Fr. Colman Barry was my first teacher at Saint John's. I was a
freshman here in 1951, in those medieval days before students could have cars
on campus, when our lights went out by 10:30, when our prefect pounded on our
door every morning at 6:30 to get up us for Mass. I recall how homesick I was,
even though I was scarcely 70 miles fro home. I recall the brutality of
freshman initiation, and how I resented being a flunky for two upperclassmen,
making their beds every morning for six weeks, dusting their room, bring them
the morning Tribune.
But, on the other hand, at eight o'clock every Monday, Wednesday and Friday
morning I had American History from Fr. Colman, and nine o'clock I had
freshman English from Steve Humphrey. These were two of the test
teachers I have ever know. It was from Fr. Colman that I learned that
the best teachers are ham actors. I remember the day he came into
class and wrote the words "dies irae, dies illa" on the
blackboard and turned to us with an expression of extreme grief on his face.
"Gentlemen," he said, "General Dwight D. Eisenhower has just
announced that he intends to run for president."
When, in 1980, I returned to teach at Saint John's after 25 years away, I
had the pleasure of knowing many of my former professors as fellow teachers,
including Fr. Colman and Steve Humphrey. Fr. Colman was in the process
of gathering pieces for his anthology A Sense of Place. He asked
me for an essay, and I submitted an article about my memories and my
resentment of freshman initiation, and he accepted it. I was told later
that a number of alumni resented my article because it was the only negative
one in the book.
About 10 years later Fr. Colman came to my office because he was updating
his history of Saint John's called Worship and Work, and he wanted to
make sure he got the titles of all my novels correct. I told him then
that I regretted spoiling his Sense of Place with my negative
essay. "Nonsense," he said. "Your piece, by being
negative, makes the collection more authentic. I wish there were more
essays of that type. It validates the book." That was the
last time I saw him. Later that winter he died. I am very pleased
to receive the Colman Barry award, named for a man whose teaching style I
carried away from Saint John's and imitated throughout my own 47 years in the
classroom. Thank you very much.
John Hassler graduated from Saint John's in 1955. He was a student,
professor and Professor Emeritus there. Comments were read by Lee Hanley,
class of 1958.