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Let us pray in thanksgiving for the life of Fr. Francis Paul Prucha, SJ, who died peacefully at St. Camillus Jesuit Community in Wauwatosa, Wis., on July 30, 2015. At 94 years old, he was the oldest member of the Wisconsin Province, a Jesuit for 64 years and a priest for 58 years.
Paul was born in River Falls, Wis. on January 4, 1921, where he attended grade school and high school. He graduated from River Falls State Teachers College in 1941 and served in the United States Army Air Forces from 1942 to 1946 before earning an MA in history from the University of Minnesota and a PhD in history from Harvard University. On August 17, 1950, Paul entered the Society of Jesus at St. Stanislaus Seminary in Florissant, Mo. He completed the required course of studies at St. Stanislaus, Saint Louis University, and Saint Mary's College, although in a somewhat abbreviated fashion after entering at the then-advanced age of 29. Paul was ordained a priest on June 12, 1957, made tertianship in Decatur, Ill., and pronounced his final vows at Marquette University on February 2, 1967.
Paul was an outstanding Jesuit scholar and educator. Assigned to Marquette University in 1960, he remained there for 50 years, even after he officially became professor emeritus in 1988. Visiting professorships and fellowships at Georgetown, Harvard, the University of Oklahoma, and Boston College also dotted his career. In 2010 declining health led him to move to the St. Camillus Jesuit Community. Paul trained generations of doctoral students in history, published more than 25 books and many scholarly articles, and was a major force in establishing Marquette's rich research archives documenting Catholicism among Native Americans. His two-volume The Great Father: The United States Government and the American Indians, published in 1985, is regarded as a classic among professional historians.
Paul had the virtues of an eminent scholar, including intelligence, insight, and a great capacity for sustained, disciplined work. He also had excellent taste and enjoyed creating objects of beauty out of simple materials. Declining physical health never seemed to affect his intellectual capacity or his diverse range of interests. He had a wide circle of acquaintances, especially among his fellow historians. Those who knew him well saw him not only as a gifted historian but as a Jesuit priest for whom scholarship was a ministry and not simply a career.