In my professional life, I often meet people who do not know Fr. James Schall, S.J., but have read his books or columns. Usually, they have mistaken ideas about him as a classroom teacher. They envision him standing still at a podium, giving an uninterrupted lecture, or perhaps speaking entirely in aphorisms.

As everyone who has taken a class with Fr. Schall knows, nothing could be further from the reality. It is normal for him to pause in the midst of a profound discourse on Cicero’s On Old Age, or Yves Simon’s A General Theory of Authority, or any other great text of the Western tradition he teaches, and ask, “Miss Smith, how’s your mother in Long Island?” Or to quiz Mr. Jones on the last Notre Dame football game.

This seamless weaving of timeless ideas with very concrete discussions of small things in the here and now subtly underscores one of the truths that Fr. Schall endeavors to teach. Namely, that our daily lives are not separate from the things contained in Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, etc. This is perhaps the greatest lesson I learned in my young adult life, and I learned it from Fr. Schall.

In his 35 years at Georgetown, Fr. Schall has taught thousands of students. They flock to him because he is personally interested in them as souls, and because in his own life there is precious little daylight between his theory and his practice.

Pope Paul VI, about whom Fr. Schall has written extensively, put it well: “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.” Fr. Schall is an exemplary teacher, and his life is a witness to the truths he teaches.

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