Jesuit Father Joseph H. Casey was born in Lynn, Massachusetts, on Oct. 13, 1917. His father was a laborer and the family, which included an older brother and a younger sister, lived in very modest circumstances. When Fr. Casey was five, the family moved to Flint, Michigan, for two years, but essentially Fr. Casey grew up in St. Patrick’s Parish in Lynn. Fr. Casey contributed to the family income, delivering newspapers and selling eggs and candy door-to-door. When he was 11 he learned caddying at a North Shore golf course and continued doing this through high school, becoming an adept golfer in the process and acquiring what he called “street smarts” about getting along with people and earning money. He went to St. Mary’s Boys High in Lynn and then to Boston College for a year.
In August 1936, he entered the novitiate at Shadowbrook. He said later that at that point he was much more interested in being a priest than a Jesuit and indeed thought that the Jesuit novitiate might eventually lead him to St. John’s Seminary in Boston. But his mother died while he was a second-year novice and the kindness of the Jesuits at St. Mary’s Parish in the North End of Boston, where he stayed for her funeral, led him to “fall in love with the Society.”
His course of studies was typical of the period. After novitiate and juniorate at Shadowbrook, he did philosophy studies at Weston from 1940 to 1943. Regency was at the recently opened Fairfield Prep, from 1943 to 1945. His interest and talent in philosophy was already evident, and he was then sent to Fordham to do a one-year master’s program from 1945 to 1946. He returned to Weston for theology studies and was ordained to the priesthood in June 1949. A year later, he went to Wépion, Belgium, for tertianship. In 1951-53, he was sent to the Gregorian University in Rome, where he earned a doctorate in the customary biennium of studies for men assigned to teach in formation programs.
In 1953, he joined the philosophy faculty of Weston College, teaching natural theology, linguistic analysis and logic. During his Weston teaching years, he audited courses in analytic philosophy at Harvard and at NYU. His Weston teaching ended in the late sixties when the faculty and student body moved to Boston College. Fr. Casey chose to continue living at Weston, in part because he regularly did parish ministry at the local parish, St. Julia’s. He also gave retreats and was sought after as a confessor and spiritual director by religious and diocesan clergy.
In 2005, when he was 87, he was asked to retire from his position at Boston College, and he found an alternative when Blessed John XXIII seminary invited him to teach a course on the thought of Germain Grisez. In the years that followed, he continued to write on Grisez, the philosophical arguments for the existence of God, the natural law and moral theology. He also continued serving at St. Julia’s and other neighboring parishes.
Though in no apparent ill health beforehand, in early February of 2015 he grew noticeably weaker and died peacefully on Feb. 27, eight months short of his 98th birthday.