Zahm, John Augustine

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Educator, apologist, and author of important studies on the relationship between science and religion, particularly the question of evolution; b. New Lexington, Ohio, June 14, 1851; d. Munich, Germany, Nov. 11, 1921. His father, Jacob M. Zahm, had immigrated to the U.S. from Oldsberg, Alsace; his Pennsylvania-born mother, Mary Ellen Zahm, was the grandniece of Maj. Gen. Edward Braddock. John's early education included formal schooling in a small Ohio log school and at SS. Peter and Paul School, Huntington, Ind. In 1867 he entered the University of Notre Dame, Ind., and received his A.B. (1871) and M.A. (1873) degrees. He joined the Congregation of Holy Cross and was ordained in 1875, along with Daniel Hudson, CSC, future editor of the Ave Maria magazine. From 1875 to 1892 Zahm served at Notre Dame as a professor of physics and held several administrative offices. His campus projects included the construction of a science building with the latest equipment for chemistry and physics. Through his efforts, Notre Dame became the first American college campus to be lighted by electricity and the first American Catholic college to abandon the dormitory system and inaugurate private residence halls. His first book, Sound and Music (1892), terminated his active interest in the physical sciences.

In 1892 he began writing on the relationship of Catholic dogma to modern science. Like St. George mivart, he believed that theistic evolution, i.e., that God created the universe in potentia rather than in actu, was a distinct possibility. Zahm lectured on the theme of science and religion at the Catholic Summer School at Plattsburg, N.Y. (1893); the Brussels International Catholic Scientific Congress (1894); the Colombian Catholic Summer School at Madison, Wis. (1895); the Winter School at New Orleans, La. (1896); and at the Fribourg International Catholic Scientific Congress, Switzerland (1897). His essays in the religious and secular press and his books, notably, Bible, Science and Faith (1894) and Evolution and Dogma (1896), continued the theme that no conflict should exist between science and Catholicism. The latter book was prohibited by the Congregation of the Index in 1898 during the tense months of the americanism controversy.

As U.S. provincial of the Congregation of Holy Cross (18981906) and through his association with Abp. John ireland and Bps. John keane and Denis o'connell, Zahm succeeded in preparing a community of scholarly priests and resources at the University of Notre Dame and at Holy Cross College, adjacent to the Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C. After 1906 he took two extended trips through the interior of South America, the second one with former President Theodore Roosevelt. Zahm's triology, Following the Conquistadores (1910, 1911, 1916), recounted his trips, South American history, and the Catholic contributions to its culture. Three additional books, Woman in Science (1913), Great Inspirers (1917), and The Quest of El Dorado (1917), were completed during these years. He died while completing the manuscript of his last book, From Berlin to Bagdad and Babylon (1922).

Bibliography: r. e. weber, Notre Dame's John Zahm (South Bend, Ind. 1961). t. t. mcavoy, The Great Crisis in American Catholic History, 18951900 (Chicago 1957). a. j. hope, Notre Dame: One Hundred Years (South Bend, Ind. 1943). j. a. o'brien, Evolution and Religion (New York 1932). t. f. o'connor, "John A. Zahm, C.S.C.: Scientist and Americanist," Americas 7 (1951) 435462.

[r. e. weber]