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August 17, 1925, to
November 23, 2011
Fr. Theodore C. Thepe, SJ, avid photographer and chemistry professor for 50 years died on November 23, 2011, in Clarkston, Michigan. Fr. Thepe was born to Theodore and Mary (Gailbraith) Thepe in Cincinnati, Ohio, on August 17, 1924.
After graduating from St. Xavier High School in 1942, Fr. Thepe joined the Society of Jesus in Milford, Ohio. Following two years at the novitiate, he received various degrees including a B.A. from Loyola University Chicago in Latin (1946-1947), philosophy and theology degrees from West Baden College (1946-1979 and 1952-1956) in West Baden, Indiana, and an M.S. in Chemistry from John Carroll University in Cleveland, Ohio (1958-1961). Chemistry would prove to be a passion that would continue for the remainder of Fr. Thepe’s life. “A great teacher and a great love for science was obvious,” said former student Anne Leugers of Midland, Michigan. Fr. Thepe was ordained on June 15, 1955.
Fr. Thepe began his first assignment at Loyola Academy in Wilmette, Illinois, where he taught physics and geometry from 1949-1958. Beginning in 1961, he began a long career at Xavier University (XU) that would last 50 years and allow him to impact the lives of many students. Fr. Thepe taught both chemistry and photography during his years at XU. On the university’s website, a tribute written in Fr. Thepe’s honor explained, “Thepe was popular with students and maintained friendships with them long after they left his classes. He was known for his classes on radioactivity in the 1950s and 1960s when it was a new science.”
A self-taught photographer, Fr. Thepe’s enthusiasm for photography began at age four and would also become a part of his career at XU. Known as the “camera man,” Fr. Thepe embraced the digital age while still remaining loyal to his traditional film cameras. In an interview with Fr. Thepe in the summer 2009 issue of Xavier Magazine, he described how his love for photography began, “My uncle loved photography. Uncle Clement had no children, and he treated me like a son. He took photos of every family event, and he gave me the camera when he died. It was important to me because he did it and enjoyed it and because I could represent people at events, even to be able to find sunlight and shadows that made sense to me.” (For more from this article and others about Fr. Thepe, click here.) His favorite subjects included flowers and Xavier’s women’s basketball team.
Fr. Thepe remained at Xavier University until his retirement in 2010. Today, he is fondly remembered by his former students. In an online tribute one student wrote, “It was a joy to have you as my professor at Xavier. I loved learning about photography from you and have never forgotten you or your class.”
Memorial gifts may be made to The Jesuits, 2050 N. Clark Street, Chicago, Illinois 60614.
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