At the September 24-25, 2020 Collegeville Institute board meeting, Bill Cahoy was welcomed as the new board chair. The board expressed appreciation to outgoing board chair Darrell Jodock for his service from 2015 to 2020.
Meet Bill Cahoy
“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” – Søren Kierkegaard.
A lifelong scholar of Kierkegaard, Bill Cahoy’s journey has brought him full circle to Saint John’s University, where his faith was formed and his calling first took shape. A look backwards at the path that led him to this place, and to serving on the Collegeville Institute board, shows a deep connection to the Catholic, Benedictine tradition, and a commitment to the work of ecumenism.
Bill was connected to Collegeville at a young age. Growing up in a nearby town, priests from Saint John’s Abbey pastored his Catholic parish, and the Benedictine tradition shaped his understanding of church and what it means to be Catholic. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Saint John’s University in 1974, where his interest in ecumenism took root, specifically in exploring Lutheran–Roman Catholic dialogue. Bill felt a call to pursue academic theology and philosophy, and sought to teach in a university setting. His first engagement with the Collegeville Institute occurred during his undergraduate studies when he met one of his mentors – liturgical theologian Don Saliers – a Collegeville Institute resident scholar at the time. Developing a relationship with Saliers led Bill to attend Yale University for both graduate and doctoral theological studies.
After completing his doctorate, Bill taught as an Associate Professor of Theology at Saint Mary’s College in Winona, Minnesota, for nine years. But in 1990 Bill returned home to Collegeville, where he has served as an Associate Professor of Theology for over 25 years, spending five of those years (from 1994-1999) as Chair of the undergraduate Department of Theology, and seventeen years (from 1999-2016) as Dean of the graduate School of Theology and Seminary. He has taught numerous graduate and undergraduate classes, and uniquely shaped the direction of the School of Theology and Seminary.
In 2016, Bill received a grant from the Lilly Endowment to coordinate a study of community and the impact of leadership on communities. Over three years, this grant focused on studying the nature of strong communities and exploring how pastoral leaders can foster healthy, vibrant community. A large part of the grant involved bringing together pastoral leaders across denominations who help shape excellent communities, in order to share their best practices and consider how to teach the art of community building.
Bill has a distinctively theological take on how the Collegeville Institute impacts Saint John’s. He believes that the Collegeville Institute reminds us of our Catholic, Benedictine identity, encouraging us “to read the signs of our times and respond in as bold and visionary a way as did those who established the Collegeville Institute in 1967.” Additionally, the Collegeville Institute draws unique persons to campus, including resident scholars such as Don Saliers, who serve as mentors and resources for the CSB/SJU and surrounding community. The Collegeville Institute fosters conversation between persons that may have otherwise not entered into dialogue. Bill further emphasizes the importance of the Collegeville Institute’s work in relation to our increasingly polarized society; places like the Collegeville Institute are necessary in this time where understanding is thinly-spread and perceived differences regularly divide us.
Further, Bill describes why this ecumenical organization makes sense within its Catholic, Benedictine context. Vatican II, Bill asserts, calls all of the baptized faithful to come together in dialogue and to learn from one another. This dialogue should not simply be within Catholicism, but between denominations as well. “We are ecumenical not in spite of being Roman Catholic but precisely because we are Roman Catholic the way we are,” Bill states. In this Benedictine place, the values of hospitality and attentive listening ground the work of the Institute. Bill notes that the Rule of Benedict’s instruction to receive all as Christ reaches beyond Catholics receiving Catholics. The work of the Institute as a place of welcome and dialogue strives to live up to Benedictine hospitality and listening.
Authentic ecumenism, Bill believes, “is not a matter of losing one’s distinctive identity but of finding and cultivating it,” while determining what makes us an authentically Christian community. It is about both what unites and what distinguishes us, he maintains. “It’s natural to focus on what makes us different as what makes us who we are but as most of us learn in adolescence, what makes us different is not the same as what makes me who I am… The point, the call, is to be authentically and faithfully Christian, not to be different. If it turns out that makes us similar to or different from other Christians, so be it,” he says.
An avid reader, Bill enjoys reading the classics from authors such as Jane Austen, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, and C.S. Lewis. He most appreciates reading novels that employ interesting character studies and challenging plotlines. After years of studying and dissertating on Kierkegaard, Bill still finds his work “provocative, challenging, and irritatingly insightful.” Bill is also a lover of films, including series such as Star Wars and Lord of the Rings, as well as classics like the Wizard of Oz and Casablanca. Bill loves spending time with his wife, Jenny, and taking trips to visit their children and grandchildren.