Last Friday, Fr. James V. Schall S.J., one of the leading lights at Georgetown University, delivered his last lecture as a professor at the Jesuit University to apacked house in Gaston Hall.
The author of such classics as Another Sort of Learning and What Is God Like?: Philosophers and ‘Hereticks’ on the Triune God: The Sundry Paths of Orthodoxy from Plato, Augustine, Samuel Johnson, Nietzsche, Camus, and Flannery O’Connor, even unto Charlie Brown and the Wodehouse Clergy, delivered his final lecture, entitled “The Final Gladness.”
His lecture, for those who aren’t familiar with Fr. Schall, is indicative of the humor, insight and fidelity which marked his work these past 34 years at Georgetown. Here is just a snippet, which he shared with The Cardinal Newman Society:
What, in the end, does a professor most want his students to remember? Not himself but what is true and the search for it. Above all, he wants them to remember the Socratic foundations of our culture, that “it is never right to do wrong,” that death is not the worst evil, that ultimately our lives are about eternal life, as Benedict XVI writes in his great encyclical on modernity, Spe Salvi. The university is a place where truth, all truth, can be spoken, ought to be spoken. Often it is not. It is imperative, as Schumacher said, that a student knows where to turn when it is not.
So, soon enough, my dear colleagues, students, and friends, I will return to Los Gatos, my first Jesuit home, in what used to be called El Dorado. We are glad to return to our houses in this world, as Belloc said, but we find there “no final gladness.” That is not an admonition of despair, only a reminder to seek “a final gladness” where it can be found.
In retiring, the words of Samuel Johnson, cited in the beginning, come back to me. It is “folly to delay those things that cannot finally be escaped.” To recall T. S. Eliot: “In the end is our beginning.” We shall not often meet again. We have here no lasting city, as St. Peter said.
Yet, it is quite clear that human life ultimately is about meeting again, about love and friendship and serious joy, about a final home. So let us think of meeting again, of drinking again from those great flagons in the inn at the end of the world, where we shall meet Dickens and all his friends, Socrates and those with whom he converses, yes, with the God who has told us, when we meet again, that we shall see Him, as we would want it, “face-to-face.”
Schall was born in 1928, and after serving in the Army, joined the Jesuits in 1948. He graduated from Georgetown University in 1960, and after some time in California he returned to Georgetown and has remained for the last 34 years.
Schall has been a champion of Catholic education — even if students must get it by reading the best authors on their own. On The Catholic Thing, which promises to post a recording of Father’s last lecture, he writes of the importance of “philosophical eros” in a time when many educators are not grounded in reality:
…In a world where relativism is king, truth finds itself the martyr. Where truth cannot be spoken, no one can reform his life.
How is this issue understood? Our courts and university faculties are no longer courageous enough to ask whether what they were deciding and teaching is true. In order to avoid responding to this basic question – “Is it true?’ – with an answer not merely an opinion, they have preferred to go on and on making distinctions and equivocations that would allow them to continue to undermine our moral and intellectual stature so that they could justify certain ways of acting and living.
And he wrote just last year:
Universities are not in the “virtue” business today. They cannot be, as it is now mostly illegal, let alone old-fashioned. We have a widespread assumption that universities are centers of what is new. Science is what will improve us.
But a second assumption tells us that students need outside “hands-on experience.” They will not help the poor unless they join some program and volunteer, a kind of temporary vocation. This help industry has become big business with various “corps” designed to facilitate the projects, here and all over the world. The purpose of education is not knowledge or leisure but justice, the virtue with the most ideological confusions whirling about it. …
Upon news of Georgetown’s invitation to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Fr. Schall wrote:
The issue is whether universities called “Catholic” have not become rather secular with vague religious symbols still about but no substantial connection with what it is to be Catholic in reason and intelligence. The bishops, for all their courage in facing this question, have not addressed the factual question about what is the actual orientation of universities that are called “Catholic” for whatever reason.
Fr. Schall told The Hoya he plans to reside in the Jesuit House in Los Gatos, Calif., on the Bay-side slope of the Santa Cruz Mountains. “A priest as priest does not ‘retire,’ even if he is officially retired,” he said. “I have a number of writing projects that I hope to continue once I am settled in.”
We should all hope he continues writing for many years to come.
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