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William P. O'Brien, SJ

Assistant Professor of Christian Spirituality

My doctoral work consisted primarily of a rhetorical study of the sermons of Jesuit preacher Claude La Colombière (164182). That thesis, which I defended in June 2008 at the University of Paris-IV (Paris-Sorbonne), provided the basis for a theological study that I structured using the method of Bernard Lonergan. I presented this latter thesis at the Jesuit faculties of Paris (Centre Sèvres) in December 2008 for the ecclesiastical doctorate (STD). The faculty of theology granted me that degree after I submitted to them a thesis excerpt that had been published as "Une manière de prêcher," Archivum 157, no. 1 (2010): 127–72. My translated edition of selected sermons of Fr. La Colombière has since appeared as Sermons, Vol. I: Christian Conduct (DeKalb: Northern Illinois, 2014).


Currently, my research interests fall into two general areas. The first concerns the life and writings of Visitandine nun and mystic Margaret Mary Alacoque (1647–90). Margaret Mary received spiritual counsel from Fr. La Colombière, who in turn authenticated her visions of Jesus the Sacred Heart and so helped her to promote devotion to the heart of Christ. I am in the process of translating the critical edition of her works, Vie et œuvres de Sainte Marguerite-Marie, 2 vols. (Paris: Éditions Saint-Paul, 1990–91), into English while preparing a monograph that examines how her life and religious experiences relate to the development of modern Catholic spirituality and theology.


The second area of research interest uses the sign theory of American logician and scientist Charles S. Peirce (1839–1914) to interpret both (1) the realities of the Christian faith, and (2) attempts to conceive those realities. For an example of my work in this field, please see "The Eucharistic Species in Light of Peirce's Sign Theory," Theological Studies 75, no. 1 (March 2014): 74–93The larger project enlists Peirce's thought in order to connect theology with STEM and other disciplines beyond the humanities and social sciences.