The Rev. Robert J. Henle, S.J., 90, a teacher, administrator, philosopher and classical scholar who was president of Georgetown University during a period of significant growth and development, died Jan. 20 in St. Louis, at the Jesuit infirmary residence there. The cause of death was not reported.
Father Henle, who headed Georgetown from 1969 to 1976, was credited with improving finances, expanding the medical school and -- along with his successor, the Rev. Timothy S. Healy -- with bringing Georgetown into the small circle of elite, high-prestige colleges with national reputations.
As an administrator at Georgetown and at St. Louis University, from which he came here and to which he returned to teach, he was involved with scores of decisions large and small. But it appeared that few had more dramatic effect than one he made in 1972: Father Henle brought John Thompson to campus to coach the men's basketball team.
Thompson, one of the first black men to coach in major college basketball, built highly successful teams that brought new attention to the school and its assets. One of Thompson's squads won an NCAA Division I championship.
Father Henle's tenure at Georgetown included years of great turmoil on the nation's campuses, much of it brought on by the Vietnam War. By the time he left, most of that had subsided, and it was noted that Georgetown had seemed less drawn into the swirl of protest than many other schools.
Father Henle told an interviewer in 1975 that he believed one reason was that "we have traditionally had a much closer and warmer relationship between our faculty and students and administration."
Georgetown's students, whom he described as "very intelligent, very articulate, career-oriented . . . by and large demonstrated peacefully," he said.
Nationwide, he said, the uproar subsided with the removal of the Vietnam issue, which he believed "created a great deal of the problem for students who thought a year after graduation they might be killed."
Shortly before leaving Georgetown, in an interview with John Mathews of the old Washington Star, Father Henle explained how times, students and Roman Catholic education had changed.
"Years ago, we could say to a young kid who came out of Catholic high school, a good Catholic family and a Catholic parish: `Here is what the church teaches -- bang, bang, bang.' "
But by the mid-1970s, he went on, "you've got to talk to him, you've got to argue with him. You've got to explain to him . . . and what took five minutes 20 years ago now takes an hour. But the end product I think is better."
In a letter to The Washington Post after he had returned to St. Louis, he upheld the right of citizens to demand that their tax money not be used to promote or provide abortions.
Father Henle was born in Muscatine, Iowa, on Sept. 12, 1909, studied at Creighton University in Omaha and received bachelor's and master's degrees from St. Louis University. He became a member of the Jesuit order in 1927 and was ordained a priest in 1940. He received a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Toronto in 1954.
The author of widely used texts on the Latin language, Father Henle taught Latin and philosophy at St. Louis University for years. He also held administrative posts there and was academic vice president before being named to the post at Georgetown. In his late eighties, according to St. Louis University, Father Henle published a translation of Saint Thomas Aquinas's De Veritate (On Truth). In an entry in the 1980-81 edition of "Who's Who in America," he wrote that "my only regret is that I have never been able to keep up with God's Grace and inspiration."