September 30, 2013 — Chances are, when Jesuit Father Thomas W. Worcester is not teaching or speaking about religious history, he’s writing about it. Fr. Worcester, a professor at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., is editor of two best-sellers and currently at work on a comprehensive reference book: “The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the Jesuits.”
Fr. Worcester has made a name for himself as one of the most successful authors in his field. In 2004, he was asked by the prestigious Cambridge University Press to edit a volume in the Cambridge Companions to Religion series, “The Cambridge Companion to the Jesuits,” a collection of 18 essays examining the religious and cultural significance of the Society of Jesus.
His favorite part of the project was working with the authors, who represent a variety of perspectives and specialties, from art history to theology. “Collaborative and interdisciplinary work is more interesting than single-authored scholarship, which can be very lonely,” Fr. Worcester said. “And it makes a more interesting book.”
Soon after completing the “Companion,” which was released in 2008, Fr. Worcester approached Cambridge Press with his own proposal. Born out of a history course he teaches at Holy Cross, titled "The Papacy in the Modern World," the concept was a collection of essays exploring the evolution of the papacy in the last 500 years — from the pope as an Italian Renaissance prince and patron, to the pope as universal pastor concerned with the well-being and salvation of human beings everywhere.
The resulting book was “The Papacy Since 1500: From Italian Prince to Universal Pastor,” co-edited with Jesuit Father James Corkery. It was published in 2010 and spent several months alongside the “Companion” at the top of the press's best-seller list in church history.
Fr. Worcester’s newest project is “The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the Jesuits,” a one-volume, 500,000-word tome that will contain approximately 600 entries on everything about the Society, from its founding in 1540 to today, including significant people, concepts, places and institutions.
Fr. Worcester is charged with identifying, assigning and editing each entry, and he anticipates working with upward of 125 contributors. With the vast amount of work involved and the fact that the Jesuits will celebrate the bicentennial of their restoration as an order in 2014 — a major anniversary that will generate conferences, publications and events that he wants to take into account in the encyclopedia — he estimates a publication date of 2016, at the earliest.
"To do this the way it should be done and have time for anything else is perhaps my biggest challenge to date," Fr. Worcester said. [Holy Cross Magazine]