Science Professor Mourned

Professors and Former Students Remember Brother Lawless


Published: April 3, 2008

Brother DeSales Lawless, C.F.X, the first chairman of the department of natural sciences at Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC), died Feb. 29. He was 87 years old and had retired to his hometown of Louisville, Ky. at the time of his death.

Lawless began the department of natural sciences at Fordham, originally the department of science and mathematics, as well as FCLC’s pre-medical program in 1969. A professor at FCLC for 34 years, Lawless was the first science faculty member to join FCLC.

The Rev. Robert R. Grimes, S.J., dean of FCLC, said, “[Lawless’] enthusiasm for his students even outweighed his enthusiasm for his subject. Whenever he heard of a success by one of our alumni, he was in my office announcing it.”

Joan Roberts, current chair of the natural science department, said, “[Lawless] was extremely generous as a mentor and arranged for many of our undergraduate students to do research work at Rockefeller University. He will be missed by all of us; scientists, mathematicians and all the faculty who knew him and worked with him here at Lincoln Center. We send out love to his family and have him in our prayers.”

Former students remember Lawless fondly. Patrick Bordeaux,  a former student and research assistant said, “I met Brother Lawless in New York in the mid-’90s. I worked with him [at] Rockefeller University and was his student [at] Fordham…I will always be grateful for all his help and teaching. Without him and [Roberts], I would not be a psychiatrist today.”

Lawless, a Louisville, Ky., native, earned a B.S. from Catholic University, an M.S. from St. John’s University and Ph.D.s in science education and biochemistry from New York University.

MaryAnn Principato, FCLC ’75, and a former student of Lawless’ said, “As a graduate of the natural sciences program, I can attest to Brother Lawless’s utmost concern of the success of the students he taught. He encouraged and helped many [FCLC] graduates enter prestigious medical and graduate programs throughout the years.”  After Lawless unexpectedly appeared at her thesis defense presentation, Principato said, “I realized that Brother [Lawless] was the biggest fan a developing young person could have.”

Jennifer Finke, FCLC ’02, also learned and worked under Lawless. A student of immunology and molecular biology, Finke credits the start of her research career to his influence. She said, “He was the best mentor ever and a great friend.”

Principato remembered, “[Lawless] was also great at helping us gain admission (i.e., sneaking) into the Cornell Medical School library…it meant getting a lab coat from [Lawless]’s lab and draping it across our arms full of books, and walking past the librarian as if we were in a great hurry to get to our science.”

Lawless would tell his students, “Keep your eye upon the doughnut and not upon the hole,” to help them understand the information he was teaching, Principato noted.

Morgan Greene, FCLC ’10, a natural sciences major, said, “It’s obvious that [Lawless] had an impact on the natural sciences department. We, even those of us that never met him, have a lot to be thankful for…he’s left a legacy.”