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The Teacher Who Changed My Life
The fact that your summer 2005 issue contains both “The Teacher Who Changed My Life” and the obituary for Professor Vincent O. McBrien leads me to write that Vince was indeed one of the most important figures in my life, since I doubt that I would have become a mathematician and, eventually, a professor without his influence and encouragement. Many an afternoon I would visit his office in Alumni Hall, and we would talk about math. I still have his personal copy of the book, What is Mathematics?, which he gave me then. A few years later we went together to a math meeting in Brooklyn and stayed at the YMCA there; it was a lot of fun.
Vince was an inspiration to the more serious students in his classes even though his standards were too high to please some of the others. He applied his standards to himself as well: it was amazing how long he kept traveling from Auburn to Cambridge to attend seminars after he retired. I won’t forget him.
William F. Reynolds ’50
Thank you for publishing Thomas Cronin’s tribute to Professor Grattan in the summer issue of the magazine. It was well deserved.
In my years of undergraduate and graduate work, I had a number of excellent professors, but only a small handful of truly outstanding ones. Professor Grattan was in this latter group. Moreover, he was the best professor I had at Holy Cross. He was definitely not a showman; in fact, he had a laid-back approach to teaching, reading from his lecture notes. However, his lectures were superb, clearly showing his knowledge and the effort he put into preparation.
When I became a professor, I tried to emulate some of the traits of the outstanding professors who had taught me. Professor Grattan showed me the importance of being passionate about the subject, always being prepared and being available outside of the classroom.
Incidentally, he was not an easy grader. I had to work for my B’s.
Bernard A. Morin ’54
I was delighted to see your profile of Robert Wright ’65. I became a big fan after NBC’s huge publicity campaign in February to raise autism awareness. When NBC television ran autism coverage every day, and Newsweek published an autism cover story and Imus started speaking out on MSNBC radio, suddenly people took notice.
I know firsthand what it is like to have an autistic child because my son (now 3 ½ years old) was diagnosed last year with Pervasive Development Disorder (PDD). Many people think that a diagnosis of autism means Rain Man, but NBC’s coverage presented a realistic picture of the disorder which was not simplified or sensationalized for television.
I understand that the Holy Cross Magazine is geared toward life at the school and alumni achievements. Quite honestly, it is difficult to write something for the class notes when it is not a marriage, birth or promotion. So perhaps I can take some liberties by saying that my big accomplishment this past year has been advocating for my son. Within one year’s time, my son can now speak in phrases, he makes eye contact like a “normal” person, he can follow one step commands, and he’s just beginning to initiate play with other children. These are huge, giant steps for us.
Given that one in every 166 children is diagnosed with autism, I want to thank Mr. Wright for using his skills and power to find answers to this epidemic. In the meantime, I think it's important to reach out and tell other alumni out there that they are not alone. I have a wonderful son with autism, and I know I can’t be the only one.
Catherine Swanz Glastal ’89
I’m wondering how many letters, calls and e-mails you have received pointing out that Virgil, and not Ovid, was the source of the Forsan et haec olim meminisse juvabit line cited on Page 20 of the summer 2005 issue of Holy Cross Magazine. I’m also wondering what percentage of these messages came from those of us old enough to have studied Latin.
Jock O’Connell ’70
Fred Hoogland ’62 recently lent a perspective on Holy Cross from years gone by, suggesting that there was no one “‘out of the ordinary’ on campus” since there were few minorities, women or Protestants back then. That's one way of looking at it. Another would be that in days gone by Holy Cross and its sisters like Fordham, Georgetown, Boston College, Santa Clara and San Francisco, served local communities of immigrants—German, Italian, Irish, French and others—and that the student bodies reflected that mission. Then, as now, immigrants and their children were viewed as anything but “ordinary” by their neighbors and were neglected by mainline institutions of higher learning—especially elites like Yale and Princeton, which also had highly sectarian identities, to put it gently.
The Jesuits took on poor boys like my grandfather who couldn’t go to college somewhere else. And when prosperous families like my grandmother’s found that a child with a Catholic “identity,” like cousin Furlong, wasn’t allowed to be comfortable at Princeton, Daddy got sent to the Jesuits at Holy Cross.
But this Jesuit enterprise would hardly seem worth it if it were simply about self-improvement or identity, and it could not possibly be rescued simply by making it more gender- or “race”-friendly, or by turning Holy Cross into a Catholic Amherst or Pomona, whatever that might mean.
Long after my grandfather had married the daughter of a Carnegie Hill steel person, he was still hanging around the Fordham School of Social Work, and looking after the school children of New York City —instead of settling into comfortable prosperity. And his friend Bob Wagner—who fought for Social Security, workers rights, the Tuskegee Airmen and against lynching—was calling Catholicism something he had been growing toward most of his adult life. Why?
However the faces of ordinary people may change at Holy Cross, I hope it and the Society of Jesus will continue their mission to inspire people like my grandfather and Wagner with the spirit of Christian humanism and common decency. As I read in your magazine about Dr. Anthony Fauci ’62, John Wiater ’75 of Catholic Relief Services and the United Nations, and others, I am led to believe there is still a prayer of this... whatever else might change.
James F. McManus III ’70