Born: 17 March 1926, Dun Laoghaire, County Dublin
Entered: 07 September 1942, St Mary's, Emo, County Laois
Ordained: 31 July 1958, Milltown Park, Dublin
Final Vows: 02 February 1961, Fordham University, The Bronx, New York, USA
Died: 01 February 2015, Cherryfield Lodge, Dublin
Part of the Milltown Park community, Dublin at the time of death.
by 1950 at St Louis University MO, USA (MIS) studying geophysics
by 1960 at Münster, Germany (GER I) making Tertianship
by 1962 at Franklin Park NJ, USA (MAR) studying at Princeton
by 1963 at Leuven, Belgium (BEL S) studying
by 1966 at Fordham NY, USA (MAR) teaching
◆ Jesuits in Ireland :
RIP: Fr Patrick Heelan SJ
Fr Patrick Heelan died in Cherryfield Lodge on 1 February. In one of the many entries online, he gives a succinct account of his life and work: I am a Jesuit priest, a theoretical physicist and a philosopher of science. I was born in Dublin in 1926, and studied theoretical physics, philosophy and theology in Ireland, Germany and the USA. I moved permanently to the USA in 1965. In my studies in theoretical physics I was fortunate in having been supervised by three Nobel Prize winners: Schroedinger in Dublin during the war, Wigener in Princeton and Heisenberg in Munich, all of whom were among the founders of quantum physics. I am grateful for having had such a wonderful life as a priest and a theoretical physicist.
Patrick learned his love of mathematics in Belvedere, and looked forward to becoming a Jesuit scientist. During his first spell in USA he won a doctorate in geophysics by devising mathematical formulae to enable seismographs to distinguish between natural earthquakes and seismic activity from nuclear explosions. What he called his first conversion was the experience of the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises, which remained a crucial resource for him through his life. In the course of a stellar academic career he worked in seven universities, as professor, researcher and administrator – he was Vice President in Stony Brook State University and then Provost in Georgetown University, before retiring, in an increasingly frail body, to Cherryfield in 2014. So this gentle priest of extraordinary intellectual gifts saw out his days close to his much loved family of in-laws, nieces and nephews.
In 2005 Patrick wrote a memoir which fills in the factual features of his life, structured round five conversion points. It is meaty but not easy reading, concerned as it is with quantum theory and the perception of space. Here are the five conversion points, each followed by its date and location:
The role of Ignatian discernment: 1951: Wisconsin Lonergan: transcendental method: 1957: Tullabeg Consciousness’ role in quantum physics: 1962: Princeton Van Gogh’s pictorial geometry: 1966 Fordham
Space perception and the philosophy of science: 1982: Stony Brook
These five stepping stones still omit much of Patrick’s range of interests. His seminal work on Van Gogh’s paintings reflected a broad and sharp-eyed knowledge of European art. He explored “Music as a basic metaphor and deep structure in Plato” in a paper that showed familiarity with studies of music’s origins and structures. At the end of his life he was deep into a serious study of Islam. A friend compared Patrick to a high Renaissance Florentine prince, a polymath at home in the full range of arts and sciences, illuminating wherever he cast his attention.
In the course of a stellar academic career he worked in seven universities, as professor, researcher and administrator – he was Vice President in Stony Brook State University and then Provost in Georgetown University, before retiring, in an increasingly frail body, to Cherryfield in 2014. So this gentle priest of extraordinary intellectual gifts saw out his days close to his much loved family of in-laws, nieces and nephews and his friends.
Georgetown salutes Fr Heelan
in Pat Coyle
Fr Patrick Heelan SJ’s death has been well noted by Georgetown University, Washington, where he spent so many years and did so much good work as academic and as administrator. The current President, Dr. John J. DeGioia, has written to the university community as follows:
February 11, 2015
Dear Members of the Georgetown University Community:
It is with great sadness that I share with you that Rev. Patrick A. Heelan, S.J., a beloved Georgetown administrator, professor and member of our Jesuit community, passed away earlier this month.
Fr. Heelan came to our Georgetown community in 1992 as Executive Vice President for the Main Campus before becoming the William A. Gaston Professor of Philosophy in 1995. As an administrator, Fr. Heelan helped to guide our community through a difficult financial period with an unwavering dedication to our distinct values and a vision of long-term excellence. In his role, he oversaw changes to the structure of the administration and strategic investments in our community to better advance our mission and meet the needs of our growing student population. He was also deeply dedicated to our policies of need-blind admissions and our commitment to meeting full need in financial aid, seeing them as cornerstones of our University’s future success. Fr. Heelan’s leadership strengthened our community in so many ways and was integral to bringing us to where we are now.
In addition to his contributions as a leader, Fr. Heelan was a renowned physicist and a philosopher, whose extensive scholarship sat at a unique intersection of what he called “the hermeneutic philosophy of science”—or the study of how we make meaning from scientific observation. His scholarly research spanned disciplines, including theology, philosophy, psychology and physics. His many scholarly contributions included publications on spatial perception, quantum mechanics and human consciousness and drew upon the intellectual tradition of Edmund Husserl, Martin Heidegger, and Bernard Lonergan.
After retiring from Georgetown in 2013, Fr. Heelan returned to his native Ireland for the duration of his life, where he passed away surrounded by loved ones earlier this month.
I was deeply saddened to learn of his passing, and I wish to offer my heartfelt condolences to the many faculty, staff, students, alumni and members of our Jesuit community who had the chance to work with him.
Should you wish to express your condolences, please direct notes to: Irish Jesuit Provincialate, Milltown Park, Sandford Road, Dublin 6, Ireland.
Please join me in expressing our deepest sympathy to the friends, family and many lives that were touched by Fr. Heelan’s kindness, leadership and good will.
John J. DeGioia
Interfuse No 159 : Spring 2015
Fr Patrick (Paddy) Heelan (1926-2015)
17 March 1926: Born Dublin
Early education at Belvedere College SJ
7th September 1942: Entered Society at St Mary's, Emo, County Laois
8th September 1944: First Vows at St Mary's, Emo, County Laois
1944 - 1948: Rathfarnham - Studying Maths & Maths/Physics at UCD
1948 - 1949: Tullabeg - Studying Philosophy
1949 - 1952: St Louis, MO, USA - Studying for PhD in Geophysics at St Louis University
1952 - 1954: Tullabeg - Studying Philosophy; Research Associate at Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies
1954 - 1955: Clongowes - Regency: Teacher; Studying CWC Cert in Education
1955 - 1959: Milltown Park - Studying Theology
31st July 1958: Ordained at Gonzaga Chapel, Milltown Park, Dublin
1959 - 1960: Westphalia, Germany - Tertianship at Münster in Westphalia
1960 - 1961: Bronx, NY, USA - Fullbright Fellowship post Doctorate Studies in Physics at Fordham University
2nd February 1961 Final Vows at Fordham University, Bronx, NY, USA
1961 - 1962: St Augustine's Parish, Franklin Park, NJ, USA - Fullbright Fellowship post Doctorate Studies in Physics at Palmer Laboratory, Princeton University
1962 - 1964: Louvain, Belgium - Studying for PhD in Philosophy of Science at Catholic University of Louvain
1964 - 1965: Leeson St - Lecturer in Maths & Maths/Physics at UCD; Assistant Prefect University Hall; Research Associate at Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies
1965 - 1970: Bronx, NY, USA - Assistant Professor (later Associate Professor) of Philosophy at Fordham University
1968: Visiting Professor of Physics at Boston University
1970 - 1992: Stony Brook, NY, USA - Professor of Philosophy, Chair of Department of Philosophy, Dean of Arts and Sciences at State University of New York
1972: Acting Vice-President, Professor of Humanities and Social Sciences Dean of Arts & Sciences; Professor of Philosophy
1975: Vice President for Liberal Studies
1990: Dean of Humanites & Fine Arts
1992: Present Emeritus Professor
1992 - 2013: Washington, DC, USA - Executive Vice-President for Main Campus; Professor of Philosophy at Georgetown University
1995: William A Gaston Professor of Philosophy
2013 - 2015: Milltown Park - Prays for the Church and the Society at Cherryfield Lodge
Fr Patrick Heelan was admitted to Cherryfield Lodge in June 2013. He settled in well and was very content as a member of the Community. In recent months his condition deteriorated, and he died peacefully at Cherryfield Lodge on Sunday 1st February 2015. May he rest in the Peace of Christ
In 1958 Archbishop McQuaid laid hands on Patrick as he knelt in the Milltown Park chapel to receive the sacrament of ordination. It would be fair to say that we, his peers, revered Patrick (the long form will be used here, though he was Paddy to his peers; in USA, where he settled in 1965, he was unhappy with the overtones of Paddy). By the time of his ordination he was already a seasoned scholar, with a Master's in maths from UCD, a rigorous apprenticeship with Schroedinger in the Dublin Institute of Higher Studies, and a doctorate in geophysics from St Louis. Even at that stage he had already worked in two of the seven universities he was to join (UCD, St Louis, Louvain, Fordham, Princeton, Stony Brook, Georgetown).
What mattered more to him was what he called his first conversion, when he gained an insight into the role of discernment in Ignatian prayer. This was the practice of assessing, during a time of peace and recollection, the spiritual authenticity of one's thoughts, feelings and desires; a new level of self-awareness and interiority. It remained with Patrick as a resource through the ups and downs of his life.
You might think it was mostly ups. He routinely got first honours in exams (with one explosive exception when J.R. McMahon, then Rector and Professor of Canon Law in Milltown, awarded Patrick a Fail mark in Canon Law, with the aim, it was said, of giving him a useful experience of failure). God, on the other hand, was generous to young Patrick. He was born into a stable home in Dalkey, with an aloof father and a remarkable warm and gifted mother to whom he was always close. He had an older brother, a successful lawyer and financier, and Esther, who he said was all you could look for in a young sister.
Patrick himself was generously endowed, with a brilliant mind, and a healthy body. He was not athletic, but was never sick, never in hospital till old age. He was hugely responsive to beauty, whether in mathematics (”I liked maths because it was clear, logical, beautiful and unassailable”), in music, especially Bach and Mozart, in flowers and in visual art. He loved his friends, though in his early years he described himself as a selfish introvert. On top of that he had excellent schooling, first in Belvedere, and then with formidable third-level mentors. He sought God in the created world; his search focussed particularly on how we perceive that world, and give it meaning,
Patrick was quickly in demand for third-level posts, but as a Jesuit under obedience he experienced the limits to his freedom. He was at first dismayed when he was commissioned to spend his travelling studentship in geophysics rather than his beloved maths. He was being used; superiors fingered him for the management of the worldwide network of Jesuit seismographs. The US army used and surreptitiously funded him to find a way of distinguishing natural earthquakes from nuclear explosions. The Russians translated his doctoral thesis for the same reason, and claimed the pirated version as a triumph for the Leningrad Acoustical Institution. The Archbishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid, sought his services to teach neo-scholastic philosophy to seminarians.
So Patrick was used by the Jesuits, the Pentagon, Russian scientists, the Archbishop of Dublin, and no doubt several others. In face of this he became not angry but wise. Without losing his joie de vivre he recognised and welcomed the down-sizing of his ego. A written comment from his later years suggests his use of discernment in his development: "I came to experience my life in the Jesuit order, not as a career to be established, but as a story always under editorial revision and reconstruction, continuously discontinuous, yet with persistent Catholic and catholic threads and an interiority that tended to be affirmative and to bring, as was promised in the gospels, rest to my soul.”
In three issues of Interfuse in 2005-6, Patrick wrote Le petit philosophe, a 3-part memoir which fills in the factual features of his life, structured round five conversion points. It is meaty but not easy reading, concerned as it is with quantum theory and the perception of space. Here are his five conversion points, each followed by its date and location:
- The role of Ignatian discernment: 1951: Wisconsin
- Lonergan: transcendental method: 1957: Tullabeg
- Consciousness' role in quantum physics: 1962: Princeton
- Van Gogh's pictorial geometry: 1966: Fordham
- Space perception and the philosophy of science: 1982: Stony Brook
These five stepping stones still omit much of Patrick's range of interests. His seminal work on Van Gogh's paintings reflected a wide and sharp-eyed knowledge of European art. He explored “Music as a basic metaphor and deep structure in Plato” in a paper that showed familiarity with studies of music's origins and structures. At the end of his life he was deep into a serious study of Islam. A friend compared Patrick to a high Renaissance Florentine prince, a polymath at home in the full range of arts and sciences, illuminating whatever he gave attention to.
In the course of a stellar academic career he worked in seven universities, as professor, researcher and administrator – he was Vice President in Stony Brook State University and then Provost in Georgetown University. He lived through the inevitable power struggles of academic life, especially in Georgetown, where he worked hard at the reform of structures.
In 2014 he retired, in an increasingly frail body, to Cherryfield. So this gentle priest of extraordinary intellectual gifts saw out his days close to his much-loved family of in-laws, nieces and nephews. He was 88 years of age, and in his 73rd year as a Jesuit. He wrote of himself: “In my studies in theoretical physics I was fortunate in having been supervised by three Nobel Prize winners: Schroedinger in Dublin during the war, Wigener in Princeton and Heisenberg in Munich, all of whom were among the founders of quantum physics. I am grateful for having had such a wonderful life as a priest and a theoretical physicist”.
Interfuse No 114 : Summer 2002
60 YEARS IN THE SOCIETY OF JESUS
A homily delivered by Patrick Heelan, on September 7, 2002, in St. Ignatius Chapel of Holy Trinity Church, Georgetown.
At the age of 11, I was enrolled as a student in Belvedere College in Dublin, Ireland. It was my first encounter with the Jesuits. Not many years before, another fellow Dubliner, James Joyce, had a similar encounter with the Jesuits at roughly the same age at Clongowes Wood College, the Jesuit boarding school. He later moved to Belvedere College, my school. Even at that early age Joyce was a sophisticated observer of the Jesuits. In his Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man, Joyce tells of his early encounter. Under the name of Stephen Daedelus, he recounts his reverie during a Latin class taught by Fr. Arnall, SJ. Fr. Arnall had been angry, “in a wax”, as he says, because the whole class had missed the declension of the word “mare”, the Latin word for “sea”. I will quote this piece because the narrator could easily have been me when I first encountered the Jesuits; it began with a reflection on Fr. Arnall's being “in a wax”.
“Was that a sin for Fr. Arnall to be in a wax? Or was he allowed to get into a wax when the boys were idle because that made them study better? Or was he only letting on to be in a wax? It was because he was allowed, because a priest would know what a sin was and would not do it ... hmm! BUT if he did it one time by mistake, what would he do to go to confession? Perhaps, he would go to confession to the Fr. Minister of the Jesuit community. And if the minister did it, he would go to the rector: the rector to the provincial: and the provincial to the general of the Jesuits. That was called the order ... hmm! He had heard his father say that they were all clever men. They could all become high up people in the world if they had not become Jesuits. And he wondered what Fr. Arnall and Paddy Barrett would have become, and what Mr. McGlade and Mr. Gleeson would have become, if they had not become Jesuits (Mr. McGlade and Mr. Gleeson were scholastics at the time; I knew Fr. McGlade as a priest and a great teacher.) It was hard to think WHAT, because you would have to think of them in a different way with different coloured coats and trousers and with beards and moustaches and different kinds of hats”. (p. 48)
There was already a sophisticated awareness, even in the eleven-year old, of the reality of sin and confession, and of what the Oxford English Dictionary calls “jesuitry'; also he knows of the high regard people had for the worldly abilities of Jesuits - but notes that the clerical uniform was an obstacle to the imagination. If only they dressed “in different coloured coats and trousers, wearing beards and moustaches”. There was a certain prophetic character to this last phrase - Jesuits today often dress “in coloured coats and trousers and wearing beards and moustaches”, but no one these days wears hats, not even priests!
At the end of his schooling in Belvedere, Joyce was invited to join the Jesuits, but he turned it down because he felt, mistakenly, I think, that the Jesuits frowned on the Eros of beauty -- but Stephen admitted that in his case the Eros of beauty had led him astray from the path of – well! - let us say good Jesuit behaviour. However, as for me, I did not have these challenges or reservations, but knowing something of the history of Jesuit accomplishments in natural science, I accepted the invitation, for I wanted to be a Jesuit scientist. Sixty years ago to a day, on September 7, 1942, I entered the Jesuit Novitiate at a Paladian Villa once owned by the Earls of Portarlington, then called St. Mary's, Emo, Co. Leix, to become, as I then thought and hoped, a Jesuit scientist.
Let me now draw down the spiritual lesson from the gospel reading (In. ch. 9). In the gospel story the blind man was changed by bathing in the waters of Siloam, but at first this only gave worldly sight to his eyes; he came to see only the world around, a splendid sight to see as he saw it for the first time in his life, a world of different people in their various coloured costumes. What did he think of Jesus, his benefactor? The great scholar Raymond Brown says he probably thought of him as just an ordinary miracle worker - not that being an ordinary miracle worker was a small thing. But it took events – like challenges from the Pharisees, parents, and bystanders – to make him see the spiritual realities underlying the opening of his eyes. Only when his spiritual eyes were opened did he come to recognize Jesus as God's presence in the world as a fully human person.
The theme of my homily then is that I am the blind man; I was washed in the waters of baptism; at first, like the blind man, I too only saw the business aspects of the world. Like the blind man, I came to see the spiritual context of human life and labour only by being challenged by events in the world and by its institutions. Reflecting on the other anniversary that we memorialize at this time, I recall that this is one of the frightening lessons of 9-11!
Returning, however, to my own story: the Jesuit part of my training was not easy; it consisted in adopting a certain kind of askesis, or spiritual practice, founded upon the Exercises of the founder, St. Ignatius. This was fundamental to the Jesuit life. I'll come back to this later. And then came science.
My scientific career began well at University College, Dublin, and at the School of Theoretical Physics of the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies. During World War II, this latter was a haven for refugee European scientists from Germany and Central Europe. I studied there under Erwin Schrödinger, one of the founders of the quantum theory, and John Synge, a famous cosmologist. Later I was to study quantum field theory and elementary particles under Eugene Wigner at Princeton, and came to know and correspond with Werner Heisenberg of the Uncertainty Principle fame. In 1964 I wrote a book about Heisenberg, which was accepted as a doctoral dissertation in philosophy at the University of Leuven.
But my first Jesuit assignment in 1949 was to study earth science, particularly seismology. As it turned out, my pursuit of a scientific career was terminated when I was told to move from earth science and physics to philosophy. You must understand that the context of decision making within every Jesuit life includes both worldly and religious dimensions. The story of a Jesuit's life is always a dialogue with the world around, a kind of spiritual “reading' of the worldly environment, called the “spirit of discernment,' within the context of that practiced way of life characteristic of the founder, St. Ignatius. Like the great spiritual practices of old such as Stoicism and Epicureanism, Christian spiritual practices, like the Jesuit practices, were the practices of a certain philosophical way of life - the human side – that linked up with the primacy of Christian faith -- the religious side.
The Jesuits are an institution that from the time of its founder, took on the world, teaching both worldly and sacred knowledge or more accurately, they adopted ways of living that are both in the world, worldly, while being spiritually attuned according to the practices of the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises. Some may find this paradoxical. Monks live in closed monasteries and behind high garden walls all the time; they have little or no contact with the world. Religious orders older than the Jesuits, such as the Dominicans and the Franciscans, live in tight supervised communities and sally forth only to meet the world for pre-planned sessions of preaching, prayer, or charitable work The Jesuits' special mission, however, has been to promote worldly and spiritual life together, not separately. That is a complex, difficult, and paradoxical project. Like all spiritual projects, however, this is a deeply human social project but also marked by personal and social decision making requiring a special spiritual training, or askesis. This is the charism of the Jesuit way of life, of living in the Company, or Society, of Jesus.
To return to my own story: I was assigned to become a Jesuit scientist, like so many other Jesuit scientists of the past. But it did not work out the way it was originally conceived. My first assignment was to work with the great Jesuit seismologist, Fr. Macelwane at St. Louis University, with the intention possibly of taking charge of the great worldwide Jesuit network of earth science observatories established at Jesuit schools everywhere and linked globally. This was a unique network of its kind and had been in existence for over a hundred years. But in 1954, two years after my doctorate in geophysics, the U.S. Government put billions of dollars into the International Geophysical Year. This moved the earth sciences far beyond where they were. It was done mostly for military purposes to monitor underground nuclear test activity and to track underwater nuclear powered naval craft in the great oceans of the world, and much of the new research was top secret. In a short time, the Jesuit global seismological network became redundant and as a consequence there was no longer any need within the Jesuit Order for experts in this field. I then entered the field of high energy physics at Princeton University under the mentorship of Eugene Wigner, one of the original founders of the quantum theory. But this, too, was soon interrupted, when the Faculty of Philosophy at University College, Dublin, requested that I be assigned to teach the philosophy of science. This required further training, which took me to the University of Leuven, Belgium, where I finished a book on Werner Heisenberg's physical philosophy.
And so, at the age of 38, I began my first serious teaching job. This was in the physics department at University College, Dublin, as professor of relativistic cosmology, waiting for an appointment to philosophy. There followed my one and only - and most satisfying - job teaching science! But in the middle of my first year, I received an invitation from Fordham University in New York, to go there to teach my new specialty, the philosophy of science. I then began in 1965 a new career in the philosophy of science.
But further challenges were to follow. Five years later, the State University of New York (SUNY) at Stony Brook, was given the mission to become a great research university, to become, as it was then said, an 'instant Berkeley. Out of the blue, it invited me to become chair of the philosophy department, and to begin a doctoral degree program in philosophy. In a few years, Stony Brook became the leader in continental philosophy in the US with vast public funding and with the full backing of the administration. A few years after the successful establishment of that program, I was invited to become Vice President and Dean of Arts and Sciences at Stony Brook. After the establishment of the Staller Fine Arts Centre, I was recalled to administration as Dean of Humanities and Fine Arts. I spent 22 years in all at Stony Brook. Then in 1992, on the invitation of Fr Leo O'Donovan, then President of Georgetown University, I left secular public higher education and re-entered the domain of private Catholic and Jesuit higher education, as the person responsible for the Main Campus of Georgetown University.
You might want to know how I experienced secular higher education in a top research public university. In retrospect, I have to say that I found extraordinary respect for one who was, oddly, both a priest and a Jesuit. Of course, being also a card carrying scientist did help a lot. Catholic friends in higher education have since said to me: 'You must have horror stories to tell about the secular values of public education. Not really! Academic life in both the public universities and the Catholic universities is much the same - commitments to social justice, public responsibility, and “What's new!” are not much different in the practical order. The big difference is in the limitations of public discourse and the public practices of life. Religious language and ritual are absent; motivations are expressed in terms of human rights, professional ethics, and other secular humanistic doctrines - or without further definition, the pursuit of excellence! My frustration was mitigated by the discovery that many of the values we know as Christian values have by now migrated beyond the Church, they are no longer challenged but taken for granted as due to humanity and human society. I asked: How did this come about? I think the reason is that universities grew up under the Christian umbrella before they came to shelter themselves under the shadow of the state, and they carried much of the Christian tradition with them.
I often found beneath the surface a hidden quasi-religious commitment clothed in secular and human rhetoric. I came to feel sure that Jesus would not condemn these people. Many, both Jewish and agnostic, were like Nicodemus, or like the blind man emerging from the pool of Siloam, they shared the vision of Jesus, but they had not been challenged in such a way as to recognize the divine presence that he represents in the world.
My years at Georgetown University have also been a challenge and a gift. I am so happy that we celebrate religious rituals, and that religious motivations and spirituality can be spoken of, and are needed and heeded by many students and faculty without interfering with the usual and expected academic standards of the disciplines. It is so comforting to be in a community where the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius are known and used to promote a way of life that gives spiritual sight to the business of the world. Since the time of Stephen Daedelus and of my youth, changes have taken place: Jesuit priests now go round in different coloured coats and trousers, [even some with beards and moustaches.' And in doing so they are affirming a world vibrant - Yes! - with divine life....
Interfuse No 125 : Autumn 2005
PATRICK HEELAN : “LE PETIT PHILOSOPHE” (1)
Patrick A Heelan
‘Le petit philosophe’
My family tells me – usually with good humored teasing -- that, when I was baptized, my godfather, a lawyer and a philosopher of sorts, looked at me in the cradle bemused, and said, “Le petit philosophe!” Recalling who the “philosophes” were, it could have been an ironic comment on the promises just made on my behalf but, if it was intended as a prophetic statement, this is where my “evangelium” should begin!
When I was young, I lived with my family in a pretty seaside town, Dalkey, on the South side of Dublin – once the home of George Bernard Shaw and today of U2's Bono. It was then about one and a half hours commute by bus or train to and from my Jesuit high school, Belvedere College, on the North side of the River Liffey. Consequently, neither before nor after school did I have the companionship of other Belvederians, nor indeed much other young companionship. As the second son, I was eclipsed by my brother, Louis, who seemed to have a large circle of friends and colleagues, boys and girls, which I did not have. I enjoyed reading, mathematics, music, home carpentry, and the company of my mother. She had come from Antwerp, Belgium as a young girl during the first World War, to study English and accountancy, and she stayed in Dublin after the war, met my father in Dalkey and married him. I had a younger sister – still living - and an older brother - now gone. My sister was a good junior partner. She tried hard to keep up with her brothers but sadly she was derided for being a girl! She was the first among us, however, to become a doctor, a real M.D. She married a dentist, and devoted her life to raising a large family and serving on Catholic medical boards. My brother became a cautious lawyer; also raised a large family; worked in venture capital investment, including the film industry; and was a lifelong active member of the St. Vincent de Paul Society for helping the indigent. My father was a senior civil servant, an economist, fluent in French and German, aloof, given to three hobbies - rose gardening, musical composition and, after retiring, the translation of theological works from the German - even some from Karl Rahner, S.J. I was an introverted and selfish kid.
At Belvedere, I had good math teachers. I liked math because it was clear, logical, beautiful, and unassailable, and, as I thought, did not require company. Mathematical physics seemed to me to be the true model of all authentic knowledge of the world. My attitude towards the world was abstract and aloofly contemplative. This attitude was only to be confirmed by my scientific, philosophical, and theological education in the Jesuit Order - until wisdom made its entrance.
What follows is the story of several conversions, each connected with unplanned zigs or zags, contingent events from which, by divine grace - for how else explain it? -- an intelligible narrative emerged that was accompanied by - or eventually brought - wonder and joy, as well as “rest to my soul.' The frustrations along the way were met with unexpected gifts of help, from people, some living and some now dead, too numerous to name. Some will be mentioned in the following narrative. Among them is St. Ignatius Loyola whose Spiritual Exercises were indispensable; Bernard Lonergan, S.J., whom I had the privilege of knowing personally though only in a small way, whose books, Insight and Method in Theology found their way to me at crucial moments of transition. With the help of them and many others on the way, I came to experience my life in the Jesuit order, not as a career to be established, but as a story always under editorial revision and reconstruction, continuously discontinuous, yet with persistent Catholic and catholic threads and an interiority that tended to be affirmative and to bring, as was promised in the gospels, rest to my soul.
UCD and the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies (1944-48)
Now for some particulars! In 1942, at the age of 16, I joined the Jesuits, directly from high school. I knew that I was joining a society that respected science and mathematics, and looked forward to a possible Jesuit career in the sciences. Spiritually, I was no more than a cultural Irish Catholic who felt comfortable with the way of life of the Jesuits he knew. An eventual career in the sciences seemed to be confirmed by my early university studies as a Jesuit in mathematics and mathematical physics (BA, 1947; MA, 1948, all with first-class honors) at University College, Dublin (UCD). In 1948 I was awarded a fellowship in Mathematical Physics to study for a doctorate wherever in the world I could find a perch.
The years of my mathematical studies in Ireland coincided with the chaotic post-war years in Europe during which the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies offered hospitality to many émigré European scientists. I was privileged then to be able to attend seminars given by very eminent theoretical physicists at its School of Theoretical Physics in Dublin. Among those resident there at the time were Erwin Schrödinger and John Synge, both mathematicians famous for their work in General Relativity and Cosmology. Relativistic Cosmology explained gravitation as due to curvatures of four-dimensional space-time related to the presence of physical masses in space time; these warp the geometry in ways not compatible with Euclidean geometry. But as a classical theory, it is clear, logical, elegant, deductive, and mathematically unassailable. These descriptors also fitted Schrödinger's own teaching, the elegance of his style, and what he expected of others. It set the tone for his students among whom I was happy to be counted.
The Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies with its School of Theoretical Physics was founded by Eamon de Valera, the Prime Minister of Ireland during those years, who was a mathematician. I remember being told, when I was small, that only seven people in the world understood Einstein's Theory of Relativity and that de Valera was one of them. Wanting to belong to this small group, I took courses with Schrödinger and Synge. From Schrödinger I came to understand that the General Theory of Relativity did not support the 'relativism' of truth; to the contrary, it was founded on constancy, invariance, and symmetry, as befitted the rational design of Him whom Einstein called the “Old One”. Einstein's motto was, “Der Herrgott würfelt nicht' - God does not throw dice!” It was carved above the fireplace of his office in the old Palmer Laboratory of Princeton. It was Einstein's challenge to Heisenberg and to quantum mechanics. At this time, I felt I was with Einstein.
One class episode with Schrödinger opened my mind to a new way of thinking about human consciousness. He spoke about the foundations of mathematics and cosmology in the intuition of non-Euclidean geometrical spaces. Since the dominant scientific and philosophical view before Einstein was that real Space as intuited by our imagination was necessarily Euclidean, a fundamental principle of both mind and body had been breached and needed to be re-studied at all levels of relevance.
The notion that cosmology forced us to imagine curved three- and four-dimensional spaces that can be both finite in size and yet have no boundaries grabbed me in a profound way and gave me a new concern, with consciousness and its role in psychology, physics, philosophy, and spirituality.
In 1948, my final year at UCD, I won a prestigious Fellowship (called a Travelling Studentship) that paid for doctoral studies abroad anywhere in the world. I was sent to pursue doctoral studies at St. Louis University as a junior Jesuit scholastic. My provincial wanted me to study geophysics and seismology. Why seismology? And why at St. Louis? In the late 1940's, the Vatican Observatory managed several scientific research programs besides astronomy. Among them was an international network of seismological stations not just at Rathfarnham Castle, Dublin, but at Jesuit colleges around the world. The Director of the Vatican Observatory in 1948 was Father Daniel O'Connell, SJ an Irish Jeşuit. He spoke to my Provincial and, much to my chagrin, requested that I be sent to study geophysical seismology at St. Louis University, a Jesuit university that had a special Institute of Geophysics.
The Director at that time of the Institute of Geophysics at St Louis University was Father James Macelwane, SJ, a scientist of considerable fame. He worked closely with the oil exploration industry and the Pentagon. Under his direction, my assigned research project: was to find a means of telling from seismic records whether a seismic disturbance was of artificial or natural origin. This involved finding a correlation between the seismological signatures of underground disturbances and their source. Being, like Schrödinger, a mathematical physicist, and not at all an experimental physicist, I transformed the practical problem into a mathematical one. I studied no records, but instead, using simplified assumptions, I looked for solutions of the elastic wave equations that seemed to define the problem. My research was supported by the US military though I did not know this until much later, for its real purpose was to find the seismic key to monitoring underground nuclear tests (for a retrospect, see, Broad, W. New York Times, 2005). In response to the great success of Soviet science with the launching of Sputnik, the first artificial earth satellite, in 1957, Russian scientific papers began to be translated into English. To my great surprise a copy of my doctoral papers appeared in 1961 – as translated from the Russian complete with the identical mathematical typos that appeared in my papers - seemingly attributed to the Leningrad Acoustical Institute. Following the major U.S. Federal government investment in geophysics during the International Geophysical Year (1957-58), the Jesuit Seismological Network folded, and there was no longer a potential job in seismology for me with the Jesuits.
Conversion #1: Insight into “discernment” in Ignatian prayer
My first breach with the orientation towards mathematics as the preferred instrument of reason occurred while making the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises with other scholastics, I think in the sutnmner of 1951, in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin. The retreat master was Father Charles Hertzog, SJ. For the first time, I had insight into the role of 'discernment in Ignatian prayer. I had made many retreats before this, but the meaning of discernment had escaped me. This is the practice of assessing, during a time of peace and recollection, the spiritual authenticity of one's interior thoughts, feelings, and desires, as they emerged into consciousness against the background of faith in and love for the crucified and risen Jesus. I don't any longer recall how spiritual discernment was presented by Fr. Hertzog, but the impact on me at that time was certainly due to his expositions and my deep need for something of that kind. It breached a barrier in my consciousness that brought about a 'conversion' event. After that time, I began to notice and take seriously how people and events came to me. They came differently from before now they seemed to carry messages for concem, invitations to new tasks, either as providers of peace and consolation, or as warnings against involvement, and so on. This brought about a new level of self-awareness and interiority that challenged the anonymous, often self-serving habits, practices, and conventions of the unconscious self. I was not yet curious about the cultural origins of that unconscious self, but a route was opened that had not been there before.
I returned to Ireland in 1952. My science studies had to be put aside for eight years. I spent two years in philosophy, one in regency teaching, four in theology- my ordination was at the end of my third year in 1958 - then after theology there was Tertianship, a final spiritual and pastoral year (1959-60) that I spent in Münster, Germany. My studies in philosophy were done at the Jesuit School of Philosophy, in the farming community of Tullamore, Ireland. My theological studies were done at the Jesuit School of Theology, Milltown Park, in a suburb of Dublin. Jesuit seminary philosophy made little mark on me; it did not have the clarity, elegance, and explanatory function - nor even the empirical outlook – that I was used to in science, and it seemed to me also at the time that its insights were anonymous and lacked the joyful and sublime moments that might have saved it from irrelevance. There was one notable exception, the course on sacred scripture at Milltown Park, which introduced us to the historical, archaeological, and literary studies of biblical texts.
In the middle of my theological studies, I was summoned to the Provincial's office nearby, and was told that the Archbishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid, wanted me to be assigned to teach philosophy at UCD. The Faculty of Philosophy at that time served almost exclusively the seminarians of the Archdiocese. But there was agitation from a group of lay students to open the philosophy curriculum to modern topics such as the philosophy of science. The Dean and Professors of the Faculty, all priests of the Dublin Archdiocese, persuaded the Archbishop of the need to make this possible. I, however, had no knowledge of this situation and was at a loss to know how I came to be chosen for this job. I was shocked at the Archbishop's proposal and my consideration of it gave me no joy. Aware that the Archbishop was not a patient listener to contrary advice, I, nevertheless, dared, like Job in the Old Testament, to argue with the Almighty! I represented that I was not competent to teach the philosophy of science because I found little joy in the subject and because my scientific training was badly in need of an upgrade for such a task after so many years away from science. The Archbishop's reply came to me from my Provincial: “Tell Patrick Heelan to read a good book!” He made no suggestion, however, as to what book I should read.
Conversion #2: Lonergan's transcendental method of Insight
As it happened, Bernard Lonergan's Insight, was published in the summer of 1957. It hooked my interest from the start, perhaps because it began with mathematical examples. I found it exciting, and it gave me great joy. I found it intensely illuminating with respect to philosophical method. It seemed to me to describe correctly the role of intuition in mathematics as well as the role of experience in concept and theory formation. It gave me notions, such as transcendental method, intentionality, assessment, interiority, empirical residue, that expanded my mind with pleasurable excitement. After finishing the book, I lent my copy to Fr Eamonn Egan, a brilliant young Jesuit who professed philosophy. He read it through, from cover to cover - and, it is said, that he neither ate nor slept during that time and was found lying on the floor of his room exhausted, three days later. Others at Milltown Park also read Insight and their excitement led to the formation of a Lonergan caucus or “fan club” at Milltown Park that has continued to the present day, The Archbishop was right, I needed a good book ... and the good book had found me!
Course notes on De Methodo Theologiae (in Latin) were also being passed around from courses Lonergan gave at the Gregorian University in Rome. They were early versions of what later became his Method in Theology, which appeared in 1972. I also noted the coherence between Ignatian discernment and Lonergan's notions of interiority and authenticity. That summer I had my second “conversion” - to a better understanding of the kind of human cooperation that divine grace needed when working for the Kingdom of God in today's scientific culture.
Lonergan's approach to philosophy was his discovery in Aquinas of an account of human knowing that was based on the recognition of (what is called today) transcendental method. A transcendental process is one that affects all human processes, 'transcendental' being the Kantian term for “a priori, universal, and necessary”. Lonergan's transcendental method went beyond Kant and described a sequence of four functions (processes) that operate sequentially and recursively in the process of all human inquiry. They are: 1. experiencing, 2. understanding, 3, judging, and 4. decision-making. The four functions operate on experiencing and from this draw their objective content. Their actions are recursively used again and again to review, revise, update, confirm or drop. This recursive use is called hermeneutical since each use shapes some aspect of meaning: the first produces perceptual meanings (related to descriptive concepts); the second produces theoretical meanings (related to networks of mutually related phenomena); the third, produces judgments of truth/falsity (after evidence is assessed), and the fourth and final phase produces practical action (related to human values and sensibility). A cycle of the four functions is called a transcendental hermeneutical circle (or spiral).
This new way of thinking changed the emphasis of my thinking from the mathematical to the practical, from the world as object to the interiority of the inquiring subject's engagement with the world, and from formal language to descriptive language. I began to see these recursive interior processes as the source of all human and cultural development in historical time and the natural sciences as the domain in which the embodied character of transcendental hermeneutical method is most clearly to be seen.
This new start in philosophy convinced me all the more that I needed to update my physics and learn more philosophy. So I applied for a Fulbright Fellowship to Princeton University to do post-doc work in quantum field theory. My application was accepted. Much to the chagrin of the Archbishop, however, I requested that my two years in the United States be followed by two years at the University of Leuven (Louvain), Belgium, to study the philosophy of science. I believed I could with luck finish a doctorate there in two years.
Conversion #3: Role of Consciousness in Quantum Physics
After a few months of preparatory work at Fordham University, I went on to Princeton arriving there around Christmas, 1960. My experience at Princeton was, indeed, mind blowing. The Princeton physics department at that time was probably the best physics department in the world! I worked with Professor Eugene Wigner, a Nobel Laureate and one of the founders of the quantum theory, and Fr Matsuo Yanase, SJ, a Japanese Jesuit physicist who was soon to become the President of Sophia University, Tokyo. Wigner was Hungarian, Jewish by birth and Lutheran by faith. He had been trained in chemical engineering at the Technische Hochschule in Berlin. He had a very keen sense of both the empirical and the technological side of science. Ironically, Wigner occupied Einstein's old office in the Palmer Lab with the famous inscription I already mentioned. I soon switched my allegiance from Einstein to Heisenberg, and from General Relativity to Quantum Theory.
Einstein loved the objective order of geometry where everything had its determinate time and place. This is characteristic of classical physics - roughly all physics with the exception of quantum physics - where it is assumed that theoretical terms in physics exist and have determinate properties independently of any engagement with human culture, with observers or their instruments. Classical objects are thought to be, using Lonergan's phrase, 'already out there now real,' that is, present beyond human culture and history and in principle independent of human filters. Such a view tends to see the world entirely in material terms. Wigner's view was that the only evidence we can rely on is given in experience. Experience, however, involves contingency and risk, for what is observed is observed through many human bodily, instrumental, and linguistic filters. None of these filters can sift incoming signals with infinite precision and, as the quantum theory predicted, some of these filters are mutually incompatible. The question that most quantum physicists and philosophers of science found troubling is the epistemological one: What CAN a physicist know absolutely about the real world? - which is probably unanswerable. Wigner, however, changed the basic question to an ontological one (Wigner 1967, 171-184): What IS knowing in quantum physics? This was the same move that Kant, Lonergan, Husserl, and Heidegger had made. Wigner in an interview towards the end of his life said: “My chief scientific interest in the last 20 years has been to somehow extend theoretical physics into the realm of consciousness consciousness is beautifully complex. It has never been properly described, certainly not by physics or mathematics”. (Szanton 1992, p. 309).
At the end of my Fulbright Fellowship in the Fall of 1962, I went directly to Leuven, to begin my doctoral work in the philosophy of science. It was natural then for me to focus my research on the problem of objectivity in Heisenberg's quantum mechanics and the role of consciousness in measurement.
Leuven (1962-4) and Quantum Mechanics and Objectivity (65)
I arrived at the Catholic University of Leuven (Belgium) in September, 1962, to begin work towards a PhD in the philosophy of science. There was no philosophical program there in the field of the natural sciences, but only in logic and the social psychological sciences. The Institut Supérieur de Philosophie was, however, the home of the Edmund Husserl Archives, brought there by Fr HL Van Breda, OFM, a Franciscan priest, who in 1939 with great personal risk had saved Husserl's papers from confiscation and destruction by the Nazi regime in Germany. My mentor was Professor Jean Ladrière, a brilliant and most beloved logician and mathematician, whose interests included Husserl and the social sciences. During this time, I studied the principal published writings of Husserl. Husserl was a trained mathematician. From 1901 to 1916, he taught philosophy at the University of Göttingen in what was then called the Faculty of Philosophy, which included Natural Philosophy. Among its faculty were also the mathematicians and physicists who were responsible for the early 20th century revolution that committed mathematics to the service of physics. Aquinas, Kant, Lonergan, Husserl, and Martin Heidegger, provided the resources I used to study the philosophical questions I brought from Wigner's Princeton. I read all of Heisenberg's published papers up to the time of my writing, visited with him several times at the Max-Planck Institute for Physics and Astrophysics in Munich, and discussed with him what I found unclear in his presentations. I found him most cordial and open, and our relationship continued after I left Leuven until his death in 1976. I defended my dissertation in 1964 and received the grade of félications du jury, 'which is the highest honors. I was told by my good friend and Heidegger counsellor, Fr. Bill Richardson, S.J., of Boston College, that it was an invitation to prepare for a faculty appointment at Leuven.
My dissertation was published under the title: Quantum Mechanics and Objectivity: A Study of the Physical Philosophy of Werner Heisenberg (The Hague: Nijhoff, 1965). I will refer to it below as QMO. Of QMO, Heisenberg wrote in the personal letter to me (dated November 10, 1970): “I very much enjoyed reading your book. Precisely the connection between a description of the historical development and a very careful philosophical analysis seems to me to be a felicitous foundation for the reader being able to really penetrate into quantum theory and its philosophy”.
QMO has been widely read and, until recently, was part of the history of science curriculum at Oxford. Some years ago, I was happy to learn that parts of it were being read at the elite Dalton School in New York City in a seminar for the best and brightest among New York high school seniors.
The thesis of the book sustains Wigner's point that there is in quantum physics the emergence of a distinctively new and explicit role for subjectivity at the moment when a datum observation is made. By 'new', I mean 'absent from classical physics. By 'explicit,' I refer to a conscious discrimination between two types of discourse, 1) theoretical (model) discourse and 2) empirical (fact) discourse. Facts occur only in appropriate practical horizonal situations. By horizon/horizona! I mean the practical situatedness of an event - here, a measurement event in a laboratory environment. The principal (but not exclusive) function of a horizon is to specify the space/time and momentum/energy variables. In classical physics, all such horizons are assumed to be mutually compatible. This compatibility breaks down in quantum physics, where cross-correlations exist between data taken in different complementary horizons, for example, the space/time horizon and the momentum/energy horizon are 'complementary. The choice of horizon is controlled by a free decision of the measuring subject. Wigner took this dependence of 'what is factual' on 'what humans have chosen to measure to be evidence of the presence of a human interpretative (and cognitive) role inside the new physics that is absent from classical physics. He saw this as evidence for the existence of an immaterial factor within human consciousness that plays a role in the practice of the new physics.
Much of my later work was inspired by Wigner's problem and the desire to understand it better. In doing so, I read deeply about the biological, historical, and cultural origins of the four functions that in Lonergan's account, constitute the transcendental core of human conscious living. I asked: How did they come to be structured the way we find them today? and How do they operate within the contexts of history, culture, and religion? In the light of Wigner's view that quantum physics implies a role for human consciousness, I began to think that it might be possible to describe the individual embodied human being as a Quantum MacroSystem (CMS).
Return to the USA (1965)
I returned to Ireland from Leuven in the mid-summer of 1964, ready to teach the philosophy of science at UCD in the Fall of that year. Earlier that year I had received some telephone calls from Ireland telling me that there was a crisis brewing about what I would teach in the Fall, but the cause of the crisis was not mentioned. Arriving back in Dublin, I found that I was not listed among the Faculty of Philosophy, but among the faculty of the Department of Mathematical Physics, assigned to teach the graduate course in General Relativistic Cosmology. It was some time before I learned what had been going on in the last few feverish months while I was completing and defending my philosophy dissertation. I was told that the Jesuit professors at UCD had voted – no doubt with others - to give the Chair of Medieval History to someone other than the Archbishop's candidate for that position. The Archbishop then pressured the university to appoint the Archbishop's candidate to a Chair of Medieval Philosophy in the Faculty of Philosophy, and to assign to him the budget line that up to that time was being kept for me. As part of the deal, I was given a position in the Department of Mathematical Physics. I was encouraged, nevertheless, to offer a course in the philosophy of science but only for science students, but I was told that the course would not be listed among courses in philosophy. When I asked why, the reason given me was to ensure that my name would not be put forward as a candidate for Dean of the Faculty of Philosophy when the present Dean retired. The Archbishop had his own candidate for that position. My Provincial had no option but to acquiesce in this matter. The students thought otherwise, however, and showed their disapproval by briefly occupying the office of the Dean of Philosophy.
And so le petit philosophe plus the 'good book that was sent his way “to clear his path” returned for the time being at least to be un petit scientifique hastily boning up on material learned sixteen years earlier at the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies. But destiny was to win out!
Broad, W, 2005. “Listening for Atom Blasts, but Hearing Earthquakes”. New York Times, January 18, 2005.
Heelan, P. 1965. Quantum Mechanics and Objectivity: A Study of the Physical Philosophy of Werner Heisenberg. The Hague: Nijhoff.
Szanton, A. 1992. Recollections of Eugene P Wigner as told to Andrew Szanton. Plenum Press.
Wigner, E. 1967. Symmetries and Reflections. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.