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In Memoriam

Jesuit Father William J. Richardson died on Dec. 10, 2016, at Campion Center, Weston, Massachusetts. He was the author of a groundbreaking study on renowned philosopher Martin Heidegger and a faculty member at Boston College for more than a quarter-century.

Born on Nov. 2, 1920, in Brooklyn, New York, he was the son of the late Frederick E. and Mary (Oliver) Richardson and brother of the late Margaret Powers.

He graduated with the College of the Holy Cross class of 1941 and entered the Society of Jesus on Aug. 14 that year at St. Andrew on Hudson, Poughkeepsie, New York. He went on to study at Woodstock College in Maryland and the University of Louvain in Louvain, Belgium. He was ordained to the priesthood on Aug. 15, 1953, at St. Albert de Louvain, Belgium and pronounced final vows on Aug. 15, 1958.

He was a professor of philosophy in practicing psychology, accumulating more than 30 years at both Fordham University and Boston College. Fr. Richardson also taught at St. Peter’s College in New Jersey and Le Moyne College in New York.

He was the foremost American expert on Heidegger, a seminal thinker in the Continental tradition and philosophical hermeneutics whose Being and Time was regarded as a central philosophical work of the 20th century. In 1963, Fr. Richardson had published his nearly 800-page opus “Heidegger: Through Phenomenology to Thought,” which contradicted prevailing attitudes about Heidegger.

In a 2010 Boston College Magazine profile on Fr. Richardson, writer William Bole explained that prior to Through Phenomenology to Thought, Heidegger was “treated as an existentialist, someone concerned exclusively with matters of human existence such as anxiety and authenticity.” But Fr. Richardson, he wrote, “revealed Heidegger as a philosopher of being as a whole, someone who probed the very ground or metaphysics of human existence and understanding.”

Fr. Richardson had not come to his assessment of Heidegger simply by reading the philosopher’s works or analyses by other scholars: He had once spoken with Heidegger for four hours at Heidegger’s home in Freiburg, Germany.

Heidegger was quite impressed by his visitor, according to an intermediary, who told Fr. Richardson that after the interview Heidegger had remarked: “Who is this guy? He’s an American, and a Jesuit, and he got me right. Most Europeans get me wrong. How is this possible?” Heidegger wound up contributing the preface to Phenomenology to Thought.

After joining the Boston College faculty in 1981 – he had taught at Fordham University since 1964 – Fr. Richardson continued to teach, write and speak about Heidegger, as well as pioneering psychoanalyst and psychiatrist Jacques Lacan, whom he met on a couple of occasions. In 1982, Fr. Richardson – who in the 1970s had become a certified psychoanalyst and served as director of research at the Austin Riggs Institute for Psychotherapy – co-authored Lacan and Language: A Reader’s Guide to the Ecrits.

Fr. Richardson retired in 2007 but continued to work as an emeritus faculty member at Boston College. He moved to the Campion Center in 2012. [Source: Boston College]