April 25, 2003

Jon Hassler Receives Colman Barry Award

Saint John's University presented Jon Hassler with the 10th annual Colman Barry Award for Distinguised Contributions to Religion and Socity on April 25, 2003.  The award was to honor his service to humanity through his writing.  Jon wrote the comments listed below about his friend and former professor, Fr. Colman Barry, OSB.  

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.




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