A Dec. 20 Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated for Dr. William E. May, a prominent Catholic moral theologian and author, at Holy Redeemer Church in Kensington. Dr. May died Dec. 13 at the age of 86.
“(It was) his vocational anthem that through the truth presented in charity the human heart will come to know Christ,” said Father Joseph Rogers, pastor of St. John Neumann Parish, Gaithersburg, in his homily.
Father Rogers, who was a graduate student of Dr. May’s during the late 1990s at the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family, described his former professor’s life as a husband, father and teacher, as a “pilgrimage of faith,” which could be defined by three historic and significant Church encyclicals, Humanae Vitae, Veritatis Splendor and Evangelium Vitae.
Dr. May always taught that human life is the “fundamental project of God,” with marriage and family as the original purpose of creation, said the priest.
Father Rogers said the theologian, who possessed a brilliant mind and whose writings were the perfect intersection of reason and faith, was first and foremost a devoted husband to his wife, Patricia, of 56 years, a father of seven, and a grandfather of 16.
Family, friends and former colleagues filled Holy Redeemer Church for the Mass, which was concelebrated by more than 15 priests. Washington Auxiliary Bishop Barry Knestout presided at the funeral Mass. John H. Garvey, the president of The Catholic University of America, where Dr. May taught for 20 years, was also in attendance.
The priest also spoke of a tumultuous start to Dr. May’s career in Catholic moral theology. As a doctoral student at Marquette University, Dr. May signed a public letter of dissent from the papal encyclical, Humanae Vitae in 1968, an action which Dr. May later called a “cowardly deed.” He recanted his dissent soon after and devoted the rest of his life to heroically defending the encyclical, which reaffirmed the Church’s teaching against artificial birth control.
“Here was a teacher and above all a witness,” said Father Rogers.
Father Rogers said Dr. May’s influence in a teaching and writing career that spanned decades, could be seen throughout the whole Church universal – from the laity, especially those in the pro-life movement, to religious, priests and bishops, to even St. John Paul II, who in 1995 wrote Dr. May a letter thanking him for his faithful and concise discourse on Catholic moral theology.
Dr. May authored more than a dozen books and 500 essays on philosophy and moral theology. From 1991 to 2008, he was the Michael J. McGivney professor of moral theology at the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family at The Catholic University of America in Washington.
He also taught at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome and
several other institutions. In 1986, Pope John Paul II appointed him a member of the Vatican's International Theological Commission, a position he held through 1997. He was a theological expert at the 1987 world Synod of Bishops on the vocation and mission of the laity.
At the conclusion of the Mass, four of Dr. May’s children eulogized their father, who professionally was a leading theologian of the Church whose counsel was sought by bishops and cardinals, but to them was a doting dad who never missed one of his kids’ sports games, a graduation and loved cooking big family dinners.
“He was incredibly kind, deeply faithful and loved to laugh,” said Susan May Romanosky. “...He was deeply sensitive, rejoiced in everything and his energy was boundless...He truly lived the teachings of Christ. He prayed for the poor and did all of this with a truly pure heart. He was a loving example of all that is true, good and beautiful on earth.”
His daughter, Mary Pat Fairchok, said, “Faith, hope and love, the three things that endure, and how truly these things captured his essence. His faith was boundless, (teaching his children that) Jesus is our best friend and to keep our eyes on the cross.”
Her father, she said, radiated hope, always carrying a great “sense of optimism rooted in his faith.”
She said he exemplified the virtue of love in his devotion to his family and God whom “he loved with his whole heart and soul.”
At the Mass’ conclusion, Bishop Knestout expressed condolences to Dr. May’s family on behalf of Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl. He also said the late Cardinal James Hickey often consulted Dr. May throughout his tenure as the archbishop of Washington. “(Dr. May) was an important and significant figure (in the universal Church) and for that the Church is very grateful,” he said.
Interment took place at Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Silver Spring.