Britain's oldest Jesuit dies at 100

Jesuit Fr John ("Doc") Russell has died four months after he reached his century after earlier achieving the distinction of becoming the oldest British Jesuit ever.

Born on 22 June 1906 at Wye in Kent, the young John Russell studied at Oundle School, one of the largest independent boarding schools in the country, near Peterborough, the British Jesuit community notes in an obituary.

On leaving school Fr Russell attained an MA, a PhD and a Diploma in Agriculture (scientific research in soils) at Cambridge University between 1925 and 1937.

Fr Russell taught for a time but it was while working as a research worker at Oxford that he visited St Aloysius Jesuit Church there, commencing an exploration of the Catholic faith.

"I had no particular religious views," he later 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."

Brought up an Anglican, he was eventually received into the Catholic Church at St Aloysius in 1936.

"I certainly had no intention of taking vows at that time," said Fr Russell. "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 and was ordained in 1945.

Fr Russell later lectured in cosmology, chemistry, physics, mathematics and the philosophy of science and wrote many scholarly articles, largely for scientific publications, including the British Journal for the History of Science, Nature, and the Annals of Science.

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" and "Inclusive Language".

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.

John Leonard Russell died on 22 October 2006, at St Mary's Home in Worthing, West Sussex.

Britain's oldest ever Jesuit dies at 100 (Independent Catholic News, 23/10/06)
Obituary Fr John Russell SJ (Media Release, British Jesuits, 23/10/06)

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25 Oct 2006