GREENSBORO — The Reverend Thomas Berry, died Monday, June 1, 2009 at Wellspring Lifecare Community.
Funeral service will be Wednesday, June 3, 2009, at 2 p.m. at St. Paul the Apostle Catholic Church, preceded by visitation at 11 a.m. until 1:15 p.m. in the church narthex [entrance].
The Rev. Thomas Berry was a Passionist priest and internationally recognized historian of cultures. His writings and lectures focus on the relation of humans with the cosmos and Earth. His works have notably influenced the intellectual/spiritual history of the twentieth- and early twenty-first centuries. Born in Greensboro, and originally named for his father, William Nathan Berry, founder of Berico Fuels Company (1924), this second of eight sons in a family of 13 children, following 1933 entry into the Passionist Religious Order, adopted the name Thomas after philosopher-theologian Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274). A Catholic University of America doctorate concluded with publication of his research on the historical theory of philosopher-historian Giambattista Vico 1668-1744. Believing the wisdom of Asia indispensable for adequate learning, Thomas went to China in 1948 to study and teach at Beijing's Fu Jen University, returning to America in 1949 when Mao Tse-tung took over China. Subsequent studies in Chinese language and culture at Seton Hall University and Sanskrit and South Asian culture at Columbia University were interrupted by service as United States Army chaplain in Germany 1951-54. Afterwards Thomas undertook a teaching career, first with the Asian Institute of Seton Hall University 1956-61; then with the Asian Institute of St. John's University 1961-65; finally, at Fordham University 1966-79, where he instituted the doctoral program in the history of religions. In 1970 Thomas inaugurated the Riverdale Center for Religious Research (1970-95), Riverdale, NY. From this base and with his 1975-1987 residency of the American Teilhard Society, Thomas's international influence as thinker, writer, and lecturer expanded rapidly. Annual conferences explored themes such as Energy: Its Cosmic-Human Dimensions; The Future: Technological Society Man's Covenant?; New York as Sacred City; and The Ecological Age. From across the globe scholars and others came to the Center for rethinking their disciplines in the light of newly understood relations of humans to Earth, In 1998 as part of Harvard's international Forum on Religion and Ecology (FORE), the Thomas Berry Foundation was established by Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim, currently of Yale University. Besides the 11-volume Riverdale Papers and treatises on Buddhism (1966) and The Religions of India (1971), the most influential of Berry's books are The Dream of the Earth (1988, National Lannan Non-Fiction Award 1992); The Universe Story: From the Primordial Flaring Forth to the Ecozoic Era with mathematical-cosmologist Brian Swimme (1994); The Great Work: Our Way Into the Future (1999); and Evening Thoughts: Reflecting on Earth as Sacred Community, Sierra Club Books, University of California Press, 2006. Thomas-Berry papers are housed in Harvard University's Environmental Science and Public Policy Archives. Besides eight honorary doctorates, Thomas's awards include the United States Catholic Mission Association Award (1989); the 1992 James Heniot Award of the Humane Society of the United States; Honorary Canonship of the Episcopal Cathedral of St John the Divine (1992); the 1993 Bishop Carroll T. Dozier Medal for Peace and Justice; the Catholic University of America 1993 Alumni Research and Scholarship Award; the 1992 Prescott College Environmental Award; annual Thomas Berry Lecture Awards established by the College of Mt St Vincent on the Hudson and, in Washington, D.C., by the Center for Respect of Life and Environment and the Humane Society of the United States; a Thomas Berry Hall and Thomas Berry Seminars at Whidbey Institute, Whidbey Island, Wash..; and the Thomas Berry Student Writing Award at Warren Wilson College, Asheville (2005). During World War II Thomas's mother, Greensboro's Elizabeth Vize Berry (1890-1980), was named by Golden Rule Foundation the American Mother of the Year in 1942. All eight sons of this family of 13 children served in the military 1940 - 1958. Having returned to his native Greensboro in 1995, Thomas spent his latter years at Wellspring Retirement Community.
Thomas is survived by brothers Benedict Regis Berry and wife Jerry (Charlotte); and from the Greensboro area, Thomas Gabriel Berry and wife Stephanie; Stephen Baden Berry and wife Rosemary; sister Margaret Berry; sister-in-law Jean Berry Forester; brother-in-law Leo J. Kelleher Jr.; and nieces and nephews of three generations too numerous to list.
The family will also receive friends at Wellspring Retirement Community from 4 until 5:30 p.m.
Memorial contributions may be made to the Thomas Berry Foundation in care of Mary Evelyn Tucker, 29 Spoke Drive, Woodbridge, CT, 06525.
Forbis and Dick, North Elm Street Funeral Home is serving the Berry family.
Online condolences may be offered at www.forbisanddick.com.