The Rev. Andrew Greeley, the outspoken Roman Catholic priest, best-selling novelist and sociologist known for his deeply researched academic appraisals and sometimes scathing critiques of his church, died Wednesday night, several years after fracturing his skull in a freakish fall.
The Rev. Greeley died in his sleep at his apartment at the John Hancock Center, according to his spokeswoman, June Rosner. He was 85.
Rosner said the Rev. Greeley had been in poor health since an accident on Nov. 7, 2008. He was at Advocate Lutheran General Medical Center when a piece of his clothing apparently got caught in the door of a departing taxi and he was thrown to the pavement.
The family released a statement this morning saying "our lives have been tremendously enriched by having the presence of Fr. Andrew Greeley in our family. First and foremost as a loving uncle who was always there for us with unfailing support or with a gentle nudge, who shared with us both the little things and the big moments of family life.
"But we were specially graced that this man was also an amazing priest who recently celebrated the 59th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood. He served the Church all those years with a prophetic voice and with unfailing dedication, and the Church he and our parents taught us to love is a better place because of him. Our hearts are heavy with grief, but we find hope in the promise of Heaven that our uncle spent his life proclaiming to us, his friends, his parishioners and his many fans. He resides now with the Lord of the Dance, and that dance will go on."
The Rev. Greeley filled many of his books with the results of work he did at the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, where he'd done work since his days as a doctoral candidate in the early 1960s. He also taught sociology at the University of Arizona. But, Greeley said his immense body of research and writing was merely a reflection of his calling to be a priest.
“I'm a priest, pure and simple,” Greeley told the Tribune in 1992. “The other things I do — sociological research, my newspaper columns, the novels I write — are just my way of being a priest. I decided I wanted to be one when I was a kid growing up on the West Side. I've never wavered or wanted to be anything but.”
The Rev. Greeley's research at NORC showed “that the idea that societies inevitably become more secular as they modernize is untrue,” said Tom W. Smith, director of the General Social Survey at NRC.
“I think he drew many of his hypotheses from his vocation as a Catholic priest,” Smith said in an e-mailed statement. “He then put those ideas to rigorous scientific testing.”
The Rev. Greeley criticized the church hierarchy over issues including its teaching on contraception and the way bishops handled the sexual abuse crisis. His blunt criticism set him apart from other Catholic sociologists, said Martin Marty, professor emeritus at the University of Chicago Divinity School.
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