On a Friday in Dec. 2010 I made my way over to the Wolfington Hall to have dinner with Fr. James Schall, S.J. There he stood, looking sharper and stronger than ever in spite of a recently healed cancerous jawbone. Dinner seemed to fly by as we talked about everything from Chesterton and Chaucer to my summer travels to Bolivia, Fr. Schall’s cousins in Iowa and the upcoming semester, when he would become my teacher again.

Soon, there were only a few fellow Jesuits and staff lingering in the dining hall. Looking straight at me with his right eye — his “good eye” as he likes to call it — he asked me, “Miss Punchak, do you recall one of the psalms … it goes something like, “the years of our lives are threescore years and ten, or even by reason of strength, fourscore years, but they fade away so soon?”

I nodded silently.

“Do you ever wonder why we’ve only been given fourscore years and ten, as it is written? Or, perhaps more nowadays, I mean, Fr. Schall is an old man…but do you ever wonder why?”

It was something I had thought about fleetingly but often, though I had no answer for it.

Before I could say anything, he cut in, “Miss Punchak, we were given so little precisely because everything that we can achieve is possible and realizable in this time. I want you to know that.”

More than anyone I know, Fr. Schall taught me to think of life in terms of possibility, to regard my fellow beings with kindness and love and to approach the world with a sense of wonder, curiosity and gratitude. Thank you, Fr. Schall, for not only making a better student, but a fundamentally better person. Thank you for everything.

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