"I felt like I just heard an Oracle," was the reaction of Brother John O'Neill, FSC, when he heard the news that he was named St. Mary's College Professor of the Year for 2004. Accepting the prestigious award in the Soda Center on campus last week, Brother John, associate professor of education, explained to the crowd this curious voice.
With so many excellent professors at Saint Mary's College, Brother John wondered how he could be chosen for this honor, when he recalled the story of the Oracle at Delphi. Asked to name the wisest man in the world, the Oracle answered that no one was wiser than Socrates.
"That was not exactly answering the question," Brother John pointed out. So Socrates set himself on a journey to find other wise people: poets, craftsman, and leaders, and Brother John decided he would follow this same path.
During the last 10 months, Brother John, now retired and living at Mont La Salle in Napa, interviewed 13 previous Professor of the Year award winners to learn more about what it means to be an excellent professor. With the help of Scott Gibbs, who videotaped the interviews, he produced a video series and booklets that focus on how some of the best professors at Saint Mary's have been influenced by the College's Lasallian, liberal arts, and Catholic traditions.
Titled "Sharing the Mission - an Oracle for the SMC College Learning Community," the presentation, said Brother John, was a challenge to the faculty to find their own Oracle. "Given that the Brothers will no longer be numerous and that their good works are still increasing, I wanted to tell them that their Oracle is to discover their role in that," he said.
Brother John has worked not only at the Moraga campus but also in Brothers' ministries in the Philippines, Kenya, Bethlehem, and the western United States. He is especially excited that his video and booklets will be used in the future by the Office of Faculty Development in orientations to new faculty members.
Despite his award, Brother John remains resistant to the idea that his teaching stood out when compared with that of his peers. But, he admitted, "Maybe I'm like Socrates because he realized that he was wise in knowing what he didn't know, and didn't claim to know."
-- by Joseph Wakelee-Lynch