Connecting Past to Present: Teaching History through the Jesuit Lens

Walk into the Jesuit Residence during lunchtime and it’s likely you’ll see the Jesuits hootin’ and hollerin’ with each other. Jesuit Father John Donnelly is no exception. He comes through the door that separates the Jesuits’ dining area from the lobby with a glass of beer in his hand.

“I left some of my remaining pizza back there in order for us to chat,” Donnelly says jokingly. “Now let’s talk.”

Donnelly sits in a reclining chair and begins to share the reasons why he became a Jesuit.

“In 1952 I graduated from Campion Jesuit High School and that summer I was doing a lot of reflecting on the fact that my friends were going into the seminary and then I thought, ‘Hey! That’s a really good idea,’” Donnelly said.

After traveling for educational purposes before his ordination in 1965, Donnelly found his way to Marquette University in 1971. He served as a full-time professor of history until retiring last year. Before Marquette, Donnelly served as a TA while working on his Ph.D. at UW-Madison. He described his time there as “rambunctious” due to the heated political times of the Vietnam War. Donnelly recalled a memorable Saturday morning while in the campus Jesuit house.

“I remember waking up and seeing the police with tear gas and their body protection on,” Donnelly said. “Each threw four (tear gas cans) in different directions to make sure no riots occurred that day.”

Donnelly said the history department at Marquette is refreshing in comparison to his few years at Madison. He prided the department on its respect and harmony.

“I am very happy to be a part of this history department,” Donnelly said. ”We are really blessed with mutual respect and honesty. It is one of my biggest joys here at Marquette.”

Donnelly said he’s taught five courses throughout his tenure here at Marquette: History of the Renaissance, World War II, History of the Reformation Period and the two introductory History of Western Civilizations classes.

Molly Edwards, a sophomore in the College of Communication, had Donnelly in Western Civilization. She said Donnelly’s class was dense in subject manner but brought to life by his relating material to present-day issues.

“The topic was 1700 to present day history and was really dry,” Edwards said. “But he knows an infinite amount of knowledge about it that astounds you.”

Edwards said Donnelly encouraged his students to take a passion about the history and use the ties to modern day history as a tool to create a more tangible connection. She was specifically a fan of a paper where she had to research a historical person. She chose Charles Darwin.

“It was 10 pages long,” Edwards said. “But I am glad I did it because it provided you with a bigger understanding on how people have an impact on society, and he related it back to the Jesuit ideal.”

[Marquette Tribune]

One Response to “Connecting Past to Present: Teaching History through the Jesuit Lens”

  • mcasey:

    I had Fr. Donnelly at MU in 1984-85. His Western Civ. course was legendary and excellent. How to keep 300 freshmen interested in medieval art? Ask Fr. Donnelly. He really loved his subject and the art of teaching, and that joy was infectious, even for tired freshmen. Thanks, Fr. Donnelly for awakening an interest in things I might not have ever learned about otherwise.