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Father of bees

Recognized abroad, Jesus Moure helped to create research institutions


Jesus de Santiago Moure was a twentieth century priest, but he seemed more like one of those cultured clergymen of the seventeenth or eighteenth centuries, who combined religion with a deep interest in natural history. When he died from multiple organ failure on July 10, at the age of 97, few people knew which was the religious order to which he had belonged (the Congregation of the Claretians), but everybody acknowledged that he had been one of the world’s great bee systematists.

Of Spanish descent, Moure was born in the city of Ribeirão Preto, in inner state São Paulo. From the age of 12, he attended seminaries in the cities of Curitiba and Rio Claro. He experienced the full training common to men of the cloth, with a natural emphasis on philosophy and theology. He also learnt languages, such as Latin, Greek, Hebrew, French and Spanish, which would prove to be useful in his long scientific career. In 1937, when he took his orders in São Paulo, he made use of his time in this city to give vent to another vocation: zoology. He contacted Frederico Lane, from the Paulista museum, and started to collaborate with Latin translations of entomology texts. Together with Lane, he published his earliest works, from 1938 to 1940, on curculio weevils.

In 1938, he began giving natural history lessons at the seminary in Curitiba. He was also one of the founders of the College of Philosophy, Sciences and Literature in Curitiba, later integrated into the Federal University of Paraná (UFPR). In 1939, he took charge of the Zoology Division of the Paranaense museum, of which he would eventually become the director. “As a priest and as a seminary and college professor, I had a lot of duties during the day. To continue working and publishing concurrently, I spent 20 years sleeping only three and a half hours a night,” he declared in his testimony for the book Cientistas do Brasil [Brazilian Scientists] (SBPC, 1998). His interest in bees arose in 1940, with the publishing of the article Apoidea Neotropica.

“Father Moure was self taught regarding biology,” assures us Paulo Nogueira-Neto, a friend of Moure of long standing, an expert on stingless bees and professor emeritus at the University of São Paulo (USP). “He learnt by studying on his own and by interacting with colleagues who were scientists, and ended up as senior professor of zoology,” he explains. “Nogueira-Neto, Moure and the geneticist Warwick Kerr are the chief names in the field of research into bees in Brazil, for the pioneering nature of the work that was begun in the first half of the last century,” says the entomologist Gabriel Melo, from the Zoology Department of UFPR, the same department where the priest had worked.

Besides Nogueira-Neto and Kerr, Moure collaborated intensely with João Camargo, a great taxonomist and talented draftsman from USP in Ribeirão Preto, who died in 2009, and with foreign researchers, such as Charles Michener, from the University of Kansas, who spent one year in Curitiba working with Moure in 1956. When Michener returned to the United States, it was the Brazilian’s turn to accompany him and to work abroad. In the States, he witnessed the birth of numerical taxonomy, a methodology now used in ecology, when he attended conferences given by the statistician Robert Sokal, in the 1960’s. He then introduced it in Brazil. Moure traveled through Europe to study collections of neotropical bees with a grant from the National Science Foundation and also obtained aid from the Rockefeller Foundation to equip laboratories in Brazil. Overall, the clergyman wrote 220 articles published in domestic or foreign journals, plus two books. Furthermore, he described 432 species and 33 subspecies of bees from 1940 to 2002. In the last few years, when he became very weak, he withdrew into the convent of the Claretians in the city of Batatais in São Paulo state.

On the institutional front, he was involved with initiatives in aid of research, such as the creation of Brazil’s National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq), the Brazilian Society for the Progress of Science (SBPC) and the Coordinating Office for the Training of Higher Education Personnel (Capes), besides several scientific organizations. “In Paraná, he was especially important for the development of graduate studies,” says Danúncia Urban, a former collaborator of the “priest of the bees,” as he was known in Curitiba. His scientific activities never kept him from his priestly duties, however. According to Danúncia, the professors that were friendly with him had him officiate at their weddings and at the christening of their children and grandchildren. The researcher also saw no conflict between religion and science. Moure resolved this issue in a practical fashion right at the start of his career, according to an interview he gave for Cientistas do Brasil “God made the world through evolution. And the law of God is the law of evolution running through time.”