50 Years with the Jesuits

Rev. Frank Haig, S.J. professor emeritus of physics, celebrates his 50-year Jubilee

By Courtney Jolley
Haig

Offering the homily at the July 12 Mass celebrating the 50th anniversary of his ordination as a Catholic priest, Rev. Frank Haig, S.J., recalled the moment when he told his older sister that the director of studies for his province had suggested the young scholar become a physicist. His sister’s reply? “You cannot be a priest and a scientist at the same time. Don’t you remember that there is a war between science and religion? The two don’t go together.”

More than 50 years later, Fr. Haig’s career is a living testimony to the complementarity of abiding faith and profound curiosity about the universe we inhabit. Professor emeritus of physics at Loyola University Maryland, Fr. Haig has spent a lifetime studying theoretical physics, nuclear structure, elementary particle physics, and cosmology. Along the way, he has mentored and inspired generations of science students, including Lt. Col. Timothy “T.J.” Creamer, ‘82, an astronaut who recently returned from a six-month mission to the International Space Station.

“To study physics is to look at a universe that is an explosive world of extravagant spontaneity, a reality bursting with variety and overwhelming originality, a fullness overflowing with a multiplicity of the unexpected and the astonishing,” said Fr. Haig in his celebration homily. For Fr. Haig and countless other Jesuit scientists, this view makes their academic work not just a worthy intellectual pursuit, but an act of worship.

In the days leading up to his Jubilee celebration, Fr. Haig spent a few moments reflecting on his career as priest and academic with Loyola magazine.

What are some of the most remarkable aspects of your long career as a Jesuit, a scientist, and a professor?

“When I was a young whippersnapper, I was always puzzled by older people and how they seemed to get bored. I wanted to do all I could to avoid that fate, and between becoming a Jesuit and studying physics, I haven’t had a dull day since.

And of course, being a priest is a very profound type of experience. You are trying to get close to God yourself, to have contact with Jesus Christ, but also trying to lead others in building such a relationship. It really goes right to the heart of you.”

How has the Church changed since your ordination?

“The Church has changed tremendously. First, Mass in the United States changed from Latin to English, and I’ve found myself moving along with all the changes. It’s a good thing I studied Spanish in high school, because I’ve been working with a Spanish church for 30 years or so. It’s a really wonderful experience, lively, vigorous, and full of activity.”

You’ve spent most of your adult life on college campuses. What kind of an influence has this experience had on you?

“Being on campus reminds me of the end of Peter Pan, when Wendy has grown older and it no longer makes sense for her to go to Neverland with Peter Pan, so she sends her young daughter in her place. The message of the story—and it’s true—is that youth, the spirit of youth, is eternal. It’s just the individual people who change. You experience that in education. Every year, they are 17 again.”

What about the evolution of science throughout your career. Has it been exciting to watch all the advances?

“It has been fascinating to watch. Take cosmology. For Newton the universe was stable, eternal, and unchanging. Then came Einstein and the experimental work of Edwin Hubble and the universe was expanding. A first good theory of this changed picture came from the Belgian diocesan priest, Abbe Georges Le Maitre. It ended up being called the Big Bang Theory. For a moment a competing theory appeared, called the Steady State Theory. That vanished and now again the universe is not only expanding. It is expanding faster. That is, it is still banging. It seems a new explanation emerges and remains popular about every five years. Something new is always jumping into view. That is what I meant before—life is never boring.”

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