Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown Community Remembers Professor John Hirsh

GEORGETOWN CAMPUS MINISTRY Dahlgren Chapel serves as a physical reminder for the Georgetown community of the Ignatian and Jesuit commitment to interreligious collaboration for spiritual harmony.

Georgetown University students, faculty and alumni gathered at Dahlgren Chapel to celebrate the life of the late Professor John Campion Hirsh on Jan. 16. 

Hirsh, who taught in Georgetown’s English department for 53 years, died Dec. 6, 2023 at 81. The Georgetown community came together for a Memorial Catholic Mass, celebrated by Fr. Mark Bosco, S.J., the vice president for mission and ministry.

“We celebrate the God that John truly believed in, truly served, truly loved and lived in his relationships with his family, his friends and through all the deep commitments to the service of others he has shown us these 53 years,” Bosco said during his homily.

John Pfordresher, professor emeritus of English, offered words of remembrance for Hirsh in his role as an academic. He spoke of his relaxed demeanor as he juggled different disciplines and areas of study, publishing books on subjects including his community service work and medieval literature and spirituality, with a special focus on the famed medieval English writer Geoffrey Chaucer.

“He seemed to exemplify this wonderful Renaissance ideal of sprezzatura,” Pfordresher said to the congregation. “A guy or gal who has sprezzatura does difficult things, but it never looks hard because he’s so good at doing those things. And John, being a renaissance person, always exemplified sprezzatura.”

Each speaker at the mass highlighted Hirsh’s dedication to the Jesuit value of service for others. Hirsh led a literacy tutoring and mentoring program for children in Sursum Corda, a low-income housing development in Washington, D.C. Hirsh later created a community-based learning course of the same name in which Georgetown students read with a child once a week while also learning literacy and teaching strategies in class. Although the Sursum Corda co-op shut down in 2017, the program continues today in a new location at the Golden Rule apartment complex.

Bradley Galvin (COL ’20, GRD ’21), a former student of Hirsh and teaching assistant for Sursum Corda, attended the service. Galvin, who will teach the course this semester, said Hirsh had a hands-off approach when working with tutors, allowing the process to unfold naturally. 

Georgetown University students, faculty and alumni gathered at Dahlgren Chapel to celebrate the life of the late Professor John Campion Hirsh on Jan. 16. | Photo Courtesy of  Margo Kelly and Elizabeth Hirsh

“He gave everyone the tools necessary so they’d be able tutors. But beyond that, he’d let everyone have their own unique experience in the program and just let it work. And that’s what it always does. It just has this sort of magic to it that allows people to find these newfound connections that they never really would have in the first place,” Galvin told The Hoya. 

Shiv Newaldass (COL ’03), grew up in the Sursum Corda co-op, where he took part in Hirsh’s tutoring program. Newaldass spoke of the life-changing impact Hirsh’s program had on him as a 10-year-old in the country’s then “murder capital,” who later returned as a Sursum Corda tutor himself while at Georgetown. 

Newaldass also spoke of Hirsh’s dedication to disrupting the neighborhood’s prevalent cycles of poverty and violence. 

“He knew our stories to provide asterisks to the statistics. He understood the politics, but he saw past the numbers, the policies, the practices and just its humanity. He recognized desperation and embraced it as a shared experience. He was in it with us in all ways, always,” Newaldass said at the event. 

Newaldess said that Hirsh played an essential role in advocating for the Sursum Corda housing development to be saved, even as developers and city officials pushed for its demise as a hotspot for crime and drug dealing. 

“It was John who quietly raised hell of all sorts in the advancement of not a literacy program, but an option, the only option to save the homes that 163 families needed so desperately, my own included,” he added. 

Officer Darrin Bates (COL ’03), another former student in the Sursum Corda program, delivered the final speech, in which he said Hirsh acted as a father figure during the formative years of his life as the son of a young single mother who was deeply disturbed by the violence around him.

“He became my emergency contact, the first to know trouble befell me at school, which exemplified the depth of his commitment. In turn, I would become his emergency contact later in his life,” Bates said

Bates added that Hirsh provided him with personal and academic support throughout every milestone of his life.  

“Our bond continued to flourish when I joined the Metropolitan Police Department as an officer. John’s pride in my accomplishments was palpable as he sat in the audience with my wife before my speech as a class speaker, smiling radiantly — the pride only a father could feel,” Bates said.

Fr. Bosco said Hirsh’s legacy aligns with the ideals presented in the Beatitudes, a list of virtues Jesus preached in the Gospels including blessings to the poor, meek and pure of heart. 

“I think it’s safe to say that John strove to make these gospel virtues his own through his great love of social justice and the Catholic social teaching of the Church, his care for the poor, the meekness and humility he showed as a professor and a colleague, the purity of heart and all that he wished to accomplish.”     

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