Remembering Jesuit Father John B. Breslin, Teacher and Editor

March 24, 2016 - Fr. John Breslin, SJ, died on March 21, 2016. He was 72 years old.

Fr. Breslin was born in New York City on Aug. 19, 1943. He was the son of Edward and Catherine (Sweeney) Breslin. He attended Regis High School in New York, graduated in 1961 and entered St. Andrew on the Hudson in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., that summer. He studied at Loyola Seminary from 1965-1967. From 1967-1969, he was a student of English literature at Campion Hall in Oxford, England and then taught English at Regis High School from 1969-1970. At Woodstock College, he studied theology from 1970-1973, and was ordained in 1973. In 1977, he studied at Yale where he earned a M.A. in English in 1978 and a Ph.D. in English literature in 1983. 

Fr. Breslin was a priest, writer, professor and friend to many. John’s immigrant parents, from Donegal, Ireland, never finished high school. From St. John Chrysostom parish school in the South Bronx, John received a scholarship to the Regis, where a call to the priesthood melded to the Jesuit vision along with his passion for literature and word-smithing. 

During his lifetime, he published many articles, editorials and reviews in the Washington Post, the New York Times, New Republic, Commonweal, Image, Critic, and of course America magazine, where he served as literary/book editor from 1973 to 1977. From 1978-1980 he was editor of Catholic Books at Doubleday and Company in New York. He was a student of English literature at Yale University from 1980-1981. 

He loved books—making them, reading and reviewing them, collecting them, and sharing them. As an editor of religion at Doubleday, he acquired books by Emilie Griffin, Richard McCormick, SJ, and Gerard Noel. For eight years, beginning in 1981, he taught English literature at Georgetown University and was director of Georgetown University Press, launching its Studies in Ethics line and branching out into theology and philosophy and issues of local D.C. interest.

He edited the acclaimed collection The Substance of Things Hoped For: Short Fiction by Modern Catholic Authors (Doubleday 1986). 

From 1992 to 1996, John served as a Georgetown vice president, as University Chaplain. His literary acumen informed his pastoral ministry. His seven-minute sermons frequently cited literary works that illuminated the readings. One All Saints Day homily included a Graham Greene line (The Power and the Glory), “The only thing really important in life is to become a saint.” If asked to give a table grace, he’d again quote Herbert: “Love bade me welcome . . . ‘You must sit down,’ says Love ‘and taste my meat.’ So I did sit and eat.”

For years John lived in student housing. There, in retreat settings, racquet ball contests (which he hated to lose), or simply welcoming students to his apartment, he listened to their doubts and dreams. Interviewed by the Georgetown alumni magazine in 1990, he noted his desire to impart “the art of contemplation” spiritually “but also intellectually, emotionally, morally,” acknowledging the requirement of “time and a certain discipline." Georgetown alumnus Jim Fitzpatrick says, “John merged faith and intellect and modeled in an authentic yet understated fashion that God’s presence and Love are omnipresent and unequivocal.”

In 1996, he became rector of the Le Moyne Jesuit community; at Le Moyne he also taught English and was coordinator of the Catholic Jesuit Identity As rector, John enjoyed getting to know his Jesuit brothers, choosing individual Christmas gifts—books of course—that suited their interests. From 2002-2005, he was adjunct professor of English and campus minister at Fordham’s Marymount Campus. At Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wis., he was a visiting professor of English from 2005-2006. 

During his final years as a resident of Murray-Weigel Hall in the Bronx, Fr. Breslin was sidelined by Alzheimer’s, the devastating disease his mother had suffered. Grappling with early retirement, he immersed himself in the library, perusing oversized art books; at the end of the day, he’d surreptitiously hide his favorites in the science section, where he’d later find them—or not.

On his last trip to Ireland, at a daily Mass, John heard the Gospel reading of the disciples terrorized by a Galilee squall—until Jesus spoke, assuring them that he was with them in the storm. Being aware of his diagnosis, John experienced something nearly like a vision, in which he felt assured that Christ was similarly with him in the tempest of Alzheimer’s and that his journey would effect some good. Too soon, for John the disease veiled the evidence. But redemption was the substance of what he hoped for.

John was buried alongside his confrere Fr. Daniel Berrigan, SJ. Two Jesuit brothers—different contexts, different modes, different missions—but sharing a vision for God’s kingdom come. As they are committed to the ground, overlooking the Mohawk Valley, may they rest in peace.

Source: Tribute: John Breslin, Priest, Writer, Professor, Friend, by John Sheckler.



Mon., March 28, 2016 
3:00-5:00 & 7:00-8:30 p.m. (Prayer Service at 7:00 p.m.) 
Murray-Weigel Hall Chapel 
515 East Fordham Road 
Bronx, N.Y. 10458  


Tues., March 29, 2016 
11:30 a.m. 
Murray-Weigel Hall Chapel               
Bronx, N.Y. 10458 


Jesuit Cemetery, Auriesville, N.Y.

NOTES OF CONDOLENCE may be sent to John's brother: 

Patrick Breslin 
1433 Whittier Street NW 
Washington, D.C. 20012 

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