UF’s beloved historian Michael Gannon passed in April.

Michael Gannon PhD’62, who taught at UF for more than 30 years, passed away on April 10 at age 89. Gannon was nationally recognized for his research into the establishment of colonial Spanish Florida, including the introduction of Catholicism — and Christianity as a whole — to the United States through St. Augustine.

He began his career while still in high school, as a sports writer for the St. Augustine Record. At 18, he enlisted, but before he could begin training, the war was over. He decided to try his hand at radio and spent the next four years giving play-by-plays of Southern college football.

black and white portrait of Michael Gannon looking distinguished Michael Gannon was well regarded as a priest, professor, and journalist. Randy Batista

“I’d like to be remembered as a good person. Actually, I’d like to be remembered as a good writer.”

After graduating from Université de Louvain in Belgium, he was ordained in 1959. His first assignment: chaplain of the brand-new St. Augustine Catholic Church and Student Center in Gainesville. Gannon’s reach stretched beyond his church’s walls. For 12 years at the Catholic Student Center post — through the Kennedy assassinations, the Vietnam War, and integration — Gannon was a sounding board for students of all faiths on a host of issues. He joined UF’s faculty in history in 1962 and in religion in 1967. In 1976, Gannon left the priesthood and married.

priest stands over makeshift altar while soldiers sit in the grass before him
While on a monthlong tour of Vietnam in 1968, Gannon offered this impromptu religious service on the back of a vehicle in Go-Noi. Every single member of Golf company came up to take communion because they didn’t know if they’d live the day. Courtesy of Michael Gannon

In the 1960s, Gannon questioned whether the Vietnam War was a just war. Armed with a press pass from the national Catholic journal, America, Gannon spent a month in 1968 traveling the war-torn country. More than once, he administered Last Rites to dying soldiers. Not long after he returned to UF, war protests arrived on campus. Gannon asked that the protestors be allowed to do so peacefully. “That’s just what happened,” he said.

man in priest attire rubs his head as he walks between armed police and feisty protestorsAt this 1970 protest, Gannon asked police to let students march peacefully. Eventually, police allowed him to handle — and ultimately defuse — the situation. Courtesy of UF Special Collections Library

Gannon asked that the protestors be allowed to do so peacefully.

President John F. Kennedy was scheduled to visit MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa on Nov. 18, 1963. Gannon presented him with a framed copy of the oldest written record of American origin, dated 1565.

Gannon was close to his students, teaching 16,000 in 36 years at UF. He retired as a professor emeritus of history in 1998, but continued teaching until 2003. “I’d like to be remembered as a good person,” he once said. “Actually, I’d like to be remembered as a good writer.”

This story was adapted from a piece by Steve Orlando that appeared in the Winter 2011 issue of Florida.

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