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Nunc Dimittis:January 8, 2009
We began 2009 already aware of unusual life-course conjunctions. I'm thinking especially of celebrations centered on February 12, the date in 1809 when the well-to-do Darwins of Shrewsbury in Shropshire and the dirt-poor Lincolns of Hardin County, Kentucky, welcomed sons who left such a mark on the world. Now a conjunction of life endings has made Thursday, January 8, of this year a day to be remembered with sadness, reflection, and gratitude. In New York City, Richard John Neuhaus succumbed to complications from a recurrence of cancer; on the same day in Chicago, Ogbu Kalu died from complications arising from pneumonia.
Neuhaus was better known, at least in North America. Love him or loathe him, this larger-than-life figure had been an unmistakable force for more than forty years—from his efforts in 1964 at founding Clergy Concerned About Vietnam, to the posthumous "Public Square" column in the February 2009 issue of his journal, First Things. Since 2001, Kalu had served as the Henry Winters Luce Professor of World Christianity and Mission at Chicago's McCormick Theological Seminary. This Nigerian scholar shared an expatriate status with Neuhaus, who had come to the United States from his native Ontario as a mid-teen. For those committed to understanding the dramatic worldwide spread of Christianity, Kalu's death is as devastating as Neuhaus' decease has been for those who joined him in seeking the right kind of Christian support for the right kind of public life.
Before moving to the United States, Ogbu Kalu enjoyed a distinguished career for more than twenty years at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, and he had lectured in many of the world's leading universities. Above all, he was a trailblazing historian of African Christianity defined essentially, primarily, and preeminently as an African story. Kalu earned his PhD at the University of Toronto, where he wrote a dissertation on Puritan church discipline under the unfriendly regime of England's King James ...