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W. Charles Heiser, S.J.: 1922-2017


Longtime SLU librarian W. Charles Heiser, S.J., died on Friday, Sept. 15, 2017, in St. Louis. He was 95, a Jesuit for 77 years and a priest for 64 years.

W. Charles Heiser, S.J.
W. Charles Heiser, S.J.

Remembered by his fellow Jesuits as a deeply spiritual man, Heiser’s life will be celebrated in a Mass of Christian Burial at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 26, at St. Francis Xavier College Church. in St. Louis. Visitation will be immediately beforehand at 6 p.m. at the church. Burial will be the following day.

Heiser was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on March 16, 1922. His brother, John, and sister, Ruth Zinkl, also preceded him in death. He is survived by his brother, William.

He entered the Society of Jesus at St. Stanislaus Seminary in Florissant, Missouri, on Sept. 1, 1940. Following First Vows, he studied philosophy at Saint Louis University, earning bachelor’s degrees in Latin, Greek and English and a master’s and licentiate in Latin and Greek.

He taught for three years at St. Louis University High School from 1947 to 1950 before studying theology at St. Mary’s College in St. Marys, Kansas, where he earned the licentiate in sacred theology in 1955.

Heiser was ordained on June 17, 1953, at St. Mary’s College. He pronounced his final vows on Feb. 3, 1958, also in St. Marys.

He earned a master’s degree in library science from Catholic University in Washington, DC, in 1959.

Heiser’s lifelong ministry was as librarian, beginning at the Jesuit theologate at St. Mary’s from 1955 to 1967. When that course of studies was moved to SLU, Heiser ensured the continued excellence of the Divinity Library. Once the Saint Louis University Divinity School closed, he became a librarian at SLU and continued in the role until he retired in 2011.

Ron Crown, professor and theological studies librarian in the Pius XII Memorial Library, shared an office with Heiser for eight years.

"He was obviously very well educated, as expected for a Jesuit," Crown recalled. "He was very intelligent, he read several languages." Heiser's knowledge of languages helped him build a research-level theology research collection in French, German, Italian and Spanish in addition to English-language texts. "He built a tremendous theology collection, noted by many as one of the strongest in the Midwest."

Heiser oversaw the transfer of St. Marys' Library to SLU and helped grow the SLU grow its resources by donating review copies he received for compiling the Theology Digest's book survey. The survey, according to Crown, included an average of 200 books per issue. At four issues a year, Heiser was scanning, reading - and donating hundreds of books." He had broad tastes in scholarly reading and particular strengths in Catholic theology and history, hagiography and liturgy.

Crown also noted that Heiser had a rare quality to his voice that became a hallmark.

"He had a very stentorian [robust] voice," Crown said. "He could be heard all over the library."

Heiser was regarded as highly skilled and dedicated to the work of library science. When he celebrated his 50th anniversary as a Jesuit, Fr. General Peter Hans Kolvenbach, S.J., wrote, “[i]n both your professional expertise and in your gifts of personality and spirit you have gifted your brother Jesuits in many diverse ways.”

Memorial gifts may be made to the USA Central and Southern Province of the Society of Jesus at 4511 West Pine Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63108 or online at