Wyoming Catholic professor wins pontifical prize for thesis, meets Holy Father

John Mortenson, Associate Professor of Theology and Philosophy at Wyoming Catholic College.
John Mortenson, Associate Professor of Theology and Philosophy at Wyoming Catholic College.


A U.S. Catholic professor was recently awarded an audience with Pope Benedict XVI and an almost $30,000 prize for his doctoral thesis, which he wrote to help “unfold the beauty of Catholic teaching.”

John Mortenson, an Associate Professor of Theology and Philosophy at Wyoming Catholic College, received the award on Jan. 27 for his work titled “Understanding St. Thomas on Analogy.” The award was given to him by the Coordination Council of Pontifical Academies, a committee that was established by the late John Paul II in 1996.

“The prize for theology and St. Thomas is given every four years by the Pontifical Academies of Theology and St. Thomas Aquinas,” Mortensen explained to CNA. “My thesis director asked if I would like to submit the thesis, and I consented, and sent my CV and copies of the thesis to Rome.”

Reflecting on his personal faith and what led him to pursue his career as a Catholic professor, Mortensen said, “I was drawn to theology and to teaching through love. I wanted to grow in my Catholic faith, and studying theology and philosophy provided a richness to my spiritual and intellectual life that I had not thought possible.”

“When I first began to study Thomas Aquinas, I was amazed at the clarity and succinctness with which he presented Catholic doctrine,” he added. “I wanted to unfold the beauty of Catholic teaching present in Aquinas and present it to others.”

Mortensen outlined the purpose of his thesis and said that “The question of analogy is foundational for theology and philosophy. The way we speak about things and the way things exist can only be understood if one understands analogy.”

“My thesis aimed at clarifying a much-debated point in the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas about the way he uses the word ‘analogy,’” Mortensen explained. “This clarification is important as a starting point in the whole question of analogy, since without getting this issue right, many errors and misunderstandings are bound to follow.”

When asked what his experience of meeting the Holy Father was like, Mortenson told CNA that “Pope Benedict was very warm and loving to us. He blessed each of our children, and spent time asking about our family.”

“We love him like a father, and we told him so.”

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