Henri Jozef Machiel Nouwen, (January 24, 1932 – September 21, 1996)
was a Dutch Catholic priest, professor, writer and theologian. His
interests were rooted primarily in psychology, pastoral ministry,
spirituality, social justice and community. Over the course of his
life, Nouwen was heavily influenced by the work of Anton Boisen,
Thomas Merton, Rembrandt,
Vincent van Gogh
Vincent van Gogh and Jean Vanier.
After nearly two decades of teaching at academic institutions
including the University of Notre Dame,
Yale Divinity School
Yale Divinity School and
Harvard Divinity School, Nouwen went on to work with individuals with
intellectual and developmental disabilities at the
community in Richmond Hill, Ontario.
1.1 Early life
3 Public speaking
6 Works about Nouwen
6.2 Articles and essays
8 External links
Major seminary in Rijsenburg
Henri Nouwen was born in Nijkerk, the
Netherlands on January 24, 1932.
He was the oldest of four children born to Laurent J.M. Nouwen and
Maria Nouwen (née Ramselaar). Nouwen's father was a tax lawyer and
his mother worked as a bookkeeper for her family's business in
Amersfoort.:16–17 His younger brother Paul Nouwen was a prominent
Dutch businessman and his uncle Toon Ramselaar was a Roman Catholic
priest in the Archdiocese of Utrecht and a co-founder of the Service
International de Documentation Judéo-Chrétienne. Nouwen studied
Jesuit Aloysius College in
The Hague before spending a year at
the minor seminary in Apeldoorn. His year at the school was spent
preparing for six years of study for the priesthood, consisting of
training in philosophy and theology, at the major seminary in
Nouwen was ordained a
Catholic priest for the Archdiocese of Utrecht
on July 21, 1957, by Bernardus Alfrink at St. Catherine's Cathedral in
Utrecht.:82 Eager to learn more about himself and the people he
counseled, Nouwen requested permission from Alfrink to study
psychology instead of theology. His request was granted and from 1957
to 1964 he studied at the Catholic University of Nijmegen.:xvii In
studying the fundamentals of clinical psychology, Nouwen struggled
with the lack of interdisciplinary analysis. He sought to use
psychology as a means of exploring the human side of faith which he
felt was being overlooked, from a pastoral standpoint, in broader
theological discussions. During his studies at the university, he was
greatly influenced by Han Fortmann, a Dutch psychologist of religion
whose writing about action and contemplation in a busy world are
mirrored in Nouwen's own work.:23f For his thesis work, Nouwen
focused on Anton Boisen, an American minister credited with founding
the clinical pastoral education movement. The thesis was not approved
due to a lack of scientific analysis and clinical study. Rather than
revising the work to obtain a doctorate, Nouwen completed his studies
in 1964 by obtaining a doctorandus degree.:38–47
The Menninger Clock Tower
After receiving his doctorandus, Nouwen studied for two years as a
Fellow in the Religion and Psychiatry Program at the Menninger Clinic
in Topeka, Kansas, and was influenced by psychologist Gordon
Allport.:45 Nouwen completed his clinical pastoral training at
the Topeka State Hospital and graduated from the Menninger
Foundation's training program in theology and psychiatric theory on
June 19, 1965. During his time at the Clinic he found he preferred
direct contact with patients over the more scientific and medical
analysis of certain branches of psychology. This prompted an
examination of his professional practice in order to better integrate
spiritual ministry with modern psychology.:xvii-xix Over the course
of this same period, Nouwen began to engage with social and political
happenings, including the Civil Rights Movement. In 1965 he traveled
to the Southern United States to participate in, and later publish an
article about, the Selma to Montgomery marches.:23f
From 1966 to 1968 he was a visiting professor at the University of
Notre Dame. From 1968 to 1970 he worked at the Amsterdam Joint
Pastoral Institute and taught psychology and spirituality at the
Catholic Theological University of Utrecht. In 1971 he received his
doctorandus degree in theology.
Between 1971 and 1981 Nouwen was a professor of pastoral theology at
Yale Divinity School, where he began to establish a broad readership
of his work as a contributor to various publications including the
National Catholic Reporter and as the author of several books based on
personal experience. During his time at Yale, Nouwen took several
sabbaticals, some of which informed his writing. In 1976 he was a
Fellow at the Collegeville Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural
Research at Saint John's Abbey, Collegeville, Minnesota, and in 1978
he was scholar-in-residence at the Pontifical North American College
While a professor at Yale Nouwen also spent several months at the
Abbey of the Genesee. His first visit began on June 1, 1974, and
lasted seven months. While there he kept a journal that was published
as Genesee Diary: Report from a Trappist Monastery in 1976.:16 He
returned again in 1979, after the death of his mother, which led to
the publication of A Cry For Mercy: Prayers from the Genesee.
Though Nouwen concluded he was not suited for the trappist life, the
Abbey of the Genesee and his relationship with then abbott John Eudes
Bamberger continued to be of great importance to him. The Abbey
served as his home base for more than a year after he resigned from
Yale and it was where he chose to celebrate the 25th anniversary
of his ordination as a priest on August 6, 1982.
After leaving Yale in 1981, Nouwen took a six-month trip to South
Bolivia and Peru. Upon his return to the United
States in 1983, Nouwen was appointed at the
Harvard Divinity School
Harvard Divinity School as
Professor of Divinity and Horace De Y. Lentz Lecturer. The half-time
appointment allowed Nouwen to split his time between teaching at the
Divinity School and working with a theological center in Latin
America. Nouwen taught at the school until his resignation in
1985. In 1985 and 1986 he spent nine months with the L'Arche
community in France.
Nouwen's spirituality was greatly influenced by his friendship with
Jean Vanier. The two men met while Nouwen was teaching at Harvard.
Vanier sensed how lost Nouwen was feeling and invited him to visit
Trosly-Breuil.:105 Nouwen visited Vanier at the French community,
the first in the
L'Arche network, twice before returning in 1985 for a
nine-month residency. The stay helped Nouwen find a purpose that
had been missing. As Robert A. Jonas explains: "Henri had always
wondered what a Eucharistically centered community would be like, and
now he had found one at L'Arche." :l
During Nouwen's time in France he traveled to Toronto, Ontario, to
officiate at a wedding and sought permission to stay for a week at
L'Arche Daybreak in Richmond Hill. While there a core member named
Raymond was hit by a car and left in critical condition. Nouwen
provided spiritual guidance to the community and Raymond’s family,
ultimately helping to reconcile the community and the family, who
partially blamed Daybreak for Raymond's injuries. Nouwen's
intervention had such an impact that the Daybreak members asked him to
serve as their pastor. Nouwen accepted and moved in the fall of
L'Arche Daybreak, where he would spend the last ten years of
While at Daybreak Nouwen was paired with Adam Arnett, a core member at
L'Arche Daybreak with profound developmental disabilities. Nouwen
wrote about his relationship with Arnett in a book entitled Adam:
Geysteren, NL memorial
Nouwen struggled with his sexuality, which may have contributed to his
feelings of self-doubt.:80 Although this struggle was known by
those close to him, Nouwen never publicly identified as homosexual
despite acknowledging the matter in discussions with friends and
alluding to a personal struggle in his private journals. In his
book The Return of the Prodigal Son, Nouwen describes a friendship
that had him under spell, did him no good and when it finally
collapsed left him in a depressive mood and in search of self-esteem
and acceptance by others. Biographer Michael Ford referenced these
instances in the biography Wounded Prophet, which was published after
Nouwen's death. Ford suggests that Nouwen only became fully
comfortable with his sexual orientation in the last few years of his
life, and that Nouwen's depression was caused, in part, by the
conflict between his priestly vows of celibacy and the sense of
loneliness and longing for intimacy that he experienced. "This took
an enormous emotional, spiritual and physical toll on his life and may
have contributed to his early death." While his struggle to
reconcile his priestly vows of celibacy with his human desire for
physical and emotional intimacy appears in his writings, there is no
evidence that Nouwen ever broke his vow of celibacy.
Nouwen died in the
Netherlands on September 21, 1996, from a sudden
heart attack, while en route to Russia to participate in a Dutch
documentary about his book The Return of the Prodigal Son. Nouwen's
first funeral Mass was held on September 24 at St. Catherine's
Cathedral in Utrecht with a eulogy offered by Jean Vanier, after which
Nouwen's body was flown to Canada for burial by the
community. The second funeral Mass was held on September 28 at the
Slovak Catholic Cathedral of the Transfiguration in Markham, Ontario,
following a full-day wake at St. Mary Immaculate Catholic Church in
Richmond Hill on September 27. Nouwen was laid to rest in a pine
coffin built in
L'Arche Daybreak's The Woodery and colourfully painted
by members of the community. He is buried in St. John's Anglican
Church Cemetery in Richmond Hill in keeping with his desire to be near
the graves of other Daybreak community members. There is also a
memorial marker for Nouwen in Geysteren, NL at the grave site of his
Prior to his death he entrusted Sue Mosteller, C.S.J., with his
estate, making her the literary executrix of his works. The founding
of the Henri J.M. Nouwen Archives and Research Collection at the John
M. Kelly Library, University of St. Michael's College, was the
culmination of Mosteller's effort to centralize Nouwen's personal
records. The work involved organizing his material at L'Arche
Daybreak, which included personal correspondence, original
manuscripts, and audio visual material, and negotiating with the Yale
Divinity School Library for the release of records Nouwen had begun
depositing there as a faculty member in 1975.:19 The Nouwen
Archives opened in September 2000.
He has an award named for him, the
Henri Nouwen Leadership Award,
given out by the American Association on Intellectual and
Developmental Disabilities, Religion and Spirituality Division.
There is an endowed lectureship in Classical Christian Spirituality
named after him at Drew University. There is also an elementary school
named after him in Richmond Hill, Ontario.
"Terugkeer van de Verloren Zoon" by
Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn.
Nouwen wrote a short book, The Return of the Prodigal Son, based on
his contemplation of Rembrandt's painting of the same name.
Before his death Nouwen published 39 books and authored hundreds of
articles.:9 His books have sold over 7 million copies worldwide
and have been published in more than 30 languages.:3 In a magazine
survey conducted by Christian Century in 2003 Nouwen's work was
indicated as a first choice of authors for Catholic and mainline
Protestant clergy. His books include The Wounded Healer, In the
Name of Jesus, Clowning in Rome, The Life of the Beloved and The Way
of the Heart, along with what is recognized as one of his most popular
books, The Return of the Prodigal Son.
While visiting the
L'Arche Trosly-Breuil community in France, he saw a
poster of Rembrandt's painting The Return of the Prodigal Son that
made a deep impression on him. He decided to see the painting
personally and traveled to
Saint Petersburg (Leningrad at that time)
to visit the
Hermitage Museum where it is kept. This resulted in a
several-day contemplation of the painting, which prompted him to write
a book of the same name. The Return of the Prodigal Son was ranked
number 66 on a list of 100 best Christian books compiled by the Church
Times in 2014.
Nouwen was known to suffer from loneliness and a need for
interpersonal connection, which he wrote about openly. His
popularity as a spiritual guide has been linked to his capacity to
describe his personal struggles in a relatable manner.:1 He
credited his approach to an interest in the daily life of people and
his own journey with Christian life:
I wanted to know how we could integrate the life of Christ in our
daily concerns. I was always trying to articulate what I was dealing
with. I thought that if it was very deep, it might also be something
other people were struggling with. It was based on the idea that what
is most personal might be the more universal.
— Henri Nouwen, Catholic New Times 
One of Nouwen's major ongoing themes involved his struggle reconciling
his depression with his Christian faith. His most famous work on this
topic is the Inner Voice of Love, his diary from December 1987 to June
1988 during one of his most serious bouts with clinical
depression. Nouwen also explored this theme in Return
of the Prodigal Son, describing love and forgiveness as unconditional.
In the book, he invites the reader to follow him in his personal
return to the spiritual fountains and in a parallel meditation on all
the characters of the parable, their rendering by Rembrandt, and the
painter's personal life.
Nouwen also wrote several essays on the necessity of peacemaking. He
used God's Love as a justification for the preservation of life, as
well as for his opposition to both the ongoing Cold War and the
intervention of the United States in Vietnam. This was of a piece with
his conviction of the oneness of all peoples under God:
To pray, that is, to listen to the voice of the One who calls us the
"beloved", is to learn that that voice excludes no one. Where I dwell,
God dwells with me and where God dwells with me I find all my sisters
and brothers. And so intimacy with God and solidarity with all people
are two aspects of dwelling in the present moment that can never be
Nouwen was a frequent public speaker. In addition to his teaching
responsibilities, he traveled extensively leading retreats and
sermons. With a distinct accent and animated speaking style, Nouwen
was known for his engaging and expressive style of communication. The
experience of seeing him preach has been compared to being at the
theater or seeing a musical conductor at work.:31 It was not
uncommon for Nouwen to enthusiastically jump around or wave his arms
and hands during speaking events and classroom lectures.:80:xxiv
Bob Massie describes the experience of watching Nouwen speak in
Befriending Life (2001): "His squeezing, tugging gestures made it look
like he was striving to milk meaning directly out of the air. He would
point his fingers down and rotate his wrists as through trying to stir
a separate little pot with each digit."
Nouwen appealed to many audiences, including Anglicans and
Evangelicals because of his Jesus-centered spirituality. In 1992 he
was invited by
Robert H. Schuller
Robert H. Schuller to preach on
Hour of Power
Hour of Power at the
Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California. Nouwen appeared over
three consecutive Sundays and preached on the topic of belovedness.
Recordings of his appearance were later used by Schuller as a model
for preaching when instructing new ministers.
Thomas Merton Award (1985)
Ronald McDonald House Charities
Ronald McDonald House Charities Award of Excellence (1996)
Henri Nouwen bibliography
Works about Nouwen
Bengtson, Jonathan; Earnshaw, Gabrielle, eds. (2006). Turning the
Henri Nouwen and our search for God. Maryknoll, NY.:
Orbis Books. OCLC 123485283.
Beumer, Jurjen (1997). Henri Nouwen : a restless seeking for God.
New York: Crossroad Pub. Co. ISBN 9780824517687.
de Vinck, Christopher, ed. (1999). Nouwen then : personal
reflections on Henri. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan.
Ford, Michael (1999). Wounded Prophet : A Portrait of Henri J.M.
Nouwen. New York: Doubleday. ISBN 9780385493727.
Hernanez, Wil (2006). Henri Nouwen: A Spirituality of Imperfection.
New York: Paulist Press. ISBN 9780809144341.
Higgins, Michael W.; Burns, Kevin (2012). Genius Born of Anguish: The
Life & Legacy of Henri Nouwen. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Novalis.
LaNoue, Deirdre (2000). The Spiritual Legacy of
Henri Nouwen (1st
ed.). New York: Continuum. OCLC 44469051.
O'Laughlin, Michael (2004). God's Beloved : A Spiritual Biography
Henri Nouwen (1st ed.). Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books.
O'Laughlin, Michael (2005). Henri Nouwen: His Life and Vision (1st
ed.). Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books. ISBN 9781570758225.
Porter, Beth (ed.); Susan M.S Brown; Philip Coulter (June 26, 2001).
Befriending Life: Encounters with Henri Nouwen. Doubleday.
ISBN 978-0-385-50202-3. CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list
Twomey, Gerald S.; Pomerleau, Claude, eds. (2006). Remembering
Henri : the life and legacy of Henri Nouwen. Maryknoll, NY.:
Orbis Books. OCLC 68220900.
Articles and essays
Callahan, Annice (1992). "Prophet of conversion /
Henri Nouwen (1932-
)". Spiritual guides for today : Evelyn Underhill, Dorothy Day,
Karl Rahner, Simone Weil, Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen. New York:
Crossroad. p. 176. ISBN 9780824511098.
Smith III, James D. (2006). "Christian spirituality envisioned :
a pastoral appreciation of Ernst Kitzinger, Margaret Miles, and Henri
Nouwen (Harvard, 1976-85)". In Richard Valantasis; Deborah J. Haynes;
James D. Smith III; et al. The subjective eye : essays in
culture, religion, and gender in honor of Margaret R. Miles. Pickwick
Publications. OCLC 70277239.
Trenn, Thaddeus J. (September 2006). "Science and the Mystery of the
Human Person" (PDF). Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation.
58 (3): 216–224.
^ a b c d O'Laughlin, Michael (2005). Henri Nouwen: His Life and
Vision (1st ed.). Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books.
^ a b c d Beumer, Jurjen (1997). Henri Nouwen : a restless
seeking for God. New York: Crossroad Pub. Co.
^ Wahle, Hedwig (1997). "Some known and unknown Pioneers of
Continental Europe". SIDIC. Rome: Service International de
Documentation Judéo-Chrétienne. Retrieved February 9, 2015.
^ "Ordination certificate" (July 21, 1957) [textual record]. Henri
Nouwen fonds, Series: Nouwen's education records and study notes -
School certificates - Diplomas, Box: 375, File: 364. Toronto, ON: The
Henri J.M. Nouwen Archives and Research Collection, University of St.
^ a b c d e f Ford, Michael (1999). Wounded prophet : A Portrait
of Henri J.M. Nouwen. New York: Doubleday.
^ a b c d Jonas, Robert A., ed. (2009). The Essential Henri Nouwen.
Boston ; London: Shambhala. ISBN 9781590306642.
^ a b c d O'Laughlin, Michael (2004). God's Beloved : A Spiritual
Henri Nouwen (1st ed.). Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books.
^ Genius Born of Anguish:
Talk by official biographer
Michael W. Higgins, Avila Carmelite Centre in Donnybrook, Dublin 4 on
Thursday, January 17
^ "Completion of Clinical Pastoral Training certificate" (March 1965)
Henri Nouwen fonds, Series: Nouwen's education
records and study notes - School certificates - Diplomas, Box: 375,
File: 364. Toronto, ON: The Henri J.M. Nouwen Archives and Research
Collection, University of St. Michael's College.
^ "Graduate Training Program in Theology and Psychiatric Theory
certificate" (June 19, 1965) [textual record].
Henri Nouwen fonds,
Series: Nouwen's education records and study notes - School
certificates - Diplomas, Box: 375, File: 364. Toronto, ON: The Henri
J.M. Nouwen Archives and Research Collection, University of St.
^ Schaeffer, Pamela (October 4, 1996). "October 4, 1996". National
Catholic Reporter. Retrieved 16 September 2015.
^ a b Genesee Diary: Report from a Trappist Monastery (1st ed.).
Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday. 1976. ISBN 9780385113687.
^ A Cry For Mercy: Prayers from the Genesee (1st ed.). Garden City,
N.Y.: Doubleday. 1981. ISBN 9780385175074.
^ Durback, Robert (1989). Seeds of Hope : A
Henri Nouwen Reader
(1st ed.). Toronto ; New York: Bantam Books.
^ "25th ordination anniversary invitation" (1982) [textual record].
Henri Nouwen fonds, Series: Calendar files, Box: 188, File: 889.
Toronto, ON: The Henri J.M. Nouwen Archives and Research Collection,
University of St. Michael's College.
^ Nouwen, Henri (1993). Gracias!: A Latin American Journal. Orbis
Books. ISBN 0883448513.
^ "Dutch Theologian Nouwen To Teach at Divinity School". Harvard
Gazette. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University. January 28,
1983. p. 1. access-date= requires url= (help)
^ "Letter to friends announcing resignation" (July 6, 1985) [textual
Henri Nouwen fonds, Series: Teaching materials, Box: 284,
File: 2271, pp. 1. Toronto, ON: The Henri J.M. Nouwen Archives
and Research Collection, University of St. Michael's College.
^ Burback, Robert, ed. (December 29, 1997). "Henri Nouwen: The
Person". Seeds of Hope: A
Henri Nouwen Reader. Doubleday.
^ Jonas, Robert A., ed. (1998). Henri Nouwen: Writings. Maryknoll,
N.Y.: Orbis Books. ISBN 9781570751974.
^ Mosteller, Sue (December 29, 1997). "Funeral Eulogy for Henri
Nouwen". In Durback, Robert. Seeds of Hope: A
Henri Nouwen Reader.
Doubleday. ISBN 978-0-385-49049-8.
^ Egan, Joe (December 4, 1985). "Letter from Joe Egan". University of
St. Michael's College Collections. The Henri J.M. Nouwen Archives and
Research Collection. Retrieved January 5, 2015.
^ Nouwen, Henri J.M. (1997). Adam: God’s Beloved (1st ed.).
Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books. ISBN 9781570759949.
^ a b Gibson, David (2004). The Coming Catholic Church: How the
Faithful Are Shaping a New American Catholicism. HarperCollins.
p. 191. ISBN 978-0-06-058720-8. Retrieved March 31,
^ a b McGinley, Dugan (2004). Acts of Faith, Acts of Love: Gay
Catholic Autobiographies as Sacred Texts. Continuum International
Publishing Group. pp. 185–186. ISBN 978-0-8264-1836-4.
Retrieved March 31, 2008.
^ Elford, R. John (2003). The Foundation of Hope: Turning Dreams Into
Reality. Liverpool University Press. p. 72.
ISBN 978-0-85323-519-4. Retrieved March 31, 2008.
^ Dear, John (October 11, 1996). "'Sleep well,' friends tell Henri
Nouwen". National Catholic Reporter. p. 13. Retrieved 16
^ Geisterfer, Michael R. (October 18, 1996). "A wounded healer goes
home". Christian Courier. He was buried in a simple pine box. They
made it in the
L'Arche woodery during the week they waited for his
body to be flown in from the Netherlands. The coffin was painted with
colourful steams and flowers and a child-like depiction of Christ on
the cross which would lie over Henri's heart when finally
^ "Henri Nouwen's Gravesite".
Henri Nouwen Society. Archived from the
original on August 5, 2015. Retrieved August 5, 2015.
^ Black, Shannon (September 21, 2000). "Works of priest who inspired
Hillary Clinton open to public". National Post. Archived from the
original on September 25, 2015. Retrieved September 24, 2015.
^ a b c Earnshaw, Gabrielle (2011). The Henri J.M. Nouwen Archives and
Research Collection. John M. Kelly Library, University of St.
^ a b McCarthy, Gerry. "Nouwen Archive reveals depth of his interest
National Catholic Reporter Online. National Catholic
Reporter. Retrieved 16 June 2015.
^ "AAIDD". Archived from the original on 2014-01-11.
^ Carroll, Jackson W. (August 23, 2003). "Pastors' Picks: What
Preachers are Reading". Christian Century. 120 (17): 31.
^ Walsh, Brendan (October 5, 1996). "Obituaries: The Rev Henri
Nouwens". independent.co.uk/. The Independent. Retrieved July 20,
2015. These last years at Daybreak produced some of Nouwen's finest
work, books like The Road to Daybreak (1988) and The Return of the
Prodigal Son (1992).
^ "100 best Christian books". Church Times. 2014. Retrieved November
^ "100 best Christian books". Church Times. 2014. Retrieved November
^ "When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the
most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving
advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and
touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand". Ruby Quote. Retrieved
^ LaNoue, Deirdre (2000). The Spiritual Legacy of
Henri Nouwen (1st
ed.). New York: Continuum. OCLC 44469051.
^ Coady, Mary Frances (November 23, 1986). "Nouwen finds rest at
Daybreak". Catholic New Times. p. 3. access-date= requires
^ Nouwen, Henri J.M. (2012). Life is Advent: The Lord is Always Near.
St. Louis: All Saints Press. p. 22.
^ Massie, Bob (June 26, 2001). "God's Restless Servant". In Porter,
Beth; Susan M.S Brown; Philip Coulter. Befriending Life: Encounters
with Henri Nouwen. Doubleday. p. 10.
^ "Awards of Excellence Gala". Ronald McDonald House Charities.
Retrieved 24 June 2015.
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