On August 9, 2007 J. Morgan Sweeney died too young in London, England while he was teaching for the Study Abroad program at Michigan State University. He died peacefully in his sleep, at the height of his career, doing what he loved, in a country he loved, conducting a program for his students whom he loved.
Professor Sweeney was born in New York City on February 13, 1945 and raised in County Cork, Ireland. He was the only child of Helen and Jack Sweeney. His next of kin is his cousin, Noel McSweeney, who resides in Cork, Ireland as do other members of his family.
Professor Sweeney was educated at Fordham University (1962-1966) from which he received a Bachelor of Arts degree and where he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa Fraternity. He received a Master of Arts from the University of Pennsylvania (1968). The Doctor of Philosophy degree was conferred on Professor Sweeney in 1974 from Balliol College at Oxford University. While at Oxford, he was a Junior Fellow at St. Catherine’s College from 1970-1972. From 1971-1972 he was an assistant editor of The Gladstone Diaries, vol. III: 1840-1847; vol. IV: 1848-1854, published by the Clarendon Press at Oxford University in 1974.
Professor Sweeney was an authority on the Scottish Enlightenment in the 18th Century and was working on completing a three-volume study, The Emergence of Modern Scotland, at the time of his death. He had been engaged in extensive research throughout the United Kingdom and had spent his sabbaticals working on this project.
The most important professional contribution Professor Sweeney made and the one from which he received the greatest pleasure was teaching. He was hired by the Department of Humanities in the University College at Michigan State University in 1972 and later joined the History Department. For more than 30, years Professor Sweeney enriched the lives of his students by his classes in Western Civilization, British History, Irish History and Modern European History as well as in his participation in the Study Abroad Program. His dedication to teaching and his devotion to his students were recognized by Michigan State University in 1976 when it conferred on him the coveted Teacher-Scholar Award. Professor Sweeney also received the Outstanding Study Abroad Director Award from the College of Arts and Letters in 2002. It honored him for his dedication throughout the years for establishing and maintaining a distinguished and well coordinated program in both Ireland and the United Kingdom.
Professor Sweeney served with distinction on many of the committees throughout MSU, at the department, college and university levels. He was a member of numerous professional organizations and a participant in regional, national and international conferences at which he presented papers, chaired sessions and provided commentaries on other scholars’ works.
Morgan will be deeply missed by his closest and dearest friends, especially by his former students Richard Kars (Pam) and their children: Bryan, Quynn and Jaymee and by James Adams-Berger (Sandra) and their children: Maxwell and Clayton. Morgan was the Godfather to all their children and to many others as well.
Other loving friends and colleagues include Jenifer Banks and Howard Anderson, Jane Vieth, Elvira Wilbur, Kathleen Rout and Christine Daniels. In particular, Morgan’s colleagues in the Department of History and in the Office of Study Abroad and the many students who loved and admired him are deeply saddened by his death.
Those whose lives he graced are the better for it. They will miss his playful Irish charm and irreverent humor, his kindness and civility, his knowledge and intellect, his acute shrewdness, unpretentious dignity and sense of proportion.
Funds given to an award in Morgan’s honor help support MSU History majors on study abroad.