Jesuit Father William R. Stoeger, 70, an astronomer at the Vatican Observatory in Arizona, died March 24 at the Sacred Heart Jesuit Center in Los Gatos, Calif., following a struggle with cancer. A funeral Mass for the priest was scheduled for March 28 in Los Gatos. He had been a Jesuit for 52 years. (CNS photo courtesy of the Vatican Observatory Foundation)
Jesuit Father William R. Stoeger, 70, an astronomer at the Vatican Observatory in Arizona, died March 24 at the Sacred Heart Jesuit Center in Los Gatos, Calif., following a struggle with cancer. A funeral Mass for the priest was scheduled for March 28 in Los Gatos. He had been a Jesuit for 52 years. (CNS photo courtesy of the Vatican Observatory Foundation)

LOS GATOS, Calif. (CNS) — Jesuit Father William R. Stoeger, a staff scientist for the Vatican Observatory Research Group in Tucson and a long-time member of Brophy College Preparatory’s Board of Trustees, died March 24 in the Regis Infirmary at the Sacred Heart Jesuit Center in Los Gatos after a struggle with cancer.

He was 70 and had been a member of the Society of Jesus for 52 years.

A funeral Mass was to be celebrated March 28 at the Sacred Heart Jesuit Center, followed by burial at Santa Clara Mission Cemetery in Santa Clara. A memorial service will be held in Tucson at a later date.

The Vatican Observatory — which has had its headquarters in Castel Gandolfo, Italy, since 1935 — established the Arizona research center in 1981.

Fr. Stoeger specialized in theoretical cosmology, high-energy astrophysics, and interdisciplinary studies relating to science, philosophy and theology. He investigated the physics of black holes, mathematical issues of theories of gravity, and the origin of the universe, among other issues.

“The eight volumes of the Vatican Observatory and the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences series on ‘God’s Action in the World’ attest magnificently to this broad-based work,” according to a statement from the Vatican Observatory Foundation.

Editor’s Note:

  • Donations in memory of Father Stoeger may be made to the California Province of the Society of Jesus, P.O. Box 68, Los Gatos, CA 95031 or to a charity of one’s choice.
  • Press release from Brophy College Preparatory
  • Video: Fr. Stoeger on the limits of science

He was known for his knack of explaining the theoretical concepts he was dealing with in layman’s terms, often using hand-drawn diagrams and spidery writing on transparencies.

He was remembered by the foundation and his fellow Jesuits as “a real scholar who had a gift and passion for talking with people about matters of faith and science. He had a wry and gentle humor, was always self-effacing but not afraid to speak the hard truth.”

Born in Torrance, Calif., May 10, 1943, he grew up in Redondo Beach, and after graduation from Bishop Montgomery High School, he entered the Jesuit order at Los Gatos in 1961. His studies took him to Jesuit-run Spring Hill College in Mobile, Ala., the University of California Los Angeles and Cambridge University in England. At Cambridge, where he worked with Stephen Hawking, the famed British theoretical physicist and cosmologist, he received his doctorate in astrophysics.

After studies at the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley, he was ordained a Jesuit priest in 1972, along with his brother, Jack, a priest of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

After postdoctoral work in gravitational physics at the University of Maryland, Fr. Stoeger joined the staff of the Vatican Observatory. Based primarily in Tucson, the priest also served as adjunct associate professor at the University of Arizona.

In addition to being a renowned scientist, Fr. Stoeger was known for his dedication as a dedicated priest. He assisted at various parishes in the Tucson Diocese and was sought after as a retreat presenter and spiritual director.

Besides his brother, Father Jack Stoeger, of Los Angeles, he also is survived by a sister, Rosemary Bruscino, of Carrollton, Texas.

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