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John Augustine Zahm

John Augustine Zahm

Holy Cross priest, author, scientist, and South American explorer
The basics
Quick Facts
Intro Holy Cross priest, author, scientist, and South American explorer
A.K.A. Father Zahm, H. J. Mozans, Father John Augustine Zahm, CSC
Countries United States of America
Occupations Explorer Catholic priest Writer Educator
Gender male
Birth 11 June 1851 (New Lexington, Perry County, Ohio, U.S.A.)
Death 10 November 1921 (Munich, Upper Bavaria, Bavaria, Germany)
Star sign Gemini
Education University of Notre Dame
The details

Father John Augustine Zahm (pseudonym H. J. Mozans), CSC (June 14, 1851 – November 10, 1921) was a Holy Cross priest, author, scientist, and South American explorer. He was born at New Lexington, Ohio, and died in Munich, Germany.

Education and Career

Zahm attended the University of Notre Dame in 1867 and graduated with honors in 1871 as a Novitiate of the Congregation of the Holy Cross. He finished his theological studies and was ordained in 1875. Zahm was hired by the University of Notre Dame as a science teacher although he had interest in literature. During his time teaching he wrote the text Sound and Music in 1892. He was appointed the Vice President of Notre Dame at 25 years old and held the position for nine years. In 1895, he was recognized as Dr. of Philosophy by Pope Leo XIII. He went on to fill various positions in the Congregation, at one time being a provincial from 1898 to 1906 and served as Procurator General for the Congregation of the Holy Cross. Zahm became a leader in the drive to pacify the tensions between Roman Catholicism and Darwinian biology, and became well known in the Catholic arena as he was asked to speak in many Catholic Winter and Summer School lectures. His lectures concerning Genesis can be found in a volume called Bible, Science and Faith.


Father Zahm is the author of many scholarly texts and published works against the Darwin movement. He also wrote Catholic scientific essays published in Ave Maria and American Catholic Quarterly Catholic World. He fought through writing and used his detailed background in science to defend the ability of God and Catholic faith to remain in the scientific sphere. Focusing on Catholic men of science in the past, Zahm created a magazine called Catholic Science and Catholic Scientists. Between 1891 and 1896, Zahm published multiple books and articles on the topic, culminating with Evolution and Dogma in 1896. In this text, as in his others, Zahm argued that Roman Catholicism could fully accept an evolutionary view of biological systems, as long as this view was not centered around Darwin's theory of natural selection. After the Vatican decided to censure the book in 1898, Zahm fully accepted this rebuttal and pulled away from any writing concerning the relationship of theology and science. He was the author (sometimes under the pseudonym of H. J. Mozans), of a number of books covering a large variety of subjects. He wanted to keep his identity as a secret for the fear of his works being cast away if his Catholic priestly identity was associated with them. His pseudonym was derived from the way he signed his name as a youth: Jno. S. (Stanislaus, an abandoned middle name) Zahm. His works have been translated into French, Italian, Spanish, and read in Europe, North and South America. Among these works are: Woman in Science (not to be confused with the plural phrase 'women in science'), and "Great Inspirers" Both of these works were some of the first in exposing the idea that woman can be involved in the sciences and have been in past history. Through these works, Zahm defied beliefs that women were incapable and divinely appointed to not interfere with science. The Quest for El Dorado, and the general title of his trilogy was "Following the Conquistadores", and the titles of books called "Up the Orinoco and Down the Magdalena" (1910), "Along the Andes and Down the Amazon" (1912), and "In South America's Southland" (1916), draw from his travels throughout South America.

He was an enthusiastic Dante student and assembled at Notre Dame one of the three largest of the Dante libraries in America.

Presidential Friend

Zahm befriended 26th President of the United States Theodore Roosevelt, who also loved and read Dante in Italian. It was Father Zahm who talked President Roosevelt into participating in what came to be known as the Roosevelt-Rondon Scientific Expedition to South America, and which would also include Theodore's son, Kermit, and Colonel Da Silva Candido Rondon, to go up the Rio da Dúvida (River of Doubt, now the Roosevelt River). This trip deteriorated into a near disaster which caused one man to drown, another to be murdered, and Roosevelt nearly dying, shortening his life by probably ten years from the combined effects of malaria and infection. The trip almost cost the others their lives as well, as the members lost boats to waterfalls and rapids and almost ran out of food. They barely made it to the first sign of civilization and some certainty that they would survive. The elder Roosevelt had to be carried off his canoe, so weak and ravaged by sickness had he become.

Zahm unwisely delegated planning and provisioning of the trip, and so irritated Roosevelt and Rondon that he was not permitted to go on the expedition itself, but took a side trip instead. Throughout his life he collected maps, photographs, relics, and curios which were added to the valuable collection of fifteen hundred volumes of South American history and research work at Notre Dame.

Death & Post Death

He planned a book on historical and archaeological study of the Holy Land, but died of bronchial pneumonia in a Munich hospital en route to the Middle East. The manuscripts of his working book "From Berlin to Baghdad and Babylon" was found and published posthumously.

Zahm Hall, a male dormitory at Notre Dame, is dedicated in his honor. The dorm's chapel is dedicated to St. Albert the Great, who Fr. Zahm saw as a pioneer in bridging the gap between science and religion.

Works authored

The contents of this page are sourced from Wikipedia article. The contents are available under the CC BY-SA 4.0 license.
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