The Berkley Center and greater Georgetown community mourn the loss of scholar, colleague, and friend Rev. Andrew (Drew) Christiansen, S.J., who passed away on Wednesday, April 6.
Christiansen was a senior fellow at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs and the Distinguished Professor of Ethics and Human Development in the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. A dedicated Jesuit priest, scholar, advocate, and community member, he devoted his life to applying the rich tradition of Catholic social teaching to issues of human rights, interreligious dialogue, nuclear disarmament, and peace.
Christiansen joined Georgetown and the Berkley Center in 2013. Berkley Center Founding Director Thomas Banchoff and Executive Director Michael Kessler were involved in the recruitment efforts.
Kessler recalls, “Drew was a generous and caring mentor from the moment I met him. Over the years he has drawn me, a non-Catholic, and so many other scholars and students into the Church's work on a range of issues, including the need to confront the enduring nuclear threat. He was a tremendous ambassador for Georgetown and the Church, contributing to a range of wider policy debates at the intersection of religion, peace, and world affairs.”
Building Networks for Peace
Rev. David Hollenbach, S.J., got to know Christiansen well over five decades of friendship, first as young Jesuits at Woodstock College, then in graduate school at Yale, and finally as Berkley Center colleagues.
Through all these years, Drew was deeply committed to advancing the Catholic Church’s contributions to the peace of our world and to the advancement of justice for those facing oppression.
Christiansen served on the Catholic Peacebuilding Network (CPN) Steering Committee since its founding almost two decades ago, and while a theology professor at the University of Notre Dame in the 1980s, he was deeply involved in the early development of the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies. Fellow CPN Steering Committee member Joseph Donnelly credits Christiansen with the capacity to develop “pragmatic practices for deliberate diplomatic dialogues anywhere. Bringing his faith, hopes, and smart charity together, he boldly accompanied people and places needing peace and justice.” According to CPN coordinator Gerald Powers, Christiansen was “a Jesuit through-and-through” who “personified what it means to be a Catholic peacebuilder.”
Over the past decade, Christiansen has been leader on nuclear issues in particular, frequently advising the Vatican on nuclear disarmament. He has also worked closely and creatively with Ambassador James Goodby, part of a bipartisan group of senior diplomats focused on nuclear questions, including Secretary of Defense William Perry and the late Secretary of State George P. Shultz. Christiansen hosted several Berkley Center events connected with the center’s program on the Church and Nuclear Issues, which he led.
Christiansen’s voice “carried the weight of someone who also understood the diplomatic and technical issues,” says Goodby. “His legacy will continue to inspire us as we carry on his work.” Carmen MacDougall, senior vice president of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, notes that Christiansen “brought a deep scholarship in the long history and leadership of the Church in pursuing a world without nuclear weapons and was persistent in working toward this goal.”
A Prolific Writer for Justice and Peace
Christiansen’s contributions to the policy debate on pressing issues of justice and peace extended to his prolific body of work as an author and editor.
As editor-in-chief of the Jesuit publication America from 2005 to 2012, he played a critical role in saving and reviving the journal when its future was in doubt. He remained a regular contributor, authoring recent articles on the war in Ukraine, Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons, and the crisis of American democracy.
“The thing that always impressed me about Drew is that he could write about such a wide range of issues with depth and also speed,” said America associate editor Jim McDermott, S.J. “There are so many topics on which you’d think, ‘Who could write in a meaningful and accessible way about this incredibly complex issue?’ and the first answer would be Drew.”
Christiansen also wrote for the Jesuit periodical La Civiltà Cattolica. His recent work addressed the future of transatlantic relations under the Biden administration and Jewish-Catholic dialogue in the twenty-first century, reviewed a book on Vatican diplomacy, and reflected on Afghanistan and the limits of American power.
Christiansen’s nuclear disarmament efforts resulted in two edited volumes from Georgetown University Press: A World Free from Nuclear Weapons: The Vatican Conference on Disarmament (2020) and Forbidden: Receiving Pope Francis' Condemnation of Nuclear Weapons (forthcoming 2023). “We made quite a pair of bookish editors—two nerds in a pod!” co-editor Carole Sargent remembers fondly. “I was honored to take on projects from his endlessly interesting docket.”
Embodying the Jesuit Ethos
Christiansen served as director of the Office of International Justice and Peace of the U.S. Catholic Conference (now the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops), bringing his Jesuit values to help lead the Church's justice and peace efforts.
Special Assistant to the Georgetown President John Borelli collaborated extensively with Christiansen before both arrived at Georgetown. Borelli directed interreligious relations and staffed Orthodox-Catholic relations for the National Conference of Catholic Bishops while Christiansen was at the U.S. Catholic Conference. Borelli recalls the constant collaboration with Christiansen as central to their respective missions, "because Drew believed that the religious dimension, and especially the ecumenical and/interreligious aspects of peace and justice issues, needed to be understood in discussions of international issues."
In his many years of work for the U.S. bishops’ conference, Christiansen also took on delicate diplomatic missions in service to the Church, including to the Holy Land. “I found in him always a true support, a priest who understood the situation, the challenges we were facing, and the daily difficulties of life,” says Patriarch Emeritus Michel Sabbah, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem from 1987 to 2008. “He was a live connection between the action of the Latin Patriarchate and the U.S. bishops’ conference—the only bishops’ conference, due to him, who accompanied us on our hard road towards justice and peace.” As a sign of gratitude, Sabbah named Christiansen a Canon of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem.
John Carr, a colleague at the bishops’ conference who now directs Georgetown’s Initiative for Catholic Social Thought and Public Life, says of Christiansen:
His great knowledge, relationships, and skills helped the conference lead on issues of war and peace, care for God's creation, and the search for justice and peace in the Holy Land.
Christiansen’s expertise extended to interreligious issues more broadly. Berkley Center colleague Jocelyne Cesari, an expert on contemporary Islam and politics, underscores his extensive “knowledge of the religious intricacies of the Middle East.”
Maryann Cusimano Love, a longtime colleague on peacebuilding work and a CPN Steering Committee member, remembers Christiansen as a man with “the mind of a scholar and the heart and walking shoes of a Jesuit. He traveled the world to build peace, and he encouraged student participation at every step, following the example of St. Ignatius Loyola and the very first Jesuits into the twenty-first century.”
A Beloved Teacher
Alongside his global engagement as a scholar and practitioner, Christiansen truly cherished his relationships with students, always eager to hear about their interests and backgrounds. He could often be found hosting Georgetown students at the Jesuit residence for thoughtful lunch conversations.
He in turn was beloved by his students. In fall 2021, Senior Research Fellow Judd Birdsall co-taught the class War, Nonviolence, and Peacebuilding with Christiansen. When Christiansen walked into the classroom on the final day, Birdsall recalls that “the students gave him an extended ovation. It was a spontaneous expression of their appreciation for his scholarship, his teaching, and his life’s work of promoting peace and justice.”
His congeniality extended to Berkley Center staff, who regularly received his notes expressing gratitude for their assistance with his events and programming. “Drew was a remarkable Berkley Center colleague, always cheerful and supportive," says Founding Director Thomas Banchoff. "We are extremely grateful for his tremendous contributions to the Georgetown community and for his generous service to the Church and the world. He will be sorely missed.”
Rev. James Martin, S.J., a friend and colleague at America, summed up Christiansen’s legacy well.
Drew was a great scholar, a fine editor, and a faithful priest. Most of all, he was kind. I can think of no better adjective that describes what it means to be a good Jesuit.
There will be a wake at Wolfington Hall Jesuit Residence on Georgetown University’s campus on the evening of Tuesday, April 19 from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m., with a vigil prayer service at 8:00 p.m. A funeral Mass will be held at Holy Trinity Catholic Church on Wednesday, April 20, at 10:30 a.m.; viewing will be from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. prior to the liturgy. Burial will be in the Jesuit Cemetery on the campus of Georgetown University immediately after the Mass. A reception at Wolfington Hall follows the burial.