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<< Return to SBL Forum Archive Rev. Robert North, S.J. 1916-2007

Already as a youth Fr. North was something of a prodigy, finishing high school in Iowa and entering the Society of Jesus at age 15. His early formation as a Jesuit was at Florissant, Missouri, near St. Louis. There he had two years of intensive ascetical training and three years of classical studies in Latin and Greek which left him well prepared in these languages by U.S. standards. His later training was in philosophy at Saint Louis University, in teaching at Marquette High School in Milwaukee, and in theology at St. Marys, Kansas. He was ordained a priest in the Catholic Church in 1944 and continued close to the priesthood and to the Society of Jesus until the day he died.

Bob came to the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome in the years right after World War II and quickly gained the licentiate and doctorate in Scripture. His dissertation was published as "The Biblical Jubilee and Social Reform." From 1951 to 1991 (with interruptions) he taught Scripture and was professor of Archeology and Geography at the Institute. Early on he became attracted to the lure of biblical archeology and in the 1950s participated in various digs in the Middle East, including one under the formidable Kathleen Kenyon. For a time he was superior of the Biblical Institute house in Jerusalem. He was the director of excavations sponsored by the Institute in Ghassul in 1960.

On various occasions he taught at both Saint Louis University and Marquette University in Milwaukee as well as at universities and seminaries in Australia, the Philippines, Korea, and Canada.


He was particularly known and loved by hundreds of Biblical Institute students and others for thirty or so "caravans," which he conducted in Palestine and other parts of the Middle East from 1952 to 1978. The undersigned remembers with gratitude the visits made under Bob's supervision to Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria in July of 1975 and to Iraq, Iran, and Turkey in July of 1976. They were visits prepared meticulously and executed meticulously at the lowest cost possible and not designed for the faint of heart or weak of body.

In 1980, Bob assumed the responsibility for compiling the annual biblical bibliography of the Institute's quarterly Biblica, a task that he performed with immense energy and accuracy until 1998. With this work on the Elenchus Bob's gifts achieved maximum results. Stays in Lisbon, Budapest, Zagreb, Prague, Istanbul, and Warsaw ensured greater control of important secondary languages.

Bob retired from teaching at the Institute at the end of the academic year of 1991 to work full time on the Elenchus. He returned to his native United States for good in April of 2000, and spent his declining years at a Jesuit retirement home outside Milwaukee.

A man of boundless energy and dedication, and remarkable gifts for learning and retaining what he learned, Bob was a person not easily forgotten. His mastery of detail in whatever he tackled verged on the incredible. He was fluent in a large number of languages, all of which he spoke with a flat Midwestern U.S. pronunciation. (His spoken Italian was Tuscan in grammar and Omaha in cadence.) But he communicated. His numerous publications were of a varied sort, but, except for the truly monumental work with the Elenchus, do not add up to anything coherently outstanding. He was mildly eccentric but at the same time a loyal team worker, and his many, many colleagues and students will cherish their memories of a true servant of the Lord. His mark at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in both Rome and Jerusalem remains.

James Swetnam, S.J.,Professor Emeritus, Pontifical Biblical Institute.

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