In memoriam: Rev. Dr William R. Stoeger SJ


William Stoeger SJ, who was a doctoral student of St Edmund’s House, 1973 – 76, died in Los Gatos, California on 24 March 2014, after a battle with aggressive prostate cancer. In 1967 Bill completed a bachelor’s degree in philosophy at Spring Hill College, Mobile, Alabama, following which he was awarded an MSc in physics from the University of California, Los Angeles. In 1972 he completed a Master’s in Sacred Theology at the Jesuit School of Theology, Berkeley, California, and he was ordained a Jesuit priest the same year.

Bill arrived at St Edmund’s House in October 1973 to pursue doctoral studies in Stephen Hawking’s group at the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics. His doctoral supervisor was Martin Rees (later Lord Rees of Ludlow, and Astronomer Royal). Bill worked for 40 years on the astronomical implications of Einstein’s general theory of relativity. After Cambridge, where his PhD was awarded in 1976, he worked in the theoretical gravitational physics group at the University of Maryland. In 1976 he joined the staff of the Vatican Observatory, working in the papal residence at Castelgandolfo, and at the observatory in Tucson, Arizona.

His interests ranged very widely: the physics of black holes, mathematical issues in general relativity and theoretical cosmology, and the origin of the universe. He published over 100 papers in astronomical journals. The breadth of his research extended to philosophical issues in science and religion, and he wrote on critical realism in science and theology. While at St Edmund’s, Bill, together with Martin Rees and two others, made a very great discovery when they showed how a supermassive black hole at the centre of an active galaxy could produce stupendous amounts of energy in a spinning disc of matter surrounding the black hole. This caused a transformation in the emerging discipline of high-energy astrophysics.

Simon Mitton
Life Fellow, St Edmund’s College