Leo Elders s.v.d. (1926-2019): R.I.P.

Dear Friends,

I bring the sad news that on October 14 at 14.15 pm after a short illness, Father Leo Elders s.v.d. passed away in the house of the Dutch provincialate of his religious congregation, the Society of the Divine Word of which he was a member for almost 75 years. His funeral will take place on Saturday October 19 at 14.30 h at the chapel of the SVD provincialate in Teteringen (Netherlands). There he will also be buried.

Please join me in prayer for his soul. May Our Blessed Lady guide Father Elders, a faithful disciple of St. Thomas and a tireless worker for the Kingdom of God, to the reward he so richly deserves.


Jörgen Vijgen

DR. JÖRGEN VIJGEN holds academic appointments in Medieval and Thomistic Philosophy at several institutions in the Netherlands. His dissertation, “The status of Eucharistic accidents ‘sine subiecto’: An Historical Trajectory up to Thomas Aquinas and selected reactions,” was written under the direction of Fr. Walter Senner, O.P. at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas (Angelicum) in Rome, Italy and published in 2013 by Akademie Verlag (now De Gruyter) in Berlin, Germany.

Sr. Mary T. Clark, RSCJ, 1913-2014

Sr. Mary T. Clark, RSCJ (Oct. 23, 1913—Sept. 1, 2014) was the author of many books, longtime philosophy professor at Manhattanville College, the editor of An Aquinas Reader, and the Aquinas Medalist for the American Catholic Philosophical Association in 1988. Here is a memorial notice. Manhattanville College maintains the Mary T. Clark Chair of Christian Philosophy in her honor.

A tribute to Fr Busa, from Stephen Ramsay (repost)

Via Fr. Matthew Lamb of Ave Maria University, who knew Fr Busa in Italy in the 1970’s (and who suggested to Busa the idea of putting the Index Thomisticus on CD-ROM), comes a tribute from Dr. Stephen Ramsay, Associate Professor of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and a member of the digital humanities community, who greatly admired Fr. Busa’s work (and had corresponded with him):

(Note: reposted with permission of Dr. Ramsay):

Fr. Roberto Busa, S.J. (1913-2011)

Last night, I learned of the passing of Roberto Busa – a man that many consider the founder of Digital Humanities.

In recent years, people have called that lofty title into question, and not without justice. It seems that Busa was one among the many who were striving to bring computer technology – then in its early infancy – to bear on humanistic problems back in the forties. Like most DH scholars today, he was part of a much wider intellectual network.

But when I was starting out in the field, it was taken more-or-less for granted that Busa had started it all, and it’s not difficult to understand why. He was a Jesuit – a member of that most troublesome of religious orders, universally renowned both for its learning and for its many provocations both theological and disciplinary. His project recalled the ancient roots of the European university itself: a massive concordance to the works of Thomas Aquinas, who was himself a scholar and an intellectual revolutionary. It’s undoubtedly the case that many at the time were thinking of ways to use computers to conduct research in the humanities, but the scale and sweep of Busa’s project stands alone. It’s a story about old becoming new, and yet about continuity with the past.

His 1980 essay “The Annals of Humanities Computing: The Index Thomisticus” used to be required reading of sorts for people starting out, and it’s still my favorite. It’s a personal essay on how the Index came to be. The beginning is unforgettable:

I entered the Jesuit order in 1933. I was then 20. Later my superior asked me: “Would you like to become a professor?”

“In no way!” My wish was to become a missionary to take care of the poor.

“Good. You’ll do it, all the same.”

The subject of Busa’s research – and the occasion for creating the Index – was detailed study of the notion of “presence” in Thomas. Perhaps the New Criticism was taking hold in some other part of the world, but for Busa, philology was the proper hermeneutical framework.

[A]ll functional or grammatical words (which in my mind are not “empty” at all but philosophically rich) manifest the deepest logic of being which generates the basic structures of human discourse. It is this basic logic that allows the transfer from what the words mean today to what they meant to the writer.

The methodology for exploring that logic was clear enough:

According to the scholarly practices, I first searched through tables and subject indexes for the word praesens and praesentia. […] My next step was to write out by hand 10,000 3” X 5” cards, each containing a sentence with the word in or a word connected with in. Grand games of solitaire followed.

Busa himself eschewed the title of founder, and goes out of his way in this essay to list the others whom he thought were far ahead of him. But how can we deny the title to someone who writes:

It was clear to me, however, that to process texts containing more than ten million words, I had to look for some kind of machinery.

(If you’re not ready to do the first ten million by hand, you’re simply not in the good Father’s philological league).

He eventually made his way to IBM. In fact, he made his way to the office of Thomas Watson himself:

I knew, the day I was to meet Thomas J. Watson, Sr., that he had on his desk a report which said that IBM machines could never do what I wanted. I had seen in the waiting room a small poster imprinted with the words, “the difficult we do right away; the impossible takes a little longer,” (IBM always loved slogans). I took it with me into Mr. Watson’s office. Sitting in front of him and sensing the tremendous power of his mind, I was inspired to say: “It is not right to say ‘no’ before you have tried.” I took out the poster and showed him his own slogan. He agreed that IBM would cooperate with my project until it was completed “provided that you do not change IBM into International Busa Machines.” I had already informed him that, because my superiors had given me time, encouragement, their blessings and much holy water, but unfortunately no money, I could recompense IBM in any way except financially. That was providential!

Is it any wonder that Busa became the patron saint of DH? John Unsworth, in a talk a few years ago, noted, “Most disciplines can’t point to a founding moment, much less a divine one.”

(I assume the non-DH-er in that photograph is Pope Paul VI)

And then there’s this:

I feel like a tight-rope walker who has reached the other end. It seems to me like Providence. Since man is a child of God and the technology is a child of man, I think that God regards technology the way a grandfather regards his grandchild. And for me personally, it is satisfying to realize that I have taken seriously my service to linguistic research.

Those words, written thirty years ago, are of a man who intends to live long and well.

And he did.

Roberto Busa SJ (1913-2011)

Father Roberto Busa SJ died on Tuesday, 9 August 2011, at the Aloisianum, the Institute of Gallarate (Varese, Italy). L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, aptly introduced its obituary with the headline: “Stop the reader, Fr. Busa has died”, highlighting his enormous achievements in the area of computer technology : “If you surf the Internet, it is thanks to him. If you jump from one site to another, clicking on links highlighted in blue, it is thanks to him. If you use a pc to write emails and documents, it is thanks to him. If you can read this article, it is thanks to him.” Other obituaries appeared here, here and here. We, who so easily use the online edition of the Corpus Thomisticum and the Index Thomisticus, would do well to recall how this gigantic work started in 1949! Father Busa tells his story in the foreword of A Companion to Digital Humanities, ed. Susan Schreibman, Ray Siemens, John Unsworth. Oxford: Blackwell, 2004.

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Jörgen Vijgen

DR. JÖRGEN VIJGEN holds academic appointments in Medieval and Thomistic Philosophy at several institutions in the Netherlands. His dissertation, “The status of Eucharistic accidents ‘sine subiecto’: An Historical Trajectory up to Thomas Aquinas and selected reactions,” was written under the direction of Fr. Walter Senner, O.P. at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas (Angelicum) in Rome, Italy and published in 2013 by Akademie Verlag (now De Gruyter) in Berlin, Germany.

Reflections on Ralph McInerny

St. Augustine’s Press has published a volume that gathers memorial notices and reflections on the life of Ralph McInerny. Edited by Christopher Kaczor, O Rare Ralph McInerny contains 33 contributions by friends, students, and colleagues. Contributors include Jude Dougherty, John Haldane, Lawrence Dewan OP, John Hittinger, Tony Lisska, Janet Smith, Alasdair MacIntyre, among others.  (I did notice that over a third of the essays in this collection were previously published and are freely available on various online outlets: here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and one behind a paywall here). The volume also includes some short pieces by McInerny, including his 2009 ACPQ article “Why I am a Thomist.” The publisher’s blurb notes that proceeds from the volume go to the Women’s Care Center of St. Joseph County, Indiana. A wonderful tribute!

Fr. Kurt J. Pritzl, O.P. (February 15, 1952 – February 21, 2011)

With great sadness I relay the passing of Fr. Kurt J. Pritzl, OP, Dean of the School of Philosophy at The Catholic University of America. The university announcement can be found here, along with a collection of photographs here and a link of publications here. I’ll post additional notices as they become available.

A specialist in ancient Greek philosophy, Fr. Pritzl received a Ph.D. from the University of Toronto and wrote a dissertation on Aristotle’s De anima under the direction of Fr. Joseph Owens, C.Ss.R. Among his publications were several that explored the Aristotelian notion of truth, the last of which appeared in a collection he edited: Truth. Studies of a Robust Presence (The Catholic University of America Press, 2010).

Those of us who were privileged to know him as priest and scholar give thanks for his life in service to the Truth.

Update: Here is a notice from the Dominican Province of St. Joseph. It includes a video of a homily by Fr. Pritzl offered on the Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas in 2010 in the crypt church of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

Update: There are obituary notices in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinal and The Washington Post with reader comments.

Update: CUA has put online a video of the Mass of Christian Burial here

James F. Ross (1931-2010)

From the website of Edward Feser comes the news that philosopher, James F. Ross, has died (here, and here). Thomists will know of him for many reasons, one of which would surely be his work on analogy. Ross’s website has links to things that he has written, some of which are available online.

RIP Leonard Kennedy, CSB, former head of the Center for Thomistic Studies.

Thomas Osborne of the University of St. Thomas in Houston shared with me over the weekend the sad news that Leonard Kennedy, CSB, died at 9:30 a.m., on Thursday, April 1, 2010. Fr Kennedy made many contributions to medieval philosophy, edited some texts (including Aquinas’s short disputed question on the immortality of the soul) and left behind an especially useful Catalog of Thomists. Importantly, he was also the head of the Center for Thomistic Studies at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas.

More news of his passing as it becomes available.


Mark Johnson

Mark Johnson is an associate professor of Theology at Marquette University, and founded thomistica.net on Squarespace in November of 2004. He studied with James Weisheipl, Leonard Boyle, Walter Principe, and Lawrence Dewan, at the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies (Toronto, Canada).