John Maurice (Jack) Gessell, emeritus professor at Sewanee, dies at 89

July 2, 2009

The Rev. John Maurice (Jack) Gessell, emeritus professor of Christian ethics at the School of Theology, Sewanee: The University of the South, died July 1 in Sewanee, Tennessee. He was 89.

A graduate of Yale University, where he earned undergraduate degrees and a Ph.D., Gessell was ordained to the priesthood in the Diocese of Southern Virginia in 1952 and served in parishes in Southern Virginia and the Diocese of Massachusetts before joining the School of Theology faculty in 1961 as assistant professor of homiletics and Christian education.

Gessell served as assistant to the dean, 1963-73; acting dean, 1964; and director of the Graduate School of Theology, 1971; while also serving as a professor of pastoral theology from 1962-73. In 1973 he was named professor of Christian ethics, a position he held until his retirement in 1984. He continued to serve as editor of St. Luke's Journal of Theology/Sewanee Theological Review through 1990. He is the author of Grace and Obedience, a collection of essays written throughout his ministry, all reflecting in various ways his conviction that the Gospel must elicit social justice.

Gessell established the John M. Gessell Fellowship in Social Ethics at Sewanee in 2004 to support student research and practice in the discipline of social ethics and theory. In 2008, the Episcopal Peace Fellowship (EPF) recognized Gessell for his lifetime support of peace and justice initiatives. A long-time member of EPF, Gessell was a former chair of the National Executive Council, and received the John Nevin Sayer Award in 1994.

Gessell is survived by his long-time friend and colleague Thomas Edward Camp, former librarian of the School of Theology, a sister and a brother. A burial liturgy is planned for September 29 at 2:30 p.m. at All Saints Chapel -- Sewanee.