Catholic higher ed leader Father Stromberg dies

| June 23, 2017 | 0 Comments

A priest who helped bring Pope Benedict XVI to Minnesota has died.

Father James Stromberg

Father James Stromberg, 90, died June 19 at the Little Sisters of the Poor care center in St. Paul.

A former philosophy professor at the University St. Thomas in St. Paul for 45 years, Father Stromberg educated several future bishops and inspired many students.

“He taught that our Catholic faith is reasonable,” said Bishop John LeVoir of New Ulm. “The foundation that was put in place by Father Stromberg has served me well in presenting the Gospel as a priest and bishop.”

In 1984, Bishop LeVoir, who attended what was then the College of St. Thomas in the 1960s, returned to campus when Father Stromberg and the philosophy department invited then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict XVI, to speak at a symposium. The future pope presented at St. Thomas and said Mass in its Chapel of St. Thomas Aquinas.

“It was a brilliant presentation, yet so easy to grasp,” Bishop LeVoir said of Cardinal Ratzinger’s lecture about the early Christian sarcophagi and the meaning of the Christian symbols.

In a 2011 interview with the university, Father Stromberg, who served as the philosophy department’s chair at the time of the symposium, considered it a significant achievement.

“[Cardinal Ratzinger] was a very nice man, very kind, and he took an interest in all of us even though he was already a cardinal at the time,” Father Stromberg said in the interview.

Father Stromberg was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis Feb. 17, 1957, and taught at St. Thomas from June 1957 to July 2002. He served as the philosophy department chair from 1979 to 1984.

In 1968, he also worked in an advisory role for the founding of Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, California. He and the first president of the college, Ronald P. McArthur, studied for their doctorates in philosophy together at Laval University in Quebec, Canada. Father Stromberg completed his doctorate in 1965. In a letter to Archbishop Leo Binz that year, St. Thomas President Bishop James Shannon wrote: “Since coming to St. Thomas, Father Stromberg has distinguished himself as an exemplary priest, a sound scholar, an able teacher, an effective counselor of students, and a gentleman of poise and courtesy.”

Father Stromberg taught several leaders in Catholic higher education. That list includes theology professor Douglas Bushman of the Augustine Institute in Denver, Colorado, and philosophy professor Steven Jensen of the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas.

“He not only gave me the love of the truth, [but] he also guided me to the truth,” Jensen said. “Without his guidance, I would never have been able to sort through the cacophony of views found even among Catholic thinkers.”

Jensen said he still contacted Father Stromberg for guidance years after graduation, as did Bishop LeVoir. Bishops Paul Sirba of Duluth and John Doerfler of Marquette, Michigan, also had Father Stromberg as a professor.

“We all kept in touch with him throughout the years and benefitted from his wisdom, his common sense and keen insights into the Catholic faith,” Bishop LeVoir said. “He was one of the great professors at St. Thomas and a blessing to us all.”

Father Stromberg taught a variety of philosophy courses. In the St. Thomas interview, he said he especially enjoyed teaching ethics, and that his “favorite upper-level course was ‘Political and Legal Philosophy.’”

He also made an impact teaching an introductory course in logic. Bishop LeVoir hasn’t forgotten that course, which he took in 1964. The bishop said Father Stromberg “taught us to present arguments in a logical and well thought out manner.”

“This was important in secular matters and also in theological matters,” Bishop LeVoir said.

Jensen recalled some of Father Stromberg’s priestly qualities.

“His best witness to the faith was his humility and mercy,” Jensen said. “He cared for everyone, however lowly. He had a special love for sinners and outcasts. In his mind, the faith was never harsh, but always gentle.”

Besides Father Stromberg’s many ministry duties, he made time for recreation. Father Stromberg told St. Thomas that he enjoyed “a little golf and sometimes a little fishing with [St. Thomas philosophy professors] Richard Connell and Thomas Sullivan.”

He kept serving and teaching after his official retirement in 1996. He also assisted at Holy Family in St. Louis Park and St. Gregory the Great in St. Paul, now part of Lumen Christi Catholic Community.

“His greatest legacy will be the love for the truth,” Jensen said. “In an age where everything must be productive, where people persistently ask, ‘What good will it do me?’ he was a beacon, a light to show the way to the truth.”

Father Stromberg was born in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, and grew up in St. Paul with his parents, Louis and Anne Stark Stromberg. After graduating from Cretin High School in St. Paul in 1945, Father Stromberg served in the U.S. Navy for one and a half years. He earned his undergraduate degree from St. Thomas, having transferred there from the University of Notre Dame, where he first took an interest in philosophy.

A prayer service will take place 7 p.m. June 23 at Holy Family, followed by an all-night vigil, which goes until the 10 a.m. funeral Mass June 24. Interment in Resurrection Cemetery in Mendota Heights will follow. Father Stromberg is survived by cousins Marilyn Simmons of Mendota Heights, Maureen Gellerman of Brighton, Michigan, and Robert Johnson of San Antonio, Texas.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Category: Local News, Obituaries