Edward Louis Cleary was born in Chicago, Illinois on August 4, 1929 to Emmet Vincent and Mary Veronica (Novotny) Cleary. He attended Marquette University, College of Journalism, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He entered the Novitiate August 30, 1950 at St. Peter Martyr Priory in Winona, Minnesota and was given the religious name of James. On August 31, 1951 he made first profession of vows. He attended the Dominican Houses of Studies in River Forest, Illinois, and Dubuque, Iowa, where he earned his bachelor’s, licentiate and master’s degrees in theology from the Aquinas Institute of Theology and was ordained a priest on May 25, 1957 at St. Rose Priory in Dubuque, Iowa. In 1975, he earned a Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Chicago.
Edward’s first assignment was at San Geronimo Major Seminary in La Paz, Bolivia from 1958 to 1962 where he served as Professor of Philosophy and Theology, and as Director of Students. He also served at the Bolivian Institute for the Study of Social Action (IBEAS). In 1963, he returned to the United States to do campus ministry and to teach theology at St. Xavier’s College in Chicago. In 1966, he was back in Bolivia to serve as Vicar Provincial of the Dominican Mission Vicariate in La Paz. From 1973 to1976, he served at the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania as Assistant Director of the Center for Latin American Studies. In 1976, he moved to St. Louis, Missouri to teach and to serve as Vice President/Academic Dean at the Aquinas Institute of Theology. In 1980, he became a research associate at the Institute of Latin American and Iberian Studies at Columbia University in New York, New York, and was a fellow at the Research Institute for the Study of Man, also in New York. From 1985 to 1993, he was director of the School of Theology Hispanic Ministries Program at the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio.
In 1993, he began his career at Providence College in Providence, Rhode Island as a faculty member of the Latin American Studies Program in the Department of Political Science, also serving as program director beginning in 1995. From the mid-1990s on, he organized and participated in many joint Providence College-US Naval War College student and faculty forums. He was a faculty affiliate of the Harvard University David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies in 1999-2000, and a visiting scholar at the Center for Latin American Studies at the University of California at Berkeley in 2000-2001. He retired early in 2011 from Providence College with the rank of professor emeritus. His writing and editing credits include numerous books and also a number of websites. A noted authority in Latin America, and especially the Catholic Church in Latin America, he contributed to films on Latin America and wrote numerous articles, chapters, and book reviews for scholarly and theological publications.
He died quietly on November 21, 2011 at the Priory of St. Thomas Aquinas at Providence College. The Mass of Christian burial was celebrated on November 28, 2011. He was laid to rest with his fellow Dominican Friars in All Saints Cemetery in Des Plaines, Illinois.