John W. Witek (1933-2010)
Aviel Roshwald and Jordan Sand, September 2010
Historian of Jesuit missions in China
The Department of History at Georgetown University reports with sadness the death of Father John W. Witek, S.J., professor of East Asian history. He was 76 years old. A warm and generous man as well as a formidable scholar, he will be missed by his colleagues and students.
Fr. Witek is best known in the field as a historian of the Jesuit missions in China. His major monographic works on the subject are Controversial Ideas in China and in Europe: A Biography of Jean-Francois Foucquet, SJ, 1665–1741, published in 1982 and translated into Chinese in 2006; and Ferdinand Verbiest (1623–88): Jesuit Missionary, Scientist, Engineer and Diplomat, published in 1994 and translated into Chinese in 2001. In addition, he edited the volume Religion and Culture: An International Symposium Commemorating the Fourth Centenary of the University College of St. Paul, published in 1999, and a modern edition of Matteo Ricci’s Dicionario Portugues-Chines: Portuguese-Chinese Dictionary, published in 2001. He also co-edited, with Fr. Joseph Sebes, S.J., Monumenta Sinica: Volume I (1546–62), published in 2002 as part of the massive compendium of early Jesuit history, Monumenta Historica.
John Witek commanded an extraordinary range of bibliographic knowledge related to East Asia. The many graduate students who trained under him or took his courses at Georgetown remember him for his patience and generosity as well as for his high standards with regard to archival research and the many reference works he expected them to know.
Fr. Witek earned an MA in East Asian history from Loyola University Chicago in 1964. He earned his PhD from Georgetown University in 1973. Later that year he went on to Xavier University to teach in the Department of History and Political Science as an assistant professor. In 1975 he returned to Georgetown University, where he taught in the Department of History until his death.
—Aviel Roshwald and Jordan Sand