Obituary: Professor Emeritus Fred van Iersel (1954-2023)
On Thursday, July 27, 2023, Professor Emeritus by special appointment Fred van Iersel passed away. We have lost a special colleague, someone with great commitment to the university and the Catholic community of faith, and an engaged professor with attention for social and international political issues.
Fred (Adrianus Henricus Maria) went to a Catholic secondary school in Roermond (Bisschoppelijk College Roermond) and studied Theology at Radboud University Nijmegen, where his uncle taught New Testament. Having taught in secondary education himself for a couple of years, he became a research assistant at the School of Catholic Theology (Katholieke Theologische Hogeschool Utrecht) in the 1980s. He had been a welcome guest at the Taizé community since the 1970s and, at the time of the Cold War, had been involved in the ecumenical Dutch peace organization Interkerkelijk Vredesberaad (IKV). He combined this engagement with an academic angle. For NWO (Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research), Fred van Iersel conducted research on ‘Peace education and conflict management in ecclesiastical peace movements’.
Involvement in the ethics of peace and the role of communities of faith in this context characterized his further career, in particular his work as a lecturer of Theological Ethics at Katholieke Leergangen, an educational institution in Tilburg, and later at the Tilburg School of Catholic Theology. In the late 1980s, Van Iersel worked as a research assistant at the Military Pastoral Center (Militair Pastoraal Centrum) of the Roman Catholic Pastoral Care of the armed forces, and at the Dutch Ministry of Justice for the Roman Catholic Prison Chaplaincy (Justitiepastoraat).
In June 1993, Fred earned a PhD in Theology, together with Marijke Spanjersberg, based on a PhD thesis entitled Vrede leren in de kerk [Teaching Peace in the Church], investigating the struggle of the churches with peace activism. At the end of the 1990s, he was the general secretary of Pax Christi for some time.
Fred was a professor by special appointment at Tilburg University for twenty-six years, from 1994 to 2020. As a deacon of the Diocese of Haarlem, he combined this position from 2002 with the role of Head Chaplain of the Roman Catholic Prison Chaplaincy. At our university, he was Professor of Chaplaincy Studies in the Military, a Chair established by the Roman Catholic Pastoral Care Service of the Dutch Ministry of Defense, and taught at the Tilburg School of Catholic Theology. He published widely on ethics in international relations and on military professional ethics and pastoral care within the armed forces.
After his retirement, Fred continued to be a socially, ecclesiastically, and academically involved colleague. He was a board member of the scientific institute for the Dutch Christian-democratic political party CDA and chaired the Consultation Group for social issues of the Council of Churches in the Netherlands. Until July 2023, he was affiliated to Tilburg University Law School to develop an Outreaching Impact Lab (ILAB), and he continued to keep in close touch with colleagues from Ukraine.
The common thread in Fred’s life, as a person with a physical disability, was his great attention for spirituality and corporeality. In 2022, he traveled to Lourdes one last time, and reflected on this trip in his book Een leven lang Lourdes. Ervaringen en reflecties met mijn dood voor ogen [A Live Long Lourdes. Experiences and reflections in the face of my death]. He also expressed those experiences in the farewell text that appeared the day after his passing in the Dutch religious -philosphical magazine Volzin.
Tilburg University and its School of Catholic Theology extend their deepest condolences to Fred van Iersel’s loved ones, in particular his partner, Marieke Feuth. We have lost an esteemed thinker, whose commitment to students, PhD researchers, and colleagues will be remembered.
On behalf of the Tilburg School of Catholic Theology
Karim Schelkens, Dean