Dr. Wilfrid Desan, a professor emeritus of philosophy at Georgetown University, died in his home in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 14, at the age of 92.

Desan, elected “best professor” by the Georgetown student community in 1977, taught in the university’s philosophy department for 21 years until his retirement in May 1978 at the age of 70.

After meeting playwright Jean-Paul Sartre during his work in World War II as a photographer, Desan became an authority on Sartre’s work, becoming one of the first people to bring the philosophies to the United States.

Georgetown philosophy professor, Wilfried Ver Eecke, taught with Desan and described him as “a witty colleague” who knew the importance of teaching in a dramatic manner.

Another philosophy professor at Georgetown, John Barnett Brough, was one of Desan’s students at Georgetown. He described Desan as “a great scholar” and a “brilliant professor.”

During Desan’s time at Georgetown, he was fondly referred as “the old pro.” Brough, who said the eulogy at Wednesday’s memorial service, also remembered him as a popular professor.

“I can honestly say that I am at Georgetown in the philosophy department because of Wilfrid Desan,” Brough said. “It’s hard to imagine a course in philosophy today that would spark such enthusiasm, which is perhaps why Wilfrid captured all the teaching awards that were to be had,” Brough said.

Born in Bruges, Belgium, Desan attended the University of Lille, in France, where he received a degree in philosophy. He then taught philosophy in areas of Belgium and northern France, but put teaching on hold to study cinematography in Paris. It was in Paris that he met Sartre and became interested in his work.

Desan immigrated to the United States in 1948 and was admitted to Harvard University. Graduating in 1951 with a doctorate of philosophy, he soon began teaching at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, where he met his wife Elizabeth.

In 1954, Desan wrote The Tragic Finale: The Philosophy of Jean-Paul Sartre, the first written reflection of his expertise on Sartre. Three years later, Desan became an associate professor at Georgetown. He subsequently published another book on Sartre, The arxism of Jean-Paul Sartre, in 1965. Desan also wrote three volumes of the Planetary Man, describing his own philosophy.

According to Brough, Planetary Man left its mark in the world of philosophy. “It is clear now, as the 21st century begins, how prescient this work was,” he said.

After retiring from Georgetown, Desan spent two years as a visiting professor at both Villanova and George Mason Universities.

The memorial Mass for Desan was celebrated by University President Leo J. O’Donovan, S.J. on Wednesday., Jan. 17 in Dahlgren Chapel. The burial was at Oak Hill Cemetery in Washington, D.C. Desan’s family requested that contributions be sent to the Community Services Center of the Perry School in Washington, D.C.

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