Meet Loyola’s First Visiting Jesuit Chair

By Magazine Staff

When Rev. Jean Turgeon, S.J., came to the annual Cosmos and Creation conference at Loyola last June, he thought he was making a brief visit to the Evergreen campus. Instead, he found himself considering an invitation to apply to become the University’s first visiting Jesuit Chair.

Two of the Cosmos and Creation organizers, Robert Pond, Ph.D., associate dean for natural sciences, and Richard Blum, Ph.D., the Higgins Chair in Philosophy, had just received a letter describing the position.

“I remember they said they wondered if they knew any Jesuits, and they looked at the list of attendees and saw my name,” Fr. Turgeon said. “They asked me if I would be a candidate. I was hesitating because I retired in 2004 and haven’t been teaching since that time. And I said, ‘If I say yes, there goes tranquility.’ After thinking about it for a few hours, I said, ‘Yes, I should accept this challenge.’”

Now Fr. Turgeon is spending the spring semester at Loyola. He is conducting research, teaching a History of Mathematics course, and giving lunch presentations for faculty on the same topic. An honorary professor in the department of mathematics and statistics at the University of Montreal,

The Jesuit Chair is an endowed position for a visiting Jesuit teaching scholar made possible by contributions from the Jesuit Community at Loyola. A small percentage of the nearly $2 million endowment will fund the chair in perpetuity and bring in a new Jesuit scholar from another institution for one semester each year.

Fr. Turgeon, 75, began teaching at the University of Montreal since 1970. He received a Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of Toronto and has published dozens of books, chapters, and articles in his career. Fr. Turgeon joined the Society of Jesus in 1956, was ordained in 1971, and took his last vows as a Jesuit in 1978. He is fluent in English and French.

“The big difference is the language. In Montreal I speak in French,” said Fr. Turgeon, who is living in Ignatius House with his brother Jesuits at Loyola. “For my first lecture, I had notes in French in my hands, and I was speaking in English.”

To meet with the local Jesuits and academic leaders at Loyola in November, Fr. Turgeon drove from Montreal to Baltimore—via San Francisco, where he attended a meeting of the American Academy of Religion. He spent four days driving to San Francisco and then four days driving from there to Baltimore. He always prefers driving to flying.

“I like to see what’s in between the two places,” he said. “And I have a lot of music and especially lectures that I keep on CDs. Sometimes the driving gives me more information than the meeting.”

The Hyundai Elantra Fr. Turgeon drives gets reasonably good gas mileage, he says, and he uses his GPS for navigation. When he gets tired, he stops and sleeps in the car.

“It saves a lot of time,” he said. “I had a friend who came once with me and he insisted in sleeping in motels. But then I calculated that we can spend up to 13 hours, just getting to the motel, getting settled.” Because of the time lost settling into motels, Fr. Turgeon didn’t get to stop to see anything along the way. So now he drives alone—or with a friend who is willing to drive while he sleeps and then sleep in the car himself.

This June when Fr. Turgeon attends Cosmos and Creation, he will come as one of the organizers, having helped create this year’s conference. Meanwhile, he is enjoying his experience as the first Jesuit Chair.

“It’s an adventure, really,” said Fr. Turgeon. And being the first one has its advantages. “Well, it’s easier, you see. There’s no tradition. I’m creating traditions.”

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