Jesuit Father John F. Wrynn was called to eternal life on Jan. 22, 2018, and died at Murray-Weigel Hall in the Bronx, New York. Fr. Wrynn was born on February 4, 1940, in Jackson Heights, New York, and entered the Society of Jesus at Bellarmine College in Plattsburgh, New York, on August 14, 1957.
The son of Patrick Wrynn and Elizabeth Donnelly, Fr. Wrynn was a quiet man: his work was focused and, it would seem, centered in one place and concentrated on a few ideas. He spent most of his Jesuit life, 36 years, at Saint Peter’s College (later university), in Jersey City. He was a historian, with curiosity and enthusiasm that led him abroad and deep into Jersey City’s urban history and people.
Born in Jackson Heights, New York City, in 1940, he joined the Jesuits in 1957, did novitiate and juniorate at Bellarmine College in Plattsburgh, New York, and philosophy at Loyola Seminary at Shrub Oak, New York. In regency, years which most Jesuits consider their happiest, he taught Latin, English and both American and European history from 1964 to 1967 at St. Peter’s Prep in Jersey City.
Next came theology in Amsterdam. He was ordained at Fordham in the Bronx in 1970 and commenced studies for his Ph.D. in history in the Netherlands. There he also took his final vows, after tertianship, in 1975.
His doctorate, completed in 1976, readied him for the 36 years at Saint Peter’s College as a full-time professor of history. According to the testimony of fellow faculty and the president, he greatly enriched the school with his wide knowledge, high standards, responsibility for the archives, and both service and leadership in Jersey City institutions like the Abraham Lincoln Association. Fr. Wrynn also served three times as religious superior of the Jesuit community.
Twice he broke away on sabbaticals, one of which was spent in Dublin. The dominating intellectual skill of his life was his dedication to Irish lore. He learned to speak and teach Gaelic, and at Saint Peter’s offered a weekly Mass in the Gaelic tongue, which was attended often by a dozen congregants. He also taught summer courses at Shrub Oak.
His academic reputation, which included articles in scholarly publications, led to an invitation to accept the Donald I. MacLean Chair at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia during the 2012-13 academic year. There he taught a course on the history of the Middle East in the fall and one on Irish history in the spring semester. One particularly relevant lecture was, “Background and Vicissitudes of the Muslim Brotherhood in the 19th and 20th Century.”
It was during his time in Philadelphia that physical symptoms, including difficulty speaking, began to appear and led to the illness that led to his move to Murray-Weigel Hall. There, his gentle kindness won the respect and kindness of the staff who cared for him. When he moved from St. Peter’s to Murray-Weigel in 2016, he left his library behind, while he decorated his new room lightly with photographs of family and friends from several generations and ways of life.