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November 5, 2004

Their Reasons for the Season:

Faculty and Staff Reflect on What They’re Thankful For

On Thanksgiving Day we acknowledge our dependence," wrote William Jennings Bryan. With that day approaching, four faculty and staff write from the heart about what they’re thankful for:



Sandra McDowell

Sandra McDowell

Lead Custodian in the Edward J. Pryzbyla University Center


The times we live in are unlike any other I have witnessed during my life. Leaders of nations are more interested in corporate and personal wealth than the needs of the people they represent. The strength and hierarchy of the family seems to be diminishing and the result is disastrous. Gangs, the media and hip-hop music have more influence over our children than the simple wisdom of elders. Minorities continue to be afflicted by the same illnesses, despite medical advances. Jobs are being outsourced and many Americans are underemployed, unemployed and unable to provide for their families. However, at the end of the day, I thank God for my health, family and job because — apart from his blessings — I could very well be a victim of extenuating societal, cultural and economic circumstances.


Despite the winds of change in our society and the depressing news we encounter every day, I am thankful to be in the land of the living, embraced by people who love me despite my shortcomings, and I’m very, very thankful for an honest job. I am a survivor of cancer while many of my counterparts have lost that vigilant fight — I am thankful for my life. My family represents my strength, my resilience and my continuity — for them I am thankful. Finally, to be able to work for a living wage in an environment free of tyrannical management and spirited by comrades who work as a team — for this I am thankful.


So as the world continues to turn, I remain thankful for these things that matter the most: health, family and honest employment. I will sing songs of thanks until I take my last breath.


I also would like to thank Kevin Peterson, director of custodial services; Jim Battle, manager of custodial services; and Margaret Liddell, my immediate supervisor, for their support in the work I do in the Pryzbyla Center.




William Lantry

William Lantry
Director of Academic Technology Services
Center for Planning and Information Technology


Whether some animating, life-giving presence surrounds us, or whether we are brought together here by absolute chance, I cannot say. I do know, however, what our guiding principle must be: that our actions should bear fruit in the lives of others — and for that one bit of certainty I am grateful.


I am thankful, too, for the deep connections we all experience, the interplay of harmonies between us, and another great gift we have received: the ability to see those harmonies. In my youth a professor saw something in my work and gave me a chance to develop part of that gift. I do my best to honor her and strengthen the connection by working to help those just beginning to strengthen their own gifts.


It is with inestimable gratitude that I consider my involvement in projects much larger than myself. The goal of building an electronic world where everyone can be connected is far from realized, but there are thousands of us working on it. It is a humbling daily joy that this work can be done in the context of a university, the kind of institution where the great figures of rhetoric and philosophy taught and wrote.


I am thankful especially for two colleagues, one who has always given me the best possible counsel, even in the bleakest times, and another who has lately reminded me what we should be doing and how we should be achieving it. I am grateful this work can be done at a university founded by the Church, the Church of my father, and of his father before him, on down through the generations. And I am thankful to be involved in the lives of six young men of the next generation: Thomas, Joseph, Julian, Baird, Daniel, and young William James, this last recently born to my wife and me almost miraculously in the 47th year of my age. When I speak to them, I can almost hear my own father speaking through me, and I know I must somehow pass on the lessons I learned from him.


But most of all I am thankful to my wife, Kate, who daily reminds me of the possibilities of finding the delicate interconnectedness of all things and people. She brings both delight and perspective to even the smallest events of daily existence, and her voice, whether singing medieval or modern, can unite an entire audience or congregation into a harmony of joyful contemplation. Watching her stride across a plaza or sitting near her in candlelight makes me want to sing of all that is good and peaceful in the world, and makes me constantly thankful that she exists, and that I have the great honor of sitting by her side.




Rev. Kurt Pritzl, with students

Rev. Kurt Pritzl, O.P.

Dean of the School of Philosophy


As the years pass and with more experience of life, I am becoming more and more thankful for the blessings all around me, in the lives of others and in my own life. For this itself I am grateful. It is a development worth savoring, for it happens amidst both the joys and sorrows of life.


The joys that last, mature and deepen are the best, and it takes a span of time to know this firsthand. This fall semester begins my 25th year teaching at Catholic University. Here I am, teaching undergraduates some of the same texts that I have loved since my undergraduate days, discovering new insight in those texts, feeling more certain than ever that they matter profoundly for people, and finding myself, after all these years, in an intellectual home with colleagues who care about the same things and about me.


Along with joys of all kinds, the years also bring sorrows: the loss of loved ones, the onset of illness, the sting of disappointment and the burden of worry. It becomes clearer how complicated life can get and even how tragically some things work out. I have learned from my small share in all this how precious life is and how each day, indeed, is a gift. In the Catholic tradition, the Eucharist, which means “thanksgiving,” is celebrated every day. I appreciate more and more why the Church does this. Each day brings new chances for redemption, new blessings and new reasons to offer thanks to God.


One of the great blessings and privileges of being a priest — and my Dominican vocation is what I am probably most thankful for — is that people share their lives with you, often the most momentous parts of their lives. In this way I have come to see so much goodness at work in the lives of people beyond my family, my religious family and my circle of friends, and I have met many dear, good and brave people. This multiplies the thankfulness and broadens it.


For me an important passage in the Scriptures is from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, chapter four, verse seven: “Name something you have that you have not received.” To see more and more how much I have received in life, and to recognize how foolish and unthinking I would be to take it for granted or to feel that I was just owed it, is a great gift. This Thanksgiving Day once again offers an opportunity to take stock of God’s goodness and to see how my perceptions of his goodness have deepened. Such recognition prompts a longing for grace to live with and act from a spirit of thankfulness each day.




Lisa Lerman

Lisa Lerman
Professor of Law and Director of the Law and Public Policy Program


When I leave my house each morning, I look at the sky and breathe the fresh air. The new day makes me smile. I am deeply thankful for all the blessings of health, home and family, but here I want to identify a few other people and things that fill my cup. Let me note some things I’m thankful for within the small universe of the law school where I spend so much time:

  1. The law school community, all those people I’ve known for nearly two decades, and the collective ethics of care and service that define both the law school and the university communities.
  2. Leroy Eison, a day porter who manages the upkeep of the building, whose calm competence is bested only by the big, warm smile that appears each time he and I pass in the hallway.
  3. The privilege to work with so many fine students, to have the chance to know them, to study with them, to exchange ideas — and the special privilege to work with the Law and Public Policy students, who aspire to devote their careers to public service.
  4. The rhythmic chugging of the trains that go by outside my office window each day, a periodic, soothing reminder of all that goes on beyond the walls of the university.     
  5. The staff who administer the law school’s Office of Institutes and Special Programs and my two student assistants, who attend to a thousand details relating to the Law and Public Policy Program. 
  6. The comfort and privacy of my office, with its smooth wood desk and soft chairs, littered with souvenirs of years gone by — gifts received, books collected, the detritus of work completed.
  7. Joan Vorrasi, the director of the special events office, who oversees nearly every major and minor event at the law school, and who makes sure that the law school community is cared for and that guests of the law school are made welcome.
  8. Computers and the Internet: This sounds like a silly thing to be thankful for, but all the new technology is miraculous in its transformation of communication and research.
  9. Lisa Koker, the law school faculty receptionist, who never is in a bad mood, never loses or forgets anything, and is helpful and kind to every single person who approaches her desk.
  10. The water cooler down the hall from my office, from which I draw a seemingly endless supply of cool, clean water.
  11. Jose Bustillo, another day porter, who sometimes plays the piano in the staff lounge during his lunch break. This creates a small oasis of music in a building where people mostly deal in words.
  12. The underground garage, where I can find a place to park without difficulty every day, and a million other small amenities that resulted from the relentless work of Ralph Rohner, Leah Wortham and all the others involved in the planning and construction of our fine building.
  13. Finally, and perhaps most of all, I am thankful to deans Bill Fox and Lucia Silecchia for their tireless work on behalf of the law school, for their unfailing care and concern for the people who comprise the law school community, and for devoting their many talents to the operation and improvement of the institution.


As I go through my days at school, I’m so often struck by these and other blessings. During my sabbatical last year, a new flower bed was planted between the Pryz and the law school.  I wonder whether the people who planted those flowers know how many of the rest of us are pleased by them.


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