One of the reasons why our students have with their Alma Mater such ties that cannot be severed is because of those faculty members who have given so much of themselves to Saint Ignatius and her young men. Personally, had it not been for two such teachers, I would have been more than satisfied to travel along my original career path in the legal trade.
I met the first of the two when I was a freshman at Ignatius in the 1973-74 school year. Tom Pasko, Hon. ’96, was unlike any teacher I had ever experienced. Wielding a yard stick, which he would occasionally bring down with a loud whip-like crack on the desk of an unsuspecting freshman, he bounced around the room describing events like the “defenestration of Prague” or the “crossing of the T at Tsushima” with an excitement that infected each of the members of Homeroom 1B despite it being the last period of the day.
But, beyond teaching us history, Tom exuded a love of language and literature. Each of his quizzes would have a bonus question related to the vocabulary from our selected readings in the history text books. It was in freshman World History, and not in second year Latin, that I learned that Julius Caesar was taciturn, meaning “reserved or saying little.” It was with Tom Pasko that I saw the movies Ivanhoe and Lord of the Flies, during which he would point out the similarities between characters on the screen and students in the class.
Last Sunday, Tom Pasko gave the first annual Dr. Michael Fr. Pennock ’64 Memorial Lecture to the members of the Class of 2019. Inspired by the “last lectures” that have sprung up on college campuses across the country, ours consisted of Mass, dinner, and Tom’s lecture. As first-time events go this one was definitely a great success, and in no small part due to the words of wisdom delivered by Tom. After a fascinating description of the path that brought him to Ignatius in the fall of 1965 Tom, now a long-time member of the English Department, took three poems and connected them with the present and future experiences of the seniors.
For me, the most moving was “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost, a poem described by Tom as the best American poem ever written. He focused on the last stanza, and I truly hope that those words stay with our seniors for the rest of their lives and help to define the men they strive to become:
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
For our seniors to always keep at the front of their thoughts that they have promises to keep – promises spoken and unspoken made to their wives, their children, their God – will give their lives a meaning beyond all measure.
And that is a fitting theme for the first Doc Pennock lecture. Doc was the other teacher who inspired me to follow in his footsteps, and he more than did his part to keep promises to those he loved. Famous for his “I love pizza, I love red wine, I love my wife” classroom dissertation Mike showed his students the necessary and unbreakable link between love and keeping promises.
Tom Pasko, Hon. ’96, did his close friend Doc Pennock proud by continuing that great legacy of love for his students through promises kept – in this case the promise of a lecture worthy of both its namesake and its inaugural speaker.