Remembering Jesuit Father William J. Richardson

William J. Richardson was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., on Nov. 2, 1920, the son of Frederick and Mary (Oliver) Richardson. He attended Brooklyn Prep and from there went to the College of the Holy Cross (1937-1941), where he acted in student theatricals and joked about starting a law firm with his classmate and close friend Edward Bennett Williams. Instead, in 1941, with Europe already at war, he entered the New York Province novitiate, St. Andrew on Hudson, at Poughkeepsie, N.Y.

After novitiate and a year of juniorate studies, he went to Woodstock College in Maryland for three years of philosophy studies. From 1947 to 1950, he taught philosophy and theology at Le Moyne College in Syracuse. In 1950, he was part of the postwar wave of American Jesuits who went to Europe to study, in Bill’s case at the theologate of the French-speaking Belgian province, at Eegenhoven, outside Louvain. He was ordained there in 1953. After a fourth year there and a year of tertianship in Austria, he returned to Belgium for doctoral studies in philosophy at the Catholic University of Louvain (1955-1960), where he achieved not only the degree but the further honor of maître agrégé.

When he returned to the U.S. he taught philosophy at St. Peter’s College, in Jersey City (1960-1961), then returned to Louvain and to Chantilly, outside Paris, to prepare his doctoral dissertation for publication. The book that resulted—Heidegger: Through Phenomenology to Thought (1963)—had a significant influence on studies of Heidegger’s thought, showing him to be not just an existentialist but a philosopher of being as a whole, someone who probed the very ground or metaphysics of human existence and understanding. He taught a further year at St. Peter’s, then for a year at the New York Province’s house of philosophy studies at Shrub Oak, and then spent a year studying and writing at St. Peter’s.

In 1965, he joined the philosophy faculty at Fordham University. Heidegger’s focus on language led Bill to a growing interest in the therapeutic implications of the philosopher’s understanding of being. From 1970 to 1974, while continuing to teach at Fordham, he underwent training as a psychoanalyst at the William Alanson White Institute in New York City. In 1974, he became director of research at the Austen Riggs Center in Stockbridge, Mass., organizing seminars in psychology and psychiatry and continuing to practice as a therapist. In the years 1979-1981 he spent sabbaticals at Oxford and at Paris, where he pursued a growing interest in the thought and psychoanalytic practice of Jacques Lacan. He co-authored Lacan and Language: A Reader's Guide to the Ecrits.

In 1981, he began his long association with Boston College’s philosophy department, where he joined a cadre of scholars—notably Hans-Georg Gadamer—who contributed to the department’s strength in continental phenomenology. For 26 years—interrupted by occasional leaves for research and study in Paris and a year as visiting professor at Georgetown—he led generations of graduate students through the intricacies of Heidegger and Lacan and guided numerous doctoral dissertations, while continuing a substantial practice in psychotherapy. His devotion to his students was legendary. To them he modeled not only academic rigor and intellectual curiosity but the unending quest for the truth that lies at the center of human existence.

He retired from teaching in 2007 though he continued his psychoanalytic practice. In 2013, he moved to Campion Center where he continued to pursue his academic interests, talked philosophy with a stream of visitors, and kept up a steady correspondence. He regularly traveled to New York City to visit his sister Peg, until her death in February 2015. Gradually his health weakened. A philosopher to the end, he told a visitor who asked how he was keeping busy, “I’m trying to figure out what these years mean.” In the first week of December he was anointed and died peacefully in the early morning hours of Dec. 10, 2016.



Tues., Dec. 13, 2016
3:00-5:00 p.m. (Prayer Service at 4:30 p.m.)
Chapel of the Holy Spirit
Campion Center
319 Concord Road
Weston, MA


Wed., Dec. 14, 2016
10:00 AM
Chapel of the Holy Spirit
Campion Center


Campion Center Cemetery

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