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Rev. Msgr. John R. Portman

Deceased: 2022-07-20

Diocese: SAN DIEGO

Seminary Graduation Year: 1957

CSM Graduation Year: 1965

Monsignor John Raymond Portman, son of Raymond Joseph Portman, MD and Mary Elizabeth McKenna, was born in Wisconsin on June 26, 1931. He graduated from the University of San Diego (USD) in 1953 and was ordained a priest for the Catholic Diocese of San Diego at the Basilica of Saint Peter, Vatican City (Rome) in 1956. He received the degree, License in Sacred Theology (S.T.L.), from the Pontifical Gregorian University, Rome, July 1957 at the age of 25. Upon returning to San Diego, he served as Administrator of Blessed Sacrament Church from 1957 to 1963.

In 1963 he was again sent to Rome to earn a doctorate (S.T.D.) in ecumenism (the study and promotion of worldwide cooperation and unity among Christian Churches) at the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas. His primary area of research was on the concepts of mission and unity in the documents of the World Council of Churches. His research required study in Switzerland as well as Rome.

In 1965 he was appointed to the faculty of Immaculate Heart Seminary at USD and served as vice rector until 1968 when the seminary was transferred to Menlo Park, CA. Subsequently he was appointed founding chair of the Department of Religious Studies (now the Department of Theology and Religious Studies) at USD until his resignation in 1974. During this time, he established and chaired the Ecumenical Center for World Religions at USD. From 1978 to 1980 Monsignor Portman continued service to USD as a member of the Student Affairs Committee of its Board of Trustees.

In 1970 he was named Honorary Prelate of His Holiness, Pope Paul VI, and invested with the title “Monsignor.” In 1972 Bishop Leo T. Maher appointed him pastor of the Immaculata Church on the campus of USD. On August 1, 1976 Bishop Maher appointed him pastor of Sacred Heart Church in Coronado. He retired in 1996 and was awarded the title Pastor Emeritus by Bishop Robert H. Brom.

As a priest and scholar who charted new approaches in the areas of a ecumenism and inter-religious dialogue, Monsignor Portman served as Chair of the Diocesan Ecumenical Commission from 1967 to 1981. He was the first Roman Catholic to be President of the San Diego County Ecumenical Conference. He was a member of the Anglican-Roman Catholic Dialogue (ARC/USA), 1977-1981. At the invitation of the Protestant Episcopal Church (USA) he was a participant in Partners in Mission, a two week in-depth study of the state of the Episcopal Church in the United States. He was an active member of the National Conference of Christians and Jews (NCCJ) in San Diego. As chair of the Diocesan Ecumenical Commission, he helped cosponsor numerous dialogues with the NCCJ on the USD campus.

He organized and chaired an unofficial dialogue with the Southern Baptist Convention in Danville, California. On January 23, 1991 he was honored by the San Diego Ecumenical Conference as a “Christian Unity Honoree” for his dedication to social justice and service to San Diego Community.

In 1977 Monsignor Portman was invested as a Knight of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.

He was a member of the Board of Directors of the Center for Human Development, Washington D.C. for 15 years. He was a member of the Center’s team directing retreats for priests in England, Belgium, Germany, and Australia from 1979 to1984. Monsignor Portman authored a short story about young man infected with AIDS and his relationship with his father entitled, “My Son, My Son.” Franciscan Communications produced a popular film based on the story in 1987.

In 1999 USD, celebrating its fiftieth anniversary, announced a $2 million anonymous gift to endow a Chair in Catholic Theology honoring Monsignor Portman. Until a full-time chair is appointed the Portman Endowment in Catholic Theology currently enables the Department to host conferences and public lectures in Catholic theology. The endowment supports scholarship by theologians who think from within the Roman Catholic tradition while exploring and expressing the tradition in contemporary contexts. In 2006, Monsignor Portman was appointed Professor Emeritus in the Department.

Since retiring in 1996, Monsignor Portman continued to preside at Mass and preach at the parishes of St. Brigid, Our Lady of Angels and St. Catherine Labouré.

Monsignor Portman was predeceased by his sister, Mary Rae Portman Lyons of Hilo, Hawaii. He is survived by nephews Timothy (Marci) Lyons of Kaneohe, HI, Raymond (Leilani) Lyons of Wailuku, HI, Michael (Colleen) Lyons of Coronado, Mary Caroline Lyons Pantohan of Hilo, HI, Eugene Lyons of Pacific Beach, Prudencio Rodriguez of Pacific Beach, and many grand and great-grand nieces and nephews in Hawaii.

Cardinal-Designate Robert W. McElroy, Bishop of San Diego, will preside at the Funeral Mass for Monsignor Portman to be celebrated at the Immaculata Church on the campus of the University of San Diego, Wednesday, July 27, 1:00 p.m. A reception and then burial at Holy Cross Catholic Cemetery will follow. Participants are asked to wear masks.

Fond memories and expressions of sympathy may be shared at for the Portman family.