John Francis Long: Jesuit, Ecumenist, Agent of History, Expert on Eastern Churches and their Relations with the Catholic Church (1925-2005)
Born in Brooklyn in 1925, John Francis Long was the oldest of the seven children of Stephen J. Long (1899) Anna M. O'Connor (1901). They were married in 1924 and lived most of their lives in Brooklyn. John, or Jack as he was known in his family, entered the Society of Jesus in 1943 at Saint Andrew on Hudson, a Jesuit novitiate near Poughkeepsie, New York. Today, the grounds and buildings, with the exception of the Jesuit cemetery are the Culinary Institute of New York.
Ordained in 1956 At Fordham University, Fr. Long was assigned eventually to studies at the Pontifical Institute of Oriental Studies in Rome. Prior to that, he had been a student of Russian and Eastern Church Studies at Georgetown University and at Fordham University, under direction of Paul Mailleux, S.J., with hopes of teaching at Fordham University especially those who would hope to minister in Russia or eventually going to Russia himself as a missionary.
In Rome, he was recruited by the late Cardinal Johannes Willebrands, then Msgr. Willebrands and Secretary of the newly established Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity. The Secretariat was formed in 1960 by Pope St. John XXIII to serve as a preparatory commission to provide a cordial outreach to other Christians in the preparations for the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council or Vatican II. This outreach to other Christians was one of the stated goals for Vatican II of Pope John XXIII. The Secretariat’s president was the highly respected biblical scholar and elder churchman Cardinal Augustin Bea, who was also a Jesuit. Once the council got underway in 1962, Pope John insured that the Secretariat continue as a permanent commission of the council. The council fathers requested the Secretariat to prepare the draft “On Ecumenism” for discussion once the council reconvened in 1963, and Pope John allowed the Secretariat to expand its staff for this expanded work and to include expertise in Eastern Church Studies. That is how Fr. Long became a member of the staff of the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity, one of the official commissions for the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). He was such a fine expert on eastern Christian churches that he became the tutor of Cardinal Bea and Msgr. Willebrands in his area of expertise. He remained with the Secretariat as it became a permanent body of the Roman Curia, heading its section relating to the eastern churches from 1965 through 1980. After 1980 until his death in 2005, he held an official appointment as consultor to the Secretariat, renamed the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity in 1988.
From the end of Vatican II until the time of his death, Fr. Long was a much appreciated interpreter of the council with a reputation for providing reliable information about its proceedings and documents. He was also one of the leading Catholic experts on eastern Christian churches and was respected by church leaders east and west. It was said of him by Russian Orthodox Church officials that Fr. Long spoke Russian without any accent.
On the staff of the Secretariat and then as a consultor for the Pontifical Council, Fr. Long participated in its major work, including assistance with contacts with other Christian churches and ecclesial communities and with preparation of the Secretariat’s three official documents for Vatican II and its shared responsibility for a fourth document, The Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum). Of the three official documents that were the Secretariat’s responsibility alone, The Decree on Ecumenism (Unitatis Redintegratio) and The Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions (Nostra Aetate) received Fr. Long’s special attention as his archives reveal. He also followed the Secretariat’s development of The Declaration on Religious Liberty (Dignitatis Humanae). He then served to implement these documents in the years after Vatican II.
Fr. Long was a member of numerous official delegations to eastern churches, ecumenical events, and working groups with various ecumenical organizations. He participated directly in the drafting of official Catholic texts and joint statements and agreements of an ecumenical nature. He directly affected the course of ecumenical relations and contributed markedly to official church policy. Eye witness to numerous groundbreaking ecumenical events, Fr. Long was a careful recorder and interpreter of ecumenical history. Included in that history are the break-up of the Soviet Union and freedom for suppressed eastern Catholic churches and the birth of a new geo-political reality for dialogue and relations with Orthodox Christian churches. He helped prepare the two parts of the Secretariat Ecumenical Directory and played a major role in its revision, released in 1993 as Directory for the Application and Norms on Ecumenism.
From 1981-85, he was Director of the John XXIII Ecumenical Center at Fordham University, in actuality shutting down the center, finding a place for its library, and moving its archives and journal to Scranton University. He was called back to Rome in 1986 to teach at the Pontifical Institute of Oriental Studies, where he was also Vice Rector. During this time, he assisted Pope John Paul II with preparation of his apostolic letter marking the millennium of the baptism of the Kievan-Rus’ (Euntes in Mundum, January 25, 1988) and the special letter of Pope John Paul II to Ukrainian Catholics (Magnum Baptisimi Donum, February 14, 1988). From 1991 until 1995, Fr. Long held an additional office as Rector of the Pontifical Russian College. He was known for hosting delegations of Russian clergy and other dignitaries in Rome. In 1995, he returned to New York City, where he resided at the America House Jesuit Community on West 56th Street in Manhattan. There he assisted with the production of the Jesuit weekly America Magazine and was a guest lecturer at numerous universities, seminaries, and ecumenical occasions. He continued on several official dialogues.
Thus, from 1925 until 1943 he lived with his family which would eventually include five brothers and a sister. He was the oldest. The family lived at 869 Glenmore Ave, Brooklyn, New York. Stephen G. Long (married Clare) followed John in order and was born in 1927. Then Bernard P. Long (married Marian) arrived in 1928. Then, Lorraine arrived in 1930 and later married Robert Roell. Ralph Long (married to Helen) was born in 1935. Charles (married Margaret, Peggy) arrived in 1940. Finally, Gerald (who married Judith) was born in 1943, the year John Francis entered the novitiate. The family joked that he entered the Jesuit to free up space in the house for the newborn.
From 1943 until 1963, John Long was in a period of formation with the Jesuits, from novitiate, to juniorate, to regency, theological education, ordination, and graduate studies.
From 1963 until 1980, he served on the staff of the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity residing in Rome.
From 1981 until 1985, he was Director of the John XXIII Ecumenical Center at Fordham University, residing in New York. In 1985, he was named to the faculty and Vice Rector of the Pontifical Institute of Oriental Studies in Rome and from 1991 until 1995, he held an additional office as Rector of the Pontifical Russian College. He resided mostly in Rome.
He returned to New York City and remained on the staff at America Magazine until his death on September 20, 2005.
While Fr. Long’s bibliography is now long, he assisted church officials with documents and their own writings. Thus, his writing extends throughout the archives of the Catholic Church and its official publications. There are several key writings and paper that reflect his thinking.
“Eastern Orthodoxy and Ecumenism,” Proceedings of the National Workshop on Christian Unity (1964), published by the Baltimore Archdiocesan Commission for Christian Unity, 1964.
“East and West in the Decree on Ecumenism,” Unitas 17/1 (1965) 3-16.
“Il Significato della Visita dell’Arcivescovo Ramsey,” La Civiltà Cattolica (1966) 108-116. Though Fr. Long’s expertise was in eastern church relations, he wrote an official summary of the historic visit of the Archbishop of Canterbury to Rome in 1966.
“Historical Observations on the Origins and Development of the Ruthenian (Greek) Catholic Church,” unpublished paper, October 1989; slight revisions, April 1990. This is probably one of the most thorough explanations of the origins of the Greek Catholic Church.
"The New Realities of Ecumenism in Eastern Europe," The Catholic World, 237:1417, January/February, 1994, 4-10.
“Further Reflections on Vatican II,” America (March 17, 2003) 14-15.
“Vatican II: A Participant Reflections Forty Years Later,” Unpublished address, National Association for Diocesan Ecumenical Officers Luncheon, National Workshop on Christian Unity, 2003.
“A Century of Catholic-Orthodox Relations,” One Magazine. Catholic Near East Welfare Association (July 2005).