Died 20 December 2013
Jesuit Father Joseph G. Fennell died on Dec. 20, 2013. He was born on March 23, 1911 and entered the Society of Jesus on Aug. 14, 1933.
Fr. Fennell was born in Springfield, Mass., to William Fennell and Hanora May O’Rourke. He was baptized at All Souls Parish, the “French” church in the North End of Springfield. He had two brothers and three sisters. As a child the family moved to the Hungry Hill neighborhood in Springfield, and he went to the grammar school at Our Lady of Hope staffed by the Sisters of St. Joseph. He graduated from Cathedral High School staffed also by the Sisters of St. Joseph. He thought about enrolling at the College of the Holy Cross, but the tuition was $750. He decided to go to St. Michael’s in Winooski, Vermont, staffed by the Edmundite Fathers, because the tuition was only $300.
His first contact with a Jesuit was Jesuit Father Bernard Hubbard, who gave a lecture in Burlington, Vt. Fr. Hubbard was a geologist at the University of Santa Clara and was famous for his photographs of Alaska. At one time Fr. Hubbard was the highest paid lecturer in the world. Later on, Fr. Fennell and Fr. Hubbard would reconnect in Baghdad.
After two years at St. Michael’s Fr. Fennell entered the novitiate at Shadowbrook in 1933. He was told by his novice master, Jesuit Father Jack Smith, that everyone should be willing to go on the missions, so he wrote to the provincial asking to be sent to the missions. His request was later granted. On crossing the Atlantic Ocean on his way to Baghdad, World War II started. Due to the war he had a four-year regency in Baghdad. Fr. Fennell was asked by the rector if he had studied chemistry. He said he had a year. The rector told him he would be the chemistry teacher, since the other scholastics could not even spell chemistry. He returned to Weston College in 1943 to begin his theological studies.
After theology Fr. Fennell studied chemistry at Fordham University and Boston College. He then did tertianship in Auriesville, N.Y. He returned to Baghdad in 1950 with three Jesuit scholastics, Bob Campbell, Bob Cote, and Ray Powers. He taught chemistry for nearly 20 years there. When he was expelled from Baghdad he took his summer clothes and chemistry notes and left behind his golf clubs, winter clothes and Greek notes.
Returning to the States in 1969, Fr. Fennell began teaching chemistry at the Cranwell School in Lenox, Mass. He taught there until the school closed in 1975. He stayed in the area and helped out in the local parishes. In 1985 he returned to Campion Center and helped out at St. Bernard’s in Concord for 10 years.
Fr. Fennel was the first New England Jesuit who lived to be 100 years old. For that occasion Father General Adolfo Nicolás, Superior General, wrote to him, “In the nearly eight decades in which you have faithfully followed God’s call in the Society of Jesus, your ministries have taken you far from Hungry Hill in Springfield. . . I am told that today in Baghdad College there are teachers who keep your photo as a reminder of the illustrious past of that institution." He died peacefully on Dec. 20, 2013.
Fr. Fennell is survived by his sister, Hedy Fennell.