Biography of Walter J. Ong, S.J.
Known for his work in Renaissance literature, intellectual history, and the evolution of consciousness, Walter J. Ong, S.J., was a Jesuit, a scholar, and a teacher. An author of over 450 publications and the perennially popular Orality and Literacy, Fr. Ong was a Saint Louis University Professor Emeritus, the William E. Haren Professor Emeritus of English, and Professor Emeritus of Humanities in Psychiatry. His scholarship has influenced numerous fields and countless scholars.
Walter Jackson Ong was born November 30, 1912, in Kansas City, Missouri. He completed undergraduate studies at Rockhurst College and worked in commercial positions for two years before entering the Society of Jesus in 1935. He then studied philosophy and theology at Saint Louis University, received his master's degree in English at Saint Louis University and his doctorate at Harvard University. Saint Louis University was among the many institutions to recognize Ong, bestowing him with its highest honor, the Sword of Ignatius Loyola, in 1993.Fr. Ong's scholarship was recognized around the world. His seminal Orality and Literacy was translated into a dozen languages, both European and Asian. He gave lecture tours in Western Africa, Japan, and across Europe. Although they seldom honor teachers of English, the French Government named him Chevalier dans l'Ordre des Palmes Academiques.
Fr. Ong's advice was sought across several fields of expertise. He served on the editorial boards of a number of academic journals, was a member of various national committees for the Modern Language Association, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the American Council on Education, and served as President of the Milton Society of America and the Modern Language Association. In 1967, he served on the 14 member White House Task Force on Education under President Lyndon B. Johnson.
Fr. Ong's work was deeply interdisciplinary, a fact recognized by Saint Louis University in 1984, when Ong was appointed University Professor, a unique placement directly under the University's central administration, reporting to no departmental chair or dean. His teaching and writing was difficult to classify by traditional lines of departmental demarcation. His students labeled his courses not English but "Onglish" to explain his vast treatment of topics in any class. He explained in a letter that he did his graduate work in English because "English seemed intellectually and culturally roomier and more open than other subjects. It could encompass what they did and more -- could open the way into almost anything."
A Jesuit Catholic priest, Walter J. Ong, SJ, was active in the ministry after ordination in 1946. For decades he celebrated daily Mass in St. Francis Xavier (College) Church in St. Louis, MO, and administered there and elsewhere the sacrament of Reconciliation. He regularly directed others in the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, in various forms: in groups and in one-on-one individual direction. At North House, a former Jesuit residence in St. Louis, he contributed to the free tutoring for young boys needing academic assistance. He also cared steadfastly for every houseplant in Jesuit Hall.
Fr. Ong was active until the end of his life. His last article, "Digitization Ancient and Modern: Beginnings of Writing and Today's Computers," published in 1998 in Communication Research Trends, won the Media Ecology Association's Walter Benjamin Award for Outstanding Article in the Field of Media Ecology in 2000. Fr. Ong died in 2003.
Remembrances of Fr. Ong
August 19, 2003
John W. Padberg, S.J.
August 23, 2003
August 25, 2003
By Wolfgang Saxon
New York Times
Proceedings of the Media Ecology Association, Volume 6, 2005
By Sara van den Berg
Walter J. Ong Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow: A Special Centenary Forum
By Sara van den Berg et al.
Walter J. Ong, SJ, University Professor Emeritus, William E. Haren Professor Emeritus of English, and Professor Emeritus of Humanities in Psychiatry at Saint Louis University , is known for his work in Renaissance literary and intellectual history and in contemporary culture as well as for his more wide-ranging studies on the evolution of consciousness. His next to latest book, Hopkins, the Self, and God, Alexander Lectures at the University of Toronto (Toronto, Buffalo, London: University of Toronto Press, 1986; paperback, 1993), is a historical study of the nineteenth-century English Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, whose intense preoccupation with "inscape," the particular individuality of each individual existent, and especially with the most particular of particulars, the human self, was powered by both Victorian and recent Catholic concerns that aligned Hopkins with modem and postmodern poetry even before these movements got well under way. This book concerning Hopkins' profound thinking about the self is relevant to today's widespread studies on the origins and operation of human consciousness. The more recent four-volume Faith and Contexts (Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press, Vols. 1-3, 1992-1995; Vol. 4, 1999) is a selection of Ong's essays and studies from 1946 to 1999) edited by Thomas J. Farrell and Paul A. Soukup.
Professor Ong's Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word (London and New York: Methuen. 1982; after 1988, Routledge)--translated into twelve European and Asian languages--reviews the revolutionary new work on orality-literacy contrasts from ancient through present cultures, with attention to implications for structuralism, deconstruction, speech-act and reader-response theory, the teaching of reading and writing skills to males and to women, social studies, biblical studies, philosophy, and cultural history generally.
His next most recent book, Fighting for Life: Contest, Sexuality, and Consciousness (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1981), treats the functions of contest in human life, from sports through classroom teaching and political rhetoric, with reference to contest in infra-human animal existence, providing new insights into the complex biological settings of human intellectual and cultural activity , into sexual differences, and into the human quest for freedom.
A trilogy of earlier books, The Presence of the Word (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1967; paperback, University of Minnesota Press, 1981), Rhetoric, Romance, and Technology (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1971), and Interfaces of the Word (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1977; Cornell paperback, 1982), traces the alienation and reintegration of consciousness brought about through technological transformations of the word by writing, print, and electronics, and the effects of the transformations on oral tradition and literary forms, on thought processes, and on social structures and behavior .
Two preceding books by Professor Ong, In the Human Grain (New York: Macmillan, 1967) and The Barbarian Within (New York: Macmillan, 1962), are critical explorations of literature, contemporary culture, and religion. A briefer book, Why Talk? (San Francisco: Chandler and Sharp, 1973), presents a nontechnical discussion of the nature and history of language.
Professor Ong's earlier books on Renaissance intellectual history, Ramus, Method, and the Decay of Dialogue (Cambridge,Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1958; Harvard paperback, 1983) and Ramus and Talon Inventory (Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press, 1958), were the result of four years' research work in European universities and libraries, two of these years on a fellowship from the Guggenheim Foundation of New York. Subsequent research appointments have included a year (1973-74) as a Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences in Stanford, California.
Two other books of his treat the problems of contemporary human beings and society in relation to the American Catholic tradition: Frontiers in American Catholicism (New York: Macmillan, 1957; Macmillan Paperbacks, 1961) and American Catholic Crossroads (New York: Macmillan, 1959; Collier Books paperback, 1962), a Catholic Book Club selection. He has contributed to and edited the volume Darwin's Vision and Christian Perspectives (New York: MacMillan, 1960) as well as Knowledge and the Future of Man (New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1968).
He has edited other works and is the author also of numerous articles in literary and scholarly periodicals and also in popular magazines, in the United States, Canada, and England as well as in France, Germany, Italy, Latin America, and Japan, and of studies in the books Immortal Diamond, English Institute Essays, Problems of Communication in a Pluralistic Society, Literature and Belief, Religion in America, Education and Culture (Anthropological Approaches), Minority Language and Literature, etc. He is also the author of prefaces to books by others, numerous encyclopedia anicles, etc. Essays and studies of his have been reprinted in many anthologies, and books of his have been translated into many languages of Europe, the Near East, and East Asia.
Father Ong was a member of the National Council on the Humanities from 1968 through 1974 (Vice Chairman 1971-74) and served on the fourteen-person White House Task Force on Education which reported to President Johnson in 1967. He has served on the Advisory Board of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, has been Co-Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities' Committee on Science, Technology, and Human Values, and has been Chairman of the Board and President of the National Humanities Faculty. He served on the National Commission on the Humanities (1978-80) sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation. He has presented papers or served as resource person or seminar leader at the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions (Santa Barbara, California), the Aspen Institute for Humanistic Studies, the Wenner-Gren Conference Center for Anthropological Research at Burg Wartenstein, Austria, the 1968 World Student Christian Federation Conference in Turku (Finland), the Star Seminar of the Graphic Institute in Stockholm (Sweden), and other conferences. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Well known as a speaker across the United States and Canada and on national radio and television networks in the United States and abroad, Father Ong has lectured widely in Europe, particularly (in French) to university and other groups in Paris, Bordeaux, Toulouse, and at the Centre d'Etudes Superieures de la Renaissance at Tours (University of Poitiers), as well as in the Middle East, Central and West Africa, North Africa, East Asia, and Latin America. He has also lectured at the Georgetown Con- ference on the New Criticism and the Michigan State University Conference in Modern Literature, and has served as McDonald Lecturer at McGill University, Terry Lecturer at Yale University, Messenger Lecturer at Cornell University, Alexander Lecturer at the University of Toronto, Wolf son College Lecturer at Oxford University, Visiting Professor of English at the University of California, Fellow of the School of Letters at Indiana University , Berg Professor of English at New York University, Visiting Willett Professor in the Humanities at the University of Chicago, national Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar for 1969-70, and Lincoln Lecturer abroad for the Board of Foreign Scholarships 1974.
Walter Ong was born November 30, 1912, in Kansas City, Missouri, finished his undergraduate studies there at Rockhurst College and then worked in commercial positions for two years before entering the Society of Jesus (or Jesuit Order) in 1935. He did his studies in philosophy (PhL) and theology (STL) at Saint Louis University , and graduate studies in English at Saint Louis University (MA) and Harvard University (PhD). He is a member of Phi Beta Kappa and of Alpha Sigma Nu and holds many honorary degrees, one of the more recent from the University of Glasgow (Scotland).
He is also a member of the Renaissance Society of America, the Modern Language Association of America (President, 1978), the Modem Humanities Research Association, the American Catholic Commission on Intellectual and Cultural Affairs, the Cambridge (England) Bibliographical Society, etC. The French Government has named him Chevalier dans l'Ordre des Palmes Academiques. He has also served as a member of the editorial boards of various learned periodicals, as regional associate for the American Council of Learned Societies, President of the Central Renaissance Conference and of the Milton Society of America, member of various national committees of the Modem Language Association, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Council on Education, etc
For further information see Who's Who in America, Who's Who in the World, Who's Who in Government, Directory of American Scholars, Who's Who in the Midwest, Who's Who in American Education, The Blue Book (London), Author's and Writer's Who Who (London), Who's Who in Religion, American Catholic Who's Who, etc.