Catholic World Report published a tribute on Fr. James V. Schall on the ocasion of his 89th birthday, today. It is fitting that was born on January 28, the feast of St. Thomas Aquinas, for Schall is a great Thomist/Aristotelian. (I used to joke that Fr. Schall was on a first-name basis with Aristotle.)
I was never his student, at least not in the classroom. I met him at an Acton Institute conference back in the early 1990’s. We realized that we were more or less neighbors, as he taught at Georgetown and I taught at George Mason. We became friends and correspondents.
And he was quite the correspondent. This was pre-internet. I would make a photo copy of something I had written and mail it to him. He would send it back, the next day, covered with comments. He would also send me a fat envelope with copies of his articles. He could write faster than I could read.
Most of our conversations included suggestions for books I should read. I generally came away with a list or 4 or 5. I cannot say that I read every one. But I can say that I benefited from every one that I did read. As he got older, the book lists got shorter. I wondered if that was because he was slowing down, or whether I was getting better read. In any case, he did his share to transform an economist with a technocratic training into the person I am today.
I also felt that he fully supported me in my vocation as wife and mother, something many of economist colleagues found mystifying or worse. One incident stands out in my mind. After a visit at the Georgetown campus, he walked me to my car. As I opened the car door, he noticed the toys, cheerios, and other assorted debris typcial of a car that routinely transports two pre-schoolers. I was about to become embarrassed by the mess. But he got an affectionate smile on his face, and said, “Ah, a family car.” No more embarrassment for me!
One day, I received a phone call from an editor at the American Enterprise Magazine. He said, “I have a complete dossier on you, courtesy of Fr. Schall. We would like you to write something for us.” This editor had been a student of Fr. Schall’s, who had been sending him fat envelopes with my stuff. And I’m thinking to myself, if he has done this for me, I bet he has done it for lots of other people too.
And he has. I was privileged to attend his Farewell Lecture on his retirement from Georgetown, “The Final Gladness.” (You can watch it here. You will see the enthusiasm of the students before and after the talk.)
At the reception afterwards, I had a chance to talk with him. He asked me about my family and my work. He treated me as if I were the most special person there. I noticed that he treated every other person in the exact same way: as if they were the most special person there. The gift of a true pastor.
Fr. Schall is from the generation of Jesuits who were men of vast learning and deep sanctity. Many happy returns of the day, Fr. Schall. We love you.