Charles E. Ronan (1914-2004)
Robert Bireley, S.J., November 2004
Charles E. Ronan, S.J., emeritus professor of history at Loyola University Chicago, died Thursday, April 8, 2004, in St. Joseph's Hospital, Chicago. He was born on Chicago's West Side on June 4, 1914, and shortly thereafter his family moved to west suburban St. Charles where he grew up as the second of seven brothers and sisters. Following graduation from the then Fox Valley Catholic High School in Aurora, he entered the Jesuits at Milford, Ohio, in February 1932. Tuberculosis overtook him during his early years in the seminary, and for many months he lay in bed and eventually lost one lung. No one would have predicted then the long life before him, but he learned to pace himself well as the years went by. After his ordination to the priesthood in 1945, he studied at the University of Havana in Cuba in 1946–47, and then had the opportunity to travel widely in South America with a view to future study of Latin American history. Upon his return to Chicago, he completed a master's degree at Loyola University while teaching part-time at Loyola Academy.
In 1952 Father Ronan began work on a doctorate in Latin American history at the University of Texas at Austin under Lewis Hanke, then perhaps the leading scholar in the field. He completed his dissertation in 1958.
After brief teaching stints at the University of Detroit (1956–57), Loyola University (1960–63), and Xavier University in Cincinnati (1960–63), Father Ronan settled in at Loyola University where he remained a stalwart of the Department of History until his retirement in 1984. There, in addition to the survey courses in Western civilization, he regularly taught courses in Spain during the Golden Age, the colonial age in Latin America, Mexico during the colonial period, and a survey course in Mexican history. His revised dissertation appeared in 1977 as as Francisco Javier Clavigero, S.J. (1731–1787), Figure of the Mexican Enlightenment: His Life and Works (1977), and much later he wrote a similar study, Juan Ignacio Molina: The World's Window on Chile (2002). After the suppression of the Society of Jesus in 1773, both the Mexican Clavigero and the Chilean Molina were exiled to Italy, where they played a significant role interpreting Latin America culture and society to Europeans. Ronan spent a great deal of time tracking down their papers in Italy so as to tell their story, and he published a number of their letters in various articles. He and his colleague, Joseph Gagliano, organized a conference at Loyola in 1992 to commemorate the quincentennial of the arrival of Columbus in America, and the papers were subsequently published as Jesuit Encounters in the New World: Jesuit Chroniclers, Geographers, Educators, and Missionaries in the Americas, 1549–1767 (1997). A major scholarly contribution lay outside his field. In 1982 he and his colleague Bonnie Oh organized a conference to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the coming of the Jesuits to China. The papers were subsequently published as East Meets West: The Jesuits in China, 1582–1773, and they continue to be cited regularly in the literature. Father Ronan was elected second vice president of the American Catholic Historical Association for 1984.
But Ronan's accomplishments in the classroom and at the typewriter or computer may have been outdone by his long service as chaplain and mentor in Loyola's Campion Hall, where amidst the noise and periodic chaos that marks a male college dormitory, he lived for over 20 years. There many Loyola students found a listening ear and a compassionate confessor.
Regularly he celebrated the Sunday liturgy there. Three times in the 1960s he took Loyola students to the Chiapas area of Mexico to assist in the construction of housing for the poor and to expose the students to Mexican life and culture. Many of his former Campion students asked him to celebrate their weddings, and many more asked about him at alumni gatherings. He reached out to people of many backgrounds, as we learned from the many who came to his wake and funeral.
Charlie was able to continue his intellectual activity until shortly before his death. Students desirous of a reading course in some aspect of Latin American history always found him to be available. At the time of his death an article was in press with the Colonial Latin American Historical Review, "Juan Ignacio Molina's Elegy, 'De peste variolarum,' and the Chilean Smallpox Plague of 1761: A Personal Account," and his file case was filled with xerox copies of articles that he had acquired from all over the world for use in the article. In addition, he continued to acquire new books for Loyola's Cudahy Library.
Charles Ronan was a happy man; he exuded a certain peace and contentment, especially in his later years. At his funeral liturgy we prayed at his request from Psalm 27, "I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living; hope in God and take heart. Hope in the Lord." The Lord answered this prayer enabling Charlie to find and see God in the people and situations of his life, and he has now answered the prayer, we trust, in the fullest sense of the word.
Robert Bireley, S.J.
Loyola University Chicago