Building Bridges: Sixty Years of
Year-Long Celebration of Monsignor Oesterreicher
When Monsignor John M. Oesterreicher established the Institute of Judaeo-Christian Studies at Seton Hall University on March 25, 1953, he initiated pioneering work. His labors and those of his associates, including Father Lawrence Frizzell, Dr. David Bossman, Rabbi Asher Finkel, and the late Sister Rose Thering, throughout subsequent decades have had a profound impact on the Church’s relationship with the Jewish community at the local, national, and international level. Throughout 2013, the University will hold a series of events to celebrate, advance and expand this legacy of interfaith dialogue.
and Seton Hall University
“The yearlong commemoration, ‘Building Bridges: 60 Years of Jewish-Christian Dialogue,’ focuses on the Catholic mission of Seton Hall University by honoring the legacy of Monsignor John M. Oesterreicher, who founded the Institute of Judaeo-Christian Studies here in 1953. During 2013, which Pope Benedict XVI has designated the Year of Faith for the Church, Seton Hall will host a series of events intended to highlight who we are as an academically attuned university and to enrich our community with opportunities for reconciliation that Monsignor Oesterreicher and his successors have fostered in the aftermath of the Holocaust and in a world beset with misunderstanding among religions and cultures around the globe,” said A. Gabriel Esteban, President, Seton Hall University.
“We view Seton Hall as a sacred space where reason, reflection, research and religious tradition all have a place—in the classroom, in worship, in social engagement and in dialogue. In this way, and in this time, we are called to turn darkness into light,” he stated.
Monsignor Oesterreicher, a European-born Jew who converted to Catholicism at the age of 20, devoted his early years in the priesthood to parish work, ecumenism and peace. During the years of Nazi persecution he combatted Adolph Hitler’s glorification of race and hatred for Jews, eventually escaping from the Gestapo in 1938 via Switzerland and Paris and travelling circuitously through Spain and Portugal, finally arriving in the United States in November 1940. After serving in several parishes in New York City, he was invited to Seton Hall University in March 1953 and became founding director of the Institute of Judaeo-Christian Studies.
The late Monsignor Oesterreicher wrote in The Rediscovery of Judaism (1971), “True sensitivity sees not only the volcano of evil that erupted in Auschwitz, Treblinka, and Bergen-Belsen, but also the ultimate failure of the greatest poisoner of history; for all his success, he did not triumph. Horrible though it was, the ‘Final Solution’ was anything but final. Six million Jews died, but the Jewish people lives. What this sentence really means is exemplified by the State of Israel. Here, an ancient people that for almost two thousand years was severed from the soil, that as a whole had not been involved in statecraft, that in the days of Hitler had been defaced in every possible way, was rejuvenated.”
Explained Father Frizzell, “The 60th anniversary of the Institute of Judaeo-Christian Studies is a time to express gratitude to God and to Msgr. John M. Oesterreicher, its founder and director for forty years, and to Mme. H. Suzanne Jobert, a Catholic lady who was our major benefactor over the decades. Rabbi Asher Finkel and I were speakers at the 20th anniversary celebration in October 1973, in the shadow of the Yom Kippur War. The Institute continues to pursue education as the means to promote understanding and amity between Christians and Jews, building upon the foundation of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). Our hope and prayer: May the Middle East be blessed with peacemakers who reflect the call of God, the true Maker of peace!”