He was born in Auburn, New York, the son of John Foster Dulles and Janet Pomeroy Avery Dulles. He received his primary school education in New York City, and attended secondary schools in Switzerland and New England. After graduating from Harvard College in 1940, he spent a year and a half in Harvard Law School before serving in the United States Navy, emerging with the rank of lieutenant.
Upon his discharge from the Navy in 1946, Avery Dulles entered the Jesuit Order, and was ordained to the priesthood in 1956. After a year in Germany, he studied at the Gregorian University in Rome, and was awarded the doctorate in Sacred Theology in 1960. He was created a Cardinal of the Catholic Church in Rome on February 21, 2001 by Pope John Paul II.
Cardinal Dulles served on the faculty of Woodstock College from 1960 to 1974 and that of The Catholic University of America from 1974 to 1988. He has been a visiting professor at: The Gregorian University (Rome), Weston School of Theology, Union Theological Seminary (New York, N.Y.), Princeton Theological Seminary, Episcopal Seminary (Alexandria, Va.), Lutheran Theological Seminary (Gettysburg, Pennsylvania), Boston College, Campion Hall (Oxford University), the University of Notre Dame, the Catholic University at Leuven, Yale University, and St. Joseph's Seminary, Dunwoodie.
The author of over 700 articles on theological topics, Cardinal Dulles has published twenty-two books including Models of the Church (1974), Models of Revelation (1983), The Catholicity of the Church (1985), The Craft of Theology: From Symbol to System (1992), The Assurance of Things Hoped For: A Theology of Christian Faith (1994), The Splendor of Faith: The Theological Vision of Pope John Paul II (1999; revised in 2003 for the twenty-fifth anniversary of the papal election), The New World of Faith (2000), and his latest book, Newman (2002). The fiftieth anniversary edition of his book, A Testimonial to Grace, was republished in 1996 by the original publishers, Sheed and Ward, with an afterword containing his reflections on the past fifty years.
Past President of both the Catholic Theological Society of America and the American Theological Society and Professor Emeritus at The Catholic University of America, Cardinal Dulles has served on the International Theological Commission and as a member of the United States Lutheran/Roman Catholic Dialogue. He is presently a consultant to the Committee on Doctrine of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. He has an impressive collection of awards, including Phi Beta Kappa, the Croix de Guerre, the Cardinal Spellman Award for distinguished achievement in theology, the Boston College Presidential Bicentennial Award, the Christus Magister Medal from the University of Portland (Oregon), the Religious Education Forum Award from the National Catholic Educational Association, America Magazine's Campion Award, the F. Sadlier Dinger Award for contributions to the catechetical ministry of the Church, the Cardinal Gibbons Award from The Catholic University of America, the John Carroll Society Medal, the Jerome Award from the Catholic Library Association of America, Fordhams Founders Award, Gaudium Award from the Breukelein Institute, and thirty-three honorary doctorates.