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Former Professor Was Once ‘Heart and Soul’ of GRE, Colleagues Say


John (Jack) Nelson, Ph.D., a former member of the Society of Jesus and a former professor in the Graduate School of Religion and Religious Education (GRE), died on March 14. He was 79.

A Funeral Mass was held at the University Church on March 19.

“Jack Nelson was a remarkable person,” said Janet Ruffing, R.S.M., professor in spirituality and spiritual direction at GRE. “When I arrived at Fordham in 1986, in many ways, Jack was the heart of the school and was supportive to both students and faculty.”

Sister Ruffing said Nelson and his wife, Cathy, offered generous hospitality to international students and students far from home.

“He was a popular and reflective teacher, and moved easily between systematic theology and the culture of youth and young adults,” she said.

John Elias, Ed.D., professor of religious education and social ministry, said Nelson and Cathy were for many years “the heart and soul” of GRE.

“Jack was the consummate pedagogue, always well prepared, thorough and conscientious,” Elias said. “He bridged the gap between academic theology and religious education.”

Nelson and his wife authored religion textbooks that were used in Catholic schools and religious education classes for many years, Elias said.

“The pride and joy of their lives was their daughter, Meg, who now teaches at Fordham Preparatory School,” Elias said, referring to the Nelson’s daughter, Margaret Bratt, an English teacher at Fordham Prep.


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