Brother John O'Neill, 2004 Professor of the Year, Walks in Socrates' Footsteps

"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 chosen as Professor of the Year for 2004. Accepting the prestigious award last May in the Soda Center on campus, Brother John 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. Then 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 observed. So Socrates set himself on a journey to find other wise people - poets, craftsmen, and leaders. Brother John decided he would follow this same path.

For 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 Catholic, Lasallian, and liberal arts traditions.

Titled "Sharing the Mission - an Oracle for the SMC College Learning Community," the presentation, says 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." The reflections will be included in orientations to new faculty members.

Brother John taught courses in the School of Education, the Collegiate Seminar, Critical Perspectives and Graduate Liberal Studies programs. He has also worked in Brothers' ministries in the Philippines, Kenya, Bethlehem, and the western United States.

Despite his award, Brother John remains resistant to the idea that his teaching stood out when compared with that of his peers. But, he admits, "Maybe I'm like Socrates because he also realized that he was wise in knowing what he didn't know, and didn't claim to know.

from "Sharing the Mission: an oracle for the smc learning community"

Catholic Tradition

"The Catholic tradition calls us to address the students' ultimate concerns: Why are we here? What are our obligations to one another and to ourselves? What is the meaning of our existence?"
- Stephen Woolpert, Professor of the Year 2003

Lasallian Tradition

"The Lasallian tradition is reflected in very concrete ways - in availability to students, careful listening, in seeking to find out what's going on with them not just intellectually, but personally, spiritually."
- Carl Guarneri, Professor of the Year 1995

Liberal Arts Tradition

"For teachers, the liberal arts tradition means imbuing students with a love of learning, helping them develop the intellectual habits of mind and skills so that they will continue learning after they leave Saint Mary's."
- Gerald Brunetti, Professor of the Year 2001