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An Interview with Dr. Timothy Leonard

Dr. Knight: Could you tell us a little bit about your family of origin and your own education?

Dr. Leonard: I grew up in Cincinnati Ohio in a very Catholic family., and went to Catholic Schools in that city, and to seminary there. My father, who was in the wholesale fruits and vegetables business, died when I was Two years old, so when my mother re-married a few years later, her second husband, a physician and psychiatrist was the only father I actually knew.

My mother's family was in the retail end of the food business, and her father, having been at one time the president of Kroger, and later the president of his own chain of Supermarkets, was a wealthy man. I studied at The Gregorian University in Rome, and was ordained a priest in 1959, serving in Cincinnati for nine years. Ten years later I was laicized by the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, and studied education at The Ohio State University in Columbus Ohio, obtaining a doctorate in 1972.

Dr. Knight: How did you come to teach at St. Xavier University in Chicago? What did you teach?

Dr. Leonard: When I was studying at Ohio State, I also taught at what is now Columbus State College in the Department of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences. While there, I received a call from St. Xavier University to interview for a position teaching Curriculum and Foundations of Education.

That was 1972. I taught there from 1972 to 2003. Teaching in that field, I was also invited from time-to-time teach a course or two in other departments, including Religious Studies, Philosophy, and Psychology.

Dr. Knight: This is a time of hope in the Catholic Church with our spiritually compassionate Pope and other believers who understand his vision. How do you think he continually inspires the people?

Dr. Leonard. I think Pope Francis has captured the imagination of the people of the world by his own imaginative approach to living the gospel, and living it simply and straightforwardly. While he is orthodox in his Catholic beliefs, he foregrounds the practice of love in his actions. He is primarily a pastor; a pastor of the people of the world who clearly loves the gifts of the natural world upon which we all depend.

Dr. Knight: The ministry of teaching in a Catholic College/University brings to all questions that wouldn't be asked in another school. What direction did you offer the students/faculty at your school?

Dr. Leonard: When I first went to St. Xavier, I did not think of myself as a minister. I was spiritually a stranger to the institutional Catholic Church.

So many features of the church dismayed me. Specifically, the teachings on birth control and divorce and remarriage struck me as antagonistic to the human body, and the arguments for those teachings were weak theologically, philosophically, and psychologically. So when I began teaching there, I pretty well stuck to philosophical issues in education as those issues are manifest in history. In those early years, however, I did serve on student-centered committees in the college, and worked to improve my own understandings and share them with colleagues. For example, I became active in the Faculty Senate, and was president for a while.

Dr. Knight: How did you receive your call to serve in this ministry? How has this service changed over time?

Dr. Leonard: My intellectual life has mostly been centered on philosophy, spirituality, and theology. I felt called to serve in ministry at the age of 14, and was educated to fulfill that ministry in the seminary, and in the years in which I was a priest, that fundamental call was always in some way present, though I sometimes fought against it. When I was in seminary, I had no practical experience in ministry, and I gradually grew in my understanding and love of it through the nine years of practical teaching a parish in the liturgy during the time of Vatican II, teaching religion in elementary and high schools, writing articles about liturgy, the bible, and education. When I was teaching at St. Xavier, gradually I began to experience my work of teaching as ministry, encouraged by colleagues, and also by Bernard Lonergan's imperatives: Be attentive; Be understanding; Be reasonable; Be responsible; Be loving, and if necessary, change. I spent two years not working in schools, as I was assigned to the Cathedral, St Peter in Chains, to work part-time in the cathedral parish, and part time for the Catholic Telegraph, the Cincinnati Catholic newspaper, where I was a staff writer. A major part of that work, as it was located in the downtown of the city, was taken up with hearing confessions and counseling with people who came to our doors.

Dr. Knight: Could you describe some of the changes that occurred over this time? How did they effect/affect education?

Dr. Leonard: Those two years at the Cathedral were pivotal for me as a priest, as I became introduced to a wide range of people from all walks of life, and learned to meet them in the context of God's unconditional love for each human being. I also developed a voice through my writing and preaching in that large setting. At the same time, I began to realize my own failures and inability to follow through on my aspirations. Recalling the many times I had acted arrogantly towards others became a source of depression, and I sought therapy. Healing that gap between aspiration and failures was a struggle of many years, and the process is still going on.

God is in charge. It was a prayerful time, a rich time, a time that in many ways began my education in becoming a person. I learned about the politics of the city, about housing the poor, about the commonalities and diversities among us humans and in many ways set the foundation for my work in the university. Becoming less provincial and less sure of myself was the first step in a long process. I was learning to listen. Gradually, as a university professor, I adopted a manner of teaching that depended on conversation rather than "telling."

Dr. Knight: Can you explain to the reader the scope of your religious decisions?

Dr. Leonard: I guess a defining decision was to go to the seminary, even though I did not recognize its centrality to my later life, at 14 years old.

I was a mediocre student, but became fascinated by studying literature, working in theater and chorus, by physics, and eventually philosophy and theology. I mention these because my work as a student progressed through those subjects and they have carried me through most of my life. The seminary, on balance was good for me. I learned to pray, to meditate, in time, to study seriously.

I look back at those years as a gradual growing in love with life and community. Interestingly, I recall somebody told me on the day I took the step to pledge a life of celibacy that I looked anguished. I knew it was serious, but this friend said I looked more than just "serious." But I never gave it much thought until about ten years later. I truly lived a celibate life, but I sought psychotherapy because of its difficulties and a coincident depression. In the therapeutic process I deeply learned that I needed to change. This was consistent with Lonergan's last imperative, "if necessary, change."

I have come to admire the gift of celibacy, and at the same time to think such a gift ought not to be demeaned by making it a requirement for the priesthood. That change left me out of place in the Catholic church, but as my family grew (My wife Mary and have four children and seven grandchildren and will soon be celebrating our fiftieth wedding anniversary) I went to our Catholic parish and supported our children in receiving the sacraments and learning the catechism, and the bible.

On November 20, 1980, I made the decision not to drink alcohol, and joined Alcoholics Anonymous. That was and remains a decisive step in my spiritual life. Our children were still young, and I tremble when I think what may have happened if I had not done that. Ten years later, our second oldest son, Kevin, was becoming a serious problem for himself and the whole family, and we were advised by professional counselors to send him to boarding school. We searched for Catholic boarding schools, and took him to visit them, but it became clear that such schools did not suit his temperament.

A Quaker minister in our Chicago neighborhood told us about Scattergood Friends School in West Branch Iowa. That school was a grace for Kevin and all of us. They loved him to life! And when we saw that happening, we joined that neighborhood Quaker Meeting, and I have been a Quaker now for thirty years.

I am no saint, probably not even a good Quaker. But I am a practicing Christian Quaker, and experience my spiritual growth to be part of living in the universal church. I read lots of Catholic sources - probably even more than Quaker ones and I respect and love Catholicism for what it has and continues to do for humankind, but I practice in the manner of Quakers, experiencing contemplative worship and an opening to all God's people as invited by God to love and serve one another as God loves us. The scope of all the choices mentioned in this response, provides me with a sense of the wholeness of human existence living in the Trinity of God and the Community of all creation. I may be utterly deluded, but I think in Julia of Norwich's spirit that all has been well, and "all manner of things shall be well."

Dr. Knight: Do you think/feel that the use of social media in our parishes can assist young people to think about knowing/loving/serving God through their 'cyber-neighbor'?\\

Dr. Leonard: I wrote that poem in 2014, and I still think it expresses my answer to this question.


they walked into the restaurant

a father a mother two teenage kids

a boy and a girl a family

all together in one place

she on her cell phone

he on his iPod

the girl texting

the boy gaming

they order their food

it comes fast|

they eat

they leave

I wrote that poem in 2014, and I still think it expresses my answer to this question. I think the notions of friendship in cyber media tend to reduce friendship to a solipsistic abstraction. In no way do I hold this as an absolute dictum, as I know many young people are able to transcend that trap. But as in all things in the social world young people deserve to be led to an understanding that electronic communication needs to be seen in both its positive potentials and its likely negative consequences. It may be, but I am at this point unclear about how to do it, that educating youth on the human and spiritual context within which electronic media emerged in our time may be helpful. Years ago Adelbert Ames developed what is now called "The Ames Room" richly enabled students to realize physically how distorted our perceptions of the world are when those perceptions are experienced without context.

which Perhaps somebody could come up with a technique like and updated version of the Ames Room as a starting point. This educational problem interests me very much. At this point, however, when I witness what I observed in the poem, I am a bit skeptical.

Dr. Knight: As a Professor, you are able to educate and spiritually form men and women in the society through your work. What issues are predominantly on your mind and heart?

Dr. Leonard: For me currently, the practice of active listening is on my mind and heart. Our tendency is to walk the world as if our ways of thinking and believing as well as the content of our beliefs are somehow absolute or "the truth." This is correlated to our perceptions as taught by the Ames illusion noted above. The early Quaker George Fox famously told Quakers to "walk the world joyfully answering that of God in every person." Such a practice requires deep listening. What I have learned as a Quaker is when I hear something that I think is untrue, I need to pause and "center down", then listen to that of God in what the other person has said or is saying, and then as simply as possible say what I think the truth is. I have found this approach lessens the likelihood of unproductive verbal sparring


That is a hard discipline, but when I practice it I sense the presence of God. In the Catholic sensibility, it is a sacrament. This practice is directly applicable to the issues I care most about: White Supremacy; Inequality; Women's agency; The right use of language; and the joy of living in the Reign of God.

Dr. Knight: As an educator, why does gun violence seem to prevail in Chicago, even though we have attempted to bring in people to help others involved in gangs?

Dr. Leonard: We have guns in society because the public has been convinced that the 2nd amendment gives everybody the right to carry any gun they can get hold of, most of which have the purpose of killing human beings i.e.pistols, rifles, assault weapons and military weapons. The second amendment does no such thing.

Another poem Gerundives "a well-regulated militia being necessary for the security of a free state."

Sister Teresita was a great old gal| She could diagram a sentence then she'd show you how "Take a pause."

"Look at that clause"

Notice how it modifies the following phrase.

Antonin Scalia was a big time judge

With legal words he used to say you cannot fudge Except when it comes To owning guns That clause about militia just don't mean a thing. Antonin Scalia needed Sister Teresita

To teach him classic grammar when interpreting the law He sat on his lard, And tried very hard To totally ignore we have a National Guard. (2018) I realize the poem is not a legal document, but it does reflect lots of interpretations of the amendment. In addition there is a lot of evidence that "to bear arms" at the time of the amendment meant to join the militia, not to own a gun. The media, when it first addresses the motivation of a murderer, seeking for a "cause" again is not looking to context. The reason people kill other people with guns is that they have a gun. It is really not complicated. Outlaw guns; less gun violence. Australia did it, and they have less gun violence than they used to have. It angers me when Gun-rights people proclaim their impotence to ban guns, and blame the authors of the Constitution. I doubt that those writers had in mind what we experience now.

If they did, they were fools; and they were not fools. All of this at least raises a question that is not taken seriously in public discourse.

Teachers could play a role in this, as did my sixth grade teacher Sr. Teresita.

Dr. Knight: What issues do you have as a priority for our work as a society in regard to issues of loving our neighbor as ourselves?

Dr. Leonard :In the Unites States I think the major issue that needs to be addressed is White Supremacy and Racism. The idea that we are in a post-racial society is untrue. There is a white problem in this country, and it has been aggravated by the demographic reality that we shall soon become a country in which whites shall be a minority of our people. This frightens many white people, and these fears must be addressed educationally. Our tendency is to think that if people just learned the facts, for example, approximately 200,000 Blacks served in the Union Army and Navy during the Civil War, or the massive injustices against young Black men in our Criminal Justice System. We tend to think if we assemble a large number of facts proving the prevalence of unequal treatment of Black Americans, we could end racism. However, such knowledge is only persuasive when motivated and governed by love. See Pope Benedict XVI's encyclical "Caritas in Veritate."

In which he makes the point that Justice begins in love, or Cornel West's claim that "Justice if what love looks like in public," or Hans Urs von Balthasar's book "Love alone is credible." I am convinced that love drives the thirst for knowledge, and that the results of genuine learning ought to be presented primarily as loving and loveable. If we learned to teach in this way, we would consider the injustices in our criminal justice system as a failure to love.

Similarly we would address inequality in our economy as a failure to love, and our failure to act on an Equal Rights Amendment, and educated people would recognize the daily injustices towards women as fundamentally unloving. Thus I would prioritize White Supremacy as a main issue as it is almost universally present in some form or other in most white Americans and most clearly can be seen as an issue of love. For education referring to issues of Race, education, feminism, community, and love, I continuously recommend the works of the Black Feminist author, bell hooks.

Dr. Knight: Thank you very much for providing this interview for the many people all over the world in regard to learning about your work and how it has assisted the education of so many students. Thank you so much!


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