Terence Fay ’53, S.J., views the world through a historian’s lens. He has a deep appreciation for the verifiable – names, dates, locations – that was nurtured by his professors at Le Moyne and sustained throughout more than 50 years in academia. As a professor, scholar and author, Father Fay investigates the world around him impartially and without prejudice in order to reach balanced and thoughtful judgments.
Father Fay teaches courses in the history of religion at the Toronto School of Theology and St. Augustine’s Seminary and, until recently, the University of Saint Michael’s College. A longtime member of the Canadian Historical Association (CHA), he specializes in the history of Catholics in that nation. He has written four books focusing on them, including A History of Canadian Catholics: Gallicanism, Romanism, and Canadianism and New Faces of Canadian Catholics: The Asians. The latter examines how the church is evolving in Canada as more people of Filipino, Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean and Tamil descent immigrate to the country and join faith communities there.
For all of his passion for the subject, Father Fay did not initially plan on a career in the history of religion. He first studied engineering at Le Moyne. While it was an honorable profession that would have provided him with a secure future, he was not sure it was the right fit for him. He grew inspired by the “warm and welcoming atmosphere” he found on the Heights. Then one day a Jesuit mentor, Ray Kennedy, S.J., asked him: What is it that you want to do? When Father Fay expressed an interest in history, Father Kennedy encouraged him to pursue it. From that moment forward, Father Fay recalled, he wanted to be part of “a brotherhood that was committed to education.”
Father Fay joined the Society of Jesus in 1954, shortly after his graduation from Le Moyne and went on to earn a doctorate from Georgetown University. As a man of faith as well as a historian, he has thought carefully about how the fields of theology and history correlate to one another. He has found that it comes down to this: Historians focus on the specifics upon which theologians and philosophers later reflect. As a historian, Father Fay said he has witnessed the church being similarly reflective, as it becomes more focused on the pastoral, and he cited Pope Francis’ Year of Mercy as an example.
In 2014, the Canadian Catholic Historical Association presented Father Fay with its highest honor, the G.E. Clerk Award, which is given in recognition of “distinguished achievements as a teacher, editor, scholar and author.” He continues to conduct research on the late John Veltri, S.J., who devoted most of his life to conducting spiritual ministry in Canada and the United States, including in Syracuse.
This year, Father Fay will celebrate 50 years in priesthood and 63 years as a member of the Society of Jesus. As he reflects back on that time, he said that his greatest honor has been to “share an awareness of the love and peace of the Gospel message.”
“[I hope that] students today have the opportunity to discover in their personal experience the love of Jesus Christ and the truth of Gospel,” he said.