Georgetown bids adieu to the venerable Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
Last Friday, Fr. James V. Schall S.J. delivered his final lecture as a professor at Georgetown University. The lecture, entitled “A Final Gladness,” focused on Fr. Schall’s area of expertise, political philosophy, and featured the mannerisms, good-natured humor, and breathtaking insight that have won him the admiration of generations of both faculty and students throughout his 34 years at Georgetown.
Schall was born in 1928, and after serving in the army, joined the Jesuit community in 1948. He graduated from Georgetown University in 1960, and served in San Francisco for 17 years. He then joined the Georgetown Government Department where he has remained for the last 34 years. In 1960, he wrote his doctoral dissertation, which he ambitiously titled, “Immortality and the Foundations of Political Philosophy.” Since then, he has authored numerous essays, articles, and books that have brought him renown throughout his field.
If the throngs of friends, colleagues, and students past and present who crowded Gaston Hall to see their teacher of virtue’s final address did not speak to the impact he has had on the Georgetown community, Schall’s introduction, given by Prof. Joshua Mitchell and former student, Michael P. Jackson (GRAD ’85), painted a glowing picture of the legacy of Fr. Schall, a man who, according to Jackson, “needs no introduction”:
“Fr. Schall’s teaching about the enduring things is rooted in reason and in faith; however, there is more than this. He is focused on the things that make us laugh, weep, and cheer. Father Schall set out with incessant good cheer and persistence to send me in the direction of great books and important ideas. I was humbled and dazzled by this man in every way, by his learning and by his generosity and spirit.”
Fr. Schall has served as a mentor, teacher, and friend to innumerable students, inspiring them to pursue excellence of the highest degree, both within and beyond the field of political philosophy. When speaking of the role he has played in the education of his students, Fr. Schall said, “Real education is not about current event or jobs. It is about those permanent things of the human spirit things found best, for most of us, in the obscure agents like Plato, Aristotle, etc.”
In his lecture, Fr. Schall affirmed his belief that, even after decades in the field of philosophy, he finds the connection of reason, revelation, and philosophy to be undeniable, and it is the interaction between these elements that the great philosophers of history have sought to explain. “It is not legitimate to say that reason is not related to revelation, or that philosophy poses no issue that revelation does not plausibly address,” said Schall. “What is reasonable is that they go together.”
Fr. Schall went on to reflect upon his students:
“Those here and those scattered throughout everywhere. These are the potential philosophers that abound in the streets of Athens, and, yes, of Florence and Washington. … There are three kinds of students, those only interested in grades, those who already know everything, those who will allow him, the teacher, in a short time in their youth to take them through things which it took him until old age to figure out. The professor hopes that they all eventually become eminently teachable, and that he is worthy of teaching them.”
No one would deny that Schall is more than worthy. Schall closed his final lecture by calling to mind the words of essayist Samuel Johnson, “It is folly to delay those things that cannot finally be escaped.” After leaving Georgetown, Fr. Schall plans to return to California and begin the next chapter of his life, and he hopes, to find his final gladness. “Human life is ultimately about meeting again, about love and friendship and serious joy about a final home. So let us think of meeting again.”
Photo: Tiffany Lachhonna