Thomas Berry (1914 – 2009) was a reincarnation of the mystic, visionary paleontologist Pierre Teilhard deChardin(1888-1955).
Berry was a member of the Passionist order, known more for his prophetic role in US Catholicism as an “eco – theologian” and geologist. Without doubt, Thomas was the wisest person I ever met.
Berry’s sister Dr. Margaret Berry, PhD is a professor Emerita from John Carroll University, now 97 years old and living in Greensboro, NC where Thomas resided in the same retirement community. Roselyn and I went to visit Thomas and Margaret twice. Both spoke of their sister Anne (Zoe Marie), who was a member of the Maryknoll sisters. She died in 1958 following a decade of mission service in the Philippines.
Due to this personal connection with Maryknoll, Thomas Berry brought the manuscript of his book Dream of the Earth to ORBIS press. To his dismay, the book was rejected because “ORBIS published only literature related to significant religious occurrences in the Third World,” an editor explained to the crestfallen Thomas Berry. Berry then turned to the Sierra Club in San Francisco. The book became so popular that orders exceeded publications available in the 1980’s.
NATIONAL CATHOLIC REPORTER (KCMO) editor/publisher Thomas Fox invited Berry to spend a day with NCR staff members with the hope of engendering greater ecological awareness.
During a twenty-year friendship Thomas frequently asked me, “When will Maryknoll awake to the ecological realities of our age?”
When SMU invited Thomas Berry to present a lecture on the future of Earth in 1990 it was my privilege to hear him speak without a note to a crowded auditorium. He cautioned, “We are terminating the Cenozoic (Greek for “most recent”) age.” Not one professor or student disagreed with Berry’s assessment during the discussion period. Berry leaves room for optimism in a word he coined. “We are striving for the ‘Ecozoic’ era during which time humans will perceive that survival is possible only in conjunction with the natural world.” “Survival” is our only goal now, he cautioned.
If Thomas Berry was present among the quick today, he might be pointing out even the mighty Pentagon warned President Bush in 2004 “Global warming is a greater threat than terrorism.” Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) has decided climate change is the overarching health issue of our century.
From PSR down to university students there is a perception that humankind must be free from our addiction to fossil fuels. Dayton University was the first Catholic institution to press for divestment from fossil fuels. Berry referred to “The 150-year Petroleum Interval.”
Thomas Berry’s spiritual bond with Maryknoll in the 21st century might remind the society it was founded for a mission to China, but even the Chinese perceive all are threatened by a Carbon Combustion Complex (CCC).
Berry’s Dream of the Earth might be a missionary society in which its vision has expanded to include the entire planet in peril. May Copernicus, Bruno, Teilhard, Berry and thousands of climate scientists move Maryknoll from its parochial to a planetary mission.