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Kellogg faculty fellow, Robert Pelton, dies at 98

| Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Fr. Robert S. Pelton, who was a faculty fellow in the Kellogg Institute for International Studies, died Monday, the University announced in a press release Tuesday. He was 98 years old.

Pelton studied liberation theology with an emphasis in Latin American countries. He served as the founder and director of the Kellogg Institute’s Latin American/North American Church Concerns (LANACC).

Peter Casarella, associate professor of theology at Notre Dame and former director of LANACC, said in the release that Pelton possessed a strong sense of dedication to Notre Dame.

“His record of service sheds a lot of light on the genesis of almost all the ecclesial institutes we have around us today,” Casarella said. “From its inception, Fr. Bob dedicated LANACC to ‘reverse mission.’ He believed that gringos such as himself had more to learn from Latin America than Latin Americans were going to learn from him.”

Pelton studied the Salvadorian archbishop Oscar Romero extensively, and his research was used in a number of publications including Zenit, the New York Times and The Guardian. In 2018, Pelton took a trip to Rome to witness the bishop’s canonization ceremony in St. Peter’s Square, the report said.

Pelton was ordained as a Holy Cross priest in 1949 and received his licentiate and doctorate in sacred theology from St. Thomas University in Rome, the report said.

Recognized as a filmmaker, scholar, author, theology professor and globetrotter, Pelton received an honorary doctorate from the University of Portland in 2016. He was also honored for serving as a theological advisor to Cardinal Leo Sunenens during the Second Vatican Council in 1965, and for his coverage of St. Pope John Paul II visits to Latin America as a journalist.

Having an interest in the house churches in Cuba, Pelton took five trips to Cuba.

“The related Notre Dame course, “Between God and the Party,” was taught by Fr. Pelton and Casarella and provided students the opportunity to talk with Cuban youth and learn about U.S. – Cuban relationships and the global expanse of the Catholic Church,” the press release said.

In 2016, University President Emeritus Fr. “Monk” Malloy praised Pelton’s service in Chile in the 1960s and 1970s.

“The role Bob played in the Catholic Church in Chile during a very important period of that country’s history was equivalent to that of an acting bishop,” Malloy said. “He has been a global citizen, a manifestation of the Church international and a true advocate of the vision of Vatican II.”

At an earlier time, Pelton said he believed the Holy Spirit at the Council impacted his view of the Church, the release said.

“It began to seem to me much more important to understand and experience what was going on at the grassroots of the church, and I felt myself more and more drawn in that direction,” Pelton said.

In 2018, Pelton spoke out regarding the clerical sex abuse crisis, recognizing the damage it has caused and praying for Pope Francis to promote Romero as a pastoral model for the Church.

“This moment provides a unique opportunity for the Church’s official leaders to accept a clear call from the Gospels, together with the affirmation of a committed lay leadership,” Pelton said.

A vigil service will be held at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Moreau Seminary Chapel. A funeral Mass for Fr. Pelton will be held at 3:30 p.m. Friday in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart.

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