Orlando Espín was born in Cuba, in 1947, to Oscar Espín (a lawyer) and Oliva del Prado de Espín, the third of four children. In Havana he attended the Jesuits’ Colegio de Belén. In 1961 he was sent by his parents to the U.S., to Columbus, Ohio, where he attended St. Charles Preparatory School for two years. He moved to Miami, Florida, after his parents arrived in the U.S. In Miami he continued his education at Belén Jesuit Preparatory School--a continuation of the Havana institution. He graduated from high school, with honors, in 1964.
Immediately after high school Espín enrolled in the two-year St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami, and then at St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach, where he earned a B.A. degree in contemporary philosophy (1968), M.Th. in theological studies (1971) and an M.Div. (1972). In 1974 he moved to the Dominican Republic and worked as teacher and pastoral agent in that country-- first on the Haitian-Dominican border (Dajabón and Loma de Cabrera), and later at the Instituto Politécnico Loyola, in San Cristóbal.
He continued his educational pursuits at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where he earned a Th.D. in both Systematic Theology and Practical Theology summa cum laude in 1984. In his subsequent teaching and writing he has specialized in the theological study of popular religion, as well as in the theologies of culture and traditioning. He is regarded as one of the founders of U.S. Latino/a theology.
Espín was one of the founding members of the Academy of Catholic Hispanic Theologians of the United States (ACHTUS), in 1988, and served twice as its president in 1992-93 and again in 2007-2008. He also founded and was the first chief editor of the Journal of Hispanic/Latino Theology. He has served on the boards of directors of the Catholic Theological Society of America and of the Hispanic Summer Program in Religion and Theology.
After a few years of teaching (1985-91) at St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary and the University of Florida, in 1991 Espín joined the faculty of the University of San Diego where he is professor of systematic theology in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies. In 1993, at USD, he founded the Center for the Study of Latino/a Catholicism.
Espín is the author of more than four hundred articles published in U.S., Latin American and European journals. He has authored (in English) The Faith of the People: Theological Reflections on Popular Catholicism (1997), Grace and Humanness: Theological Reflections Because of Culture (2007) and Idol and Grace: On Traditioning and Subversive Hope (2014), plus two other books in Spanish. He has edited or co-edited several other volumes: the award-winning (co-editor with J. Nickoloff) Introductory Dictionary of Theology and Religious Studies (2007), as well as (co-editor with M. Díaz) From the Heart of Our People: Latino/a Explorations in Catholic Systematic Theology (1999), and (co-editor with G. Macy) Futuring Our Past: Explorations in the Theology of Tradition (2006). He edited Building Bridges, Doing Justice: Constructing a Latino/a Ecumenical Theology (2009). He is a much sought-after lecturer.
Espín has served on the editorial boards of the Journal of the American Academy of Religion, of the Religión e Incidencia Pública, of Exchange: Journal of Missiological and Ecumenical Research, of the Journal of Hispanic/Latino Theology, and other publications. He is co-convener of the Latino/a Roundtable of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry at the Pacific School of Religion. He is also active in local and national organizations that advocate for Latino/a and immigrant rights and equality.
Espín has received several national and international awards for his theological work. He has also been awarded an honorary doctorate from the Catholic Theological Union in 2007, an honorary professorship by the Universidad del Zulia, Venezuela (2002), the first Justo González Professorship for Excellence in Theological Scholarship by the Governing Board of the Hispanic Summer Program in Theology and Religion (2002), the Virgilio Elizondo Award of the Academy of Catholic Hispanic Theologians of the U.S. (1993), and, in 2001, Germany’s Institute of Missiology formally recognized his work on popular Catholicism as one of the most important contributions to Catholic theology anywhere in the world today. In June 2016, Espin received the John Courtney Murray Award from the Catholic Theological Society of America-- Catholic theology's most important and prestigious recognition.
In August 2008, after fifteen years together, Orlando and his partner were legally married in California. As of 2016, they have been together for 23 years.
(This biographical statement was provided by Orlando Espín.)