Poet Stephen Spender saluted those he called truly great as the ones who travel a short while toward the sun and who leave the vivid air signed with their honor. And our own Thomas Merton, monk and poet, reminded us in his famous Fourth and Walnut experience in downtown Louisville that each of us, in our own way, is walking around shining like the sun. We come together today to honor, remember and celebrate Dr. Margaret Mahoney, who has now moved further along in her journey toward the sun.
The Gospel reading we have just heard is from Matthew, Chapter 5, the Beatitudes. This is one of the more remarkable passages both in the Bible and in all of the world’s religious writings. Isn’t it amazing that in all the loud arguments we have heard from politicians in recent years in favor of placing the 10 Commandments in courthouse squares, we haven’t heard a word about placing the Beatitudes there?
In the Beatitudes we find Jesus’ topsy-turvy view of the world. It is thematic. And just so we won’t miss the point, Matthew places this lecture at the beginning of his Gospel. Since Matthew portrays Jesus strongly as teacher and rabbi, it’s almost like Professor Jesus is giving here his inaugural academic lecture. And he is giving us a glimpse and preview of his own life and death ahead.
And here we all are today because of the life and death of an academic, a professor who was dear to us all, and so iconic to the history of this place, Bellarmine.
Margaret came to us in Louisville from Montana, by way of a doctorate in Ancient History from the University of Minnesota. Here, in 1958, she became the first long-term, full-time woman on the faculty. She became a legend in her own time for her verve, her kindness, her little eccentricities and her popular classes. In those classes, facts mattered much. Truth was something you did not toy with or toss around. She was famous for her lecture—given every four years—on the life of Henry IX, last of the Tudors. She would let students frantically take notes before telling them, deadpan, that there was no Henry IX and that if they had been reading their books they would have known that fact and challenged her.
Dr. Mahoney will also be remembered for her extraordinary commitment to academic labor—for full class loads, for never missing a class, for heading over decades the innovative honors program known as the Cardinal Sections—which really should have been a full-time job in itself. She was nearly the lifelong chair of the formidable Rank and Tenure Committee. She was twice named Teacher of the Year by student vote and she won nearly every award that Bellarmine could bestow. I will not continue the impressive accounting. I think most of you know it, and we want to save plenty of time for you to offer your own tributes and memories.
I will just say that whenever I have spoken of Margaret in recent years, I have told the bookend stories from early and late in her teaching career. The first is a well-known Bellarmine legend dating to 1958. The so-called wits of the then all-male student body decided they would have some easy fun with one they took to be a dainty lady. They were about to meet Montana Maggie. She entered class one day to find a snake on the desk. The boys expected shrieking and terror. What they got was a woman who knew outdoor life (and snakes) well. She picked up the small serpent, put it in her pocket, and continued the class as if nothing unusual had occurred. This dazed and tamed the adolescent “tough guys,” who never dared to taunt her again.
Then, the other bookend: In her last semester of full-time teaching in 2012, Margaret took a fall in the classroom while she was lecturing. She went on with the lecture from the floor as students rushed to pick her up.
In the years between, she did such things as visiting Europe every summer, attempting to see in person every canvas that El Greco ever painted and attending such diverse programs as a summer institute on Chinese Civilization held in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Margaret Mahoney was a woman of wit, intelligence, sensibility and deep faith. Alone of her family initially, she chose to become a Catholic at age 7. In her adult years she became a close friend of Franciscans here at Bellarmine, such as Fr. John Loftus, our first dean; the historian, Fr. Jeremiah Smith; the theologian, Fr. Berard Marthaler; and Louisville priest, Fr. Eugene Zoeller. For many years, Margaret and Dr. Kathleen Lyons became the primary female faces of Bellarmine to the community-at-large.
By choice and by nature, Margaret Mahoney was a Beatitude person. She knew deep down Jesus’ counter-vision of life. Namely: We are not just a function of what we have or what happens to us. We attain happiness:
Not by clutching, but by sharing.
Not by desolation in the face of adversity, but by coping and creativity.
Not by passivity and indifference, but by thoughtful awareness and action.
Not by unlimited accumulation, but by fruitful simplicity.In short, not by settling for chaos, but by working for cosmos.
That was Dr. Margaret Mahoney, bless her; working for cosmos, bit by bit, student by student, person by person. She was a singular person in this singular place called Bellarmine. When comes such another?
The above is the eulogy given by Fr. Clyde Crews at Bellarmine’s memorial service for Dr. Margaret Mahoney on March 22, 2018. Click here to read more memories of Dr. Mahoney. —Editor
By Fr. Clyde F. Crews | firstname.lastname@example.org