Gerard A. Vanderhaar (1931-2005) was Professor Emeritus of Religion and Peace Studies at Christian Brothers University, where he taught for 28 years. A native of Louisville, Kentucky, he received his doctorate in theology at the University of Saint Thomas (the Angelicum) in Rome. He also taught at the University of St. John’s in New York City, Providence College in Rhode Island, and Wesleyan University in Connecticut.
The oldest of four children, he was born in Louisville, Kentucky, on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, August 15, 1931, much to the joy of his parents, Gus and Margaret Vanderhaar, an advertising artist and pianist, respectively. Having made the decision to enter the religious life before he finished high school, Gerard traveled from his Kentucky home and entered the seminary after two years of study at Providence College in Rhode Island. In 1958, he was ordained a priest and soon accepted his first assignment at St. Peter Catholic Church in Memphis, Tennessee, where he also taught at both Christian Brothers High School and Christian Brothers College.
He was next assigned overseas at the priory of St. Sabina, the International Center of the Dominican Order, where he served as Secretary to the Procurator General, the Order's liaison to the Vatican. While there in Rome he earned his doctorate and watched from afar as the Vietnam War unfolded and the Civil Rights Movement took hold. Reading of the daily atrocities in the news, he would later write in his book Personal Nonviolence that he grew weary of “the glacial slowness” church structures were taking “to embrace the direction of Vatican II.”
Returning to the states he began teaching at St. John's University ('64-65) where he was actively involved in the formation of the country’s first teachers' union at a Catholic College. He then went on to Providence College ('65-68) where he was deeply involved in the anti-war movement. He was selected as “Teacher of the Year,” an award given by the students.
During the summers he worked as the Director of the Graduate Theology summer program at Spalding College in Louisville, predominately composed of sisters from several congregations working on their MA degrees. It was during the summer of 1966 that he first met Sister Janice Marie Searles, a Sister of Providence, located at St. Mary-of-the-Woods in Indiana. She had entered the community in 1957 and took final vows in 1965. She taught high school girls with a focus on religion. During time off from teaching, she took classes in theology during the summers from 1966 through 1968. Throughout those years they kept an epistolary relationship and in 1969 he applied for laicization and she for dispensation from her canonical vows, which were both granted during that year. On December 22, 1969, in a small Chicago chapel, with a priest from the diocesan offices presiding, the couple was married.
In 1973, Dr. Vanderhaar became a member of Pax Christi, the International Catholic Peace Movement and was instrumental in establishing Pax Christi USA. Twice he chaired the National Council of the U.S. section, and was a delegate to four Pax Christi International Council meetings in Europe. During a 1979-89 sabbatical he and his wife Janice were staff members at the International Peace Center in Antwerp, Belgium.
He participated in the 1975 National Security Seminar at the U.S. Army War College, was a delegate to a theological dialogue between Pax Christi and the Russian Orthodox Church at Moscow Theological Seminary in 1980, and gave lecture tours throughout England in 1980 and 1997. He and Janice undertook a study mission for Pax Christi to the Philippines in 1989, and also made a personal pilgrimage to Hiroshima in Japan. In Memphis they co-founded the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center in 1982, and, with Arun Gandhi, grandson of Mohandas Gandhi, helped start the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence in 1991. In 1996, they traveled through China with the World Cataract Foundation, on whose board they served.
On the subject of nonviolence he was the author of six books, numerous booklets and articles. His Active Nonviolence: a Way of Personal Peace received a 1990 Catholic Press Association award for spirituality, and Beyond Violence in the Spirit of the Nonviolent Christ was given the 1998 Pax Christi National Book Award. His last, Personal Nonviolence: a Practical Spirituality for Peacemakers was published by Pax Christi USA in 2005, and used for study by our local group.
In 1994, he received the Tennessee Higher Education Commission Award for community service. In 2003, he and Janice were given the Bishop Carroll T. Dozier award for Peace and Justice by Christian Brothers University. He has been listed in the Dictionary of American Scholars, Outstanding Educators of America, Who's Who in Religion, and International Authors and Writers Who's Who.
He passed away on June 21, 2005.
To carry on his legacy, the Gerard A. Vanderhaar Symposium began in 2006 at Christian Brothers University.