April 10th 1955 - Pierre Teilhard de Chardin SJ
† in New York
Father Teilhard belongs without doubt to the greatest scientists of his century, both as paleontologist as well as philosopher and theologian.
When he died on Ester day 1955 he was well-known only in a very close circle of friends and specialists. Today he belongs to those figures of the world culture that cannot be ignored. His scientific memoirs fill eleven volumes. There are scientists who admire him highly, but also others who condemn his 'mystifying fantasies'.
Teilhard was born on May 1st 1881 in Sarcenat in the neighbourhood of Clermont in southern Central France in a deeply Christian family as one of eleven children.
At the age of eighteen he became Jesuit. Already before his ordination 1911 he was lecturer in physics and chemistry at the Jesuit College in Cairo (1905-1908). His superiors encouraged his interest in paleontology, and accepted that he acquired the doctor title 1914 in Paris.
During World War I he led a team of stretcher-bearers. Between the attacks he wrote a war diary which shows us his deep sensibility for the physical and mental pain of human beings.
Since 1922 he worked as professor for geology in Paris. Since 1926 he was involved in several expeditions to China and Africa. He sought to win a synthesis of the Christian creation thought with the anthropologically understood evolution. His probably most famous book has the title 'Le milieu divine'.
Already soon there were difficulties with the church authorities which had the opinion that his teachings infringed the dogma about the original sin and about the gratis-ness of grace. Teilhard was no longer allowed to publish or publicly to speak. After a monitum of the Holy Office from June 30th 1962 his superiors ordered that he had to leave Paris, and his high academic position. Teilhard accepted that decision with upright obedience and took his residence in New York. There he died on Easter day, April 10th 1955 in the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.
In the Easter morning he had gone to the St Patrick Cathedral to attend the service. After lunch friends had led him into a concert. In the late afternoon they had come back to the usual cup of tea. Then the deadly cardiac infarction happened. A Father of the Jesuit College gave him the extreme unction.
On the next day the body, which rested in an open coffin lined with white material, was laid out in state in the private chapel of the Jesuit College. There he lay, stretched out, his hands folded around a crucifix.
On the day after, Easter Thusday, took place at nine o'clock a.m. the requiem. The participating Fathers of the college, all of them in white surplices, formed a semi-circle in the choir of the large church. The church was empty. Only ten faithful friends were present. There was neither sermon nor music. There was a moving silence.
Teilhard was buried in St Andreas on Houdson, one hundred kilometres off New York, where the Jesuits bury their dead.
It was cold, gloomy weather. The rain had softened up the earth. The grave could not be dug. Thus the coffin was placed provisionally into a shed. A single bouquet of a friend from New York decorated the coffin. Nothing else! Only three Jesuits were present: a Father, a Brother and Pierre Leroy, one of his closest friends.
The Second Vatican Council seems to have initiated a more positive evaluation of Teilhard. Anyhow it seems to have taken over his cosmological total view, without giving up the doctrinal reservations.
[back to Otto Syre's SJ-Calendar]