Relationships are the best medicine.
All my high school guidance counselor told me of the University of Dayton was Flyer football and a nearby bar where you could throw peanut shells on the floor. “You should go,” she said. (I was 17.)
She didn’t know the name of the bar. I would learn, years later, it was Kramer’s.
She also mentioned a course on Christian marriage with a great professor. “You should take his class,” she said.
She didn’t know the name of the professor. When I saw the course had seats open, I signed up.
I would learn, partway into the semester, that it was Burns.
I had signed up for Roberts.
It was a good class, and I thank professor Bill Roberts for the lessons learned there. But I missed out on Burns.
I missed out on the way Father Norbert Burns, S.M. ’45, shared a personal welcome with each of his students, and the energy he brought to each class and counseling session. I’ve heard these stories countless times from appreciative alumni. But I was fortunate to have known him in other ways.
Father Burns was close with my father-in-law, professor emeritus William Anderson. In the 19 years I’ve worked at UD, Father Burns never once missed an opportunity to acknowledge the Andersons and send love their way through me. After each new issue of the magazine, my phone would ring, and Father Burns would be on the other end offering congratulations. He’d send me notes about stories to cover — like his 90th birthday party. Whenever we met in person, he would first raise both hands to the heavens as I’d seen him do in Mass so many times, then reach out and grasp and hug and listen. Father Burns died Aug. 28 at the age of 96 (see story, Page 14).
I find myself missing so much this season.
Jillian Parker, a visual arts senior and daughter of my UD housemate and dear friend, was killed Aug. 29 while riding her bicycle on a beautiful late summer day when sun shines with unending brilliance through the rustling corn. She was a spark, a bright light to so many of us, a multitalented and creative soul that burned with a passion to help others. She was 21. When I think of her, my head fills with clouds and I ache for those who also love Jill.
In this issue of Class Notes, we share several letters from Flyers who express their sorrow at the death of a housemate or classmate, and their joy for having had the opportunity to know and love such extraordinary humans.
When we started at UD, we did not know the names of professors who would shape us or the classes that would inspire us. We had yet to meet the people we would grow with and become close to.
“I see people as God’s gift to me.”
When he retired from teaching in 2007, Burns shared with the magazine his six keys for forming Marianist community, one of which is, “I see people as God’s gift to me.”
As this year continues to test us in unforeseen ways, it is the people in our lives — these gifts to us — that keep us strong and smiling. These friendships will outlast time and pandemic and tragedy, and for that we give thanks.