris Mater Chapel in the Apostolic Palace, which was designed under the supervision of Cardinal Špidlík with renowned Jesuit artist Father Marko Ivan Rupnik, whose original mosaics are among the special features at Sacred Heart University’s new Chapel of the Holy Spirit.
Cardinal Špidlík spent more than 50 years pursuing dialogue and greater union between the Western and Eastern traditions of Christianity.  His work was the fruit of diligent research and reflection, which he joined to a strong artistic sensitivity responsive to contemporary culture. He delved deeply into various areas of Eastern theology and clearly understood that the grace of this learning and spirituality needs to be made accessible to the present age.

Cardinal Špidlík was decorated with the medal of the Masaryk Order, one of the highest honors of the Czech State, by President Václav Havel, and was created a cardinal by Pope John Paul II, whom he served as theologian, in the consistory of October 21, 2003.

In 2006, the cardinal was presented with an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree by Sacred Heart at Italy’s Parliament in Rome. During the convocation, Anthony J. Cernera, Ph.D., president of Sacred Heart University, lauded his outstanding contributions to Roman Catholic and Eastern Christian dialogue, calling them “an inspiration to all of us who seek greater unity among Christians.” Those members of the Sacred Heart University community who came to know Cardinal Špidlík personally knew him to be a man of immense interest and respect for each person he encountered.  This respect for the person and the value of the relationships between people suffused his theology, his home at Centro Aletti, and his heart.

In the same year, the Špidlík Center for Ecumenical Understanding at Sacred Heart University was inaugurated and warmly named after Cardinal Špidlík. The Institute is dedicated to promoting greater ecumenical understanding and cooperation through dialogue, research, education, publications and artistic collaboration among the Western and Eastern Churches.

The Špidlík Center shares its home on the campuses of Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, and Pontificio Istituto Orientale Centro Studi e Ricerche "Ezio Aletti," or "Centro Aletti," in Rome, a center for study and research attached to the mission of the Society of Jesus at the Vatican’s Pontifical Oriental Institute.