The Catholic University of America

April 12, 2012

Five Professors Share Memories of CUA

  Elaine Walter
  Elaine Walter, professor of musicology in the Benjamin T. Rome School of Music
> Watch video.

Five longstanding faculty members of The Catholic University of America came together on Wednesday, April 11, to help mark the University’s 125th anniversary. Their presentation “Stories of the Teacherly Life: Faculty Reflect on Their Decades at CUA” was part of CUA’s Founders Week celebration.

The five professors shared memories of their time at Catholic University in the Edward J. Pryzbyla University Center Great Room with their students and colleagues in attendance and with a loop of vintage photos running behind them. Mostly they talked about the people who influenced them over the years.

“I have an overwhelming sense of awe toward the character and abilities of my colleagues and the distinguished alumni of Catholic University … who made it a joy to come to work every day,” said panelist Ralph Rohner, James Whiteford Professor of Common Law in the Columbus School of Law, who first arrived at Catholic University as a freshman in 1956. He continued on as a law student and soon after joined the faculty.

Julius Levine, a professor in the School of Architecture and Planning, noted that teachers have a “sacred trust” with the young students who come to the University during “very formative years.” He recalled a transforming time in the lives of his young architecture students. “After Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, our city was on fire. I left the University and I could see smoke. There was a great deal of angst and anxiety in the city.”

  Related Links

> Video of "Stories of the Teacherly Life" panel

> Founders Day celebration

> Cardinal Wuerl's homily at Founders Day Mass

> President Garvey's Founders Day Speech

> Photo gallery

“It was a pivotal time in America,” he said, but also a time that “opened new vistas.” He says he watched as young architecture and planning students expanded their concept of architecture and became interested in community development, health, housing, the environment — the issues that shape cities.

Elaine Walter, professor of musicology in the Benjamin T. Rome School of Music, joined the faculty in 1963 and from 1982 to 2001 served as dean. During those years, she said, she was “extraordinarily lucky” to work with people who influenced and changed her life. She said she is writing a book about those people and telling the stories that no one else knows.

She told the audience about the time that renowned musician and humanitarian Mstislav Rostropovich spent a year as artist in residence at Catholic University. She knew him simply as “Slava” and she recalled how the “world’s greatest cellist played in our orchestra.” One time, as he was rehearsing the U.S. National Anthem with his students, Rostropovich — who had been expelled from the Soviet Union — urged his students to consider what it meant to play that song “in the land of the free.” Then, he instructed them, “now we play it again.” Walter said she won’t ever forget how the students played it again with renewed passion and understanding.

Lucy Cohen, professor of anthropology, shared how Regina Flannery influenced her. “She was the first women faculty member to join the arts and sciences faculty in 1935. She was not only a great anthropologist, but one of the first women anthropologists to conduct field studies.” She said Flannery served as a role model for her as she embarked on her own field research, studying people without history or “women who have been forgotten” and most recently, the growth of multicultural communities.

Rev. Frank Matera, Andrews-Kelly-Ryan Professor of Biblical Studies


Rev. Frank Matera was the last panelist to speak and he offered a heartfelt tribute to a colleague.

“The benefit of working at a university is the people we meet who shape our lives.” Some of these people, he said, “are the students we teach and they shape us as much as we shape them.”

Faculty members “also form and change us,” said Father Matera, who is the Andrews-Kelly-Ryan Professor of Biblical Studies in the School of Theology and Religious Studies.

Such a person, said Father Matera was Professor David Johnson, of the Department of Semitic and Egyptian Languages and Literatures, passed away last fall. “He was a man of immense learning and totally unpretentious.”

He wore a wide-brimmed straw hat, khaki pants with suspenders, and a backpack that made him look like a “Shrine tourist,” said Father Matera, referring to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

Johnson was a “distinctive academic with a breadth of knowledge far beyond his own discipline,” he added, recalling the time and attention Johnson gave to staff throughout the University.

Johnson rode the bus with a pocketful of change for those who might need it, said Father Matera. “He met and listened to people you and I would find it difficult to look at.”

“Stories of the Teacherly Life” began with an introduction by Randall Ott, dean of the School of Architecture and Planning and co-chair of the 125th Anniversary Planning Committee. He noted that a day earlier, as CUA launched its anniversary week celebration, it was announced that 352,627 hours of service had been completed by the University community, far surpassing the goal of 125,000 hours.

In planning this panel discussion, he said he hoped to bring together faculty members whose years of service might equal 125. “This group has also surpassed its goal,” said Ott.

Catholic University’s Founders Week anniversary celebration continues through Saturday, April 14. For more information on the University’s anniversary events, visit




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