On Friday, a giant in the Catholic intellectual community passed away. He was, of course, Michael Novak. Mr. Novak’s biography is extensive and impressive. He has advised presidents and popes, he has written over 50 books, he has taught at several leading universities, including our beloved Catholic University. Articles highlighting his many accomplishments following his death have been published in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and many Catholic news sources. However, I will attempt to shed light on the man I knew as Professor Nova k.
Unfortunately, I cannot say that I had a long friendship or that I even took a semester of his course. In fact, I only had three classes with him before his health took a turn for the worse. I was given a front row seat to his genius for all of seven hours in total. Yet, those seven hours were amazing. This great intellectual, whom Pope Saint John Paul II called “his friend,” presented himself as humbly as the lowliest adjunct. Personal stories about his friends and family were interspersed with firsthand accounts of the great leaders he met. From Ratzinger to Reagan to Thatcher, the names were added to the course as if they were people everyone knew.
In class, he spoke softly, but we all hung on every word. While his body was ailing, his mind remained sharp, and he flawlessly recounted statistics and stories to defend and promote the morality of the free-enterprise system. His books, which were the assigned reading for the course, read simply and yet were still packed with great wisdom and insight. Now, reading them brings an eerieness into the classroom. A few days ago, I was discussing these pages with the very author himself, and now he is no longer with us. A void has been left both in our classroom as well as in the entire world of academia.
Throughout our chats, he would pepper in jokes he was told by cardinals or professors which always garnished a laugh. His eyes shone through with the optimism and eagerness of a freshman, new to the college world, but his words spoke with a timeless truth that fit a great scholar. Frequently taking detours in his lectures, we became better acquainted with the man he was. He was less of a professor and more of a grandfather or wise-sage imparting the knowledge he has gained from a long, well-lived life on our young minds.
Every day, he began class with a Hail Mary. Afterwards he would regularly remark about the last line of that prayer: “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of death.” He said throughout his life this portion of the oration rarely struck him, but now — as he soon faces the hour of his death — a great peace persists. If only we had the incite to appreciate that man whose last class we were privileged to be in.
Requiescat in pace, Prof. Novak.