Desautels, Alfred R.Died
Fr. Alfred Roger Desautels, SJ, professor emeritus of French at the College of the Holy Cross, author and scholar, died on Monday, February 22, 2010, at the Campion Center in Weston, Mass. He was 92.
Fr. Desautels was born in Fall River, Massachusetts, the eleventh of twelve children of Joseph and Regina (Pain) Desautels. In addition to his many Jesuit brothers, he is survived by a nephew, Joseph Desautels, and a niece, Susan Majava.
He attended Assumption Preparatory School in Worcester and completed two years at Assumption College prior to entering the Society of Jesus in 1937. After completing his undergraduate studies he taught French at Fairfield Preparatory School in Connecticut for two years before earning a master’s in French at Fordham University in 1947. He completed his theology studies at Weston College and was ordained by then-Archbishop Richard Cushing on June 17, 1950. Fr. Desautels continued his studies in Europe, first in Florence (1950-51) and then at the University of Paris. He pronounced his final vows as a Jesuit in Madrid on August 15, 1954.
Extremely proud of his French heritage and an accent honed to perfection at the Sorbonne where he received his doctoral degree, Fr. Desautels assumed the chairmanship of the Department of Modern Languages at Holy Cross in 1955. A beloved and highly respected teacher, his career at Holy Cross stretched over the next 50 years. In the early 1960s, he helped pioneer the launch of the language laboratory at Holy Cross. One of the many students he mentored was Paul O. LeClerc, a member of the Holy Cross Class of 1963. Fr. Desautels helped convince him to study French and attend graduate school at Columbia University; today, Dr. LeClerc, a noted French scholar, has served for 16 years as president the New York Public Library. On the occasion of Fr. Desautels’ 50th anniversary at Holy Cross, Dr. LeClerc sent a glowing testimony of his former teacher.
In 1956 the Jesuit Historical Institute in Rome published Fr. Desautels’ Les Memoires de Trévaux, one of the first volumes in a distinguished series of historical and literary studies. Over the years he devoted himself to the study of French existentialism, and he contributed to the journal of the American Association of Teachers of French. Fr. Desautels’ contribution to French culture and letters was recognized by the French government. In 1966 he was awarded the rank of Chevalier in the Order of the Academic Palms (the Ordre des Palmes Academiques had been created by Napoleon). Then in 1978 the French Ambassador informed him that he had been promoted to Officier. He wore these awards on his lapel proudly. When French President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing visited Holy Cross and Fr. Desautels had the honor of welcoming him, his eye was drawn immediately to the rosette identifying Father Desautels as Officier. The president complimented him, saying that it was he who was honored by the welcome of such a distinguished academic.
A lifelong lover of opera, Fr. Desautels also relished the study of Russian, which continued to engage him almost to the end of his life.
His funeral will be held on Thursday, February 25, at the Chapel of the Holy Spirit, Campion Center, at 10 a.m., followed by burial at Holy Cross at 1 p.m. The wake will be at Campion Center from 3-5 p.m. on Wednesday, February 24, with a prayer service at 4:30 p.m.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the College of the Holy Cross or to Campion Center in Weston.