Jesuit Father Bill Lonc Courtesy of Jesuits in English Canada

Jesuit physicist, a loyal friend, problem solver

  • December 2, 2014

Ultra High Frequency, Extremely High Frequency and Super High Frequency —  300 MHz to 300 GHz — doesn’t sound much like a religious vocation. But for a Jesuit like Fr. Bill Lonc microwaves were just one more opportunity to discover God in all things.

Fr. Lonc died at the Jesuit infirmary in Pickering, Ont., Nov. 27. He was 84 years old.

Forty-six years a priest and 60 years a Jesuit, Fr. Lonc had to overcome a natural shyness to become a priest and a preacher. Fr. Jean-Marc Laporte, who was for several years Fr. Lonc’s superior in Halifax, recalls him carefully researching his sermons, which were always packed with practical instruction.

“He was really very effective,” said Laporte.

If preaching didn’t come easy, that didn’t deter Fr. Lonc. When he became chaplain to the Sisters of St. Joseph in Toronto during his retirement, he embraced the daily preaching with gusto — to the surprise of many of his Jesuit brothers.

After a long career teaching physics at Halifax’s Saint Mary’s University — which included a sabbatical year in Tuscon, Arizona, at the Vatican Observatory and a text book on radio astronomy called Radio Astronomy Projects — Fr. Lonc created for himself a whole new career in Canadian Jesuit history.

Fr. Lonc spent countless, painstaking hours sifting through the diaries, letters and hand-written reports of Jesuit missionaries going all the way back to 1611, when the Jesuits first landed in Port Royal in today’s Nova Scotia. His special area of interest was the period from 1840 on, when the Jesuits returned to Canada after the order had been restored in Europe in 1814.

Fr. Lonc would first produce clean, clear transcriptions of the cramped and peculiar scrawl of French priests who wrote their diaries by candlelight in the cold nights north of Thunder Bay, Ont. Then he would add an accurate English translation. His work contributed to more than 30 volumes of the series Early Jesuit Missions in Canada.

His superior at the infirmary, Jesuit Father Robert Wong, observed a man who was practical and loved to work

“He was basically a very shy person,” said Wong.

He also had the creativity to find solutions to problems. As his eyesight began to fail, Fr. Lonc put together his own large print sacramentary to make sure he wouldn’t have to squint his way through Mass.

He had a reputation as a good and loyal friend. One of his best friends was Jesuit Father Jim (Foggy) Murphy. Murphy taught chemistry at Saint Mary’s for almost a generation before Fr. Lonc arrived. The two men would go for long drives through the Nova Scotia countryside, which was always another opportunity for Murphy’s academic passion — fog.

When the two men were reunited in old age at the Pickering infirmary, Fr. Lonc resumed the long drives.

Fr. Lonc was born in London, Ont., May 5, 1930 and studied physics at Sir George Williams University in Montreal before entering the Jesuit novitiate Sept. 7, 1954. At first he was a member of the Polish Province, but eventually joined the English Canadians. The Jesuits sent him on to advanced studies to earn first a doctorate in physics then a licence to teach philosophy from St. Louis University in 1965. He was ordained a priest in 1968.

In addition to his career teaching astrophysics and microwave physics, he served as a visiting short-term teacher at Bellarmine Prep in San Jose, California. He was one of a small number of scientists who were given access to the environmentally sensitive Sable Island off the coast of Nova Scotia. He also became an expert in amateur radio.

Fr. Lonc’s funeral Mass and burial at the Jesuit Cemetery in Guelph was to be held on Dec. 2.

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