Kortendick, Father James Joseph

1986, July 14

Date of Birth: 1907, March 19

August 20, 1986

Dear Confrere:

Our brother priest, James Joseph Kortendick, died of cancer on July 14, 1986, at St. Charles Villa, where he had lived since 1978. His last years of quiet retirement were a marked contrast to the rest of his more than fifty years of ordained ministry which was far more visible to the public eye as a university educator, administrator, and seminary faculty member than may be thought typical of Sulpician priests.

Born on March 19, 1907, James was one of five children born to Lawrence V. and Margaret (nee Dooley) Kortendick in Pecatonica, IL, where he also received his elementary education. After the family moved to Milwaukee, WI, he received his secondary education at Marquette University High School. In 1926, James entered St. Charles College, Catonsville, MD, to begin studies for the priesthood, particularly attracted to that calling by the example of both his pastor and his first cousin, Lloyd P. McDonald, S.S. He completed his preparation for the priesthood at St. Mary’s Seminary, Baltimore, and was ordained for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and for service with the Society of St. Sulpice on May 26, 1934.

Father Kortendick’s first assignment after his ordination was as a teacher of English and religion at the young seminary of St. Edward’s in Seattle, where he also began graduate studies in English literature and education at the University of Washington to comply with State accreditation norms. At the local bishop’s request, he also worked with students at O’Dea High School who had shown an interest in becoming priests. A search for funds to help them finance their seminary education brought Father Kortendick into contact with some Seattle people who had recently undertaken the organization of a business and professional Catholic men’s club. It was a suggestion of Father Kortendick from this contact that led the founders of Serra International to adopt as their major objective the promotion of vocations to the priesthood and religious life as their organization spread throughout the Christian world from its Seattle origins.

Returning to Baltimore in 1936 for the Sulpician year of formation, Father Kortendick also taught English at St. Charles College, was admitted to the Society in 1937, and at the same time received an appointment to St. Mary’s Seminary on Paca Street, again to teach English and speech and also to serve as the librarian and treasurer. His easy-going temperament and sociable nature, his love of books, and interest in the piano and directing a band were already contributing to his popularity as a faculty member. As in Seattle, another interest of his, this time a devotion to Mother Elizabeth Ann Seton, would have an impact far beyond the seminary. With the help of St. Mary’s director of maintenance, he began the restoration of the house on the seminary grounds where that sainted lady had begun her first school with the encouragement of the Sulpicians. Numerous period pieces were also gathered by Father Kortendick to give more authenticity to the Mother Seton house which years later would become a popular pilgrimage site following her canonization.

The primary direction of Father Kortendick’s Sulpician ministry, however, had been found in his appointment as seminary librarian, for which he had no formal training, although he had served two years as a librarian assistant while a seminarian. In 1939, he began that training as a full-time student at The Catholic University of America in Washington. Receiving his L.S.B. degree, he continued at the University with graduate studies in education and philosophy, when, in early 1941, the unexpected and serious illness of the University librarian led to a request that Father Kortendick become full-time reference librarian, which, in effect, made him acting librarian of the University and head of the department of library science. In 1942, he was also appointed to the faculty of Theological College as a spiritual director of seminarians, a post he would hold until 1969.

In 1946, following the appointment of a new University librarian, Father Kortendick was appointed an assistant professor and chairman of the department he had been directing for five years. Within two years he saw the department accredited by the American Library Association as a graduate library school. During the succeeding years he became increasingly involved with professional activities in the library field. These included offices in the library education division of the American Library Association, culminating in his election as president of the division in 1960-1961, a member of the executive committee on personnel administration, 1963-1965, and chairman of the library administration development committee, 1964-1965. From 1967 to 1969, he was a member of the committee on liaison with accrediting agencies of the Association of College and Research Libraries. In the Catholic Library Association, he was a member of the executive council from 1943 to 1952, and chairman of the committee on the Catholic Periodical Index from 1950 to 1958. He also served as president of the District of Columbia Library Association from 1952 to 1954, and president of the Association of American Library Schools in 1969-1970. He served on the board of trustees of the Council of Library Associations from 1969 to 1973 and was appointed to the President’s Committee on Employment of the Handicapped in 1958.

During all this professional activity, in addition to his work on the formation faculty of Theological College, he found time to further his own graduate education, and in 1963 received from The Catholic University the Ph.D. in education. His doctoral thesis was a study of Catholic theological seminary libraries in the United States, many of which he found wanting in standards appropriate for institutions of higher learning, and he developed attention with the rapid movement toward seminary accreditation that followed the Second Vatican Council. Numerous other publications and research papers in library education flowed from his pen over the next ten years.

Recognition of achievement in library education came to Father Kortendick in forms other than high office in various professional associations. Perhaps the most notable was the Beta Phi Mu award of the National Library Science Honor Society presented in 1966 at the annual conference of the American Library Association in New York for distinguished service to library education. In 1974, he was given the Benemerenti Medal from Pope Paul VI for distinguished services on the faculty of The Catholic University, and, in the same year, he was presented the distinguished service award of The Catholic University in recognition of devoted and outstanding leadership in the field of higher education.

In 1972, Father Kortendick retired as chairman of the department of library science but taught there for one more year and then took one year of sabbatical leave inasmuch as he had not found time for a sabbatical in his previous thirty-two years at the University. Although the year began with a period of hospitalization for surgery, it included European travel in the fall and, by January, saw him in Milwaukee as interim director of the Marquette University libraries until the following September when a new librarian had been found. The position also included overseeing the University archives.

The following two years Father Kortendick took some time to enjoy retirement at Theological College in Washington, but he also served actively as chairman of The Catholic University’s Friends of the Library and as a member of the provincial finance committee of the Sulpicians, and then had another experience of surgery in Milwaukee. While recuperating, he received a new invitation to use his professional skills, this time from St. Patrick’s Seminary in Menlo Park, which needed an interim librarian. He eagerly accepted the position and began his new work in California in September 1976, after taking a vacation in Hong Kong with his sister, and then stayed a second year at St. Patrick’s on a part-time basis, meanwhile adding to his schedule a one-semester course that he taught at San Jose State University.

By then Father Kortendick figured that it was really time for retirement, and in the fall of 1978, he moved back to Baltimore and took up residence in St. Charles Villa. Even then he undertook to chair the Sulpician archives committee for a year. He found much enjoyment in the opportunity that retirement afforded him for socializing, playing bridge, travel, and frequent visiting family toward whom he had maintained the closest ties over the years. They rejoiced with him in a Milwaukee celebration of the golden anniversary of his ordination in 1984, although a sadness was present, too, from the recent death of his older brother, Bernard. Another activity that he never wanted to be mentioned, although the Society’s administration was well aware of it, was this priest’s great generosity in helping to fund various aspects of the Sulpician mission and the library school of The Catholic University. The Sulpician retirement fund, the Sulpician archives, the Paca Street chapel, and St. Mary’s Seminary were beneficiaries of his frequent and often relatively large gifts.

The last six years of his life, however, also witnessed considerable physical decline. While an almost life-long duodenal ulcer was finally corrected by surgery, two heart attacks in 1980 and finally a rapidly developing cancer in the spring of 1986 sapped his strength in the last few months of his life.

A Mass of Christian Burial following his peaceful death was celebrated on July 18, 1986, in the chapel of St. Martin’s Home, adjacent to St. Charles Villa, with the Most Reverend William C. Newman, Auxiliary Bishop of Baltimore, the principal celebrant. The homily was delivered by the Reverend Vincent M. Eaton, S.S. Graveside prayers were led by the Reverend Lawrence A. Bender, S.S. A Christian wake service the evening before the funeral was led by the Reverend Carleton M. Sage, S.S. Burial was in the Sulpician cemetery. His three sisters survive Father Kortendick, Mrs. Marion (William C.) Lawton of Milwaukee, Sister Marie Laurence, O.P., of Sinsinawa, WI, and Sister Madelyn, O.P. of Bloomington, IN.

May Father James Kortendick live forever in the joy of the Resurrection.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

William J. Lee, S.S.

Provincial Secretary