Final Years, the United States 1951- 1955

Teilhard at Glacier Park Montana in 1952
Teilhard at Glacier Park Montana in 1952

During the next two years Teilhard traveled extensively in England and the United States trying to determine an appropriate place to live now that China was no longer open.


During the Summer of 1951 Teihard was asked by the Wenner-Gren Foundation to go to South Africa in order to study the possibility of financing anthropological research with South-African and Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia) scientists. This was his first trip to South Africa to pursue investigations on australopithecus sites. As coordinator of research he wrote, "At the moment, as in the days of Galileo, we need, far more than new facts, a new way of seeing the facts. A new way of seeing and a new way of acting." He was then seventy years old, when he moved to New York for good. He continued his work with the Wenner Foundation.


Teilhard's decision to live in New York was approved by his Jesuit Superiors and this resolved his uncertainty with regard to a place of residence. He lived the following years with the Jesuit fathers at St. Ignatius Church on Park Avenue and walked both to his office at the Wenner-Gren Foundation and to the apartment of his self-appointed secretary and friend, Rhoda de Terra. (During his walks he met a 14 year old girl named Jeanne.)  Teilhard's correspondence with Father Pierre Leroy during these final years, published in English as Letters From My Friend, are remarkable in their lack of bitterness and for their single-minded scientific focus.


In 1954 Teilhard visited France for the last time. He and his friend Leroy drove south together to the caves at Lascaux. Prior to visiting Lascaux they stopped at Sarcenat together with Mrs. de Terra who had joined them. Wordlessly they walked through the rooms until they came to his mother's room and her chair. Only then did Teilhard speak, saying half to himself, "This is the room where I was born." Hoping to spend his final years in his native country, Teilhard applied once more to his superiors for permission to return to France permanently. He was politely refused and encouraged to return to America.


Pierre Teilhard de Chardin died of a heart attack on Easter Sunday, April 10, 1955 at six o'clock in the evening at the home of friends. The year before, he had confessed to friends at a dinner given by the French Consul  "I would like to die on the day of the Resurrection". His funeral on Easter Monday was attended by a few friends. Father Leroy and the ministering priest from St. Ignatius accompanied his body some sixty miles upstate from New York City where he was buried at St. Andrews-on-Hudson, then the Jesuit novitiate.

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Most of the photos are from "The Teilhard de Chardin Album" by Jeanne Mortier and Marie-Louise Aboux