Astronomy & Physics

Astronomy & Physics


Father Lonc Radio Telescope

In Memoriam

Father Lonc

Fr. Dr. William P. Lonc, S.J. (Ph.D., Ph.L., Saint Louis University), Professor Emeritus of the Department of Astronomy and Physics, died on November 27, 2014; he was 84 years old. Link to service information. Link to Father Lonc's web page.  

Born in London, Ontario in 1930, he joined the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) in 1954, received his doctorate in Physics in 1964 and became a Jesuit priest in 1968. After his ordainment later the same year, Bill joined the Department of Physics at Saint Mary’s University, then operated by the Jesuits.  Given his background in astronomy, Bill was an enthusiastic supporter of the merger in 1993 of his own department with the Department of Astronomy. He remained a full professor in the new Department of Astronomy and Physics until 1995 when, as the last remaining Jesuit in the faculty of science and the second last in the university, he retired. In 2006, he moved to the Canadian Martyrs' Jesuit Community in Toronto, and then to the René Goupil House in Pickering earlier this year where he died last Thursday.

During his career, Bill's most extensive work included his long standing research programme funded by the then Department of Communications, studying long range VHF/UHF radio communications over salt water between Sable Island and SMU.  He visited the island each summer for maintenance and field work, and generated a substantial list of publications over the course of the project.  Other notable works includes his book "Radio Astronomy Projects" (3rd ed. 2003) which he was working on around the time of his retirement.

As professor emeritus, Bill maintained regular hours at his campus office where he turned much of his attention to assembling and translating historical works relating to the early Jesuit missions in Canada, including one of his better known translations, the biography of (Saint Catherine) Kateri Tekakwitha, the “Lily of the Mohawks”. According to his Wikipedia page, there were some fifty documents which he translated or helped translate over the years.

Bill’s passion academically was microwave physics and radio astronomy, especially when he could involve students in his tinkerings and constructions culminating in his “mini-VLA” on the roof of the McNally Building. There was great excitement when Bill announced that he and his students had detected the sun! (the sun, as are most stars, is a weak radio source.) Bill was known among the students of his day as a “students’ professor”: approachable, affable, and always looking for ways to encourage students in their pursuit of their degrees in physics, astronomy, and engineering.  Indeed, the following posting to his obituary page by one of his former students says it all:

Dear Father Lonc;

You were my professor at St. Mary's back in 1969--1970. I fondly remember our outings to "Junky Jim's" recycling yard in Timberlea where we scrounged surplus military microwave pieces and parts and made a great microwave lab. We had a lot of fun and learned a great deal. Your gentle manner and deep knowledge which you willingly shared have served me so very well in my engineering career. God bless you and give you the heavenly reward you so richly deserve.

One of the kindest and gentlest souls one could ever hope to meet, Bill is fondly remembered at SMU by all those who worked with him, knew him, or studied under him.  To a man who lived his life for the good of others, we wish him Godspeed.

Davids Clarke, Lane, and Turner, on behalf of the Department of Astronomy and Physics.

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