Father Antonine Severin Tibesar, O.F.M., editor emeritus of our journal, died on March 4 (1992) in San Antonio, Texas at the age of eighty-two.
Father Antonine was a man of tremendous energy and organizational ability who looked on obstacles as challenges all of his life. Born in Quincy, Illinois in 1909, he was received into the Franciscan order in 1927 and almost immediately showed the mixture of iconoclasm and intellectual curiosity which marked his life. As he related it in a 1988 interview, while in the minor seminary he became curious about the contents of a private library which had been received by the seminary and placed in a locked attic room. He snooped around and discovered a forgotten back entrance. Over a long period of time, he secretly explored the collection which he found contained a large number of books on church history including a history of the Franciscan Order by Heribert Holzapfel. That it was on the Index of Forbidden Books did not daunt him: “…we thought, why should the petty feuds of Capuchins and Conventuals bind us? Anyhow, we were too young to care” [TAm, XLIV:3 (January, 1988), p. 346]. It excited him tremendously so he showed it to a friend and together they went to work translating it into English at night when they were supposed to be asleep. The translation ultimately appeared in 1948 as Father Antonine’s first publication.
But Father Antonine’s questioning of authority and occasional resistance to it were only part of his makeup. He was a devout and obedient brother of St. Francis and had a great fondness for his confreres and their mission. It was ultimately those qualities which led him into the study of history and to the Academy of American Franciscan History. His original love was for languages, and he anticipated a life of teaching Latin. But after he was ordained a priest in 1934, his superior asked him to go to the Catholic University of America to obtain a degree in medieval history because the Order needed that skill. He readily agreed, receiving an M.A. in Medieval history in 1937. In 1942 when his superior asked him to return to CUA, this time to obtain a Ph.D. in Latin American history – a field in which he had no experience, and of whose languages he was totally ignorant – he again accepted the challenge and received his degree in 1950. His dissertation would become his first monograph, Franciscan Beginnings in Colonial Peru (AAFH, 1953).
Father Antonine’s amazing ability to accept and surmount challenges and an equally important trait – his ability to charm people – are vividly illustrated by his first trip to Peru. He left Washington in late 1944, as he remembered it, knowing how to read Spanish but knowing how to say little more than “Good Day”. With little money but fearless and with great curiosity, he embraced Lima, meeting and befriending many of the intellectual leaders of Peru at the time. He even undertook a trip into the Andes because he wanted to learn about Indians culture. As he recounted it, a penchant for wandering off the roads, and lack of money, frequently left him sleeping on the ground in a village hut at the end of the day. But to the end of his life, Father Antonine remembered with great love and respect the Andean culture he encountered on that journey. The project which he had in press in Peru when he died was a transcription with an introduction of the early seventeenth century Cathechism of Fray Geronimo de Ore which he much admired because it taught Christianity using Indian culture motifs.
Between 1948 and 1974, Father Antonine taught in the History department at the Catholic University of America. His most active period professionally encompassed the 1950s and 1960s during which he produced, along with the work already mentioned, two pioneering studies on the social history of the Church in the New World: “The Alternativa: a Study in Spanish-Creole Relations in Seventeenth Century Peru” [TAm, XI:3 (January 1955), 229-284]; and “The Lima Pastors, 1750-1820: Their Origins and Studies as Taken from Their Autobiographies,” [TAm, XXVIII:1 (July 1971), 39-56]. He also produced a four volume edition of the writings of Junipero Serra and took responsibility for the Latin American section of the New Catholic Encyclopedia. Between 1953 and 1964 and again, during the 1970s, he was director of the Academy of American Franciscan History. This responsibility involved him in major construction projects and the writing of numerous grant proposals, the most important of which was an NEH-funded effort to produce an index of all documents related to the United States in the archive of the Sacred Congregation of Propaganda Fide in Rome. A continuing project, this team effort has to-date produced eleven volumes and is a basic reference tool for all interested in the history of the Catholic Church in the United States. Father Antonine editorially supervised most of the Academy’s thirty-eight publications.
He was editor of this journal for eighteen years, from 1970 until 1988, and I had the good fortune to work with him from 1975 onward. Father Antonine took great pride in letting authors say what they wanted to say, the way they wanted to say it. He will be remembered particularly for his generosity and his willingness to help young scholars. I was one of those young scholars when I submitted my first article in 1975 and I remember the gentleness with which he treated my submission and suggested changes. He summed up his philosophy in a 1987 interview which we published on the occasion of his retirement as editor [TAm, XLIV:3 (January, 1988), 343-362]: “to those who have never had an article accepted, editors can appear so formidable. But Lanning used to remind me: if no one gives a first publication a chance, our journals will become the haven only of the few.”
After he “officially” retired from the faculty at CUA in 1974, Father Antonine continued to teach as a professor emeritus. He did it, not for money but because he loved working with students. He also continued to take an active part in the struggles of the Academy and of the journal until his true retirement in 1988. He made regular research trips to his beloved Peru and used the time to continue to collect friends as well as data. Although his sight was failing and his energy waning, he also loved to discuss future projects. At the end of his life, one of his most illuminating virtues was the lack of desire to look back. When we talked, generally over coffee, it was always about new or on-going projects. That none of these will see the light of day, and that the great store of knowledge and insight into the history of Peru which he possessed is now unavailable to us, leaves a profound sense of loss in all who knew him and worked with him. But, with all of his friends, I profited enormously from having known him, and while I will lament his passing, I will not forget the time we spent together.
Antonine Severin –> Joseph Nicholas –> Maximillian Tibesar and Mary Schleimer (Antonine’s lineage is incomplete)