Archive for July, 2012

Boston College Jesuit Geologist Fr. James Skehan Honored on his 89th Birthday

Jesuit priest, geologist and author James W. Skehan, a Boston College professor emeritus who served as the longtime director of the University’s geophysical research observatory, has been honored with the unveiling of a bronze bust in his likeness at an event celebrating his 89thbirthday.

The sculpture was created in clay by local artist Janie Belive, who works at Campion Center in Weston, Mass., where Fr. Skehan is in residence. Vincent J. Murphy, James Lewkowicz and Robert O. Varnerin—longtime friends of Fr. Skehan—commissioned the bronzing of the sculpture. The bust’s base, from the Le Masurier Family Quarry in North Chelmsford, Mass., is made from Chelmsford Granite, one of Fr. Skehan’s favorite rocks. The bust is on display in BC’s Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, which was founded (as the Department of Geology) by Fr. Skehan in 1958.

Many colleagues and friends joined Fr. Skehan at the Apr. 25 event. John Ebel, Boston College Earth and Environmental Sciences professor and Weston Observatory director, gave an address that served as a retrospective on Fr. Skehan’s career. A reception with birthday cake followed, hosted by BC’s Jesuit Community and the Earth and Environmental Sciences Department.

Fr. Skehan is a renowned geologist whose research has focused on the history of the Avalon terrane, the geological micro-continent stretching from Long Island to Belgium upon which Boston lies. From 1973 to 1993, he directed BC’s Weston Observatory, which monitors seismic activity around the globe.

He is the author of Roadside Geology of Massachusetts, a 400-page illustrated guide to the geological history and makeup of the Commonwealth. He followed that with Roadside Geology of Connecticut and Rhode Island.

Fr. Skehan has been honored in special ways during his storied career. In 2003, Mount Holyoke College paleontologist Mark A. S. McMenamin named a new genus of trilobite in Fr. Skehan’s honor. Skehanos is a marine arthropod that lived more than 500 million years ago and whose fossil was discovered in Massachusetts.

Author Sarah Andrews created a fictional Fr. Jim Skehan character for In Cold Pursuit, her mystery novel set in Antarctica. Fr. Skehan is also the recipient of the American Institute of Professional Geologists’ Ben H. Parker Memorial Medal, honoring individuals with long records of distinguished and outstanding service in the field of geology, among other honors.

A man of science, Fr. Skehan is also a man of deep faith. Growing up, his family said the rosary regularly after dinner. He entered the Jesuit order in 1940 and was ordained in 1954.

A noted retreat and spiritual leader, he is the author of Place Me With Your Son: Ignatian Spirituality in Everyday Life and of Praying with Teilhard de Chardin, on the life and thought of French Jesuit paleontologist and philosopher de Chardin. The convergence of geologist and priest was profoundly on display when Fr. Skehan said the first Mass on the volcanic island Surtsey soon after it rose off the coast of Iceland.

Fr. Skehan sees no conflict in his devotion to both science and faith, telling the Boston College Chronicle:

“If you look at a beautiful sunset, or how mountains are formed, or observe how continents move, you can view it either as science or as God speaking to you, or both. I do both. What I do as a scientist is no different from what I do listening to the cosmic word of God. It’s nice to have both [science and faith] – in fact, it makes everything so exhilarating. What could be more marvelous?”

[Boston College]

An American Jesuit’s Life in Sri Lanka

“I feel at home only here,” says Jesuit Father Harry Miller in describing Batticaloa, the east coast city of Sri Lanka where he has lived for the last 64 years.

Raised in New Orleans to devout Catholic parents, Father Miller decided at the age of 16 to follow in the footsteps of his older brother and join the Jesuits.  In all, six of his seven siblings would become Jesuit priests or nuns.

When he was missioned to Sri Lanka in 1948 at the age of 23, Father Miller traveled by train to New York and then boarded a ship for the long voyage to South Asia, finally arriving at the Jesuit mission in Batticaloa.

Before Father Miler’s arrival, Jesuit missionaries had come in waves to Sri Lanka. Although French missionaries had traditionally been sent to the country, in the 1930s, the Vatican called upon Americans from French Louisiana to help out with the Jesuit schools in eastern Sri Lanka.

“We didn’t volunteer for a few weeks, a month or a year. It was for life,” Father Miller said about his 60 years of service to the people of Batticaloa as educator, priest, protector and witness.

Through the years, Father Miller taught physics, English and history, and coached the soccer team at St. Michael’s College, a boys’ school founded in 1873.  He worked actively to build bridges between communities and documented the unrest in Sri Lanka that claimed thousands of lives.  Many people simply disappeared during the Sri Lankan Civil War and a 1980s insurrection; one of those still missing is Father Miller’s friend and colleague, Jesuit Father Eugene John Hebert.  Father Hebert, who was known for his human rights work, disappeared in August of 1990.

In 2009, unsure whether he would stay in the United States, Father Miller returned to his native New Orleans. Once there, he realized that his true home was in Batticaloa, and he quickly returned.

In this video piece, Father Miller talks with great love about his home in Batticaloa.

Loyola Press offers 31 Days with Saint Ignatius in Preparation for His Feast Day on July 31

This month ends with the Feast of St. Ignatius, but Loyola Press is celebrating for the entire month in what they are calling 31 Days with St. Ignatius. They’ve assembled a calendar of Ignatian articles, videos, and prayers for every day.

It’s a new edition of resources from their sister site,, so if you followed along in previous years, you’ll find new things to explore this summer.