The Catholic Thing
Schall at Eighty-Five Print E-mail
By James V. Schall, S.J.   
Tuesday, 22 January 2013

At seventy, I started writing, in effect, quinquennial reports on events of the previous half-decade. Likewise, every four years my birthday falls on the now established date of a presidential inauguration. I consider these simultaneous events to be happenstance, not providential!

The big news, I suppose, is, after thirty-four years, my retirement from teaching at Georgetown University. My skeptical younger brother never considered a “heavy” academic load of two courses a semester to be “work.” And, in a way, readers of Josef Pieper on leisure will know that he is right. On the first day of spring, I will migrate to the Jesuit House in Los Gatos, California. The date is not happenstance but deliberately chosen. The Spring Equinox is a good time to leave D.C. and to arrive in San Jose, the nearest airport.

The Los Gatos house is the spacious building in which I spent my first four years in the Order. Now it is mainly a retirement residence, not a novitiate, another story in itself. In those long-ago days, we called it “The Novitiate of Los Gatos.” Located in the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains, it was surrounded by lovely hillside grape fields for our then well-known winery. The hills are still there, but the grapes and winery are long gone.

Often I am asked, “What will you miss most?” Actually, I am rather glad not to be in Washington during Obama’s second round. I suspect, however, that it will not make much difference where you are, its effects will be so pervasive and radical.

Sometimes during my three decades here, I think that I have “lived” more in Athens and Rome than in Washington. This is what academia can do to you. Indeed, I have never thought anyone could understand what was happening in Washington if all he knew was Washington. That, after all, is what political philosophy is about, the things perennial in the passing city in which we live.

The best part of teaching, of course, is the students. Somehow, they find their way into one’s classes, though I was never sure quite how. An element of providence hovers about it. I have always understood that knowledge as such is free, however steep the university tuition for matriculation. As you watch, students pass through a period of their lives that you once passed through yourself, if you could just recollect it all.

College years are formative ones, a time of waking up or, in Plato’s terms, of “turning around,” of becoming aware of a past, of the fact that we choose. Students sense that they are responsible not for what they are but for what they become by their own considerate or inconsiderate choices and habits.

A university ought not to be a place for “relevance” or training or mere current events. It should be a place that keeps the world at bay for a while until a student acquires some awareness that everything in the now does not include everything that is.

At the end of the spring semester in 2010, to continue, I went to the dentist. My lower gums were sore. One thing led to another. I was diagnosed for a cancer in the jaw. The operation took place on the June day that I was scheduled to give a lecture at St. Anselm’s College in New Hampshire. A good part of my lower jaw was removed and replaced by part of a bone from my leg. Needless to say, several friends could not resist commenting on Schall’s foot in the mouth.

It took about a year and dentures to return to reasonably normal shape. The university kindly gave me the fall semester off to recuperate, with pay. During this time, I wrote a book entitled Reasonable Pleasures, which Ignatius Press will publish in the Fall. During these five years, the Catholic University of America Press published The Mind That Is Catholic and St. Augustine’s Press published The Modern Age. Two other books, Remembering Belloc and The Classical Moment, are due out shortly.

I have particularly enjoyed the opportunity of writing regular columns – Schall on Chesterton, in Gilbert Magazine, and “On Letters and Essays” in the University Bookman.  During this period, most of the journals that I habitually wrote for, such as Crisis Magazine, the Catholic World Report, and the Homiletic and Pastoral Review, went on-line. Robert Royal’s The Catholic Thing has become an especially good initiative that I have been pleased to write for most every other week.

Thus, Schall reaches eighty-five, not in the world’s greatest shape, but still breathing. His hearing is now magnified by electronic contraptions to a degree that makes him wonder how much he wants to hear. But he is still vain enough to admit that he does not want to miss anything. He was asked by his students to give “A Final Lecture at Georgetown,” which he did and called it “A Final Gladness.” It can be found on Youtube. It sums up many years of doing something that he always loved doing.

James V. Schall, S.J., who served as a professor at Georgetown University for thirty-five years, is one of the most prolific Catholic writers in America. His most recent books are The Mind That Is Catholic and The Modern Age.
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Comments (12)Add Comment
written by Bangwell Putt, January 22, 2013
Dear Father Schall, those of us who remember and loved the American culture which was (as is anything human) always in need of correction but not destruction are becoming few in number.

Robert Royal yesterday provided readers with a new perspective on understanding what is happening to us, now, in the United States of America: "The Civilization of the Spectacle" is unfolding before our eyes and the eyes of our children.

May your voice continue to be heard by people of good will. "All things are passing; God alone suffices" - therefore, we hope.
written by Craig Payne, January 22, 2013
Rarely do we get a chance to thank those authors who have helped us along the way. Thank you, Fr. Schall; "Another Sort of Learning" was a life-changer in two ways: First of all, the book itself helped me greatly. Secondly, I began to read the books you listed. Now, at 53, I am a philosophy professor myself. Who would have thought it?

Again, thank you and may God richly bless your future.
written by Woody Jones, January 22, 2013
O mia patria, si bella e perduta!
written by Augustine, January 22, 2013
My prayer is that God continues to bless and keep you Fr. Schall! You have taught this stranger for many years and shown him why the immutable is permanent. I can't thank you adequately.
written by Other Joe, January 22, 2013
Each sane voice speaking of what is true is precious and sadly rare. Thank you Father for reminding us that there is a greater context than will and power. In a fallen world it takes a lot of reminding. You have brought refreshment to many parched souls.
written by debby, January 22, 2013
You are a dear teacher and holy priest, Fr. Schall.
I pray you discover more of the hidden life in your "retirement". I suspect you have had a few holy men in your life looking over the care of your soul, men such as St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Augustine, St. Francis deSales, and many more. I pray now the embrace of the very little souls, Sts. Bernadette and Therese and those unnamed minister to you.
AND! I hope we continue to hear often your sage thoughts.
You are in my prayers.
Thank you for all the years thus far of tireless planting and watering and fertilizing the fragile vines in the vineyard of the LORD.
written by evan, January 22, 2013
Im sure Fr. Thomas Vincent Conn would have given some good natured ribbing about your foot in mouth condition! God bless you both.
written by Mack Hall, January 22, 2013
Delightful! Thank you, Fr. Schall!
written by Robb, January 22, 2013
Thank you Father for all you do. May our Lord allow you to continue teaching us for years to com.
written by Maggie-Louise, January 22, 2013
Dear Fr. Schall,

Approaching 80 myself (my husband has already reached that milestone), we are both in awe of your vitality and the number of books that continue to roll off the presses. We look at each other and say, "So what have you been doing for 80 years?" Your books and Joseph Ratzinger's books are the only books I read that were published after 1959, --my cut-off date for orthodoxy. Your joy in the Lord shines from between your words and your lines, and when I wonder what true Christian joy is, I think of your smile and your books.

God bless you and keep you for many, many years to come.
written by Alessia, January 31, 2013
Fr. Schall, thank you.
written by Beats NHL, March 29, 2013
Happiness isn't getting all you want. It's enjoying all you have.

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