Lammert (Bert) Otten, SJ
Father Bert Otten, SJ, celebrates 70 years as a Jesuit, having entered the Society of Jesus in 1953. He has served as a technology consultant in Monze, Zambia, since 2005.
Father Otten has devoted most of his active ministry to the sciences, with a particular focus in electrical engineering. He began this ministry in 1959 by teaching physics and mathematics at Rockhurst High School in Kansas City, Missouri.
He taught electrical engineering at Saint Louis University from 1967 to 1970 and at the University of Missouri from 1970 to 1973.
After that, Fr. Otten was assigned to the Vatican Observatory in Rome to serve as a technical assistant. During this time, he also worked as an instrumentation designer at the University of Arizona’s Lunar & Planetary Lab.
Father Otten returned to teaching electrical engineering at Rockhurst University in Kansas City, Missouri, from 1975 to 1977. From 1977 to 1983, he engaged in pastoral ministries in St. Louis, overseeing the Jesuits in residence.
In 1983, Fr. Otten moved to Seattle University in Washington to once again teach electrical engineering. In 1990, he took a brief sabbatical to help with research at the Vatican Observatory’s Tucson, Arizona, branch. He returned to Seattle University the following year.
In 1994, he moved to Zambia, where he worked at the Kasisi Agricultural Training Center in Lusaka. He returned to teach electrical engineering at Seattle University from 1996 to 2001 and from 2002 to 2005, then returned to Zambia, where he has been a technology consultant for the Diocese of Monze.
Father Otten earned his bachelor’s in philosophy and letters from Saint Louis University. He also received Licentiates in Sacred Theology and Philosophy from SLU, as well as his bachelor’s in electrical engineering. He earned a Master of Electric Engineering degree from the Catholic University of America and a doctorate in electrical engineering from the University of Missouri.
Father Otten’s Reflection on 70 Years as a Jesuit
In reflecting on my 70 years as a Jesuit, gratitude is the first thing that pops into my mind. I thank God for the gift of life that I have received. There is gratitude for my family, friends during the grade school, high school, and university periods of my life before I entered the Society. They all prepared me to receive a good bit of the richness that my life as a Jesuit has offered to me.
Three ingredients running through my life were planted within me before entering. One was a Catholic spirituality from family, St. Engelbert’s Parish, and Jesuit spirituality from my high school and university experiences. Another was a fascination with the way natural things worked. There was my basement lab with crystal sets, carbide cannons, etc., and my love of the outdoors and hiking, fishing and spelunking. The third was working with underprivileged children in Community Chest-aided summer camps.
Entering the Society of Jesus with an idea of “going to the Missions” brought new and varied friends from different parts of the country and world, new opportunities for learning about God’s amazing and puzzling creation, opportunities to share knowledge, opportunities to help people experience a fuller life, and much more.
Most of my apostolic life has been in education. It is wonderful to see the expression on a person’s face when they come to understand a principle of physics or engineering, get a circuit or device to finally work, or design/create something new. In a similar way, it is a joy to watch people in a remote Zambian village realize that they have the solar pumping of borehole water for house and vegetable gardens and electric lighting in their homes. And your diocesan team has made it possible!
Another source of joy has been presiding when a believing community comes together to celebrate the Eucharist for some special event. There is also the privileged experience of being present during a retreat or the Sacrament of Reconciliation to see a person come to terms with himself, with others, and with God. It is fascinating, too, for an old-timer to observe how the new generation which is taking over addresses the perennial challenges that he has faced.
As a bonus, I have been able to sail boats in the Midwest and off Martha’s Vineyard, backpack in Colorado, the Northwest U.S., and Canada. I have walked a half dozen 14,000-foot Colorado mountains, snorkeled the Belize Barrier Reef, and scuba dived in the Gulf of California. I have observed stars with a telescope on a volcanic mountain in Hawaii and seen the history and art of Rome and Italy because of engineering work with the Vatican Observatory.
I consider myself an average fellow with very above average opportunities. As with any average person, there have been ups and downs with challenges and struggles within and without.
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
~ Bert Otten, SJ
11 June 2023