Ivan Illich was born in Vienna in 1926. He was forced to leave school in 1941 under Nazi race laws because of his mother's Jewish origins. He went to Italy where he studied in Florence and later was a student of philosophy and theology at the Gregorian University in Rome. He later returned to Austria where he obtained a PhD in history at the University of Salzberg.
He first came to the United States in 1951, working as a parish priest and championing the cause of Puerto Rican immigrants in New York City. Later he was appointed the deputy rector of the Catholic University of Puerto Rico where he began his work developing an intensive and culturally grounded training program for American priests whose ministry allowed them to work among Latinos.
Ivan Illich became increasingly frustrated with the bureaucracy of the church and left the priesthood in 1969. He went on to co-found the Center for Intercultural Documentation (CIDOC) in Cuernavaca, Mexico--a training research center which also served as a think-tank for innovative educators world-wide. It was there that he wrote his ground-breaking critique of the educational system, Deschooling Society (1971), arguing that school made people dumb.
Among the many educators who joined Illich at Cuernavaca were John Holt and Everett Reimer, who organized home schooling in the U.S., and John Ohliger, who organized adult educators against mandatory education globally and continued to influence the emerging field of adult education.
Since the 1980s, Illich divided his time between Mexico, the United States, and Germany where he taught at the University of Bremen. Ivan Illich died on December 2, 2002, in the northern German city of Bremen where he had lectured in sociology.