Religious studies professor John Leonard is retiring

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Religious studies professor John Leonard is retiring

By Alysse Kuglitsch

For on the edge

April 19, 2022

Known affectionately to students as Mama John for her compassion and baking and as the heart of the religious studies department for staff, faculty and the community, John Leonard, professor of religious studies at Edgewood College, will take retiring in a few weeks after 28 years at Edgewood University.

“John is Dominican. Simply put, he is the conscience of the college,” said alum Lucy Keane, who served the college as a volunteer for decades and most recently led the board as president.

The students call Leonard by his nickname, Mama John, due to his tradition of baking treats and accommodating their dietary restrictions. They say he is also known for his compassion and ability to engage them, which helps deepen their values.

Freshman Anna Volk, who studies in Leonard’s Women and Multicultural Theologies class, said Mama John is a good-natured teacher and feels her passion for teaching in every class.

Leonard makes his students “feel like we’re part of his family, especially when he cooks for us!” Volk said.

Mama John’s nickname grew out of Leonard’s dietary accommodations in her baked goodies and spread to other traits the students admired, he said.

“Finally, students added to the list of ‘maternal’ traits: compassion, nurturing, setting up assignments to make them ‘easier’ to complete, creating alternative assignments, listening to their problems… So, I started introducing myself at the beginning of the semester as ‘Mama John’ – ‘I will love you like ‘another mother’ and if you need anything just do it to me know,'” Leonard said.

Leonard said his favorite part of teaching is “(g) getting to know, working with and falling in love with my students. I love to see what happens when students realize that exploring the spiritual dimensions of their own lives – whether religious or not – provides them with the language to identify their deepest beliefs and values ​​and to question the limited and limiting means they have been taught. .”

Professor Jill Kirby, who also teaches religious studies, said Leonard is one of a kind.

“John’s departure will have a very significant impact on the Department of Religious Studies, as there is simply no way to replace a colleague with the length and quality of John’s service,” Kirby said. “His deep expertise in liberation theology, his casual handling of the intricacies of the Dominican tradition, and the joyful exuberance with which he lived the spirituality of ecology are simply irreplaceable.”

“Sr. Loretta Dornisch, who held the chair of religious studies at the time, asked me to commit verbally to three years. She assumed I was going to teach in a graduate program or in a seminary,” Leonard said. “I think it only took August to December for me to realize that I was ‘home’ and would probably stay at Edgewood for the rest of my teaching career.”

Leonard attended St. Meinrad College in southern Indiana from 1974 to 1978, majoring in classical languages ​​and a double minor in philosophy and music history. After gaining some teaching experience, he began his graduate studies in 1980 at the University of Notre Dame. He completed his doctorate in liturgical studies with a double minor in Catholic sacramental theology and in the history and interpretation of liturgical music.

Leonard has also served as a faith community leader for Edgewood College’s Campus and Chapel and served as Acting Vice President of Mission, Values ​​and Inclusion in 2021.

Keane said Leonard “embodies the values ​​of the College”.

“When asked to step in or step in, he did it 100% of the time,” she said. “I have been on campus for 42 years, in my opinion there have been a handful of people who have taken responsibility for carrying Dominican traditions on their shoulders and John Leonard is one of them. There is no greater praise I can offer than this.

Keane said that while Leonard may retire, he will leave lasting lessons behind.

“His legacy will be: Be yourself, no matter who you are, and be kind to others. He can give faith to the infidels,” Keane added.


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