Father William J. Fulco, S.J. died Nov. 29 at the Sacred Heart Jesuit Center in Los Gatos from pulmonary fibrosis at the age of 85.

Born in Los Angeles, Fulco attended Loyola High School and joined the Society of Jesus in 1954. He was ordained a priest in 1966. He studied at Santa Clara University, Gonzaga University, the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, and earned a Ph.D. in Near Eastern languages and literatures from Yale University. He began teaching at LMU in 1998 and founded the Bellarmine College of Liberal Arts’ Archaeology Center.

On campus, he was a wildly popular professor whose classes often drew waiting lists of hundreds of students, and a beloved mentor to generations of LMU’s Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity brothers. (He belonged to the fraternity as a faculty fellow.)

“He was as strong willed as they come — ask his nurses — yet carried himself with so much grace and kindness,” wrote LMU alumnus Joe Boragno ’08, in a newsletter to Sigma Phi members mourning Fulco’s passing. “It is truly amazing how many lives he touched and how many impactful relationships he nurtured.”

Off campus, he was a world-renowned archaeologist and polyglot (fluent in nine languages) whose rare expertise in Aramaic was employed to shape the dialogues of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” and several other films throughout the years. 

“He was the classic Jesuit academic, equally at home on an archeological dig as in the classroom,” wrote LMU President Timothy Law Snyder in a statement on his passing. 

According to friends, Fr. Fulco had recently survived a bout with cancer and was given only a “couple of years to live” by doctors when diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis five years. 

Before his retirement in 2019, Father Fulco held LMU’s National Endowment for the Humanities Chair of Ancient Mediterranean Studies. Prior to his death, he had done additional consulting work for the sequel to “The Passion,” expected in theaters in 2022.