Died 23 September 2018
Jesuit Father Joseph T. Bennett died on Sept. 23, 2018 at Newton-Wellesley Hospital in Newton, Massachusetts.
He was born in Boston on Dec. 19, 1926, the first of nine children of Helen (Frost) and Joseph T. Bennett. His family lived in Stoughton, a town south of Boston, where Fr. Bennett attended the Catholic grammar school.
In the Depression years his father and mother scraped together money to feed the large family, but Fr. Bennett was able to attend Boston College High School because the pastor offered to pay half of the tuition. The long commute left him little time for sports or extracurricular activities. Since grade school he had been thinking about becoming a priest. Maryknoll was his first choice, moved by the appeal of its Chinese missions, but the Jesuits at BC High also impressed him, especially his freshman teacher Fr. Leo Pollard, SJ.
He chose the Jesuits and, because of World War II, he was admitted after only three years of high school. He arrived at the Shadowbrook novitiate in Lenox, Massachusetts, on Aug. 14, 1944.
After philosophy studies at Weston College (1948-1951), Fr. Bennett volunteered for the Japanese mission but the provincial talked him into applying for missions generally, with a preference for Japan, and then sent him to Baghdad. There he taught geometry, algebra and some religion at Baghdad College. He found the Arab boys very respectful, due to the way they were brought up at home, so they were patient with his attempts to teach in Arabic. Besides, he said, they all wanted to learn English, so it worked out. He was delighted that one of his students entered the Jesuits—Fr. Steve Bonian, SJ, now at Campion Center.
After three years as a regent, he returned to Weston for theology studies. He was ordained a priest in June 1957 and pronounced final vows on May 4, 1989. A year later, he did tertianship at St. Robert’s Hall in Pomfret, Conn.
He volunteered to return to Baghdad and was there for the next decade, teaching math and struggling to learn Arabic. In 1968, a Baathist government came to power (Saddam Hussein was vice president and head of the police) and nationalized all private schools. In August the Jesuits at the college were given 15 minutes to vacate the property (this was extended to three days thanks to the efforts of a local police officer). In all, some 60 Jesuits made their way to Beirut and from there to the United States.
Traumatized by the experience and without an assignment, Fr. Bennett went to Boston College for the rest of the academic year and earned a Master’s in mathematics. Told to look for a job, he visited the province high schools. BC High offered him a position as a math teacher and assistant prefect of discipline. In one version or another, these assignments occupied the rest of his working life.
In 1987, he took a year-long sabbatical, studying theology at Weston College. When he returned, he was asked to work fulltime in the discipline office. Around the end of his sabbatical the school was instituting a tutoring program for its own students and Fr. Bennett was asked to take it over, supervising the National Honor Society students who were tutoring students. Later he was joined by another Jesuit, Fr. Jim O’Neill. For almost 20 years this assignment occupied most of his time and energy.
Nonetheless, one of his pastoral joys was working nights and weekends in parishes in Arlington, Weymouth, Neponset, and as far as West Springfield. And he developed a modest apostolate visiting students in Boston hospitals.
He continued these commitments almost to the end of his life. In August 2017, he moved to Campion Health Center, where his steady cheerfulness and humble demeanor endeared him to staff and community members. In September 2018, his health worsened. He was hospitalized for only a few days, but on Sept. 23, 2018, his generous heart failed him.