Priest, poet, professor, and environmentalist Jim Conlon has worked tirelessly building bridges between science and religion for more than a quarter century.
Conlon divides his time between his home in Berkeley, CA, and Kingstree, SC, where he is on the staff of the Springbank Retreat for Ecology and the Arts and where he teaches writes, celebrates the liturgy. The author of 11 books, he is currently at work on an update of his classic work on geo-justice, which will be published in 2017. His intention is to draw out the similarities between his own life’s work and Pope Francis’s profound encyclical, Laudati Si: On Care for Our Common Home.
Born in 1936 and raised in rural Ontario, Canada, Conlon studied chemistry in college before following a call to the Catholic priesthood. Taking his theological studies during the heady days of Vatican Council II, the Vietnam War, and the civil rights movement, Conlon gravitated toward urban ministry and social justice. In 1971, he met legendary Chicago organizer Monsignor Jack Egan at The University of Notre Dame in Indiana. Shortly afterwards, Conlon moved to Chicago to study at Saul Alinsky’s (Rules for Radicals) Industrial Areas Foundation.
After returning to Canada, Conlon founded the Institute for Communities in Canada, a project sponsored by Humber College of Applied Arts and Technology in Toronto. In 1977, he became the assistant director of the Toronto School of Theology, where he carried responsibility for field education, pastoral training, and teaching pastoral theology.
In 1983, Conlon’s life was upended when he met the legendary founder of the Creation Spirituality movement, Matthew Fox, at a summer institute in Toronto. The following year, Conlon was invited to spend his sabbatical as a theologian-in-residence at the Institute in Culture and Creation Spirituality (ICCS) at Holy Names University in Oakland, CA, which was helmed by Fox at the time.
At Holy Names, Conlon was introduced to the writings of Thomas Berry. Known as one of the chief advocates of the New Story of the Universe—a cross-fertilization of Darwin’s theory of evolution, the writings of paleontologist and theologian Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, and the creation narrative revealed in sacred scripture—Berry labored toward a time when science and religion are no longer separate spheres. At the end of his sabbatical, Conlon was hired as a faculty member at the Institute. Over the next several years, he formulated the ideas behind what became his life’s work: the combination of social and environmental justice with creation spirituality, which he termed geo-justice.
After Fox left ICCS, Conlon was appointed director. With Berry’s vision as a blueprint, the institute was renamed the Sophia Center and continued to expand as a hotspot for the blending of world religions, science, contemporary philosophy, and theology related to environmentalism and human responsibility.
In 2015, Conlon retired from Holy Names to focus on his writing. As Conlon’s life continues to unfold, he invites others to join him on the journey, and to discover through his talks and presentations what they want to do with their “one wild and precious life.”
Conlon was presented the 2013 Thomas Berry Award by Mary Evelyn Tucker, senior lecturer and senior research scholar at Yale University and trustee of the Thomas Berry Foundation. This award was initiated in 1999 to recognize those instrumental in carrying on the work and legacy of Thomas Berry. This year’s award honors Conlon’s more than two decades of leadership as director at Holy Names University/ Sophia Center.