R.I.P. Mr. Grady: interview, “The Scope and Nature of University Education”

It is with a bemused pen that I report the passing of John Grady, the director of La Salle University‘s Honors Program. Rightfully considered a pioneer of honors programs among small liberal arts colleges, for 34 years Mr. Grady was a major influence on the careers and lives of hundreds of La Salle graduates — myself (proudly) included. As with the passing of Dr. Michael Kerlin, a professor whom I deeply loved, Mr. Grady’s abscence will take some time to fathom.

Other weblogs covering Mr. Grady’s passing:

Last summer Mr. Grady and I sat down for what became a several-hour interview conducted over the course of two evenings. Ever the firebrand and unafraid of controversy, he was very candid with me, readily sharing his strongest opinions, both hopeful and pessimistic, about the past and future of La Salle and American liberal arts education. I must confess, I was then and remain now strongly likeminded with his educational radicalism, which, rather than becoming vitiiated with age and cancer, had grown more strident.

Mr. Grady’s philosophy of higher education was profoundly shaped by John Henry Cardinal Newman‘s book, The Scope and Nature of University Education, which I immediately purchased after the interview. I’ve read portions of it, and I must say, I can sense its imprint upon him. In the interview he described the purpose of honors programs as refuges for “the life of the mind” and as cultivators of “well-rounded, free-minded citizens” who would be capable of acting independently as mature, spiritual adults in democratic society. He expressed that never were such individuals as important as during eras like today, when democracy seems to be dangerously slouching toward its shadow-side.

The fourth discourse of Newman’s book, entitled “Its Own End,” seems to have been the origins of this dialectic between mind and body/scholar and citizen within Grady’s philosophy. Newman concluded the discourse with this remarkable final comment:

The moralist will tell us that man, in all his functions, is but a flower which blossoms and fades, except so far as a higher principle breathes upon him, and makes him and what he is immortal. Body and mind are carried on into an eternal state of being by the gifts of divine munificence; but at first they do but fail in a failing world; and if the powers of intellect decay, the powers of the body have decayed before them, and, as an hospital or an alms-house, though its end be ephemeral, may be sanctified to the service of religion, so surely may a university, even were it nothing more than I have as yet described it [above in the rest of the discourse]. We attain to heaven by using this world well, though it is to pass away; we perfect our nature, not by undoing it, but by adding to it what is more than nature, and directing it towards aims higher than its own.

Thus was Mr. Grady’s life, whatever its faults and strengths: over three decades in service to the idea of the American Catholic university and the La Sallian tradition.

In this way, too, he was distinctly La Sallian, for age and disease did not mean fear or petrification. As with Dr. Kerlin and many of the university’s older faculty, the passage of time has meant the progressive deepening of a “couldn’t care less” attitude to naysayers and nitpickers in the pursuit of education, edification, and challenging young minds. I’m left to wonder how much of the intellectual zeal of myself and my friends was born innately of ourselves, or brought out and forged by La Salle. If nothing else, Mr. Grady and our professors provided us the wide and fertile space to explore ourselves, guiding us with well-timed hot pokes and prods.

I strongly recommend Newman’s book by its own right for all of us who desire to become professors and college administrators. An unknown sage has made it available for free on Google Books (click on the link above or Grady’s photo).

As it happens, my interview was probably the longest and most in-depth ever conducted with the man. Two copies currently exist: one in my personal possession and one currently stored in the La Salle archives. I intend to make another copy for the Grady family. Additionally, I will also seek permission to make it available for download from my website. In the meantime, you may contact the head of the archives, Brother Joe Grabenstein: 215.951.1294 or grabenst {at} lasalle {dot} edu.

The interview was the fruit of Dr. Barbara Allen‘s course in oral history methodology, part of La Salle’s graduate program in history. If I may, I’d like to end this post by saying all the interviews of important La Sallians that have been conducted as part of the course have done an invaluable service not only for the students, but for the university itself.

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2 thoughts on “R.I.P. Mr. Grady: interview, “The Scope and Nature of University Education”

  1. A nice note. I cannot attend the funeral, but I am happy that you’ll be there to represent Honors students (as well as philosophy majors). Jack Grady was in many ways an unassuming man, but you are right in describing him as a “major force” at La Salle. Few people realize how much energy (and imagination) he put into the Honors program – interviewing prospective students (to find the best), making arrangements for trips and extracurricular (the calls & the haggling for prices), calling donors to support the program, new ideas for courses, guidance for teachers, etc. La Salle’s Honors program was recognized as one of the best in the nation – not an honorific easy street, but a demanding program of study – a boot camp for the mind and spirit. He will be missed.

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