Fr. Andrew “Andy” P. Whitman died Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2015 at a hospital in Lafayette, La., after spending the evening out with family.
He was 88, a Jesuit for 63 years and a priest for 51 years.
He was born Feb. 28, 1926 in Detroit and entered the Society of Jesus on July 1, 1951 at St. Charles College in Grand Coteau, La. He was ordained in June 1963.
He earned a degree in civil engineering from Tulane University in New Orleans in 1945, and a master’s degree and doctorate in math from Catholic University in Washington, D.C. in 1958 and ’61 respectively. He also earned a license in sacred theology from Woodstock College in 1964.
He spent his Jesuit career as an academic, researcher and research scientist. He started out teaching and leading a department at Loyola University New Orleans in the late 1960s. He also taught at the University of Houston from 1967 to 1974 and was a visiting professor, and later, an associate professor at Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil from 1974 to 1988.
In 1963, Whitman co-founded the Clavius Group to bring together lay and religious mathematicians in the summer for a community of research in the context of faith. The group took its name from Christopher Clavius, the 16th century German Jesuit mathematician and astronomer who modified the proposal of the modern Gregorian calendar that we still follow today.
Whitman's involvement with the group reflects his lifelong dedication to linking mathematics and faith.
"If this does not seem too exaggerated," he wrote in 2003; "my mathematics that I do is a prayer. One faces naked and beautiful truth when he does mathematics. One cannot win in this game by banging the table, or claiming the wisdom of old age, or pretending. Either your logic works and can be acknowledged by others or it does not. And when it does, say after a proof that carries through several pages, you are in the presence of the Divine."
The Jesuit mathematician was an adjunct researcher at the Vatican Observatory in Tucson, Ariz., from 1982 to 1998, and lectured in math at College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., from ’89 to ’96.
Whitman's research evolved around the topic of differential geometry, which studies geometric properties with the tools of calculus (differential and integral calculus). This is useful in particular when dealing with geometrical properties that go beyond the type of geometry that we all know, Euclidean geometry which deals with uniform geometrical properties of objects that can be described by points, lines, and planes. But in order to deal with geometrical objects, such as surfaces, that have curves (curvature), not corners, a completely different type of geometry is needed, differential geometry. During his time at the Observatory, his interest in such geometry was focused on one aspect of differential geometry, called Riemannian geometry, which is used in relativity theory to study the curvature of space-time. In later years, his interest went in the direction of Lie Algebra, which studies sets of curved spaces.
He was a research scientist and mathematician at the Vatican Observatory in Tucson from 1998 to 2010.
In 2011, Pope Benedict XVI awarded him the Holy Cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice, a special honor given for distinguished service to the Church.
In his later years, he was a mathematician and writer at St. Charles College and a writer in residence in New Orleans and Grand Coteau.
The funeral Mass will be celebrated Jan. 17 in the main chapel at St. Charles College in Grand Coteau, La.