Lifetime Achievement Award Has Special Meaning for David Bossman

Stephen Mangione Friar News

David Bossman at Seton Hall University (Photo courtesy of Seton Hall University)

SOUTH ORANGE, N.J. – The lifetime achievement award he received Tuesday night at the 26th annual “Evening of Roses” fundraising gala at Seton Hall University – a benefit for the university’s Sister Rose Thering Fund for Education in Jewish-Christian Studies – had special meaning for David Bossman, OFM.

It was 29 years ago, almost to the day, that David co-founded the Sister Rose Thering Fund with a group of her colleagues at an event he hosted in honor of the Dominican nun’s 50th anniversary of profession. The fund, for which Sr. Rose served as administrator until her retirement in 2005, continues her lifelong activism in building bridges between Jews and Christians.

The Sister Rose Thering Fund began as a supportive wing to Seton Hall’s department of religion, where David taught for 34 years. In addition to promoting inter-religious cooperation and understanding through education, the fund provides financial assistance to educators enrolled in the graduate program of Jewish-Christian studies, of which David served as department chairman for three years. The fund also supports the university’s inter-religious virtual media library.

Recognition of Decades of Work and Advocacy
The lifetime achievement award recognized David for his academic work and advocacy in fostering understanding and cooperation among people of all religious traditions, as well as for advancing the legacy of Sr. Rose, who died in 2006. But the June 4 event was also a sendoff of sorts for the Franciscan friar, who in recent weeks announced his retirement as executive director of the fund – a position he held since its inception – and as professor of Jewish-Christian studies at Seton Hall.

Friars attending the gala event: (l-r) Christopher Keenan, David Bossman, Ronald Pecci, Roberto Gonzáles, Richard Mucowski, Peter Chepaitis and Jim McIntosh. (Photo courtesy of Joy Yagid)

“Sister Rose, a member of the Racine, Wis., Dominican Sisters, wrote her doctoral dissertation at St. Louis University on a tradition of inflammatory teachings about Jews in Catholic textbooks,” said David. “Her careful analysis of these teachings led Cardinal Augustin Bea, whom Pope John XXIII had charged with redressing age-old hostilities among Catholics toward Jews, to conclude that teachings of contempt must cease. In our graduate courses, we follow both the mandates of Vatican II and the State of New Jersey to assure that prejudice and hate born of ignorance have no place in religion or society.”

Although this chapter of David’s ministry is over, his ministerial work in inter-religious engagement will continue as he relocates to familiar environs – Charleston, S.C., where he has been serving for many years on the advisory board of the Charleston Inter-religious Council, and where he has spent summers as a visiting professor at the College of Charleston. Retirement will also allow him to devote more time to his duties as editor of Biblical Theology Bulletin: A Journal of Bible and Culture – a position he has held since 1981.

Lifetime Ministry in Jewish-Christian Studies
David, who holds a doctorate in biblical languages and literature from St. Louis University, served in pastoral ministry for one year after his ordination in 1965. His lengthy teaching ministry began in 1966 at Siena College, where during his 12 years at the Loudonville, N.Y., institution he participated in a diocesan-sponsored program in Jewish-Catholic dialogue, which led to David co-founding the Hayyim and Esther Kieval Institute for Jewish-Christian Studies. He also spent three years as a professor of religion and dean of graduate and continuing studies at St. Bonaventure University in Western New York before his appointment as provost at Seton Hall.

While he was serving at the South Orange university, the New Jersey Holocaust Education Mandate was enacted in 1994 – a law that requires the state’s public elementary and high schools to include the Holocaust and genocide in their curriculum. In response to this mandate, David created a series of graduate courses at Seton Hall designed for educators – helping them to examine the contributing factors of the Holocaust and providing educational remedies that they could bring to their own classrooms to show young students their role in preventing a repeat of this dark history and other genocides.

In 1993, three years after the Sister Rose Thering Fund was established, the first tuition scholarships were awarded to a half-dozen teachers enrolled in courses in the graduate department of Jewish-Christian studies.

David Bossman and Roberto Gonzáles at the”Evening of Roses” event at which David was honored. (Photo courtesy of Jim McIntosh, OFM)

Although David has retired from his work in education and has handed off to others his duties with the fund, he will return for the annual awards gala and remain active in promoting the Sister Rose Thering Fund. He also leaves behind his own legacy in inter-religious dialogue and understanding.

Sharing the spotlight with David at the June 4 fundraising gala was Deborah Lerner Duane, a board of trustees member and immediate past president of the fund, who was the recipient of the Sister Rose Thering Fund servant leadership award. Roberto González Nieves, OFM, archbishop of San Juan, Puerto Rico, whose father was a Seton Hall graduate, and Elisha Wiesel, son of Nobel Laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel – who received an honorary doctorate degree from the university at an Evening of Roses event in 1998 – were the keynote speakers at this year’s gala, which was held at Bethany Hall on the Seton Hall campus in northeast New Jersey.

David, a native of Buffalo, professed his first vows as a Franciscan in 1959 and was ordained to the priesthood in 1965.

Stephen Mangione is a public relations executive based on Westchester County, N.Y., and a frequent contributor to HNP Today.