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Monday, February 27, 2017
Congratulations to Britain's oldest Jesuit
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¬†Father John (Doc) Russell makes history today, as he has become the oldest Jesuit in the British Province. Currently a resident at the Jesuits' premises in central London, Fr Russell celebrated his 98th birthday in June. The oldest British Jesuit to date is believed to be Father George Challoner, who died on 18 November 1986, aged 98 years and 64 days. Fr Russell will pass that milestone on Thursday, 26 August 2004. 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) from 1912-43. As well as expanding the scientific work of the Station, John Senior aimed to make it a centre of research into the history and development of agriculture and also to inform the public about agricultural matters. His son had obviously inherited his father's interest in science, and the land in particular, since he attained an MA, a PhD and a Diploma in Agriculture (scientific research in soils) at Cambridge University between 1925 and 1937. John was a teacher for a time at Gresham School at Holt in Norfolk, but having been brought up an Anglican, he says he lost his faith completely on leaving school. "I had no particular religious views; 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." He started exploring the Roman Catholic faith, feeling it had more authority than other denominations, and eventually entered the Catholic Church. "I certainly had no intention of taking vows at that time," says 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. I was working as a research worker at Oxford, and the Jesuits had a church there ≠ St Aloysius. I went along to them to get instruction in the faith, and after a time, I decided that I'd like to join their way of life." It was in 1937 that John Russell joined the Society of Jesus (Jesuits), and continued his studies at Heythrop College (Oxfordshire) throughout the war years. He was ordained a priest on 12 September 1945. Doc Russell has seen many changes in the Church during his lifetime. Among the things that he thinks are good are the liturgical changes and the general relaxation of the strict rules regarding religious life. His scientific interests and knowledge have been put to good use by the Jesuits. He lectured in cosmology, chemistry, physics, maths and the philosophy of science at Heythrop (now part of the University of London) from 1947 until 1986. "At one time, I became very sceptical as to whether we can have any real knowledge of the physical world. We need to work constantly to try to improve it, to keep up the standards," says Fr Russell philosophically. "But now I think it's a good place on the whole." Source: Jesuit Communications Service
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