A Reflection on a friend of The American College

Leuven, Belgium

March 14, 2019

Prof. John A. Dick

Cardinal Godfried Danneels died on Thursday morning, March 14, 2019. He was the strength of the Belgian church for a long time and a close and supportive friend of The American College.. He was 85 years old.  

Cardinal Jozef De Kesel, his successor, rightly observed: “We are very grateful to Cardinal Danneels. For many years he exercised shepherding in the Church, and that in a period of fundamental changes in Church and society. Through his word, spoken and written with so much passion, he always led us to the source. Always with a soft hand. He also experienced trials, and in the end he was greatly weakened and exhausted. We continue to thank him gratefully. May he rest in God's peace. "

After the acceptance of his retirement by Pope Benedict in 2010, Cardinal Danneels largely withdrew from public life; and his physical health had deteriorated sharply in recent times.

Godfried Danneels was born on June 4, 1933 in Kanegem, West Flanders, the oldest of six in a family of educators. After minor seminary in Bruges, he was sent to the Catholic University of Leuven to study philosophy. After obtaining his degree, he subsequently studied theology at the Gregorian University in Rome. In 1957 Danneels was ordained a priest. 

In November 1977 he was appointed bishop of Antwerp by Pope Paul VI. At the end of 1979, Pope John Paul II appointed Godfried Danneels Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels. From that time on he was a frequent visitor at The American College and a strong supporter.

Many of us remember with great delight and appreciation his involvement in celebrations for the 150th anniversary of The American College on 2007.

I believe the most interesting period of the Danneels era began around the turn of the century. The cardinal at that time had grown to be a man of prestige on the ecclesiastical world scene. Pope John Paul II was sick, and Danneels was mentioned as a serious contender to succeed him. Together with a group of like-minded people, Danneels tried to form a counterweight to the large conservative power block in the Vatican. The Washington Post put his photo on the front page that time, because he was a candidate to become a pope.

One of my favorite Danneels photos shows him with the newly elected Pope Francis on March 13, six years ago.


The funeral for Cardinal Godfried Danneels will take place in the Sint-Rombouts Cathedral in Mechelen. The service will be led by Cardinal Joseph De Kesel.