Bishops in Southern Africa Eulogize World-renowned Theologian as “beacon of hope for poor”

Late Fr. Albert Nolan. Credit: Courtesy Photo

Catholic Bishops in Southern Africa have eulogized the late world-renowned researcher and theologian, Fr. Albert Nolan, as one who inspired hope among “the poor and oppressed” and acknowledged with appreciation his prophetic role during the time of apartheid in South Africa.

Aged 88, the member of the Order of Preachers (Dominicans - OP) who authored several books, including Jesus before Christianity; Jesus today: A spirituality of radical freedom; Hope in the age of despair and other talks and writings; and God in South Africa: The challenge of the Gospel, among others, died in his sleep at Marian House in Boksburg, South Africa in the early hours of Monday, October 17, OP leadership announced.

In a letter addressed to the Provincial Superior of the Dominicans, Fr. Myke Mwale, members of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) express their gratitude “for the memory of his (Fr. Nolan’s) life and the record of his prophetic thoughts through his books to transform this world into God’s Kingdom.”

In the one-page condolence message shared with ACI Africa Wednesday, October 19, SACBC members say, “The news of the passing on of Fr. Albert Nolan reached us this morning with a mix of joyful and sad feelings.”

“Joyful because Fr. Nolan, in his lifetime, with his clarity of thought driven by compassion, was a beacon of hope for the poor and oppressed in a world and a country that is still characterized by gross inequality and injustice,” SACBC members say in their October 17 message signed by the President of the three-nation Conference, Bishop Sithembele Anton Sipuka.


They note that Fr. Nolan’s “example of life made the poor feel at home with him.”

Making reference to the author of the 1976 best-seller, “Jesus Before Christianity”, SACBC members say, “Through his writings, workshops and teachings, he articulated the meaning of the good news of the Gospel to the poor as clearly expressed by the titles of some of his books, ‘God in South Africa, Jesus today, Hope in age despair’, to mention a few.”

The Catholic Bishops drawn from Botswana, Eswatini and South Africa further acknowledge with appreciation Fr. Nolan’s “example of life and lucid naming of what is wrong with the prevailing systems of politics and economy”.

The late Catholic Priest’s “call for Gospel-inspired alternative ways was a consolation for the poor, a challenge for the leaders and a motivation for the Church to remain steadfast in its preferential option for the poor,” they say.

SACBC members add that the recipient of the 2003 Order of Luthuli in Silver by the then South Africa’s President Thabo Mbeki “stands in the league of Beyers Naude, Joe Slovo, Trevor Huddleston, Helen Joseph and many other white South Africans who transcended social conditioning and racial prejudice, striving for common humanity and common good.”

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“He took a position against the apartheid system and the continuing exclusive economic system when it was not popular to do so,” they further say about the late Dominican Priest, and add, “We are poorer without his continued inspiration to work for a just and equitable world, and so his passing on brings sadness.”

The members of the three-nation Conference extend their “condolences to his family, close friends and the family of the Dominicans that he chose as an expression of his Christian vocation. May you all be consoled.”

Born in Cape Town in 1934, Fr Nolan who was instrumental in the establishment of Young Christian Students (YCS) in South Africa served as national Chaplain of the National Catholic Federation of Students (NCFS). 

In 1983, he was elected Master of the Dominicans during their General Chapter in Rome. However, he declined the office, preferring to remain in South Africa to continue the theological struggle against apartheid.

In the October 19 condolence message shared with ACI Africa, SACBC members call on the people of God in Southern Africa “not to be complacent and may we not give in to blind loyalty at the expense of justice.”


“As Fr. Nolan approaches the gates of heaven, we are consoled that he will not be found wanting because he saw no evil, heard no evil, and spoke no evil. Indeed, he confronted evil sometimes at his personal cost,” the Catholic Church leaders in Southern Africa say.

They implore, “May the Grace of God and his humble attempt to stand for justice win him God’s favor to be considered for eternal rest with Him.”

Fr. Nolan joined the Dominican Order in 1954. He studied in South Africa and in Rome, where he received a doctorate in Theology. 

Among his many and varied roles in the Dominican Order, he served three terms as regional superior in South Africa, taught theology.

The founding member of the Institute for Contextual Theology was part of writing the Kairos Document in 1985. In the 1990s, he started Challenge magazine and served as the publication’s editor for many years.

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Fr Nolan also served the Dominican Order as Novice Master. In 2003, the South African government awarded him the Order of Luthuli in silver, in recognition of "his life-long dedication to the struggle for democracy, human rights and justice and for challenging the religious dogma including theological justification of apartheid.”

In 2008, the Master of the Dominican Order, Fr Carlos Azpiroz Costa, promoted Fr Nolan to a Master of Sacred Theology in recognition of the significant contribution he had made to theological research and debate.

On Wednesday, October 19, a Requiem Mass and body viewing was held at Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Church in Springs. 

Fr. Nolan’s Funeral Mass has been scheduled for Friday, October 21 at Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Church in Springs, followed by the interment of his ashes at Marian house in Boksburg.

Sheila Pires is a veteran radio and television Mozambican journalist based in South Africa. She studied communications at the University of South Africa. She is passionate about writing on the works of the Church through Catholic journalism.