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by Dr. Thomas J. Kaiser (’75)
Funeral for Dr. John W. Neumayr
Thomas Aquinas College, California
July 25, 2022

 

I am very pleased and honored to have this opportunity to say a few words about Dr. Neumayr as one of his former students and colleagues.

I have mentioned on other occasions that if it hadn’t been for Dr. Neumayr, I probably would not have attended the College. When I first heard about the school, I was not the least bit interested. The program had a large emphasis on philosophy and theology, and I had no idea what value there was in studying those things.

On the other hand, I had no determinate idea of where to go to college or whether I should go to college at all. In the late ’60s and early ’70s, colleges and universities in this country were in a state of turmoil. There were student demonstrations and campus riots making education practically impossible. The abuse of alcohol, drugs, and sex was the culture of campus life. Moreover, Catholic colleges and universities had rejected the teaching authority of the Church in favor of so-called academic freedom. Many of my friends and relatives who had gone to Catholic colleges stopped practicing their faith or lost it altogether. So my parents and I were wondering whether going to college was a good idea at all.  

Fortunately for me, Dr. Neumayr was invited by a friend of ours to come and speak about the College. He gave an account of how Catholic colleges and universities had gone astray, and he spoke of what true, Catholic liberal education is and how faith can illumine reason. I didn’t understand everything he said, but I was very impressed with him.

Growing up in Oildale, I had never met a man like him. The most educated and bright men I knew were my high school math and science teachers. They frowned upon faith and religion as superstition. I gathered from them that, to be intellectual, you must be a skeptic, especially about things pertaining to faith and morals.

Dr. Neumayr, on the other hand, struck me as someone who was not only well educated but wise, a man who loved his Catholic faith and believed that through it the light of Christ is brought into the darkness of this world. After hearing him speak, I thought that, although I really didn’t know much about the program at Thomas Aquinas College, I could learn something from him. So, I decided to apply and become a member of the first class of the College, as did several others who attended that meeting.

I would like to emphasize how important it was for me and my fellow students to have that admiration and trust for Dr. Neumayr and the other founders. When I applied there wasn’t a college, strictly speaking. There was a campus that was being leased from the Claretian Fathers. The program was only on paper and in the minds of the founders, still somewhat outline in form. There were no students or graduates to talk to or class discussions to observe. The College was not accredited, and there was no certainty that it would last long enough to graduate even one class. We had to take everything on the faith we had in the founders.

But one of the things that gave me that faith was the conviction that Dr. Neumayr and the founders had about the importance of this education for the good of the Church and for Western civilization. I believed them and wanted to be part of it. I not only became a member of the first class of the College, I have been teaching at the College for 40 years. So, it’s no exaggeration to say that meeting Dr. Neumayr changed my life. I ended up following a path that would not have occurred to me had I not met him.

As a student my admiration for and trust in for Dr. Neumayr continued to grow. I must say that Dr. Neumayr was an easy man to admire; he was a true Renaissance man.  Besides his expertise in philosophy and theology, he was well versed in history, literature, writing, natural history, travel, domestic and world affairs. He had a beautiful wife and family; he was a daily communicant. And, last but not least, he was an outstanding athlete.

Given that my favorite subject in high school was sports, I was really impressed to hear that he had high-jumped 6’6” in high school, which made him one of the best in the state of California. He was recruited by Notre Dame, where he played varsity basketball and coached the freshman team. When I was a student he would come down to the basketball court and show us a thing or two. It became clear to me that Dr. Neumayr was good at everything he did.

The biggest surprise to me was his love of comedy. He could quote extensively from the routines of many of the great comedians.  He not only loved comedy, but he was an accomplished comedian himself. At the first President’s Dinner for graduating seniors, Dr. Neumayr, as dean of the College, was asked to give a few words of advice to the seniors. His remarks were so entertaining that it became a custom of the College for him to give a comic address for many, many years after he was no longer dean.

The material for his remarks had to do with his family life, life at the College, and current national and world affairs. So, he wasn’t just repeating jokes that he had heard, but he was coming up with his own. His remarks were timely, hilarious, sometimes irreverent, and sometimes a bit off-color, raising the eyebrows of quite a few. He had a clever technique for deflecting the blame for the off-color jokes by introducing them as something he heard from his mother. After delivering the punchline he would say, “I can’t believe she said that.”

One of the things that his students and colleagues appreciated most about Dr. Neumayr is his knowledge and love of the perennial wisdom, especially as it is epitomized in the writings of Aristotle and St. Thomas. Dr. Neumayr drank deeply of this wisdom and made it his own. I came to see this more and more in my years of teaching at the College, both from what students had to say about him and from my own experience.

Dr. Neumayr was a tremendous help to me in my years as a tutor at the College. He was always available to discuss the questions that I had, especially when I was teaching philosophy and theology. We had lunch together regularly, and the discussion was always on those topics. But even when I was teaching a course such as Freshman Natural Science, where I am supposed to be the expert, he would point out things that I had not noticed very clearly. I remember him saying that second semester of Biology is really about the potency of matter. He had a keen vision of the principles.

He said once that the study of philosophy is essentially a circular process. I was struck by that because I tended to think of learning as something more linear. You start at the beginning, and you just keep going. I have come to see that what he said is true. You never see the principles clearly enough at first and you don’t know what is contained in them until you see what they explain. You have to come back to the principles, take another look, and see them more deeply.

Jack loved teaching Junior and Senior Theology, which consist entirely in the texts of St. Thomas. He taught those courses for decades. I remember asking him not long before he retired whether he was still learning things after reading those texts so many times. He said he never ceased seeing subtle things that he had not seen clearly before.

Students loved having Dr. Neumayr for class and learned from him as from a master. A graduate of the College once told me that he felt very fortunate to have had Dr. Neumayr for all four years of philosophy, something that doesn’t happen very often. He said that he came to think that Aristotle looked like Dr. Neumayr!

Jack was a true gentleman inside and outside of class. Newman’s description of a gentleman fits him well: “He has his eyes on all his company; he is tender towards the bashful, gentle towards the distant, and merciful towards the absurd; he can recollect to whom he is speaking;”

When Dr. Neumayr asked how you were doing, he really wanted to know. This often led to an extended conversation — even when he was on his way to class — even when he was late!

One thing evident to me in the 50 years that I have known him was his dedication to the College and its mission. He was a collaborator in writing the Proposal for the Fulfillment of a Catholic Liberal Education. He understood it clearly and was convinced of its truth both by faith and by experience. The Church has clearly and emphatically given us St. Thomas as the Common Doctor. Ite ad Thomam, Jack would remind us. He also saw the success of the program in what it did for our students intellectually, morally, and spiritually.

He was a zealous defender of the mission of the College. As a member of the Board of Governors from the beginning, he helped ensure that we stayed true to our mission and that we did nothing which would impede our success. When questions rose among our faculty about how to understand the Proposal, Glen Coughlin, as dean, consulted with Jack and the other founders in order to write a Report on Instruction, which spelled out in more detail what the founders intended. It was clear from Jack’s comments that the primary goal of the College is to pursue the highest wisdom, especially as it is found in the works of St. Thomas. He told Glen “the purpose of the College is to study St. Thomas in tranquility.” He seemed to relish every moment he could spend teaching and discussing the works of St. Thomas.

When the opportunity to acquire a second campus presented itself, Jack was wary. He was concerned that our efforts in recruiting qualified students and faculty, and in fund-raising, might have a negative impact on the California campus — that it might dilute our efforts here. In the end, however, Jack agreed that we should give it a try. I am very sorry he never had a chance to see the new campus. Over a year ago Jack had an opportunity to have Beau Braden fly him up to see the campus. Unfortunately, I was going to be in California to meet with members of the Board of Governors, so I asked if he could postpone the trip for a few days. That trip never happened.

A month or two before our first graduation Jack’s son-in-law, Brooks Braden, contacted me and asked what I thought about Jack coming for our graduation. I was thrilled with the idea and asked if he could come a few days early and make some remarks at the President’s Dinner. Jack liked the idea, but he would let me know after he saw his doctor. Unfortunately, his poor health made the trip impossible. So, Jack never made it to the new campus. I think he would have been very pleased to see how things were going there, and our students would have been very happy to meet him and show their appreciation for all that he has done for them.

The successful founding of the second campus is a testament to the vision that Jack and the other founders had of Catholic liberal education. More and more families, educators, and benefactors are seeing the value of it. It is remarkable that after 50 years we can see how clear and accurate that vision was. We have stayed true to the Proposal, and we have seen no reason to amend, modify, or change in any significant way what the founders established. Our success confirms that they were right.

I firmly believe that the founding of both campuses was providential. All of the founders have said that the good that has been accomplished is disproportionate to their own causality. It is Divine Providence that is directing things. Jack said, “When you consider the modest talents and efforts we brought to bear in founding the College, you have to conclude that this was God’s project, not ours.” The same is true of the founding of the second campus.

I think the impact that the College has on the local community and the Church may be even more evident in New England than in California. The dioceses are smaller there and our presence is more clearly felt and appreciated.

Jack and the other founders trusted in Divine Providence, and Jack was a willing and able instrument of it. I am confident that the legacy left by him and the other founders will continue on our campuses as long as we have the freedom in this country to educate in the light of the Catholic faith. It will surely live on in those who have received this education and to those who learn from them.

It is significant that Jack, who so loved this country and was proud of its history and the wisdom of its founders, died on July 4 on the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. Watching the decline of this country was painful for Jack. I’m sure that he is now comforted by seeing what God’s plan is and how His triumph will be accomplished.

We are all grateful for Jack’s role in founding the College, and we were truly blessed to have him with us for more than 50 years to teach us and to guide us. He will be greatly missed. I was so happy to hear that he will be laid to rest in Santa Paula near the other founders who have passed away. He will not cease to be remembered by us. And I am certain we can count on his intercession for the good of the College.

May God reward him abundantly for all he has done for the College, the Church and our country