Fr. James Schall, S.J., 91, a former Georgetown University government professor and longtime columnist for The Hoya, died April 17, leaving behind a legacy of dedicated teaching and writing on the subject of political philosophy.
Schall’s death comes after a brief hospitalization, according to an April 18 email Rev. Ron Anton, S.J., sent to the campus community announcing Schall’s passing. The university is currently finalizing arrangements regarding funeral services for Schall.
Born in Pocahontas, Iowa, in 1928, Schall entered the California Province of the Society of Jesus in 1948 after serving in the army immediately following World War II and was ordained as a priest 15 years later. He earned his doctorate in political philosophy from Georgetown in 1960 and returned to the university as a professor of political philosophy in the department of government in 1977, where he taught for 35 years. As a three-time recipient of the Edward B. Bunn, S.J., Award for Faculty Excellence, an honor bestowed annually on a faculty member chosen by the senior class of Georgetown College, Schall’s classes were very popular among the student body.
Schall should be remembered for his immense devotion to his students and the intellectual life he fostered at Georgetown, according to former student Cindy Searcy (COL ’04).
“He devoted his entire life to the proposition that there is such a thing as Truth, and that we are capable of understanding it,” Searcy wrote in an email to The Hoya. “He cared for students as souls made in the image and likeness of God, each one entirely unique and worth knowing. I have never met anyone who so thoroughly lived what he preached.”
Schall was a didactic professor, who aimed to teach lessons that were applicable outside the classroom as well, according to Colleen Dawson (COL ’10), a government major who took Schall’s popular “Elements of Political Theory” course.
“I can’t say that I’m, at this point in time, a political philosopher, but I think that some of the things we learned in class are still with me — talking about friendship, what it means to be a good person, a good friend,” Dawson said in an interview with The Hoya.
Schall focused on igniting students’ interest in the subject matter he taught, former student María Teresa Chamorro (COL ’12) wrote in an email to The Hoya.
“The point was not to test the student, but to spark in her a light-bulb, a curiosity about what is,” Chamorro wrote. “What fascinated me about Fr. Schall’s classes was his philosophy on teaching, and for that matter, his philosophy about what life is all about.”
A renowned scholar, Schall authored more than 30 books on religion and political philosophy in his lifetime, including “Another Sort of Learning,” a book which explores how to obtain an encompassing education both within and outside of academia.
Schall also wrote over 40 columns and essays for The Hoya during his tenure. Schall, along with former Associate Dean Fr. Ryan Maher, S.J., and Executive Director of Campus Ministry Fr. Kevin O’Brien, S.J., alternated writing for a weekly column titled, “As This Jesuit Sees It.” While a professor, Schall lived in Wolfington Hall and took a semester off from teaching in 2010 following a surgery for jaw cancer. Schall moved to a Jesuit retirement home in Los Gatos, Calif., after retiring in 2012, where he continued to write books and lecture for small groups.
After a 35-year-long career teaching at Georgetown, Schall delivered his final lecture at Georgetown in Gaston Hall in December 2012. His last lecture was titled “The Final Gladness” and focused on the topic of friendship.
Though he met hundreds of students and faculty during his time at Georgetown, Schall never forgot a person or their story, according to Fr. Matthew Carnes, S.J., an associate professor in the department of government and a longtime colleague of Schall.
“He genuinely loved getting to know people, and he did so with a humility and a real interest that are rare today,” Carnes wrote in an email to The Hoya. “I was touched about how he would always ask about my mom and dad after meeting them one time, and he always amazed me at his recall of students that he had taught years before.”
A true pillar of the community, Schall embodied the Jesuit ideals the university is founded on, Dawson said.
“He represented, in my mind, what it means to be men and women for others,” Dawson said. “He cared for students beyond how they did on the final exam. He cared about them as people.”