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William Portier

Professor Emeritus


College of Arts and Sciences: Religious Studies


Email: William Portier
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  • Ph.D., Theology, Faculty of Theology, St. Michael’s College, in the University of Toronto, 1980
  • M.A., Theology, Washington Theological Union, 1972
  • B.A., Classics, major in philosophy, Loyola University of Chicago, 1969


William L. Portier is the former Mary Ann Spearin Chair of Catholic Theology. He is the president (2014-18) of the College Theology Society and a member of the National Board of the Lilly Fellows Program Network.

He serves on the editorial boards of Communio, International Catholic Review and U.S. Catholic Historian. His most recent book is Divided Friends: Portraits of the Roman Catholic Modernist Crisis in the United States (2013). He is also the author of Isaac Hecker and the First Vatican Council (1985) and Tradition and Incarnation (1994), a widely used undergraduate theology text. His graduate courses in historical and systematic theology supported the department’s M.A. and Ph.D. programs and generally explored the inculturation of Catholicism in the United States.

He is especially interested in generational differences among Catholics in the United States, questions about how to be Catholic on a voluntary religious landscape without a Catholic culture, and Pope Francis’s impact on the church, especially in the United States. In 2015, he received the American Catholic Historical Association’s Distinguished Scholar Award. He spent academic year 2015-16 on sabbatical working on a new book on Catholicism in America and in residence as Distinguished Visiting Scholar at Mount Saint Mary’s University, Emmitsburg, Md.

Positions held

  • University of Dayton, Religious Studies Dept., Distinguished Visiting Professor, Fall, 1999; Fall, 2000; Fall, 2001; Mary Ann Spearin Chair of Catholic Theology, 2003-21; Ph.D Program Director, 2011-22.
  • Mount Saint Mary’s College, Emmitsburg, MD, Theology Dept., 1979-2003.  Lecturer, 1979-80; Assistant Professor, 1980-86; Associate Professor, 1986-89; Professor, 1989-2003; Chair, Theology Dept., 1989-98; Henry J. Knott Professor of Theology, 1997-2003.
  • University of Toronto, Religious Studies Dept., Graduate Teaching Assistant, 1976-77.

Professional associations

  • Academy of Catholic Theology, American Academy of Religion, American Catholic Historical Association, Catholic Theological Society of America, College Theology Society.

Research interests

  • Historical Theology (modern period, nineteenth and twentieth-century U.S.)
  • Systematic Theology fundamental theology, Christology, ecumenical theology, especially with U.S. evangelicals.

Selected publications


Divided Friends: Portraits of the Roman Catholic Modernist Crisis in the United States, 2013.

Editor with R. Scott Appleby and Patricia Byrne, Creative Fidelity, American Catholic Intellectual Identities. 2004.

Editor with Sandra Yocum Mize, American Catholic Traditions: Resources for Renewal. 1997.

Tradition and Incarnation, Foundations of Christian Theology. 1994.  Review Symposium in Horizons 22/1 (Spring 1995): 104-128.

Isaac Hecker and the First Vatican Council. 1985.  Reviewed in Catholic Historical Review 72 (October 1986): 665-66; Theological Studies 48 (June 1987): 401-402; Church History 57 (March 1988): 107-108.

Editor, The Inculturation of American Catholicism, 1820-1900, Selected Historical Essays. 1988.


"Here Come the Evangelical Catholics," Communio 31/1 (Spring 2004): 35-66. 2005 Award for Best Journal Article, College Theology Society.

"Church Unity and National Traditions: The Challenge to the Modern Papacy," in Bernard Cooke, ed., The Papacy and the Church in the United States, 1989. 1989 Award for Best Article, College Theology Society.

More than a hundred book chapters (8), articles and reviews in journals such as SR Studies in Religion/Sciences religieuses, Catholic Historical Review, Horizons, Thomist, Commonweal, Communio, U.S. Catholic Historian and reference works such as American National Biography, HarperCollins Dictionary of Religion, Biographical Dictionary of Christian Theologians, Dictionary of Christianity in America, New Dictionary of Catholic Spirituality, and New Westminster Dictionary of Church History.

Editorial Board

Communio, U.S. Catholic Historian

Grants and Awards 

Bicentennial Medal (with spouse), Mount Saint Mary’s University, 2008

President’s Medal, Mount Saint Mary’s College, 2003

Lilly Fellows Program Mentoring Grant, AY 2002-03

Lilly Fellows Program Summer Seminar Grant, June-July, 2000

Travel Research Grant, Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism, University of Notre Dame, 1986