Fr. José Morales (1934-2022), a priest and theologian-known for his Newman scholarship, died at the age of 88 on December 13, 2022. Although Spanish, he had many attributes of an educated Englishman: he was a reserved and practical man, with a polite and elegant demeanor, a dry humor, and a taste for classical music.
Fr. Morales was born in Madrid, where he eventually studied law at the Universidad Central de Madrid. He then obtained a doctoral degree in Barcelona, and later a doctoral degree in theology at the Lateran University in Rome. He was ordained to the priesthood in the Prelature of Opus Dei.
He began his career teaching theology at the University of Navarra, and after two periods of work, one in Manila and another in Bilbao, returned to Navarra where he taught from 1982 until the year of his retirement in 2005.
Professor Cesar Izquierdo recalls Fr. Morales’ keen intellect and direct manner of speaking: “he was not a friend of prolonged and excessively analytical approach to reasoning. Rather he tried to quickly reach a synthesis which included great openness to others’ thoughts.”
He wrote many books of theology, including: Theology of Creation (1994) and Introduction to Theology (1998). He directed sixteen doctoral theses, and wrote many articles for Scripta Theologica, the journal of theology of the University of Navarra; he was part of the first editorial board of this journal when it was started in 1969, and wrote many articles and reviews for it. His two principal fields of research were the inter-religion dialogue with world religions, in particular Islam, and the figure of John Henry Newman.
Fr. Morales was a respected Newman scholar. His biography of Newman titled: Newman (1801-1890) was another of his well known works. I met Fr. Morales in 1995 after reading this excellent biography, and first became interested in Newman. Soon after, Morales directed my research and thesis on Newman.
I remember he was a man of few words who spoke with a lot of knowledge. For this reason I was a little intimidated when going to discuss chapters of my dissertation with him, but he would listen and was always helpful. It was his guidance which started me along the path of Newman studies.
One day I found him seated in a lobby at the school, reading what seemed to be Newman’s Meditations and Devotions. Since he was already a well known professor I was impressed to see him reflecting on the spiritual teaching of then Cardinal Newman. The author to whom he dedicated so much time was more than an academic interest; he was a towering spiritual figure who inspired his Christian life.
Morales was a pioneer of Newman studies in Spain. He translated into Spanish and annotated the Idea of a University (1996), Letter to the Duke of Norfolk (1996), Selection of Letters and Diaries (1996), Apologia Pro Vita Sua (1996) and Six Sermons (1997). The last two texts were prepared together with Victor Garcia Ruiz. Translations of some of these works into Spanish already existed but these new editions had a more careful translation and included numerous footnotes.
By means of these translations, his biography of Newman, his academic articles and talks at Newman symposia he not only contributed to the study of Newman’s thinking but promoted Newman studies in the Spanish speaking world. A detailed study of this achievement and of his theological insights into Newman’s thought would be a good and welcome addition to the history of contemporary theology.
Victor Garcia Ruiz, Fr. C. John McCloskey, Fr. Juan Alonso, I, and many others, who have studied and written on St. John Henry Newman, have a large debt of gratitude to this distinguished Newman scholar. But for all of us who knew him, it is hard to think of Fr. José without also remembering his penetrating look, gentle smile, and love for the Church.