Monday, February 12, 2024

Foggy Father Ed McKinnon

When I was in the Jesuit Philosophate (1968-1969/70), which just meant fulfilling some canonical requirement for Thomistic philosophy, I lived with five other young Jesuits in a small house near Boston College. After being locked down in Shadowbrook for a bit more than two years with strict rules covering every aspect of life every hour of the day, we were enjoying some freedom. From time to time we’d sneak out to a well known art house in Kenmore Square near the Boston Red Socks ball park. I think it was called Kenmore Square but it might have been The Fine Arts Theater.. 

The reason that I mention art house movies is a very funny story that popped up about one of my Jesuit Philosophy teachers, Ed MacKinnon, or as we used to call him affectionately Foggy MacKinnon. 

One night we went to a forbidden movie, Pasolinin’s Teorema. It became the inspiration for Nick Nolte’s “Down and Out in Beverly Hills,” another wonderful film. In Pasolini’s film a mysterious character shows up at an upper class family villa in Milan and begins by sleeping with the maid, then the son, then the mother, then the father. He was of course a Jesus figure. It was Pasolini, what do you expect? Anyway it was long enough for an intermission, and when we went for popcorn, there was Foggy MacKinnon standing in the lobby looking rather bemused.. Rather than a rebuke for sneaking out, he just said, “Thank God they don’t have any pets.”

Ed MacKinnon, whom we affectionately called “Foggy,” was one of the promising young philosophy professors at Weston and Boston College. After my novitiate at Shadowbrook, I went to Philosophy and for reasons not altogether clear to me, I was also ready to pick a fight. Imagine. Ed had a Ph.D in physics from Saint Louis University, and had done several years of postdoc work at Yale in philosophy. He was supposed to form a bridge between science and faith. I had no idea what he was talking about. Of course I wouldn't admit it--actually was too busy doing art to spend enough time in class to ask any useful questions. So I missed that boat entirely. My loss

Once Ed went to the minister at Weston and asked for a car to drive to a conference, I think at McGill. What would be better preparation for delivering an important paper than a relaxing drive through the Adirondacks to Canada. He arrived, parked the car, delivered the paper, answered questions and then left quickly, grabbed a cab to the airport and boarded a flight back to Logan. The minister came to his room when he heard that Ed had returned to get the keys for the car. Ed said “What car?” I may have some of the details wrong but I think the story is basically correct. 

When I was in California I heard that Ed had gone to another conference about resolving the conflicting claims of science and theology, or as he says, “examines an influential argument that the intelligibility of the universe requires a creator.” (Why is There Something? Philosophia 51 (2): 835-855. 2023. He is still dealing with the problem today). We were told that he laid out the positions carefully, and then announced that after studying the problem for a number of years, he found the agnostic position persuasive and was going to leave the Jesuits.

I do not know if this story is correct, but it’s a great story. I did meet up with him one more time. I think it was at an event that Fred Tollini organized for New Englanders and Jesuit friends who had lived together at Virgil Barber House near the Yale campus. Ed had just taken a new position at Cal Hayward where he spent his entire career after BC. And he’d married. I am pretty sure that I asked about his current position regarding the Church, as I had just left and publicly said that I’d tossed out the whole shebang. He demurred, but offered that he was now very happy. He’d met a woman who had been a nun at a support group for former religious. He called it a “Religious Lonely Hearts Club.” I didn’t say that I had met one or two former Jesuits in gay bars so maybe I could borrow the designation. Maybe he was not so hung up on the conundrum between faith and science. Maybe he was just lonely and decided that he wanted to marry. 

End of story. Retelling them is how I pass long lonely nights in a remote Indian village.

1 comment:

Ken said...

I am about ready to take Foggy out of name calling and say he was brilliant, dull but brilliant.

The basics of my story were confirmed by two Jesuits from the former NE Province, but they told me that I got the city wrong. Ed drove to Loyola in Chicago, not Mcgill. The driving time from Boston to Montreal today is between 6 and 7 hours. Add an extra hour and half almost 60 years ago. A long drive but not too taxing. The driving time from Boston to Chicago today is 14 to 17 hours. Round up to 24 for primitive highways and it is reasonably a 2 day trip. I remember driving it in the 60’s using the Penn Turnpike and it was hell.

So Ed gets to Chicago and does all the professional philosophy stuff, goes back to his room and says, “I’m not driving all the way back to Boston.” Gets on a plane. Plays dumb with Father Minister so as to avoid his wrath. The Minister sends two scholastics to Chicago to pick up the car and drive it back. Two scholastics have a ball, Ed goes about his business and there are two scholastics whom he’s made very happy.