Father Fernando Picó Bauermeister, SJ, died June 27, 2017 at the Residencia San Ignacio, the Jesuit Community Residence in San Juan, Puerto Rico. He was 76 years old, a Jesuit for 57 years and a priest for 46 years.
One of the pre-eminent scholars of Puerto Rican history and a highly respected humanist, he was celebrated in a Mass of Christian Burial on Thursday, June 29, in the Chapel of the Colegio San Ignacio in San Juan.
He was remembered at a memorial service on Friday, June 30, at the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras Campus.
Dr. Picó was renowned for his research and documentation of Puerto Rican history, as well as for his work with the needy in the community, particularly in providing educational opportunities to prison inmates. He taught at the University of Puerto Rico for more than 40 years and is considered a leading researcher, author and academic.
He was born August 15, 1941, in Santurce, Puerto Rico, to Florencio Picó and Matilde Bauermeister Picó, who preceded him in death. His brother, Dr. Jose F. Picó, also died before him. He is survived by two sisters, Matilde Picó and Carmen Picó, a niece and his brothers in the Society of Jesus.
He was ordained to the priesthood on May 22, 1971 in Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico pronounced his final vows Sept.14, 1980, in Rio Piedras.
Father Picó was a member of the New York Province from his entrance in 1959 until the creation of the independent Region of Puerto Rico in 1987. While he was still in formation, Jesuit Fathers William Bangert and James Hennessey, both eminent historians of the Catholic Church and the Society of Jesus, noted his talent and encouraged him toward doctoral studies. His specialty was medieval French history, and he spent a year in Paris researching his dissertation. He appeared to be intended to teach medieval history for the rest of his life at the Rio Piedras campus of the University of Puerto Rico. However, while studying theology at Woodstock in the summer of 1970, he received an unexpected call from Fordham University.
The previous spring, the Puerto Rican undergraduates had occupied the office of the Fordham University president to voice their demand for a course in Puerto Rican history, and the university had promised to offer such a course. Two days before the start of the semester, the professor hired to teach the course had departed for another position. They needed a last-minute substitute. Picó agreed, “with all the reluctance and scruples that a recently graduated medieval historian could display.” What began as a challenge became a career path.
In his years at the University of Puerto Rico (UPR), Fr. Picó taught medieval and ancient history. But his specialty, indeed, his passion, was the history of Puerto Rico. Along with other UPR historians, he re-wrote the island’s history “from below.” His inspiration was the people of Puerto Rico, especially the forgotten, the overlooked, the victims of oppression or discrimination.
His output was prolific: over four decades he averaged a serious historical study every other year, in addition to numerous articles. His General History of Puerto Rico has gone though many editions and is considered a standard text in island university classes.
In 2010, the University of Puerto Rico honored him as “Distinguished Professor.” The citation recognized him as “the leading authority in the field of 19th century Island historiography, for his innovative projects, approaches, and methodologies” and cited his intellectual, academic, and moral contribution to the university.
The university also recognized his role as mediator in the lengthy UPR strike of 1981-82, about which he co-authored a history, Vallas Rotas (1982).
Fr. Picó had profound concern for the poor and marginalized. For ten years, he lived in the Jesuit novitiate in the Caimito neighborhood of San Juan, Puerto Rico, where he encountered a marginalized population. It was while in Caimito that he began to visit some of the young men whom he had known as teenagers, and who ended up in jail. This was the beginning of an educational project he established in various prisons, which included both high school equivalency programs and university studies. Some of the inmates left prison ready to finish their college education.
A further example of his generosity was his availability for ministry in the internal administration of the Society, serving as Superior of the Independent Region of Puerto Rico (1992-98).
Fr. Picó is a good role model of a Jesuit priest and scholar: a man dedicated to the intellectual apostolate and committed to the poor and marginalized.
He attended the Colegio San Ignacio, the Jesuit School in San Juan (1954-58). After graduation, he attended Spring Hill College in Mobile, Ala., for a year before entering the Society of Jesus on Aug. 14, 1959 at St. Andrew-on-Hudson in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. Following First Vows he studied humanities at St. Andrew and philosophy at Loyola Seminary in Shrub Oak, N.Y, earning a Master’s in history from Fordham University (1966). He did graduate studies at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md., and earned a Ph.D. in history (1968). He studied theology at Woodstock College in Woodstock, Md., and New York City, earning a Master’s degree (1972).