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Longtime faculty member Donald L. Berry, who introduced Holocaust course, dies

By Rebecca Downing on January 17, 2013
Donald L. Berry

Donald L. Berry retired from Colgate in 1994 after having started his career teaching in the Department of Philosophy and Religion in 1957. (Photo by Andy Daddio)

Donald L. Berry, Harry Emerson Fosdick Professor of philosophy and religion emeritus, who introduced one of the nation’s first college courses to explore the implications of the Holocaust for Jewish and Christian theology, passed away on Tuesday, January 15, at home in Hamilton, N.Y. He was 87 years old.

Berry, who retired from the Colgate faculty in 1994, began his career at Colgate in 1957 as a member of the Department of Philosophy and Religion and served as associate university chaplain until 1964, when he began teaching full time. He taught a wide range of courses, especially New Testament and Contemporary Theology, as well as in the General Education Program, instituting the Holocaust course in 1970.

He held a number of administrative posts at Colgate, including department chair and director of the summer IBM Program for Executives, and chaired the inauguration committees for two Colgate presidents, Vincent Barnett and Thomas A. Bartlett.

In 1988, he was named the Harry Emerson Fosdick Professor of philosophy and religion, and in 1992 received the Sidney J. and Florence Felten French Award for Inspirational Teaching.

Also an Episcopal priest, he was ordained in 1950 in the Congregational Church, now part of the United Church of Christ, and served parishes in Marion, Ind., and Norwalk, Conn. After moving from the Colgate chaplaincy, he renewed his interest in the Anglican tradition, and was confirmed in the Episcopal Church in 1965. He was ordained to the diaconate of the Episcopal Church (1971), and to the priesthood (1972).

While a professor at Colgate, he also served as part-time supply priest in many parishes in the Diocese of Central New York, and was interim at several local parishes. He was also rector at St. George’s (Chadwicks) from 1976 to 1990.

He was actively involved in diocesan affairs, serving on the Commission on Ministry, Committee for the Continuing Education of the Ordained, the Ecumenical and InterReligious Affairs Commission, and the search committee for the 10th bishop of the diocese. For 18 years, he was a reader for the General Ordination Examinations of the national church.

A member of the American Academy of Religion and past president of its Eastern-International Region, Berry was also a member of the Society for Values in Higher Education and The Conference of Anglican Theologians. He was the author of many reviews and articles in scholarly and professional journals, along with six books, including Mutuality: The Vision of Martin Buber (1985, recently reissued) and How to Listen to a Sermon (2011). He earned his degrees from Goshen College (BA), the University of Chicago (BD), and Yale University (STM, PhD).

His survivors include his wife, Wanda Warren Berry (professor of philosophy and religion, emerita), of Hamilton; daughter Martha and her two sons; daughter Ruth and her husband; and three nephews, Bruce Keith, David Malott, and William Malott.

A requiem mass will be celebrated at St. Thomas’ Church in Hamilton at 10 a.m. Friday, January 25. In lieu of flowers, memorial gifts can be made to Colgate University (designated for student financial aid) or to St. Thomas’ Church (designated for the music fund) in Hamilton. For more information about services or to leave a condolence message, please go here.



  • Jim Pizor '72 said:

    Professor Berry was my anchor in turbulent times. More than my advisor or teacher, Don remains a mentor and guide who profoundly influences the path of my life journey.

    To this day, precepts I acquired through interaction with him influence my decisions and my interpersonal relations. The concept of Grace is abstract, until one meets it face to face. Don gave me a clear experience of the mystery of Grace. I am blessed to have known him.

  • John Pelosi said:

    Don Berry had a huge impact on my life. He encouraged me to attend Colgate. He set my life in motion and for better or worse I am eternally grateful. He and Wanda taught and mentored with grace, warmth, humor and dedication.

    All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware. Martin Buber.

  • Chris Vecsey said:

    Don Berry was a great teacher and mentor to his students and colleagues in the Department of Philosophy and Religion. His book, Mutuality: The Vision of Martin Buber (State University of New York Press, 1985), displayed Don’s insights regarding human relations. His homilies, such as those included in his book, How to Listen to a Sermon (University Press of America, 2011), were erudite goads to the conscience-driven life. He was an academic man of faith. I shall miss him sorely.
    Chris Vecsey
    Harry Emerson Fosdick Professor of the Humanities, Native American Studies, and Religion