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placeholder May 8, 2017   •   VOL. 55, NO. 9   •   Oakland, CA


Judge John T. Noonan Jr.

Judge John T. Noonan
left mark on Catholicism

Senior Judge John T. Noonan Jr. of Berkeley, a member of the U.S Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit for 31 years who died April 17 at age 90, grew up in a world of privilege but always took into account the common humanity that binds people together when he decided cases, said a Boston College professor who worked as a law clerk for him.

"He recognized the law for what it was. He always looked at the person and tried to consider their situation," said Cathleen Kaveny, Darald and Juliet Libby professor of theology and law at the Jesuit-run school, who worked with Noonan at the court's San Francisco offices from 1991 to 1992.

"That was his Catholic faith, that we're all made in the image of God," she said.

Kaveny dedicated her 2016 book, "Prophecy without Contempt: Religious Rhetoric in the Public Square," saying he was "a model of practical reasoning and prophetic insight."

Noonan and his wife, Mary Lee, were parishioners at St. Mary Magdalen Parish in Berkeley, and often attended Sunday Mass at St. Albert Priory in Oakland.

Noonan had been a member of the College of Fellows at the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology in Berkeley since 2009.

A native of Boston, Noonan began his legal career after graduating from Harvard Law School in 1954.

Noonan began his professional career on the staff of the National Security Council under President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1954. A year later, he began work as an attorney in Boston. In 1960, he joined the University of Notre Dame Law School faculty. In 1966, he took a position as professor of law at the University of California, Berkeley.

President Ronald Reagan nominated Noonan as a judge on U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, headquartered in San Francisco in 1985. He served the court for 11 years before assuming senior status in 1996. As a senior judge, he continued to hear cases and author opinions under a less rigorous schedule. His most recent opinion was published in December.

During his tenure, the court said, he heard oral arguments in 3,459 cases and written 1,080 opinions, dissents and memoranda decisions.

Noonan is survived by his wife of 49 years, Mary Lee; three children, John K. Noonan, Rebecca Murray and Susanna Howard; and seven grandchildren.

A funeral Mass was celebrated April 22 at St. Albert's Priory in Oakland.

Remembering Noonan — a towering, generous intellect

Most Rev. John S. Cummins

My delegation today is to express the appreciation of the church of Oakland of which John T. Noonan was a member almost as long as the diocese was in existence. Arriving in Berkeley in 1966 as professor of the Robbins Collection at the University of California Law School, he established himself at St. Mary Magdalen Parish, where his children attended school and where he developed the treasured relationship with the community of the Dominican Fathers.

He came already a prominent scholar, particularly in church circles. He engaged us early through the vehicle of a group of Catholic professors who met for lunch at the Faculty Club monthly and invited a number of us priests to participate. The group occasionally referred to itself as "The Irish Mafia" though it was established by an Italian professor of mathematics. It found agenda in the post-Vatican II years. John had a special role in his participation at the Pope Paul VI Commission on Marriage and Family, a role he shared one evening with the Catholic Club in the auditorium at Mills College.

In perhaps his first year here, he participated in a gathering of members from the Canon Law Society of America as part of a series of gatherings to study the impact of the Vatican Council on church law. I invited him to join Father James Coriden of the Catholic University and some others for dinner at my folks' house in Berkeley. John was hesitant indicating that he would have to be home early. With that guarantee, he came but when I approached him for transportation at the end of dessert he did not move except to respond with language tinged by his Boston upbringing, "I did not know it was going to be such a party."

At the initiation of the California Catholic Conference in Sacramento, in 1971, John was available for consultation along with others from Boalt Hall — David Louisell and Jack Coons and Steve Sugarman — on educational and public policy issues.

John was enthusiastic participant in the annual dinners of faculties from the university and the Graduate Theological Union held at Newman Hall. He brought support and suggestions.

This association provided again generous opportunity to participate with the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops. He offered a particular presentation at Boalt Hall with the committee preparing the pastoral letter on the American economy published in 1986.

A particularly charming incident took place in 1988 as we were preparing for our Ad Limina visit to Rome — a pattern of reporting that took place every five years. John called to state that his book on bribery had been translated into Italian. He wanted the two volumes, signed, to be given to Pope John Paul II since he felt the issue particularly relevant to the Catholic country of Italy.

Discovering that we were going to be in Prague, he recommended that I make some effort to rehabilitate John Hus, the Bohemian martyr, stating that the martyrdom remained "still a sore point in the Bohemian church," a sentiment expressed by Pope John Paul II within the decade of "deep regret for the cruel death inflicted."

On the cover of his book, "The Lustre of Our Country," he was identified as of a "towering intellect." He made that gift available to us, for which we are grateful.

The nomination of John for the Laetare Medal from the University of Notre Dame in 1984 read well, "whose genius has enabled the arts and sciences, illustrated the ideals of the church — and enriched the heritage of humanity."

(The Most Rev. John S. Cummins served as bishop of Oakland from 1977 to 2003.)

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