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Friday, March 24, 2017
Britain's oldest ever Jesuit dies at 100
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¬†Father John (Doc) Russell has died, exactly four months after his 100th birthday. In August 2004, he achieved the distinction of becoming the oldest British Jesuit ever. John Leonard Russell was born on 22 June 1906 at Wye in Kent and studied at Oundle School, one of the largest independent boarding schools in the country, near Peterborough. His father, Sir (Edward) John Russell, was the Director of Rothamsted Experimental Station (now IACR-Rothamsted in Hertfordshire) from 1912-43. On leaving school John (Junior) attained an M.A., a PhD and a Diploma in Agriculture (scientific research in soils) at Cambridge University between 1925 and 1937. John taught for a time at Gresham School, Holt in Norfolk, but it was while working as a research worker at Oxford that he visited St Aloysius Jesuit Church there. "I had no particular religious views," he once said of this period in his life. "I was completely agnostic for a time. And then gradually, I began to realise there was something more in life than what we could immediately see and touch." Although he had been brought up an Anglican, he started exploring the Roman Catholic faith, and was received into the Catholic Church at St Aloysius in 1936. "I certainly had no intention of taking vows at that time," said John. "In fact, I'd have been rather horrified if anyone had suggested it! But gradually I came to realise that I was being called to some kind of more direct contact with God." He decided that he wished to become a Jesuit and entered the Society of Jesus in 1937. John continued his studies in philosophy and theology at Heythrop College (Oxfordshire) throughout the War years, and was ordained a priest on 12 September 1945, after which he made his tertianship at St Beuno's (North Wales). Between 1947 and 1986, John lectured in cosmology, chemistry, physics, mathematics and the philosophy of science at Heythrop ≠ first in Oxfordshire, and also when the College moved to the capital and became part of the University of London in 1970. Throughout the 1970s, 80s and 90s, John wrote a number of articles, largely for scientific publications, including the British Journal for the History of Science ('Action and reaction before Newton', 1974), Nature ('English astronomy before 1675', 1975), and the Annals of Science ('Catholic Astronomers and the Copernican System after the condemnation of Galileo', 1989, and 'What was the crime of Galileo?', 1995). He also regularly contributed to the Jesuit publications, the Month and the Heythrop Journal, and to the letters pages in The Tablet on such matters as 'The special status of the human animal', (1995), and 'Inclusive Language' (1998). On his 100th birthday, on 22 June 2006, Doc ≠ as he was familiarly known ≠ received the traditional telegram from the Queen and also congratulations from the Jesuit Superior General, Fr Peter-Hans Kolvenbach SJ. After a celebratory Mass with the British Provincial and many other Jesuit friends, Doc said he had received "many blessings" during his 69 years as a Jesuit and shared many of his early memories with his visitors. He recalled being at Lyme Regis on holiday with his family as war was declared in August 1914, and then being at school in Oundle in November 1918 when the Armistice was announced. He also talked fondly about the groups that he had attended at Cambridge where he had engaged in discussion with Ludwig Wittgenstein, regarded as one of the greatest philosophers of the 20th century. John Leonard Russell died on 22 October 2006, at St Mary's Home in Worthing, West Sussex.
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