Father Racine was born at Totpaay Charente in France in 1897.He enlisted for active service in the First World War in 1916 and was demobilized three years later after an ankle injury that left a limp for the rest of his life. He then entered the Jesuit order and was ordained a priest in 1929. He spent four years studying mathematics in Paris and obtained a doctorate in 1934. He was sent to India to work at St. Joseph’s college Tiruchirappali. He moved to Loyola college , Madras in 1976, nine years after his retirement in 1967.
Father Racine had worked with Elie Cartan and Hadamard, both legendary figures in mathematics. He counted Andre Weil and Henri Cartan (another famous mathematician and Elie Cartan’s son) among his friends. With this back ground, Racine naturally had an excellent perspective on mathematics, which he brought to India with him. He began weaning some Indian mathematicians away from traditional Cambridge-inspired areas and Minakshi was his first big success; and there was a galaxy of brilliant students to follow; the list would occupy substantial space in any ‘who’s who’ of Indian mathematics. To mention a few names: K.C.Ramanathan, C.S.Seshadri, M.S.Narasimhan, Raghavan Narasimhan, C.P.Ramanujan.
Father Racine was apparently not an exciting speaker. Students found his classroom lectures difficult to follow. His French accent combined with what amounted to mumbling to the blackboard, made things worse. It was , however, outside the classroom that his influence was decisive. He was remarkably good at spotting talent and then encouraged it. He liked talking informally to his students. Especially the talented ones and gave them invaluable advice in their career decisions. Mathematical activity was by no means Father Racine’s sole preoccupation. Apparently he was a spiritual adviser to the Jesuit community of the college and was engaged in resolving personnel problems for the Catholic laity around him. The French government conferred on him the coveted ‘Legion of Honeur ‘ in 1962. In all the 42 years he spent in India, he made only two trips to France ; yet he remained very much a Frenchman. But there can be little doubt that he loved India more than France. I was not privileged to be his student, but remember with pleasure the one long informal meeting I had with him in the company of my teacher M.S.Narasimhan. He was an excellent example-by no means unique of the coexistence of the cassock with a lively disposition.
Let me get back to Minakshisundaram. As I said, Minaksh, under the influence of Father Racine moved away from summability- though he retained a love for the subject to the end of his life-into more modern areas; speciafically he turned his attention to Differential Equations ;