Lucye Rafferty/The Hoya The Rev. Joseph Durkin, S.J., celebrates his 100th birthday tomorrow. A public reception will be held after tomorrow’s Mass at 5 p.m in Dahlgren Quadrangle.

The Rev. Joseph Durkin, S.J., sat in a tired armchair, eyes sparkling and hands speaking along with his slow voice. The contrast glared between his experienced and weathered face and the youthful excitement in his voice. With his clapping hands and enthusiasm, it is hard to believe that Fr. Durkin will be celebrating his 100th birthday Saturday, May 17.

The Rev. Brian McDermott, S.J., Rector of the Georgetown University Jesuit Community, described Durkin’s role in the Society of Jesus as answering a call from above.

“It has oriented and organized his life,” McDermott said.

A Philadelphia native, Durkin entered the Society of Jesus at age 17 and was ordained in 1933. While in seminary, he received an undergraduate degree in theology from Woodstock College in Maryland and in 1942 he earned a Ph.D. in history from Fordham University.

In 1945, Durkin became eligible for placement by the Society of Jesus. According to McDermott, Durkin initially wanted to work for the chaplain corps in World War II. To the young priest’s disappointment, the then-provincial superior told Durkin that he would go to teach at Georgetown University.

To say the least, since 1945, Durkin has been a strong presence in both the teaching and spiritual communities at Georgetown University.

One of the first professors in the American Studies program, Durkin taught courses in American Constitutional History and American History, among others.

Reflecting on his teaching years, which lasted until 1974, Durkin noted his favorite era as the early 1950s.

“Classes were filled with veterans of World War II,” he said. The students weren’t boys then, he recalled. “They were mature men and wonderful scholars. Some of them were already married.”

As a teacher, Durkin has been remembered as a vivid and enthusiastic inspiration.

To reiterate issues in American history, Durkin would dramatize scenes or act out historic events. To emphasize important points, he would stand on chairs, jump on desks and pound the table.

“I believe that, if you’re teaching about a great person, for example John Marshall, you have to be something of an actor. I’d pretend I was John Marshall,” Durkin said.

“I must have been born something of an actor,” Durkin joked with a smile.

Outside of academics, Durkin has played many roles on campus, including the fulfillment of his original dream to be an army chaplain with Georgetown ROTC. In 2001, was honored at the Pentagon as an Honorary Chaplain Colonel.

As a religious leader, Durkin has regularly held mass at Dahlgren Chapel and, until just three years ago, attended Five-Day Ignatian Retreats in Warnersville, Penn.

Durkin has also served as an inspiration to countless students over the years, including mentoring and advising students until 1994. McDermott listed four students that Durkin has called his “brightest” – Maria Shriver (CAS ’77), a news anchor for NBC; Ted Leoncis, the Vice Chairman for America Online, Inc. (CAS ’77); former University President Leo J. O’Donovan, S.J. (CAS ’56); and Dorothy Brown (GRD ’62), former University Provost and history professor emeritus.

Recently meeting with Shriver after her commencement speech onday, Durkin reminded the American Studies major of the exact title of her senior thesis and the topic of a term paper that even she barely remembered. University President John J. DeGioia and cDermott watched as, from his wheelchair, Durkin told Shriver how proud he was of her.

Even now, despite the fact that he cannot always hold his balance and is often fatigued, Durkin continues to follow the ideals of the Jesuit code. He goes to an Alzheimer’s home once a week as well as weekly trips to a local prison. Durkin is also working on two books, one on rhetoric and the other on Jesuit dance. These two will add to his current list of 25 publications.

McDermott emphasized that, through all of the years, Durkin’s life always goes back to his role as a Jesuit. People often ask Durkin why he became a Jesuit, and McDermott offered Durkin’s oft-repeated answer: “My answer is simple. I fell passionately in love with Jesus Christ and I stayed in love with him.”

The Jesuit Community of Georgetown has invited the university community to celebrate the 100th Birthday of Durkin on Sunday with a Mass at 5 p.m. in Dahlgren Chapel and a reception afterwards.

The new chapel in the Jesuit Residence of the Southwest Quad will be named in honor of Fr. Durkin, and funds are collected to supplement the current costs. Dianne Wicklein, Director of Development, Faith, Ethics and Service at the Office of Alumni and University Relations, said, “Fr. Durkin would like people to donate to the fund because people already want to give to him for his birthday.”

Questions and donations are handled through the Office of Alumni and University Relations. For further information on the Fr. Durkin Chapel Fund, interested parties should contact Suzanne McGowan at (202) 687-3051.

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