Two anecdotes about Father Clarke and Father Nicholson | Department of Physics

Two anecdotes about Father Clarke and Father Nicholson

Ron MacKinnon, who studied at StFX from 1955-1959 and was a faculty member in the Math Department for many years, has kindly agreed that we publish some of the stories that he recollects about Father Clarke and Father Nicholson:
Father Clarke Father Clarke


Dr. Pat Nicholson was my father’s first cousin and received his PhD in Physics from John Hopkins, which was quite an achievement for a StFX graduate at that time. From 1955-1959 I attended StFX and I took physics from Father Clarke. He taught physics 3 which was known as the toughest course in the science program. I took this course with John Hubisz and Pat Whelan who were honors physics majors. Father Clarke gave us a really hard time in this course. Both John and Pat later earned their PhDs in Physics and John taught at StFX for several years.

One day when I was in high school I was stopped by Msgr. Gallivan (the brother of Danny Gallivan of the Montreal Canadians fame) who was a famous Pastor of St Ninians. He asked me "Do you know why Father Clarke is such a tough task master?". I said no. He said that he learned how to set such high standards from your cousin Dr. Nicholson. He then admitted that Dr. Nicholson had flunked him in physics.

Father Clarke had more interests than just physics. He was the key person in developing CJFX. In 1962 JJ MacDonald then Dean of Science, asked me to pick a computer for StFX. I said why me? I am a lowly assistant professor of math. He said you are the only faculty member who has ever seen a computer, so you are our expert. I picked an IBM 1620. I went to Oklahoma State University to get my doctorate in math and JJ sent me a letter informing me that I was the director of the computer centre. I asked him why me? He said that you picked the computer so you should run it. So I taught a full load of math courses and ran the computer centre from 1966 to 1973 (I took a sabbatical). A few years after we acquired the 1120 Father Clarke came to my office and asked me if there was a better computer than the IBM 1620. I told him that the IBM 1130 was the newest IBM computer and IBM gave a 50% reduction in price to universities. Father Clarke told me to write up a proposal for a new computer and he would go to JJ and convince him to buy it. I wrote the proposal and Father Clarke got JJ to agree to acquire the IBM 1130. The IBM 1130 was installed in the basement of the brand new Nicholson Hall before any faculty were moved into the building.