Jesuit Mission USF history

History of the Sciences: The President's Commitment

The college president committed his school to offer students one of the premier science programs in the nation. Joseph Bayma, S.J., the president of St. Ignatius College from 1869 to 1873 and a world-renowned mathematician and scientist, lived to see that commitment realized when the U.S. Bureau of Education rated St. Ignatius College in the top 120 of 500 colleges in the nation in the teaching of chemistry and physics during the decade from 1870 to 1880.

Joseph Bayma President of St. Ignatius College 1869-1873

Joseph Bayma, S.J., a highly-acclaimed mathematician and scientist, served as the president of St. Ignatius College from 1869 to 1873. In addition to expanding the school’s science program, he taught at the college until 1880 and published some of the most important scientific and mathematics books and papers of the mid-19th century.

Joseph Bayma was born in 1816 in the small Italian town of Cirie, 12 miles from Turin. He joined the Jesuits at age 16, and was a brilliant mathematics student at Italy’s Royal University. He also published poetry and became an accomplished musician on the piano and the organ. During a period of anti-Jesuit violence associated with the revolution of 1848, Fr. Bayma, along with many other Jesuits, had to flee the Italian states. After his departure, Fr. Bayma served as a missionary in Algiers, North Africa. He returned to a less violent Italy in 1850 to direct a seminary in Rome, and he was sent to England in 1858 to chair the department of rational philosophy at the Jesuit school at Stonyhurst. While teaching at Stonyhurst, his book, Elements of Molecular Mechanics , was published by Cambridge University Press. The book received glowing reviews by the Royal Society of London (England’s Academy of Sciences), and became the definitive text of its era on the subject of forces, atoms, and molecules. In 1863, one of Fr. Bayma’s papers was read before the Royal Society of London, and in 1869, he had four research papers published in the prestigious journal Philosophical Transactions. In that same year, the Superior General of the Jesuits sent this active and creative scientist to San Francisco to become the rector and president of St. Ignatius College. He was the fourth European Jesuit to hold that position, following Antonio Maraschi, S.J., the institution’s founding president, and his two immediate successors, Nicolas Congiato, S.J., and Burchard Villiger, S.J.

In his new position as head of a small college in the unruly frontier city of San Francisco, Fr. Bayma went to work raising the school’s academic standards, purchasing more scientific equipment, and designing a new three-story building to provide greater space for a burgeoning science program. The new building was finished in 1870, and was described in that year’s college catalogue:

A substantial three-story building has been erected this year. It is entered from Jessie Street and contains sixteen schoolrooms, besides a chapel, audience hall, reception-rooms, chemical laboratory, assaying office, and museum of mineralogy and natural philosophy. The scientific department is furnished with a very extensive and choice collection of apparatus manufactured to order in Paris, and with all that is necessary for the most complicated manipulation and analysis.

St. Ignatius Church and College in 1870s

St. Ignatius Church and College as it appeared in the early 1870s, shortly after completion of a new science building (on the left side of this image). The science building was connected to the main college building, which was erected on Market Street in 1862. This view is from the east side of the building. The cross on top of St. Ignatius Church looks directly down on Market Street.

After stepping down from the presidency of St. Ignatius College in 1872, Fr. Bayma continued to teach mathematics at the school until 1880, and published a series of mathematic textbooks. His book, Cycloidal Functions , on the mathematics of curves, circles, and arches, was displayed at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. When Fr. Bayma’s health began to fail in 1880, his superiors sent him to the warmer climate of Santa Clara to recover. He continued to teach mathematics at Santa Clara College until a few days before his death in 1892.

First Museum of Natural History at St. Ignatius College

The first museum of natural history at St. Ignatius College included a collection of minerals and Native American artifacts, given to the school by Joseph Donohue in 1875.

Joseph Bayma, S.J., is in the tradition of many great Jesuit scientists, mathematicians, and teachers who made enormous contributions to world scholarship and service. These earlier individuals included Christopher Clavius, S.J. (1538–1612), considered one of the most influential mathematicians of the Renaissance, who was the inventor of the Gregorian Calendar still used today and a superb astronomer who greatly influenced Galileo. His papers were described in the earliest editions of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, and his commentary on Euclidean geometry became the standard textbook on the topic in the 17th century. Matteo Ricci, S.J. (1552–1610), brought Western mathematical and astronomical concepts and scientific instruments to China, became the first court mathematician in Peking, translated Fr. Clavius’ works into Chinese, and published the first comprehensive maps of China available in Europe. Jose de Acosta, S.J. (1540–1600), a pioneer in geophysical sciences and meteorology, provided the first detailed description of the geography and culture of Latin America, made scientific observations of volcanoes and earthquakes, and analyzed altitude sickness in the Andes Mountains. Nicolas Zucchi, S.J. (1586–1670), made ground-breaking contributions to the use of the reflecting telescope and served as a papal legate to the court of Emperor Ferdinand II, where he developed a long-term scientific correspondence with Johannes Kepler, the originator of the heliocentric theory of the solar system. Roger Joseph Boscovich, S.J. (1711–1787), was a physicist, astronomer, and philosopher who developed the first coherent description of atomic theory. His work, Theoria Philosophiae Naturalis , argued that the ultimate elements of matter were “atoms,” which contained centers of force. His book appeared more than a century before the birth of modern atomic theory. Honoré Fabri, S.J. (1607–1688), developed post-calculus geometry, and wrote more than 30 treatises on a wide range of subjects: the heliocentric theory of the solar system, Saturn’s rings, tidal phenomena based on the actions of the moon, magnetism, and optics. Much of his work was described in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Francesco Lana-Terzi, S.J. (1607–1688), is considered by many to be the father of aeronautics. His descriptions of potential flight were based on mathematical calculations and principles of physics, and were translated into several languages, discussed by European scientists for a century, and underpinned the development of the first successful flight of a hot-air balloon in 1783. Juan Molina, S.J. (1740–1829), was a pioneer in the study of botany, drawing upon his study of Chilean history, culture, plants, and geography. He was later appointed professor of natural sciences at the Institute of Bologna, where he perfected scientific observation and wrote about what he called nature’s three kingdoms: animal, mineral, and vegetable.

In honor of the scientific legacy of the Jesuits, 35 lunar craters are named after Jesuit scientists. This Jesuit scientific tradition is alive and well today at the University of San Francisco, where it is reflected both in the science offerings of the university and in the institution’s Vision, Mission, and Values Statement: “Excellence as the standard for teaching, scholarship, creative expression and service to the University community.”


The life and times of Joseph Bayma, S.J., are described in The First Half Century: St. Ignatius Church and College, by Joseph Riordan, S.J., (pages 165 and 190); in Jesuits by the Golden Gate: the Society of Jesus in San Francisco, 1849-1969 by John McGloin. S.J., (page 28); in “Chemistry at the University of San Francisco, 1863–1906,” by Mel Gorman, in the Journal of Chemical Education, Vol. 41, November, 1964, (page 628); and in USF archives file RG1, Box 27, courtesy of Michael Kotlanger, S.J., USF’s archivist. An overview of prominent Jesuit scientists can be found at

Alan Ziajka, Ph.D.
Associate Vice Provost for Academic Affairs and University Historian