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Loyola celebrates the life of the Rev. Frank Haig, S.J., professor emeritus of physics

Fr. Frank Haig, S.J., stands in his physics lab wearing a lab coat and smiling

The Rev. Frank R. Haig, S.J., professor emeritus of physics, passed away on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024. An accomplished astrophysicist, Fr. Haig will be remembered for his distinguished career as a scholar and professor, along with his leadership as president of two Jesuit institutions, Le Moyne College and Wheeling Jesuit University.

Fr. Haig, who had most recently been living in the Manresa Hall Jesuit Community in Philadelphia, was 95.

“Fr. Haig personified the Jesuit ideal of life-long learning. His intellectual curiosity had no bounds,” said Joseph Ganem, Ph.D., professor of physics. “He read widely on all topics and was a delightful conversationalist. In my last conversation with him, over the phone, he described his transition to an assisted living facility as going on an ‘extended sabbatical’ and told me how much he enjoyed having the time to read and reflect on anything that interested him. As always, he remained relentlessly positive until the end of his life.”

Born on Sept. 11, 1928, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Fr. Haig entered the Society of Jesus in 1946 and was ordained a priest on June 19, 1960. He received his Licentiate in Philosophy from Bellarmine College, a Bachelor of Sacred Theology and a Licentiate in Sacred Theology from Woodstock College, and a Ph.D. in Physics from the Catholic University of America.

“When I started at Loyola 25 years ago, Fr. Haig was here at Loyola, and he was already a legend,” said Terrence M. Sawyer, J.D., president. “He found great joy in teaching, and he had a love of learning that can be an inspiration to all of us. We are also fortunate to have benefited from the creative and strategic ways in which he and his family contributed to strengthening Loyola.”

A Distinguished Career

Fr. Haig, who was the third president of what was then Wheeling Jesuit from 1966-1969, came to Loyola in 1972 to teach physics. He left Loyola in 1981 to be president of Le Moyne College for six years, before returning to the classroom at Loyola in 1987. He was named professor emeritus of physics at Loyola in 2005, though he continued to teach an astronomy course each semester for several years after that.

black and white photo of Fr. Frank Haig on cover of Jesuits magazine“I remember one Friday afternoon somebody from MarComm (Loyola’s office of marketing and communications) called and asked, ‘When did Fr. Haig stop teaching?’ I looked at my watch and said, ‘About two hours ago, and I expect him back on Monday morning,’” Ganem said.

Students enjoyed having Fr. Haig as a teacher, and his classes were always in high demand.

“Everybody wanted to have Frank Haig. Anytime I put one of those courses up, it would fill immediately, and people would be asking for an override,” Ganem said. Why were the courses so popular? “I think it may have been the sidebars. If I went off on tangents, my students would complain, but he was very entertaining.”

Fr. Haig’s teaching, along with his intellectual attainments, contributions to education, and steadfast commitment to the ideals of scholarship and service earned him Loyola’s prestigious John Henry Newman Medal at the University’s Commencement Exercises in 2018.

“At its best, Jesuit, liberal arts education is engaging and interactive, and it nurtures in students a genuine intellectual curiosity. Fr. Haig had the gift of bringing that to life in the classroom,” said Cheryl Moore-Thomas, Ph.D., provost and vice president for academic affairs. “He was passionate about physics—and especially astronomy—and he was even more passionate about awakening a love of learning among his students.”

Fr. Haig’s research was focused on theoretical physics, nuclear structure, elementary particle physics, and cosmology, and he shared his enthusiasm for the wonder of the natural world with his students. At his Jubilee celebration in 2010, Fr. Haig said in his remarks, “To study physics is to look at a universe that is an explosive world of extravagant spontaneity, a reality bursting with variety and overwhelming originality, a fullness overflowing with a multiplicity of the unexpected and the astonishing.”

In addition to his ability to inspire others to marvel at astronomy and God’s creation, Fr. Haig had a delightful sense of humor. He connected easily with students and officiated at many of their weddings after graduation. Fr. Haig is also remembered as a strong advocate for academic freedom.

A Family Legacy

Fr. Haig smiles with a hand to his headFr. Haig’s brother, Alexander Haig, Jr., had served as U.S. Secretary of State under President Ronald Reagan. When Alexander passed away in 2010, Fr. Haig could not receive anything from the estate himself as a member of the Society of Jesus. He did, however, have the opportunity to direct funds from a $1 million gift to create the Alexander M. Haig, Jr., Endowment for Science, Faith, and Culture at Loyola—and he embraced that opportunity.

Funds from the Haig family strengthened the Hauber Fellows Program, a summer research program for students in STEM fields; established the Regina Ann Haig International Film Series; created the Haig Scholars Program, an academic excellence and leadership program for students majoring in natural and applied sciences; enhanced the campus presence of Alpha Sigma Nu, the national Jesuit honor society; supported the theater and modern languages and literatures departments and Campus Ministry; and added the Christmas and Easter banners that are displayed around the Evergreen campus during those seasons.

“As a faculty member, Fr. Haig had real insight into how to support programs that would make a real difference for students and the education they received,” said Brian M. Oakes, ’99, MBA ’10, vice president for advancement. “You could see how much he enjoyed making sure that funding could elevate the areas that he cared most about—often related to science and faith.”

The Haig funding also supported Loyola’s annual Cosmos and Creation conference, which Fr. Haig had been involved in from its beginning in 1982. The conference was designed around the vision that working scientists would find it fruitful to share their religious awareness with other scientists.

“Fr. Haig provided a part of the inheritance to Cosmos so that the conference would never suffer from budget shortfalls,” said Robert Pond, Ph.D., affiliate professor of engineering, who recalled how Fr. Haig met with present and past directors of the conference to get a full understanding of what was involved. “Fr. Haig dug into every detail of the conference needs until he was satisfied about the funding that was necessary to keep the program going. All of this good work was done efficiently and professionally, and with greatest care and love.”

Life of Service

Black and white photo of Fr. Haig teaching in the classroomFr. Haig’s legacy extends far beyond Loyola. A national and international lecturer, Fr. Haig was a member of the Scientific and Educational Council of the Maryland Academy of Science. In 2014, he was honored for more than 50 years of service to the American Association of University Professors. In 2016, he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Washington Academy of Sciences.

Fr. Haig served as a former chairman and member of the educational advisory committee of the Maryland Science Center, a board member and former chairman of the board of the Charles Carroll House in Annapolis, chairman of the Board of Directors of the Syracuse Opera Company, and a treasurer of the Washington Academy of Sciences.

In a video interview recorded as he marked the 70th anniversary of his entering the Society of Jesus, Fr. Haig spoke about science and faith.

“People who are interested in religion are almost automatically interested in science,” he said. “And people who are interested in science are going to be asking fundamental questions all the time, too. What is life? What is the universe? How did the universe start? All those are natural questions. But they’re also religious questions too. Because if you ask, ‘What is life?’ do you mean just what are the molecules in life or do you mean, ‘What are the ideals with which we should live our life?’”

Fr. Haig is survived by 14 nieces and nephews, including Christopher C. Haig, ’18.


Arrangements are as follows: 

Saturday, March 9, 2024 
10 a.m. 
Saint Matthias Church 
128 Bryn Mawr Avenue 
Bala Cynwyd, PA 19004 

Funeral Mass: 
Saturday, March 9, 2024 
11 a.m. 
Saint Matthias Church 
128 Bryn Mawr Avenue 
Bala Cynwyd, PA 19004 

Mass will be livestreamed through the St. Matthias site

Private burial will be held at a later date at the Jesuit Cemetery, Wernersville, Pennsylvania.

Memorial Mass at Loyola
A memorial Mass will be celebrated for Fr. Haig in Loyola University Maryland’s Alumni Memorial Chapel on Wednesday, April 10, 2024, at 12:10 p.m. All are welcome.