Saint Ignatius High School

The Teacher's Audience

In this mid-week Lesson from Loyola Hall, Mr. Healey writes about the path of former students to the vocation of teaching, particularly those who teach Theology. The teacher, we learn, does his work for a venerable audience.
Last Wednesday I had a fantastic visit with Andrew Parker ‘11, a former student who is now both a Theology teacher and campus minister at Benedictine High School.  He stopped by to get some files relevant to his course offerings at Benedictine and we sat and chatted for about an hour and a half – about 87 minutes longer than it took to transfer 3.11GB of Theology readings and handouts.
Andrew, in his third year at Benedictine, is now married and has a Christmas baby on the way. It used to feel strange when former students would come back and talk about their burgeoning families, but after having taught dozens of students who are second generation it has become more the rule than the exception.  I’m just waiting for the day when a student tells me that I taught his grandfather.  Then it’s time to think about riding off into the sunset.
But for now I can enjoy visits like the one that Andrew and I shared, and admire the quality of a young man who decided not only to teach, but to dedicate himself to handing on the Faith to the next generation.  Andrew is not the first of my students to become a Theology teacher – that place is taken by Jim Brennan ’85 – and I pray that he will not be my last.
Andrew spent much of his time with me talking about what an influence his teachers had on him during his tenure here as a student.  In fact, he credits Jim Skerl with his decision to attend the Franciscan University of Steubenville.  When Andrew told Jim that his goal was to teach high school Theology and that he had narrowed down his choices but just could not pick a school, Jim unhesitatingly told him that Franciscan would give him the background he needed to be an excellent teacher.  That endorsement from a man so revered was enough to send Andrew off to Steubenville.
This past week I showed my seniors in Christian Manhood a clip from A Man for All Seasons, the film based on the Robert Bolt play about the public life and death of St. Thomas More.  We watched the last half hour of the film – including More’s trial and subsequent decapitation during the reign of his former friend King Henry VIII of England – but in our post-film discussion I brought up the importance of an earlier scene, one that we did not watch.
Richard Rich, the man whose perjury sends St. Thomas to his death, is seen throughout the film to be someone who is like so many of us: he wants to do the good, but is easily swayed to do the opposite.  Thomas More knows this and when Rich asks him to find him a job “at court” – meaning at Hampden Court Palace, the seat of government business and royal machinations – Thomas refuses.  Not wanting to leave Richard to be manipulated as a useful idiot by the schemers who surround the king, Thomas does find him a job: as a teacher.
The job on offer included a house and ₤50 per year (that’s about $50,000 today, according to the Bank of England).  Not a bad deal, then or now, and Thomas hoped that Richard would jump at the chance to reign over such a kingdom.  Sadly, Richard is deeply disappointed with the job offer, having set his heart on a life of fame, fortune, and being one of the movers and shakers of Henry VIII’s inner circle.
When Thomas gives one final push by telling Rich that he would be a good teacher, the young man cynically asks: “Who would know it?”  Unfazed, More responds: “You, your students, God – not a bad audience, that.” 
The unconvinced Rich goes on to perjure himself at More’s trial in payment for being made Attorney General for Wales.  Instead of lashing out at Rich, a doleful More replies: “Why Richard, it profit a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world. . . but for Wales.”
Andrew Parker, Jim Brennan and the rest of my students who have followed in the path proposed for Rich by St. Thomas More will never become Attorney General for Wales or walk the corridors of power.  But they can all take comfort in the knowledge that they ply their trade each day in front of students and God, the greatest audience in the world.