Francis T. Gignac, S.J. (1933 – 2014) (Skinner)

gignacI have just learned of the passing of Prof. Francis T. Gignac, S. J., longtime chair of the Department of Biblical Studies at the Catholic University of America. During my time at CUA, I had the privilege of studying under Frank and witnessing firsthand his encyclopedic knowledge of ancient texts (especially Greek and Coptic), text-critical problems in NT manuscripts, and the history of the transmission of the NT.

Frank received his D.Phil. from Oxford University in Greek philology in 1964. His doctoral dissertation was published as A Grammar of the Greek Papyri of the Roman and Byzantine Periods, Vol. 1: Phonology (Istituto editoriale cisalpino-La goliardica, 1976). The second volume of a projected three volume grammar appeared in 1981. Frank always talked about completing the third volume, but by 2002 when I first met him, most people assumed it would never get finished. Sadly, they were correct. Many beginning Greek students (and all first year Greek students at CUA) were introduced to the language using Frank’s introductory grammar. I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that during his career, Frank was among the most knowledgeable scholars of Hellenistic Greek teaching anywhere in the world. During his lengthy career he held teaching positions at Loyola University in Chicago, Fordham University, and the Catholic University of America. In 2008, Frank was honored with a Festschrift entitled, Studies in the Greek Bible: Essays in Honor of Francis T. Gignac (Catholic Biblical Quarterly Monograph Series 44). You can see his CV here.

Frank was a a natural athlete; during his time in England he was on the Oxford rowing team and was always an avid runner. Even in his 70s Frank would run 20 to 30 miles at a time for various events and campus fundraisers. He was an incredibly warm individual and as such, was the perfect “face of the program” with which most students would make first contact at CUA. My last memory of talking to Frank was last year, when I realized he had retired and moved from Washington to live with his confreres due to health reasons. We had a brief email exchange. Prior to that, the last time I spoke to him was after asking him to contribute to the Frank Matera Festschrift back in 2010. In typical “Frank” fashion, he was flattered by the invitation, but since he always considered himself primary a philologist and rejected the idea that he was an exegete, he preferred to write a personal reflection rather than an essay. I always appreciated his scholarly humility. Even at the end of my dissertation defense he actually thanked me for citing one of his articles in a footnote and listing it as an authoritative resource on the subject I was discussing. He impacted so many students and colleagues over the years in such positive ways and his leadership of the department of biblical studies at CUA can only be described as “pastoral.” His loss will be deeply felt by many.

24 thoughts on “Francis T. Gignac, S.J. (1933 – 2014) (Skinner)

  1. I studied Elementary NT Greek under Frank. My thesis is dedicated to him due to his scholarship and personal example of grace and humility. He will be sadly missed. He was one of the greats!

  2. I was asked to join CUA in 1998 by Frank, after the resignation of John Meier, who was moving to Notre Dame. I started in January, 1999. Frank was the most supportive Head of School that I have ever had. He had as overblown assessment of my talents, as he had an underdone assessment of himself. He urged me to be the Dean at a difficult time, and stood by me through thick and thin. Working with him as a Reader on doctoral dissertations was amazing … and I learnt so much, as he kept complimenting me on what good work I was doing!

    As I look back, I sense that Frank has passed in a way fitting for such a significant man. He was active and happy at CUA, and as a member of the community at Curley Hall right up to his recent illness. Ray Studzinski, who visited him in care in Chicago, set that he had really settled in well … but then he passed very quickly. He was not a man to “hang around.”

    We have all been greatly blessed to have spent part of our journey – human, academic, and spiritual – with this great man. He would be the last one to acknowledge that!
    Francis J. Moloney, SDB

  3. Frank was an inspiring, if demanding, teacher when I had him for Advanced Greek in 2006-2007. His mastery of Hellenistic Greek and his deep knowledge of the history of the language from its earliest written records was amazing. I felt pretty overwhelmed by the course. Having to memorize all those principal parts was a daunting task. But I’m grateful to Frank for pushing us to do that. It’s the only way to really master the language. I was a student in the Semitics Department. I was honored when I received my approved dissertation proposal and saw that Frank had been chosen as the reviewer of the proposal outside the department. All of us former students of his will miss him, and we will cherish the memory of having had him as a teacher.

    1. Thank you — location? (Sorry – I’m out of state and will need to make travel arrangements–haven’t been able to find anything on CUA or St. Nicholas’ sites!)

      1. Jill:

        Here is the notification and information from the Frank’s Jesuit Province:

        Dear Brothers,

        Let us pray in thanksgiving for the life of our brother, Fr. Francis T. Gignac, S.J. (CDT), who died at 12:40 a.m. (EDT) on Wednesday, June 4, 2014, at Colombiere Center in Clarkston, Michigan, from congestive heart and renal failure. He was 81 years old. May he rest in peace.

        Frank was born on February 2, 1933, in Detroit, Michigan. He entered the Society of Jesus on September 8, 1950, in Milford, Ohio. He was ordained on June 14, 1967, at Colombiere College in Clarkston, Michigan, and took final vows on April 22, 1979, in Washington, D.C. Frank graduated from the University of Detroit High School in 1950 before entering the Society. As a Jesuit Frank earned a Bachelor’s degree in Latin (1955), a Master’s degree in Classics (1957), and a Licentiate degree in Philosophy (1957) from West Baden College (via Loyola University Chicago). He earned Doctorate in Greek and Philology from Oxford University in Oxford, United Kingdom (1964). Frank earned a Master’s degree in Theology from Loyola University Chicago (1968) and an S.T.L. from Bellarmine School of Theology in North Aurora, Illinois (1968).

        During regency Frank taught Latin and Greek at St. Ignatius High School in Cleveland, Ohio (1957-1958). He was professor of Biblical Theology at Fordham University (1968-1974). In 1974 Frank became a professor of Biblical Greek and Biblical Studies at Catholic University in Washington, D.C. From 1981-2003 he was the Chairman of the Biblical Studies Department. Frank was at Catholic University until he moved to Colombiere Center in 2013.

        Outside of the classroom, Frank did Sunday supply work at St. Nicholas Catholic Church in Laurel, Maryland, for almost 40 years and ran marathons. He completed 25 Marine Corps marathons; ran the Boston Marathon four times; and finished the Cherry Blossom 10-mile race in D.C. for 30 years.

        Suffrages: As we remember with gratitude all that God has done through his life of service to God and God’s people, we are reminded of our privilege and obligation to offer Masses and prayers for his eternal repose. All members of the Chicago-Detroit Province and those applied to it are to offer one Mass intention for Frank. Members of the Colombiere Jesuit Community will offer one additional Mass intention. All will wish to remember Frank in their prayers and Masses.

        Wake Service:
        Monday, June 9, 2014
        7:00 p.m.
        Colombiere Center
        9075 Big Lake Road
        Clarkston, MI 48346-1015

        Mass of Christian Burial:
        Tuesday, June 10, 2014
        10:45 a.m.
        Colombiere Center
        9075 Big Lake Road
        Clarkston, MI 48346-1015

        Burial Service:
        Immediately following the funeral.

        Mrs. Helen Bade (cousin)
        910 Maplegrove Ave
        Royal Oak, MI 48067-1691

        Yours in Christ,

        Walter C. Deye, S.J.

  4. I first came to CUA as a biblical studies student fresh out of Mississippi back in August of 1996. I had no idea what I was in for. Gignac was tough as nails. But once you survived his pedagogical methodology, you realized that you had really really accomplished something!! Gignac made one of the greatest impressions on my life that any soul has ever made. I now teach biblical Greek to students at Delta State University in Cleveland, Mississippi, because of Frank Gignac. He was a great advocate for students and especially encouraged the development of good writing skills and good critical-thinking skills. He will be sorely missed.

  5. I feel that I should double space after every period here. Frank always said how blessed we were to learn from Moloney, Matera, Fitzmyer, Collins, and Di Lella. He never mentioned himself. But I am truly blessed and thankful to have learned from Frank, and saddened by the loss of a great man, pastor, scholar, and teacher.

  6. As sad as I am that he is gone, I am even more grateful for the time we spent together over the last seven years. I wrote in the acknowledgments of my dissertation that during my time away from my family, I found a family member in Frank. It is true—he was the proud grandfather, the protective parent, the crazy uncle, and the fun friend all in one elderly Catholic priest.
    For the rest of my life, when I think of Frank, I will find peace knowing that this man leaves a legacy of biblical scholars who demand excellence from their students in the classroom and serve as their biggest advocates outside of it. I will find peace in thinking about how Frank is in heaven tormenting the author of Mark’s Gospel for his horseshit Greek grammar. And, of course, I will find peace in our many memories. So while I grieve this great loss in my life, I am immensely grateful that he was such a significant part of it. Rest in peace, Frank.

    1. I wanted to add my own reflections and experiences to the comments of this esteemed group.
      I was a music student at CUA in 1981 when I met Frank on a subway ride to the start of the Marine Corps marathon. That began a 30 plus year relationship with Frank as a training partner and friend; throughout my completion of my undergrad program, through law school and through my marriage, and children as they have grown up.
      Frank was my family in DC away from home and we spent many days of the week running (and biking) all around CUA and DC, racing in Maryland and Virginia and even going to Boston to run the Marathon together. Frank was a great and steady friend and a wonderful help in my life in DC when I needed it, whether finding me some work when I needed it or coming to save me from running out of gas or helping me (and taking me) to buy a TV until I got my first paycheck. His wonder and joy at celebrating all aspects of my life and his intellectual energy and curiosity as we discussed so many things, religious and worldly and mundane as well, is something I will remember forever. You would never know his position as a scholar and priest from his daily interactions but attending his Masses as I and my family did most Easter seasons in Laurel and from our conversations of particular religious topic showed us his deep and vast knowledge. As well, his grace in dealing with all of the health problems in recent years and his constant refusal for offers of assistance were more evidence of his toughness and refusal to draw attention to himself.
      I give thanks for having been able to know him for so long and my prayers are with him in his new home.
      If anyone knows whether there will be a memorial service at CUA, given his close relationship with so many there, please post it here.
      Thank you Frank, for all those years. I miss you.
      Alice, your faithful running partner

  7. I studied N.T. Greek with Frank as an undergrad at Fordham. He began one course with this story. When he was in Rome one summer doing research at the Vatican Library, he was on his way back to the Jesuit residence by bus one afternoon. Frank was wearing the Jesuit habit of the day (a soutane) and since there were no seats available, he was standiong and hanging on to a pole. When he was nearly halfway home, he suddenly remembered that he had forgotten to turn the climate control back on in the section of the library where he had been working with precious fragment of an ancient gospel manuscript. He knew he’d have to go all the back to the library, and he said under his breath, “Aw, shit!” A woman who was seated and facing him looked up and said, “Oh, Father! You speak English!” Frank’s comment to our class: “Always remember that language is so much more than words.” Thanks, Frank, for 46 years of friendship. R.I.P.

  8. I first met Frank when he led a retreat for Fordhamites and other NYC student hangers on at a retreat in Cornwall NYC. He discovered that I had recently discovered the Historical-Critical approach to Bible and that I planned to do a major in Theology, concentrating on NT. He shanghied me into teaching English grammar to adults in a parish in Harlem. He was quite impossible to say “No” to!

    I moved to D.C. after he had come here so we reconnected, though we had never really been out of touch. In fact, he officiated at my first marriage, but when it ended, I told him I didn’t blame him! He was a guest at my second marriage and an honorary “uncle” to my daughter Meg. He dragooned me into teaching a seminar at CUA after I finally knocked out a dissertation.

    We remained friends after I bid the Church of Rome “arrivaderchi” and attended my ordination as a United Church of Christ Hospice Chaplain. I knew he had gone back to Michigan for care at the end of his life, and another of his “past students” emailed me with the news of his death. “Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty (he’s) free at last!”

  9. I was a freshman in Thomas Moore College of Fordham University when I first met Frank Gignac back in 1970. I took his New Testament course as required but what Frank required of his students changed my faith and my life forever! While so many students were protesting his “radical” ideas, I was fascinated and freed by the wisdom of his teaching. Frank left Fordham the year that I graduated and we remained in contact throughout all these years.
    Despite the inevitable distance of time and space between our meetings, Frank remained and remains a constant guiding light. He was a brilliant mind with an open and honest heart who was never afraid of the truth. I visited Frank again at Colonbiere just about month before he passed. His body was weary but the essential Frank was very much alive . We shared a cocktail at the afternoon social hour and he admitted that he still had no tolerance for the “fundamentalists”!
    I miss my dear friend . I thank him for the light and freedom of the truth he gifted to me so many years ago.

  10. Wish I had kept up with your blog to see this earlier. I have several Father Gignac stories. But I’ll just say that the first time I went to the department’s fall semester gathering, I attended with my wife and 4 small children. Father Gignac adored my kids, made them feel like honored guests and treated them to ice cream in a separate room of the house. After that, he ALWAYS asked me about my kids! RIP father Gignac!

  11. I knew Father Gignac in his role as an assistant pastor at St. Nicolas parish in Laurel, Maryland. When he said mass the homily was always a brief seminar of the origin of various biblical texts and the context of the time they were written. The a typical sermon would begin something like this: “The gospel of Mark read today was actually written by three authors over a one hundred year period ….” What a privilege to have experienced his warm personality and tremendous intellect.

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