A Memorial Jonathan Peale Bishop

Jonathan Peale Bishop ObitUary

January 2010

Jonathan Bishop, a long-time resident of Kendal at Ithaca, died peacefully on the evening of 22 January, while reading in bed. Born in Paris on 27 October 1927, the child of a noted American poet (John Peale Bishop) and a mid-western heiress (Margaret Hutchins Bishop), Jonathan had all the advantages and opportunities of a privileged upbringing. He was educated at Middlesex School and entered Harvard University in 1944. In 1946 Jonathan volunteered for US Army and, after training as a medical technician, served as a technician on a troop ship traveling between San Francisco and various Asian cities, carrying refugees to the United States and finally around the world to Germany and New York where he was discharged. The experience left him with a life-long interest in military and naval affairs. Nevertheless Jonathan was a profoundly peaceful man. His real interests lay not in material things but in a life devoted to study and assisting people less fortunate than he.

Jonathan completed his undergraduate and graduate studies at Harvard, earning a PhD in English in 1956. In 1948 he married a Radcliffe graduate, Alison Lurie, and embarked on an academic career. Early appointments at Amherst College (1954-7) and UCLA (1957-61) were followed by many productive years in the Department of English at Cornell University. During his tenure at Cornell, Professor Bishop’s writing and teaching focused on American literature and the Bible as literature. His books include “Emerson on the Soul” (1964), “Something Else” (1972), “Who is Who” (1975) and “Covenant: A Reading” (1983). Jonathan’s last book, “In Time” (1999), brought together his interests in religion and self-expression, exploring concepts of timeliness, timelessness and immortality in modern poetry and the Bible.

In addition to his own studies and teaching, Prof. Bishop was intensely interested in helping young people to express themselves in writing, a cause to which he dedicated considerable energy and creativity as co-founder and eventually Director of the Cornell Freshman Seminar Program, a required course for around 3,000 new students every year. Professor Bishop also played an active role in the political life of Cornell, especially during the tumultuous years of the 1960s and 70s, when he joined others in efforts to heal racial tensions on campus and calling for an end to the Vietnam War, and helping to re-define the role of religion in the university. Jonathan also became increasingly interested in religion, teaching courses and writing several books on themes from the Christian New Testament. He was a long-time member of the Cornell Catholic Community and an enthusiastic volunteer in several local charities, including the Ithaca community kitchen “Loaves & Fishes”, as well as offering religious counselling to people in prison and retirement homes. Following his retirement and appointment as Professor Emeritus in the Department of English at Cornell, Jonathan devoted himself full-time to independent study and volunteer work and also enjoyed walking. He walked along Beebe Lake to and from work every day for about 30 years. Towards the end of his life, one of his favorite past-times was rambling in the woods around Kendal. Jonathan was also a generous contributor to charity; donations are encouraged to Loaves & Fishes (210 North Cayuga St., Ithaca, NY, 14850; www.loaves.org/), where he volunteered for many years.

Jonathan is survived by his brother, Robert Bishop, his sons, John, Jeremiah and Joshua Bishop, and grandchildren, Wells, Susanna and Jonathan A. Bishop, currently a student at Cornell.


Jonathan Peale Bishop 1927-2010