Story by Erin Hallissy
Joseph Lanigan professor of philosophy, retired tutor, integral program
When Joseph Lanigan began teaching at Saint Mary's in 1959, the student body was all male, Dante and Galileo halls were the only class buildings and the faculty all sat down for lunch together.
"There were several tables, but you could hear everybody, and we had conversations," Lanigan recalls. "I saw a remarkable kind of immediacy and collegiality."
That same atmosphere remains evident in classrooms, says Lanigan, who retired last summer after 46 years as a tutor in the Integral Program - "the diverse liberal arts culminating in the seminar" that is no "ordinary" major. "You have a much richer sort of conversation," Lanigan says, noting the program's intimacy brings advantages. "You're working with people you've gotten to know. You can make more demands on one another."
Students responded to Lanigan's gentle manner and curious mind. "Joseph was completely about sincerity and modeling how to be thoughtful," says Maureen O'Herin '83, an Integral Program graduate who recalls her mentor asking students to reflect in classes before rushing to weigh in on ideas. "He was not interested in himself, but in how he could help students end up with something truer than what we started with," says O'Herin, who teaches English at Las Positas College in Livermore. "When you change the way you think, you change the way you are, and Joseph helped me change the way I thought."
Lanigan's classes, especially his noteworthy metaphysics course focusing on Plato's Parmenides, placed demands on students. But Lanigan, who speaks fondly of students and believes in their innate ability to grasp complex ideas, notes the Integral Program - which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year - is not an honors program. "Many students who didn't do well in high school do well in it," he says. "You really begin at the beginning. That's especially true with regards to math. Many students who have trouble with high school geometry really love Euclid."
Lanigan, 82, enjoyed teaching so much he never dreamed of retiring. "You have the advantage of lapsing toward senility while working with these young people," he says with a characteristic sly smile. "It's an intrinsically rewarding activity, and you're working with the future."
But Lanigan, who lives in a Julia Morgan house in Berkeley where he and his wife, Mary, sometimes took in students, now has time for research projects. The couple has four children, Julia and SMC graduates Cathleen, Maire, and J.D., and two grandchildren. Lanigan's favorite activity is talking with Mary because "we're both so different, although we have the same basic beliefs."
Those beliefs include a deep respect and admiration for the Christian Brothers and Saint John Baptist de La Salle.
"He certainly was a revolutionary education reformer concerned about bringing education to the poor," says Lanigan, a graduate of a Christian Brothers high school in New Hampshire and the University of Notre Dame. Lanigan is a devout man who went to Mass daily on campus when he worked at Saint Mary's.
Lanigan spent his last 10 years at SMC working on the first floor of Garaventa Hall, where he experienced the same collegiality that he found in the old dining room in 1959.
"It's just wonderful having people with common objectives and rich interests," Lanigan says, "In that regard, it's very difficult to leave."