Friday, May 13, 2005

Fr. John F. Sheridan, SJ (1906-1982)

Fr. John F. Sheridan, SJ taught at my alma mater, Loyola Blakefield in greater Baltimore, for many years. In fact, you could say that he was something of an "institution." (There is even a building named after him on campus). Unfortunately, his teaching career ended before I matriculated there so I was not able to benefit from his instruction. In the lobby of the school, there is a tribute to him. It includes a letter from a former student now a current teacher at Loyola. The letter describes how Father was "old school" in the very best sense. He was not necessarily nice, but he was good to the core. He cared for his students deeply; making them work very hard (gasp...he even failed them if he thought it was warranted...Nearly unheard of today), and he simply would not put up with nonsense in his classroom. He was a firm disciplinarian who inspired his students to reach for lofty goals and not settle for mediocrity. It was said that his mind was like a steel trap - devouring books with an insatiable curiosity and a photographic memory. Reading this testimony from his former student further reinforced that most of today's teacher are the exact opposite of Fr. Sheridan. They want to befriend students and be their "buddies." They push them along without ever challenging them. In short, they woefully prepare them for the real world.

It was common in years past to hear comments like "he is a good priest." Of course, nowadays the best compliment is that "he is a nice priest." We want Richard Simmons or Dr. Phil instead of Fr. John F. Sheridan, SJ. I am fairly certain that I wouldn't have liked Fr. Sheridan all that much if I had had him as a teacher. In fact, I probably wouldn't have respected him either; thinking that he was not "nice." I guess it takes a few years of living to realize that nice does not necessarily equate to good. As Fr. Benedict Groeschell points out "there are plenty of people walking around with smiles on their faces, acting 'nice.' Those same people, oftentimes, live immoral lives. But they sure are 'nice.'" Granted, I am certainly not advocating a sadistic, dour populace. Ideally, we (and our teachers) can be good and nice. Or rather, good and kind. For kindness is not synonymous with niceness, just as goodness and niceness are not synonymous. Kindness includes a genuine spirit of charity and concern for the good of others, whereas niceness is superficial. I have no idea if Fr. Sheridan was kind or not, but I do know that he was good. And in this day and age, I'll trade all of the niceness in the world, for some of Fr. John F. Sheridan's goodness.

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