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In Memoriam

Let us pray in thanksgiving for the life of Fr. Joseph A. Bracken, SJ, who died on April 13, 2024 at St. Camillus Jesuit Community in Wauwautosa, Wisconsin. He was 94 years old. May he rest in peace.

Joe is survived by his brother Robert Bracken. He is preceded in death by his brother Edward Bracken.

Joe was born in Chicago, Illinois, on March 22, 1930. He graduated from Saint Ignatius College Prep (1948) and attended Loyola University Chicago for one year before entering the Chicago Province of the Society of Jesus on August 18, 1949 at St. Stanislaus Jesuit novitiate in Florissant, Missouri. He was ordained a priest on June 10, 1962 at West Baden College in West Baden Springs, Indiana, and pronounced final vows on February 2, 1967 at St. Blasien Church in Germany.

While in the Society, Joe earned a bachelor’s degree in Latin and Greek from Xavier University (1953). He earned a master’s degree in philosophy from Loyola University Chicago (1960) and a licentiate degree in Sacred Theology from West Baden College in West Baden Springs, Indiana (1963). Joe earned his doctorate in philosophy from the University of Freiburg in Freiburg im Breisgau, Baden-Württemberg, Germany (1968).

During regency, Joe taught Latin and Greek at Saint Ignatius High School in Cleveland (1956-1959). After earning his doctorate, he taught philosophy and theology at St. Mary of the Lake Seminary in Mundelein, Illinois (1968-1974). He then spent eight years teaching at Marquette University (1974-1982) before being missioned to Xavier University. In addition to teaching theology at Xavier University, Joe also was the director of the Brueggeman Center for Interreligious Dialogue (1999-2003) and the rector of the Jesuit Community (1992-1998). He was missioned to St. Camillus Jesuit Community in 2018 to pray for the Church and the Society.

Joe was a devoted priest and a gifted scholar. He loved the Society of Jesus and engaging with others in the sacraments. He was an extraordinary teacher who was able to present complicated ideas in an understandable format. “Process Theology” was Joe’s primary area of scholarship and the topics of his published books and articles (he is the author and/or editor of many books and over 150 articles in academic journals). Joe specialized in linking traditional Catholic doctrine with the process-oriented cosmology of Alfred North Whitehead. His most recent book publications include: The World in the Trinity: Open-Ended Systems in Science and Religion (2014), Church as Dynamic Life-System (2018), and Reciprocal Causality in an Event-Filled World (2022). Joe believed that, properly understood, science and religion are together the chief motivational factors in the modern world.

Fr. Jared Wicks, SJ, has this to say about Joe:

Our novice classmate of 1949, Joe Bracken, gave himself to penetrating study of the American philosophical theology of cosmic process. The unexpected outcome was for him to become like St. Ignatius at Manresa: “Nor could he stop talking about the Most Holy Trinity” (Pilgrim Testament, no. 28). An early book by Joe answered the question, What … Are They Saving about the Trinity? (1979), followed by Triune … Persons, Process, and Community (1985) and A Trinitarian Cosmology (1991). Ten more books (10!) followed, down to a reprint of The Divine Matrix early in 2024.

Joe’s studies at West Baden and in Germany at Freiburg, home town to Martin Heidigger and the Rahner brothers, led him along a path like that of Ignatius: “the eyes of his understanding began to be opened … he understood and learned many things, both spiritual matters and matters of faith and scholarship. … Everything seemed new to him” (Pilgrim Testament, no. 30). What Joe presents seems to many to be abstruse, but when you probe further, you find that “there is for us one God the Father, from things all things are and for whom we exist, and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom all things are and through whom we exist”—in the animating Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 8:6).  

Best of all, Joe took on the hard work of completing his book manuscripts, dealing with publishers and their copy-editors, to make his thought accessible to many, including teachers and life-guides, who read the books and spread further his deep account of the three-person God, “in whom we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).  

Fr. Jack O’Callaghan, SJ, has these memories of Joe:

Joe and I entered Milford on the same day in 1949, I liked him right away – who wouldn’t? Our friendship grew during formation, which we pretty much did together. He introduced me to his Irish south side Chicago family, and his wonderful nurse-Mom hosted lots of us during train-change hours en route from West Baden to Omena in several summers. His childhood home was the first Chicago “flat” I’d ever been in – preparing me for a lot of similar buildings later during our theology years in the Jesuit School of Theology at Chicago.

Joe’s mind was unusual. At first, I was critical of what seemed to me his “space-cadet” mental processes: he would always ask “why is this so? What does that mean?” and I would say, “Joe that’s just the way it is!” It was only as I matured that I understood that he was right, not I, in wanting to know the “how” of reality rather than just accept unexplained facts. As he began to publish learned tomes that won the interest of the world of “Process Theology” I began to understand his brilliance. He sent me one of his books Does God Roll Dice (2012) and I struggled through it, but it wasn’t until he lent me his last book Reciprocal Causality in an Event-Filled World (2022) and told me to read the last chapter summary, that I began to “get” in some way what he was talking about with such insight. I have no doubt that his name will remain as a Catholic dealing with “Process Theology” who contributed to the field with brilliance and the deep Christian faith he never compromised.