David Tracy

The Potential of Each Person to Be an Extremist Can Be Used to Help Us Understand Other Peoples' Extremism

David Tracy 


Is an American Roman Catholic theologian. Tracy has spent the majority of his career teaching at the Divinity School of the University of Chicago. On December 18, 1963, he was ordained a priest in Rome and served in the diocese of Bridgeport,Connecticut.


Early life and education

Tracy was born in 1939 to John Charles Tracy and Eileen Marie Tracy (née Rossell) in Yonkers, NY. He had two brothers, John Jr. and Arthur. His father was a union organizer who loved to read Henry Adams to his children.

Feeling an intense call to the priesthood as an adolescent, Tracy started attending the Cathedral School in 1952. The Cathedral School served as a high school and minor seminary for the Archdiocese of New York. In 1960, he left New York for Rome to study at the Gregorianum. His vocation to study theology was profoundly encouraged by the Second Vatican Council taking place at that time. He was ordained in Rome and then served in the diocese of Bridgeport, CT in 1963. Tracy received his Licentiate of Sacred Theology from the Gregorianum in 1964, after which he spent one year working at a parish in Stamford, CT. Tracy has said that he had always wanted to work in a parish, but during his one year of doing so, he felt a strong call to the academic life. He returned to Rome and received his doctorate from the Gregorian in 1969.



Tracy's first academic teaching appointment was a lectureship at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., where he began in 1967. In 1968, Tracy joined with Bernard McGinn and twenty other professors at CUA in rejecting Pope Paul VI's encyclical Humanae Vitae. He and the others were tried by CUA's faculty senate and summarily fired. They sued the university, were represented by ACLU lawyers, and ultimately won their case.

In the midst of this trial, Jerald Brauer, then Dean of the University of Chicago Divinity School, convinced Tracy (as well as McGinn) to come to the University of Chicago. In 1985, Tracy was named a Distinguished Service Professor there, and in 1987, a Distinguished Service Professor of Roman Catholic Studies. Tracy also held the Andrew Thomas Greeley and Grace McNichols Greeley Professorship in Roman Catholic Studies, which was established in 1984 by sociologist and novelist Andrew Greeley. He also served on Chicago's Committee on the Analysis of Ideas and Methods and the Committee on Social Thought. Tracy remained at the Divinity School until his retirement in late 2006.

Tracy served as President of the Catholic Theological Society of America from 1976-1977. In 1980, that organization awarded him the John Courtney Murray Award, the highest award of the society. In 1982, he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

In 1999-2000, Tracy gave the Gifford Lectures at the University of Edinburgh. The title of his lectures was This Side of God. The Gifford Lectures are widely considered to be the highest honor for those working in theology and religious studies.



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